Home: Wanderlust On Hold

Like I hope everyone else — I hope — we’re holing up for the long haul in our house, figuring out our world day by day, in utter suspension of any “normalizing” of life. What’s normalcy again? Something we’ll never return to — or so I imagine at this point.

In the evenings — some balmy like last night, or others spring-raw and wet — we go for walks. The open-ended time reminds me of being a young mother again. Days and nights with young children had frustrations and challenges, sure, but also the deep pleasures of those endless walks and wanders I took with my daughters, learning the names of wildflowers, splashing through streams.

When I pick up beef for our freezer from a friend’s farm, he stands on his deck while I’m at a distance. In a wind so cold I begin shivering, we talk and talk. He asks about my daughters — he always does — and I tell him how my older daughter had considered moving out this summer, but she’s offered to stay home now, for whatever the long haul might be, pooling our resources.

She’s smart, he says. Now’s the time for unity.

When I leave, driving carefully around his flock of snow-white geese and slowly along the mud-rutted back road, I turn off VPR in my little Toyota. There’s never any returning full circle in this life, never getting back to where you once were. But we’re still here, our little family, sometimes irritable at each other, sometimes joyous and laughing. It’s different world, an American dream utterly broken that my daughters will redefine for themselves.

And for these days, I hope wherever each of you are, you’re settled into your own version of social isolation, with the sky’s beauty around you.

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Hardwick, Vermont

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Home

These days I’ve discovered I’m phenomenally grateful for the state library listserv. An email sent with the subject line What’s happening in your town? opened a flurry of communication.

Librarians, like so many people, have an innate desire to please. Want a book? We’ll get it. Have a problem? We’ll solve it.

Innumerable emails have debated the merits of closing libraries, first, then of leaving books out. No one seems concerned about theft or loss. The concern is, obviously, disease. How can you leave free books on the library’s porch and not expect a few loyal (and likely elderly) patrons to shuffle through those? The library is a place of congregation and chat. How do we suddenly shut that down? Close our doors and ask you not to come? And yet, we are.  I read:

Our town library has been closed to the public for two days. Staff is now being sent home to ride out the storm.

Be well and we’ll see you soon.

We’ll leave the wi-fi on for you.
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Last night, walking in the dark around empty Hardwick, we wandered by the melting ice rink. Hardwick, VT, Day 4

 

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Dealing Cards

What? my older daughter said. You brought out the cards already? 

I am determined to remained holed up. My older daughter, as a medical worker, comes and goes, but my younger daughter and I — we’re staying home.

So, honestly, what’s more reassuring than a deck of cards? I’ve been playing Crazy 8s since I was three — maybe younger? — and my kids likely can’t remember when they began. My whole life, we’ve always had packs of cards around.

Today, unexpectedly, I learned our internet speed is suddenly amped up, with no additional fee. Until when? my younger daughter asked. I read the email again and thought, What does when mean anymore?

I finally answered, Until we don’t. Right about then, I started shuffling cards.

In sorrow, pretend to be fearless. In happiness, tremble.

Jane Hirshfield

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Kitchen, Day 2

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Ripping Off the Edge of the Band Aid

Last night, I attended a town emergency meeting with just a small number of people. These are all people I know in one way or another, and I’ve attended countless meetings with different combinations of these people: school board meetings, town meetings, select board meetings, library trustee meeting, Old Home Day committee meetings….

Woodbury has always been a town that epitomizes warmth, and that was the same last night, physical distance between all of us notwithstanding. In addition to discussion about the food shelf and where to store the increased supplies the state is sending our way — in addition to noting who’s elderly and in particular need — we also talked about who among us was still working, who’s still getting paid, and the endless possibilities about what might be coming our way.

I closed the town library yesterday, too. When I locked the door, I wondered when I would leave that door propped open as I have so many times.

If there’s one thing that’s very clear, it’s that the coming time will require us to delve deeply into creativity, into reimagining and recreating our world. I’m grateful to live in Vermont, where those reserves of community and mindfulness guide our towns. My thoughts with all of you, as each of your places in the world shifts, too.

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The Momentary State of Where We Are

A mother and her little girl stop in my library to stock up on picture books. She reminds me that I have lived in a state of emergency in Vermont before — in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene when the state slowly began putting itself back together. In those days, shovelful by shovelful, we could set our hands to work.

Now, with illness invisibly stealing in, the dynamics are completely different. To keep communities safe, libraries are closing — in utter antithesis of how librarians have always operated. Goodness, keep the library open at all costs! Be a social center. Not so, now.

As the social center becomes our homes, I lean hard into my query about the meaning of writing. Of creation and art? In these trying times — and in the days, months, quite possibly years ahead that will confound and challenge us — I know more than ever that writing and art illuminate the threads that stitch us together. As we inevitably grope through uncertainty, through fear, through a fragmenting of the everyday world we know and expect, art tugs us back to that inevitable story that, this, too, will pass. Writing reminds me that the human story spreads vast as the sea, with each one of us living our own particular story.

Here’s word from my sunny corner of Vermont. I’m so darn glad to be outside, the melting snow running in streams down to the rivers and winding its watery way north to the Atlantic Ocean. I hope your patch of earth is well.

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and knowable…

— Rebecca Solnit

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Strength Lies in Vulnerability

When my daughter heads to work yesterday morning, I stand on the kitchen step, listening to rain on the porch roof.

As a writer for a Vermont magazine, I’m ordered to stay home, and my intention is to drink coffee and work at the kitchen table. All day.

But my daughter, my 21-year-old, works on the front lines of this unknown illness. All day, she texts me periodically. Hours later, when I’m listening to the governor declare a state of emergency in Vermont, she walks in wearing jeans and a pretty blouse, her scrubs bundled in a plastic bag and left outside on the porch. While eating beef stew, she shares her day.

I’ve spent much of the afternoon reading about the history of poverty in Vermont, about Roosevelt’s relief programs and the story of social welfare, for an article I’m writing about wages in Vermont. Listening to my daughter who’s embraced this beginning of her working life with such gung-ho enthusiasm, doing difficult things, pulling her own weight with a busy medical team, I keep thinking about time and place. In the manuscript I just finished, I wrote that individual qualities of courage and cowardliness, of persistence and dishonesty, shape and alter our lives. But, likewise, so does our historical time and place.

Our conversation inevitably shifts to our family, as we figure out the possible economic pieces of our household, bracing for far harder days. This responsibility, too, this young woman steps into seamlessly, accepting her responsibility in her father’s absence as a given. Later, as we head out for a walk in the evening’s dark, I think back to that governor’s speech — so different from the current commander-in-chief’s remarks. I remind myself what I once believed was impossible — strength grows in vulnerability.

Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Not the Rose Garden in bloom. Hardwick, VT, in March.

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Travels into the Past

My daughter and I stop briefly in the New Hampshire town where I grew up, as part of a much longer day trip. Although Goffstown is three hours from where we live, my younger daughter had never been there. My parents have long ago moved back to New Mexico, my siblings spread out in their own adult lives.

The little village, where I haven’t been in years, is surprisingly unchanged. There’s some sprawl here and there, but not as much as I expected. A town ballfield has been converted to a cemetery, planted with saplings and marked, so far, with a single tombstone. Below that, the small pond where I learned to ice skate is still encroached by weeds and brambles, making for tricky skating but immensely interesting viewing for a child lying on the ice.

The snow has mostly melted here, and the earth is an amber-brown. Not a single shoot of spring green is visible yet. Walking around, I see the places that I loved: the gone-to-wild swathe behind our neighborhood houses — places a child could endlessly explore for years — the Ucancoonuc Mountains, the woods with huge glacial erratics surrounding the town. The library where I read out the children’s section and held my first job as a library page has been expanded. We walk through the library. Tom Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t ever go home. I can’t quibble with that wisdom, but walking through this library I loved so dearly, I step back into my childhood for a few minutes. Crammed with books, the library was both alive for me with the social chatter of the town but also ineffably fed my hungry imagination.

On this Wednesday morning, the library staff says hello and good morning to my daughter and me, and I feel, again, that same hum of life, endlessly unspooling, utterly fascinating. The shelves now stretch far up to the high ceilings, and this makes me so happy, to know the library is loved and funded.

Likewise, walking past my former house, I see a treehouse in the backyard and a tire swing from one of those enormous maples. Every summer, my father — and then his three children — painted the clapboards. Whoever lives there now does the same, I see.

I had expected to be sad, maybe nostalgic, about this town I never visit any longer. But walking around with my teenager, I see immediately that I’ve taken that town with me, that the child and teenager I was then carried that love of woods and wild, of imagination and dreaming, the same quirky family story and laughter with me.

At my parents’ former house, I see children play in that mixture of tended domesticity and the small patch of woods behind that old house. It doesn’t make me feel old; instead, I feel resilient. Driving, we listen to Coronavirus news, to the stock market careening, to the political uncertainty of this world. My daughter and I talk and talk and talk. Listening, I don’t second-guess myself, I don’t wonder what I’ve failed as a mother. I know, instead, I’ve given her a fertile, imaginative childhood, and I know it’s hers, to decide her own course, too.

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