Birdsong, Mortality

Where the fields have opened up, robins flock in the trees, singing the melodies that always remind me of spring’s running water — icy cold and much welcomed, harbingers of green. These are the first flocks we’ve seen this year, and we’re doing what I’ve done with this daughter since she was a little one on my back — we’re searching out robins, these beloved spring birds.

Same activity, different backroad. We’ve moved towns and houses, and so tinged through all of this cusp-of-adolescence for this girl is both the headiness of new experiences threaded through with loss. Impermanence, I remind myself over and over, sometimes daily, is the ticket price for all of us, even these little palm-sized birdies, the fat earthworms they’re devouring, and the stones in the fields, gradually giving up their edges to the elements.

We stop for a moment and talk about the dirt road behind our boots, the shape of its crown in the middle. Birdsong, wind, running streams. The fields are so wide open here we glimpse a herd of deer at the distant crest, just a quicksilver moment as they rush across the ridge and vanish again.

My daughter, humoring me, hungry for her late dinner, asks me, Are you actually talking to those robins?

Oh, that thin scrim between mind, body, landscape….

The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.

— Alan Watts


Hardwick, Vermont

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Rain Patter

In our former house, the pink Owens-Corning insulation had been so shredded by mice in the ceiling that we could easily hear rain on the metal roof — a pleasant sound, although the resulting winter cold didn’t match that coziness.

Our house now is cool in the summers, warm or certainly warm-ish in the winters, the most well-insulated house I’ve ever lived in, and I’m darn grateful for that, all the way around. Last night, I opened my daughter’s window so she could hear the sound of the rain. Her cat jumped up on the sill, his nose pressed against her screen, curious about what was happening in the night. We haven’t heard the rain for a very long time now — a few aberrant storms in the winter — but this steady rain promised the chirping peepers will return.

Nearly 40 degrees out, I left the window open a few inches so my daughter could lie in bed, reading and listening to the rain.

On the other side of her wall, I read an article in The New Yorker about lost notebooks in Egypt. The sap will be running all night.


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sometime in late March, collage

My daughters and I place bets on when the snow in the garden will completely disappear. The stakes? Yet to be determined….

End of March: either the dusty or snowy or rainy season in Vermont. The back roads are miserable, rutted-mud driving. In this season, I no longer take the narrow dirt roads through Woodbury and Calais, that long slow rise (or fall) above #10 Pond. Instead, I drive along paved Route 100, road of my past years. Over the highways hang clouds of dry road sand and salt, rising like our Vermont-esque version of insect clouds. The roads wind between the mountains and along the rivers — ancient traveling paths I follow on my way to that long-ago sea of Lake Champlain.

I hang the bedsheets to dry on the clothesline, snapping in the breeze, teach my daughter to play euchre. We read in the evenings. I’m awake before dawn, drinking coffee and talking to the cats and wondering if I’m heading down the crazy woman path…. I decide to paint my bedroom blue.

Evenings, the light lingers in the sky now. I show where I intend to plant two oak trees this spring. With a bit of a shock, my 13-year-old realizes she’ll never climb these trees as a child. Why plant them? she asks. I give her the only answer I know: Because.

This morning, I heard a dove cooing.

You that lose nothing
Know nothing.

— W. S. Merwin

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Spring’s Confusion: Looks Like Winter…

Sunburn, ski trails so sticky my pro daughter face-planted on a downhill, melodious redwing blackbirds…. Vermont March in all its splendid, unpredictable messiness.


Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

— Galway Kinnell




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2 Things About Winter

Saturday morning, the snow is above my knees on the long path from the parking lot to the library. Halfway up the door, the snow has blown off the school’s soccer field, and I tug the door open. Snow and I tumble in.

A patron shows up while I’m shoveling, his glasses fogged with snow. He’s walking in my footsteps, and he’s laughing. Why do we live in Vermont?

After dinner, my oldest daughter asks her sister and I to go on a walk with her. Cold but not that cold, we walk against the landscape of sunset.

No one else save a few pickups pass us. A flock of geese flies inexplicably south. This whole long walk I remember exactly why I live in Vermont. We return after 7:30 and it’s not yet full dark.


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Spring in the Body

After a day inside, a flock of geese flies north over my head while I’m at a gas station, standing in a few sprinkles of rain, breathing the damp, soon-to-snow air.


The birds flap steadily. I’m too near the interstate and Route 100, crazy with commuter traffic, to listen for honking. But for that immeasurable moment, it’s just me and the geese — none of what so often consumes me: the steady thrum of work, the wild sprawl of my family’s emotions, the incessant chatter of my own thoughts.

River valley, snow-crested mountains, those little tepid raindrops falling on my face, wet breeze, myself: the collective body of us beckon spring. The geese wing over the river, imperturbably.

This dewdrop world
Is a dewdrop world,
And yet, and yet . . .

— Issa


Photo by Molly B.



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Spring, 5:58 p.m., Wednesday

My 13-year-old’s bouncing like her once-beloved Tigger. After school, she’s ecstatic, with no particular reason. All through the afternoon, through cooking dinner together, hopping on one foot from the kitchen to the dining room, setting the table….

What’s up? I think. And then I know. I force myself to drop the adult crabbiness, forswear off my intention to adhere to my list.

It’s spring fever, and there is no cure. There’s only revelry.

11 years ago, give or take a few weeks, I dragged myself in from a long sugarhouse day, got my two and eight year old daughters to sleep, picked up The New Yorker, and read this poem by Louise Gluck.

Still one of my favorite poems, these lines remind me of how this harsh season reflects not only Vermont but the long seasons of a human life. Spring is hard-earned here. We savor it more for that.

It’s a little early for all this.
Everything’s still very bare—
nevertheless, something’s different today from yesterday.


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