Wild Discoveries

Walking through the town woods after dinner, listening to what must be one of the loveliest sounds on the planet — the wood thrush — my younger daughter says quietly, “Cub.”

Just ahead, where we were about step into a hayfield, a small black bear wandered, sniffing. We stood for a moment, admiring, then slowly backed away and headed back through the woods.

Walking, we remarked on the proliferation of wildlife we’ve seen this spring — the cub, bald eagles, a den of enchanting fox cubs just behind our house. While the human world is fragmented, the animal world seems to be filling in those cracks, closer and closer.

In Vermont’s May, every day the world appear more and more alive — the leaves unfurled more, and the dandelions higher. Sure, invasive dandelions have their place — or the curse — in the world, but a field of dandelions? Joy — thank goodness for spring.

Dear common flower, that grow’st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,
First pledge of blithesome May…

James Russell Lowell

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Brief Interlude

At dusk — after eight, as we’re heading, day by day, towards the solstice — I sit in my daughter’s car with the windows unrolled while my girls are in the grocery store, getting just one thing but likely wandering around. The local police chief, off duty, comes out, and he and I talk about the weather and raising kids. For just a few moments, a kind of normalcy descends through that dusk, as I sit there, holding the car keys, my feet dusty from the garden on the dashboard.

The day has been an exquisite, sun-filled day, of work and gardening and dinner on the back porch. Memorial Day Saturday is generally the very busiest day of the year in our town, with a parade and fair and fireworks, but this year, it’s just the two of us in that otherwise empty parking lot, agreeing at the blessedness of this early summer.

The way I see it, I've got a second wind
and on the radio an all-night country station.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I'll be home by dawn.

 

From “Rest” by Richard Jones

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State of the World, Here

My nearly-15-year-old and I went to Stowe today, so I could be x-rayed for the profoundly awful tooth surgery I had before Christmas last year. We haven’t been anywhere, this daughter and I, for about, oh, a pandemic’s age.

While she went biking, I waited outside, reading beside a blooming apple tree. Afterwards, I walked along the river and through emerald bright fields, and then met her back in town, beside the white congregational church.

For over a decade, I went to Stowe regularly and sold maple syrup and homemade ice cream and root beer at the farmers market, and made what will likely be the most money in my life. Eventually, I just wore out and gave my spot to someone else, and went on to something else….. Stowe’s an incredibly pretty Vermont village, with a river running through its mountain valley. But this closed-up town had changed immensely. Along the bike path, no one met our eyes, no one nodded and said hello — and even my teen noticed. What’s up with that? she asked.

The town where I live struggles with plenty of challenges, but it’s not a tourist destination. I already knew that where you live in Vermont made a difference — that schools in wealthy communities offer more than schools in poorer, rural areas — but we saw a glimmer of a different kind of difference, too. Vermont, for all its loveliness as a place to live, is hardly homogenous. May this suspicion be a passing phase, too.

Meanwhile, the beauty of May reigns — with gold daffodils, red tulips, our grass sprinkled with violets. Asparagus, spinach, mesclun….

Summer afternoon downpour
a flock of sparrows
hanging on to the grass

— Buson

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Photo by Gabriela

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May, Sometime

In our corner of the world, in generally law-abiding Vermont, the state is gradually cracking open, but slowly, slowly. Gradually, I’m realizing that so many things I once took for granted — walking into a public library, for instance, something I’ve done my entire life — seem so far away these days

In contrast, spring flourishes — the woods are sprinkled with the loveliest little gems of wildflowers — trout lilies and spring beauties and Dutchman’s breeches. All afternoon, I work on the porch, taking breaks by watering seedlings in the garden. Spring! Spring! In the midst of so much uncertainty — what will Vermont’s downtowns look like this summer? this fall? — spring busily moves along, as utterly enchanting as always.

As my daughter’s 15th birthday approaches, we scramble for some kind of plans. How to mark this passage from one year to the next in a time of utter and absolute uncertainty? Our days contract into that Zen question — how to be utterly present and in the now, but without the kind of madness that denies the future? Robins and sparrows sing sweetly of the moment — while these little winged creatures build their nests, lay their eggs, plan their futures in their own bird ways.

It’s the question I keep returning to, over and over — make do with what we have but keep a wary eye on the future.

Hope all is steady enough in your worlds….

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And so it goes….

…. What day? What time?

My daughter — finally almost 15 and ready to get a driver’s permit — is marooned in closed-for-now-DMV land. Maybe in June? Meanwhile, DMV employees answer phones for unemployment questions.

Around a campfire in the evening, I step back in the house for a sweater and stand in our dining room. As the days grow longer, I’m losing track of time in the evenings, too. Many years ago, with little children, I was rigorous about bedtime. Now, we simply wear down and go to bed. It’s not all bad, but it comes as a surprise to me, this unmooring. Not at all like a vacation, our world grinds slower and slower, rooting us down into each day.

What will today bring?

On this day — I’m certain this is Sunday — that began with such a rosy sunrise, I’m hopeful for sunlight and gardening. Grape hyacinths are blooming.

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Photo by Gabriela Stanciu.

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New (Furry) Friend

My daughter was waiting on the trampoline when I came home from work the other day, sitting there waiting for me. We’re still in this crazy period where I’m almost always at home, but sometimes I head in.

She told me she made a new friend.

Seeing as there’s a pandemic and all, I was a little surprised. She took me around to the back porch and showed me a squirrel in a tree, just sitting there, hanging out in a branch.

My friend, she said. She’d been taking pictures of the creature.

So, that’s something. A teen who makes a friend with a brushy-tailed creature. Today, I sat on the porch all afternoon working. Off with her sister, she texted me, Has my friend returned?

Not yet. But I’m looking.

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Photo by Gabriela Stanciu

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Black Soil, White Snow

Day whatever it is of the Stay Home order. On a virtual school board meeting that evening, we began asking each other who’s looking out their windows. I’d been staring out mine for a while, at snow falling briskly. Like December.

My friend emails about the year 1816 “and froze to death.  Wouldn’t that be something?  We could relive that dreadful summer at the same time as reliving the flu pandemic of 1918…”

The next morning, after I shovel snow off the back porch, I have another work call — something in pre-pandemic days that might have been handled by a few emails opens into a conversation about this stranger’s high school senior daughter, and college tuition, and poverty in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

The cat lies sleeping in my feet in sunlight on my kitchen floor. There’s this elongated  sense of time. Why not keep talking?

Much later that evening, my daughters and I take a walk through the woods where the light falls through the bare forest, still without its canopy. On the floor, we discover trilliums, Dutchman’s breeches, trout lilies, and — everywhere — spring beauties.

Day whatever. Tuesday or Wednesday — somewhere in there. The peas are up in the garden.

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Opening….

Here’s a strange thing — we had bring-your-own dinner on our lawn last night, around the fire, with two friends — socially distant, with an awful lot of chatting and catch up.

Now, I’m beginning to accept that our world will never return to how I once understood it, even a few months ago. But how, and when, will we begin to understand each other again? Relate to each other? Be with each other? So much uncertainty.

Maybe this is how the world begins to open up again — eating chili on the grass, smoke drifting over the garden, my daughter’s friend bundled in her coat, a hat jammed on her head, laughing.

When you truly understand one thing—a hawk, a juniper tree, a rock—you will begin to understand everything.

Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild

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Not-So-Secret Crush

Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 11 a.m., like clockwork, I turn on Vermont Public Radio for the governor’s address. Sometimes my daughter takes a break from whatever high school endeavor she’s engaged in, and stops in the kitchen.

Are you actually listening? she asks.

Sometimes, raptly. Sometimes, I simply sink back into whatever email or work I’m doing. But I generally listen — and particularly listen to the commissioner of health, whom my daughters have taken to calling That Dr. Levine. Sometimes the press conference is jammed with news I’d rather not hear; the state’s unemployment rate is astronomical; Covid-19 seeped into a state prison.

But sometimes I laugh out loud — such as when Dr. Levine does a weekend shopping spot-check (although not frivolous, as he always buys an undisclosed item) and provides his estimated data about mask compliance by staff and shoppers. How much I’d love to see our state’s health commissioner standing in line with, say, a bag of oatmeal, calmly asking questions and dispersing info to fellow Vermonters.

Laugh on, daughters, but my older daughter shares that the doctors in the clinic where she works are all devoted Levine fans, too. Or maybe simply fans of adherence to science, honesty, calm in the face of despair and near panic, and steadfastness.

Here’s an article about free milk, farmers, and the Secretary of Agriculture — another reason I’m grateful to live in the Green Mountain State — despite the two inches of snow this morning.

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Photo by Gabriela Stanciu.

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Melting Butter, Hot Rolls

By now, we’ve settled into a string of days, weeks, maybe months, of my work folding into my daughter’s life at home. I work; she does whatever passes for virtual high school. I drink coffee. She eats trail mix. She’s borrowed her sister’s camera, taken a few online mini classes, and then heads out.

Among the many, many strange things about this Stay Home order is that the three of us have managed to get along so well, despite my intermittent weeping woods walks. Crabby me — with my endless laptop hours — my teen who fantasizes about driving to the California coast, and her sister, age 21, who relinquished moving out, to stay with us. As a divorced parent, I don’t take getting along as any given. In all the unexpected silver linings in all of this, there’s this interesting turning inward, back to the home, when so much in our culture has pushed us outward, away from home.

Like everything, I know this time won’t last — and there are many things about it I won’t miss — the utter uncertainty of work and money, the isolation from other adults, a public world of masks and frightened eyes. But baking potato rollswith the teen? That I’m happy to do.

Instant coffee, for example, is a well–deserved punishment for being in a hurry to reach the future.

— Alan Watts

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