Dreaming, I untangle my knitting conundrums: rip out one half-finished cardigan and use the yarn for a cabled pullover. Nothing earth-alternating, planet-changing, simply my need for order and creation. Some small measure of satisfaction.

Which is why I understand the volunteer in the Giving Closet, the room in the old school building where I work these days. The Giving Closet holds the community’s castoffs and giveaways, an endless motion of clothes and toys and dishes and not enough artwork that swaps around from household to household.

Late afternoon, low clouds pressing around the wide windows as a storm moves in, I wander into her space and offer hot water for tea. She’s endeavored to straighten and tidy the concatenation of stuff that invariably slides into chaos. Two women are looking for scrubs, holding up shirts and asking each other, This? or This?

Through the windows, snow drifts down. The roads part and V around this old schoolhouse, empty. Across the way, the Ukrainian flag hangs down from the church’s sign.

….. and here’s a few lines from a recent review of Unstitched by Joanna Theiss.

While Unstitched is a valuable and important book for its discussion of opioid addiction, the writing is quietly beautiful, every word appreciative of the Vermont landscape and its seasons, on mothering girls while grieving with a mother who lost her own daughter, on the stark class divides that hinder our efforts to grow past this crisis, and the joy of community, no matter how much mending it requires.


My oldest plays Noah Kahan as the soundtrack to her life, the young man who sings of loving Vermont in all its bareness and glory: I love Vermont, but it’s the season of the sticks

I pull over on the roadside. There’s no one around, not even a crow keeping me company. Solstice season, the precipice of one thing tipping into another, the darkest of the season tipping over into the real winter yet to begin. I am decades into my own love personal affair with Vermont.

Winter is the perfect season for a writer with its shocking beauty, the looming threat of frostbite, the profound metaphor of darkness and light, heat and cold, stillness and the edging-in resurrection of spring. On the deepest level, perhaps, winter reinforces the need for patience.

Noah Kahan sings: So I thought that if I piled something good on all my bad
That I could cancel out the darkness I inherited from dad…

How’s that for a variation of an Eugene O’Neill play?

Curious about this Kahan character? Check out Vermont Public Radio’s story.

Winter Koan.

I stop in at the former Hardwick Gazette building, now turned into the Civic Standard, an organization trying to figure out itself. An acquaintance and I stand at the windows in the building’s rear, staring down at the Lamoille, where ice feathers only along the edges. The water is low enough that the rocks are mighty in the rushing current.

I drink coffee and sit crosslegged on the couch, and we talk for hours. I finally vaguely inquire if we haven’t had enough of our own words, and then we go on and on again. The building itself seems marooned in the 1970s, and even in 1972 the building likely felt stranded in 1957. An old printing press hulks beside us. One of us has an Hungarian immigrant family, and our conversation inevitably weaves in the first half of the 20th century.

December in Vermont is as good a time as any to ponder the Zen koan chop wood, carry water in the pieces of my life. Sunlight on the living room floor. Kim chi and brown rice. Reading Ruth Ozeki’s The Face on the rug.

Sunday afternoon, light snow sifts down, the sweetest gift, its fresh cold sweeping away our stale human layers of mind and emotion. I carry in an armful of wood to feed our little stove for the night. The snowflakes melt in my eyebrows. Finally, I think, finally, a scattering of snow. Then I quit thinking, close my eyes, and listen to the falling snow.

“The past is weird. I mean, does it really exist ? It feels like it exists, but where is it ? And if it did exists, but doesn’t now, then where did it go ?” 

— Ruth Ozeki

The Beginning of Genius.

An acquaintance comes into work today to update the town’s website. We talk back and forth, little details here and there, the mechanics of putting the website together and how the pieces of democracy work: minutes and transparency. The public can and does come to Selectboard meetings with requests to move roads and complaints about cowshit spilled over roads. Our conversation tips into philosophical territory. Nearing the end of a challenging week, I’m drinking my 46th cup of coffee that morning and espouse that we’re in end-stage capitalism. Sometimes we behave very badly. Sometimes, not so.

I am not at all a Facebook fan, not a FB reader, but all week I’ve been dipping into the stories people have posted about Ray McNeill. So many stories, some from people I once knew very well. I lived in Brattleboro when I turned 21, completely alone in an apartment over The Shin La, a Korean restaurant still in operation. One night, I closed Céline’s Death on the Installment Plan and went out in the rain. Even then, I was a loner. I didn’t go to public places alone. But that night, the rain fell so hard I ran into Three Dollar Deweys. My friend Debi was there. In those days, she lived with my ex-boyfriend. She came up to me and rubbed my long hair with bar towel. We played darts for hours. The bar lights shone out into the falling rain.

“The beginning of genius is being scared shitless.” 

— Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Days of Little Light.

Night has fallen down all the way by the time I leave work. Just below freezing, the wind cuts up with a taste of wet — the feel of sugaring season but the light is all wrong. It’s a month before the solstice, and now I’ve given into the darkness utterly. The truth is, much as I rail against the scantness of light at this annual time, I relish it, too. This time of year entices us to go deep, soul-search, spread out the cards and see what’s there.

Dark to dark, our days go. My daughter phones on her way to work, two stray cats yowling in her car. She’s bathed these hungry creatures and found a home for them, a tiny bit of kindness in the midst of a complicated world. Ever in her blur, she hands off these cats to a new home, blessing them in her own way, and moves on into her day.

“What does it mean to grow rich?… Is it to retain a capacity for awe and astonishment in our lives, to continue to hunger after what is genuine and worthy? Is it to live at moral peace with the universe?” 

— Barry Lopez

First Snowfall, Again.

In a race with the season’s first impending snowstorm, I drive home from southern Vermont in those numberless hours of the night. I-91 northward to St. Johnsbury is bereft on traffic on an ordinary day. In the pocket of night, it’s me, a few rocketing cars from New York and Connecticut, interspersed long-haul truckers hurrying elsewhere.

I drink espresso and listen to This American Life, and when my attention wanes, Sam Birger and Fresh Air keep me company with Michael Imperioli. In the vessel of my Subaru, swathed with the blindness of night, my radio is oddly intimate.

Somewhere in that stretch, I do what I’ve cautioned my daughters never to do: I stop at a closed rest area and walk up and down the sidewalk vigorously. The night, with its promise of snow rushing in, bites coldly. Two trucks idle. The rest area is lit by lights tinged an orange-yellow, suffused with mist, as if we’re in a nether world, maybe the Underworld, maybe a halfway point between two realms. There’s such a strange, almost heady relief in being this unknown place, the allure of endless miles unfolding before me. My mind is filled with the night’s experiences — an enchanting home, the stories of strangers, a woman who poured out her heart about a funeral she attended that afternoon — the embrace of what’s resilient in our Vermont towns and what’s broken, cracked, fissured. I follow my advice to strangers and take my time, breathing in that damp and diesel-choked air, the freshness of wetlands at the far end of the lot, where the ground has not yet frozen. I wear my wool hat and a thin cotton dress. The night goes on and on.

In the morning, snow falls steadily. My daughter and I drink coffee and eat Helga’s delicious blueberry torte and lemon mascarpone. A shift already, from gray November to winter’s enchanting light.