In the Garden.

Sunday morning, a light rain falls. The rain is a gardener’s dream, a light but steady enough drizzle, interspersed with sunlight. Our world grows. I stayed up late the night before, reading The Year of the Horses, and maybe it’s nothing but exhaustion — and who isn’t exhausted these days, anyway, but the kids — but I keep wandering around, in and out of the house. To the garden to move this or that. Then back inside to wash a window or sweep away some winter cobwebs.

Washed by rain, the colors in my garden are vibrant. I have this strange feeling that I’m inhabiting the Middle Ages, the realm of chivalry and honor, a time when art is justly valued.

All day long, I work at this, back and forth, making some kind of order in my raggedly life. Before too long, I know, the weeds and the black flies will swarm me. I might be overwhelmed with the messiness of gardening. But for now… just this potential. Just this moment. A single tulip, blooming.

Still on the Installment Plan.

A woman I’ve never met starts speaking to me on a street corner in Brattleboro. I’d been staring across the street staring at windows on the second floor above the Shin La Restaurant where I lived when I was 20. On my 21st birthday, I walked down the street, drunk, to visit two friends. They lived in a house just a few blocks away. I was sleeping with one friend, in love with the other. The man I loved has long since died. His housemate has disappeared back into his moneyed world of investment banking and whatever that might mean. He was a decent guy, and I hope his life has gone well.

The woman says she sees a break in the traffic, and we should cross together. I tell her I’m a confirmed jaywalker. She tells me that she is, too, but not alone. “I like to cross with someone.” She’s about my height, which is in the Land of the Little People at around five feet.

On the other side, she heads one way and I go the other. It’s brilliant May, and hallejulah for this. Birds sing in the many trees. Lilacs and fruit trees bloom. For a moment, my body feels light — as if I leaped across a stream. Thirty years have passed since I lived in those rooms. Here I am again, in all this sunlight, remembering with what I joy I read Céline for the first time in that apartment. I was a philosophy, not a literature student; I was reading Heidegger and Kant and furiously writing. The apartment’s previous student was a lit student drop-out, and he had left shelves of books in the closet. Death on the Installment Plan? Good lord — no one has ever written a better book title. I read the book in a few long gasps.

“In the whole of your absurd past you discover so much that’s absurd, so much deceit and credulity, that it might be a good idea to stop being young this minute, to wait for youth to break away from you and pass you by, to watch it going away, receding in the distance, to see all its vanity, run your hand through the empty space it has left behind, take a last look at it, and then start moving, make sure your youth has really gone, and then calmly, all by yourself, cross to the other side of Time to see what people and things really look like.” 

― Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Running.

Fisher Railroad Bridge, Wolcott, VT

Twice in one Friday, I’ve met acquaintances from long ago — the first at the coffee shop, the second at the transfer station. Now, having lived here for thirty years, I run into people who I’ve known in the past — maybe not well — but I know deep parts of their stories. I wonder what parts of my life they remember — and if I remember my story as they do.

On the way back from the transfer station, I stop along Route 15 and admire the Fisher bridge, the last of the covered railroad bridges in Vermont. Such effort went into building this infrastructure, and it was used for such a comparatively short time.

Because I’m wearing my running shoes, I follow the graveled rail bed. I cross the highway and follow the former track bed behind the lumber yard that smells sweetly of sap and freshly milled boards. There’s no one around on the rail bed at all. I run on the path right beside the river. The river is wide and slow moving, relatively tame for April. We’ve had little rain and less snow. I chance upon a pair of nesting ducks, and the mallard leads me away. I imagine in the heat of July how lovely it might be to swim across this water.

I stop to catch my breath. It’s me and the glossy mallard and the breezy cold afternoon. I wonder if we’re pulling out of the pandemic, truly. The brisk late afternoon takes my wondering and tosses it downstream. Eventually, I turn around and head back to wherever it is I need to be.

“It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.” 

~ Mark Twain

Breaking Ice.

On a midday walk around the lake, I hear bits of breaking-up ice crash against a cement pier. Vermont spring — ice and green shoots, rain and rouge snow and sometimes sun.

This time of year — school break and tail-end-of-winter doldrums — many folks have flown to warmer and sunnier climates, seeking the old stand-by of the geographical cure. Around the lakes where summer folks own the large houses, hardly anyone is there, save for carpenters and roofers and painters, their pickup trucks clustered in driveways.

But the lake keeps on with its own steady world, the fierce ice gradually giving up its ghost. By the time these summer folks return, the water will have warmed again. For now, though, ice clinks as it breaks apart.

I tie my long hair back with a rubber band I found in my coat pocket. The breeze carries the damp scent of the earth, the dream of unfurling leaves, the memory of children crouched among the cedar tree roots, playing.

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April day.”

~ Robert Frost

Wildflowers. String.

Five Aprils ago, I was looking for a house for my daughters and me. In a nearby town, on a weekday afternoon, I climbed over a chainlink fence separating an empty house from a town cemetery. The fence spikes ripped the back of my leggings. I was on my way to the library where I was working, and I wore those torn leggings for the remainder of the day. I still have those leggings. I wear them when I paint, and they’re now stained with patches of lemon yellow.

When I walked behind the house, I discovered tiny blue quill — spring flowers I didn’t know. The house was surrounded by those flowers and the promise of profuse lilacs in June.

I bought the house in 2017, although it wasn’t until the pandemic nailed down that the house began to feel truly ours. We are not a rowdy family of nine. We are a family of three and now two housecats.

The thing about spring is — turn around and it’s there, quietly, blooming in some unexpected way.

Look at the silver lining, they say.

But what if, instead,

I pluck it off

and use that tensile strand to bind

myself to those things I do not 

want to lose sight of.

“Notions” by Paula Gordon Lepp

First Things.

My daughter asks me if I’ve ever almost died — or at least thought I was dying.

She’s lacing her shoes, about to head out for a run. The day has been remarkably warm and beautiful, reaching above fifty degrees.

Three times, I answer: almost drowned when I was a teenager on a canoe trip, your father averted us from a pile up in Seattle, and the anesthesia went awry at your birth.

Later, I walk up to the high school and wait for her. I sit at a picnic table behind the school. It’s the first of all kinds of things again — the first time sitting at a picnic table outside since winter, the first time this spring I’ve seen grass that appears really green. An acquaintance stops to talk, and we swap stories about the school and board, new hires. Her grown son appears, and I can’t help but remember when he was just a little kid, and now he’s all grown up.

When they’re gone, I walk around this building that has meant so many very different things to so many people. Such a long and complicated story, a microcosm of this great big world. At this moment, she and I are both a piece of this story.

My daughter returns. On our drive home, I ask why she wondered about my near-death experiences. She shrugs. Just thought I should know, she answers.

I have the odd feeling she’s gathering intel about me.