Before I leave for the North Danville Library on Tuesday, I sit for a moment with my daughter at our kitchen table. She eats a quesadilla, and we talk about things that matter — who’s behaving in what way and why that might be. The rain has knocked off for a bit, and I drive the way I often knit, more by feel and memory than anything else.
At this time of year, the farm fields are their deepest green. Sunflowers appear in gardens and along houses, their yellow leaves weathered by cold nights. I passed the house where my former sister-in-law lived when her four children were little. In the backyard, we built a playhouse. Her oldest daughter slept in the upstairs bedroom, and milk trucks rumbled down the road in the very early mornings.
The Brainerd library is housed in a former schoolhouse. I parked and stood for a moment in the lot shared by the library and a church. Cows ambled in the field behind the parking lot. Across the street, children pushed each other in a swing hung in an enormous tree. I imagined these were a few after-dinner moments gleaned in the falling twilight before bedtime.
I had been generously invited to talk and read a little about my book Unstitched. Driving over, I remembered the two years I spent writing this book, much of these hours at my kitchen table. Writing a book can be such a long and lonely process. So these moments of connection and resonance, of meeting readers and other writers, are manna to my soul. The library was well-cared for and had a real sense of so much living that had happened in those walls.
Unstitched is about hard things — addiction and guilt, poverty and illness. But I left that night and drove back home along the roads that had no traffic with my heart full of happiness kindled by an evening of literature and discussion and homemade cookies in a beautiful library with kind people. At home, the stars sprinkled over the sky, and the night was still warm enough that I could pretend winter was not in the near offing. Inside, my daughter and I picked up our conversation where we had left off.
Tuesday afternoon finds me somewhat lost on the way to a soccer game. In a rush, I glance briefly at the map, take a mental note, and head off. My cell phone has given up its ghost, and I know I have a paper atlas in the back of my Subaru, jammed beneath a box of oil, if need be. I drive the way I knit — by feel — and generally that gets me there. In this case, driving by feel gets me to Hazen’s Notch, a twisty dirt road climb. The road has been recently graded; it’s slick with falling rain.
I’m headed to a town where I haven’t been in nearly 25 years. The last I was here, my then-husband and I were following a lead on a vacuum pump for maple sap. We pulled into a two-story house that was recently built. A pregnant woman dialed her husband at the town garage, and he drove up in a moment. That afternoon, I wanted to be pregnant. While our husbands talked about the pump, I asked her about the pregnancy. She wanted to buy a crib with the money from the sap pump.
We paid in cash. The pump remained one of the most reliable pieces of equipment in our sugarhouse. It became my nemesis, too, with the absence of housing around the belt. I feared for my hair and scalp, my fingers. It drank oil like crazy. It worked hard.
This Tuesday, I’m not really lost. I know, enough, where I’m headed, how to read the sky and rivers, the mountains, to get me in the right direction. I pull over near a swamp where maples are in full red already. What do you know, I think to myself, that sight is worth the drive.
A local radio station asks me to call in for a morning show this week. To cut down on the background birdsongs, I dial from my glassed-in front porch and stand looking out the windows at the hydrangeas which are particularly pink this year. My cat knocks over a glass of water. The water spills around my bare foot just as the announcer patches me on.
Radio’s particularly fun because the conversation moves quickly. The mystery of our conversation — the host and I talking about things that matter — travels invisibly into people’s living rooms and studios and cars and job sites. Meanwhile, my cat splashes water on my ankles. When I hang up, a friend phones me. As I tie my shoes to head to work, we talk quickly and make a plan to meet.
At the end of the week, I’m at a soccer game, watching the girls’ team, listening to the conversation behind me. Two men talk about roadside mowing along a stretch of back road I happen to know. I think I know this stretch really well, but listening to the men and how they describe the dips in the roads, the rocks in the ditches, the proximity of houses to the road, I realize there’s plenty I don’t know about this road at all. In the hot, late afternoon, I smell the sweetness of fresh sap mingled with two-cycle oil on their clothes.
Last night, my youngest and I were talking with my brother on the phone when my oldest called. My youngest patched her in. For a few moments, the four of spoke together — from two houses and a car mired in road construction. My oldest said, I’m calling to tell you the full moon is red. We each hung up and headed out to admire the night sky.
As season come
And seasons go
The moon will always glow
In the inky pre-dawn Next Mexico morning, my brother and I head back to the Santa Fe airport. He’s done this thing that somehow never hit my consciousness — rented a car like an Air BNB — which has been incredibly helpful. The sunrise spreads over the horizon, more golden than pink, while the three of us stand talking in the parking lot for just a moment. My brother hands over the keys, and then that’s done. The car’s owner leaves.
My brother and I have time. We can walk through the one-room Santa Fe airport in about three minutes — maybe six, including security. A half moon hangs above us. We kick around words for the phases of the moon, and he teases me, again, about what he claims is my overuse of the word gibbous in my first novel. As the wide Santa Fe sky morphs from black to blue, Orion fades.
On the short flight to Denver, my brother and I are separated by a few rows, each of us peering out the window at the Jemez mountains. We’re back in that enormous flow of airline travel, so many people going so many places, all that fuel and pollution eating up the planet. Not very long ago, people remained on the earth. But for these moments, suspended thousands of miles above the planet, I glimpse my brother and I as separate people but indelibly part of this great human stream, traveling to visit our old parents. Around us, everyone moves through their lives and stories.
The pilot ferries us above the mountains and through the clouds. As I walk into the airport, I say thank you, and I mean it.
Sunday, we drive across the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. There, the mountains are much taller and rugged than Vermont’s shorn down ridges. I grew up (mostly) in New Hampshire, and granite in boulders and quarried slabs is as familiar to me as my kitchen knives.
I sit in the backseat, knitting, and all the way there and all the way back, I have the strangest sensation of a sewing needle linking these two states and the pieces of my life — girlhood and young motherhood and the cusp I’m on again as my fledglings head off gleefully into the wild. In New Hamsphire, we meet my brother for lunch in a leisurely way, nothing serious, batting around trips and ideas, family stories. We sit outside in the shade. As we leave, he tips back his head and says, What perfect weather.
We return home with tiny cheesecakes in jars, a few groceries, a kind of sleepiness and fullness from the drive. We’re back in time to feed the hungry housecats their early dinner. In the garden, I pull up some gone-by marigolds and cucumber vines. Working, I think of all these little bits and pieces of our lives, how I often struggle to put these together. And yet, sometimes, how our lives are sewn together, as if miraculously. End of August. And now onto what I hope is a long sweet autumn.
Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.
The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air–these things will never change.
— Thomas Wolfe
In a pouring rain, I pack up my car with recycling and trash. The empty cat food tins need to be out of my barn. My oldest stops by with her dog, and we stand in the open door of the barn. The barn’s inside is crammed with firewood in my fairly neat rows. Sometimes I imagine this space will be something else, but we moved here late enough in the childrearing years that the barn never became true kid headquarters.
The rain dumps. We stand drinking coffee and kicking around bits of this and that.
Truly, there are days when I wonder how the heck I’ve ended up at Alpine Heights in Hardwick, Vermont. I drive to the dump/recycling station. Years ago, when my oldest was in a carseat, the old man who ran the place took the time to talk with me. He told me to take my daughter swimming as much as I could, to enjoy summer, to savor her. He’s long dead now, passed on to the next world after a devastating accident. The dump/recycling world is run by savviness — plenty of things and money pass through here. The man asks what I’ve got and asks how I feel about eight dollars? I feel just fine about handing over eight singles.
My neighbors across the street had their water and sewer lines dug up and replaced this week. The contractor’s wife is someone I’ve known for years, off and on. Sometimes I meet her as she walks her tiny dog through town. When the contractor finished with the work, he gave the neighbors’ little boys a ride in his excavator. Such a simple thing, I think, and so much kid happiness.