Fire

Seriously? my 14-year-old demands. You want me to scrape paint? 

I’m merely suggesting it as a possibility, a fine August afternoon option before school begins next week. She opts to clean her chicken coop instead, which I can’t help but think is a healthier option.

At lunch, she shows me photos of the Amazon rainforest burning, immense swathes. She’s a Vermont teen; these are digital images that can’t possibly contain the heat and wind, the roar and terror of these fires.

Talking, I think of all the ways I’ve provided for this child and failed her, too — an American child who’s benefited from American largesse, and yet she’s a child who hasn’t seen her father in years.

On this breezy August afternoon, the crickets are working away, reminding us that summer’s yet here, but not for long. In her eyes, I see myself reflected. She cuts her grilled cheese sandwich in two and eats silently, filled with the power of adolescence.

The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year — the days when summer is changing into autumn — the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.

— E. B. White

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Unfinished

My daughters’ gentle-pawed cats cry in the night, dragging a toy mouse around the hall and looking for company. Nearly 20 years a mother, the nether realms of nights are my familiars. I lie listening to wind chimes singing in the nighttime wind.

At the solstice, the darkness is no stranger to us now. The afterschool children ski around my library in the utter darkness.

While waiting for pasta water to boil, my 13-year-old and I slice and eat wedges of cheese — a Christmas gift. Around our little house, I imagine the moon making her steady, slow rise into the starry sky above our metal roof, the unbroken night pooling through this village, with its lit-up twinkling strings of white and colored Christmas lights.

So, the day funnels down into the night, this year into the next. She talks about our old house — unfinished was the word we always used for the house, and she says it again, unfinished. I push aside my stack of work papers. Between us is a little bonsai plant, a gift from her friend.

I keep listening to this girl — just her and me and the cats beginning for crumbles of cheese. Goodness, adolescence — clear and mysterious as the rising full moon. She stirs the boiling water.

You can contemplate existence all you want, at the end of the day someone needs to blow their nose and hand you a dirty tissue.

— Sarah Ruhl & Max Ritko, Letters From Max: a book of friendship

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Family Holiday Pact

My brother calls, and I hear a terrific rattling. On inquiry, I learn he’s tipping up an empty cracker bag and eating the crumbs and salt at the bottom.

The rattling keeps up. I start laughing. He complains about the societal mandate of holiday cheer. My daughter, sitting on a yoga ball nearby, says to tell her uncle Yahtzee is part of our Christmas plans and a movie he introduced her to — I can’t bear to reveal the title — and my brother says that movie is fucking great. The movie is so bad I have a strange kind of affection for it.

Through the phone, I surmise he’s frying pork chops.

We come to our usual pact that, this time, no ER visits and no calls to the police. Mutually, we pledge to games (he and his girlfriend will trounce me in science trivia, I’ll crush them with literature), fresh air, and cooking. Mutually, we pledge not to holiday cheer but to fucking great.

State 14 ran my piece on house hunting. Eric Hodet’s stew on this site is particularly tempting….

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in…
“Days,” by Philip Larkin
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In a Funk….

On a Saturday afternoon of errands, I yield to my 13-year-old’s desire to drink a latte. There’s no way, she insists, looking down merrily at me, that coffee will stunt my growth.

Surrounded by the gaiety of Montpelier’s holiday shoppers, I overhear a man seated behind my daughter, speaking emphatically, gesturing wildly with his hands. Listening, too, my daughter leans across the table and whispers to me that the man is a member of the sovereign citizens. Both she and I know the phrases he uses, the code, the promise of unfettered freedom to do exactly as you want.

Through the window, I see people I know walking by, talking and laughing.

My daughter asks me why someone would join a cult. I answer I don’t know, but even as I say this, I know I’m half-lying, skimming over the surface of a black miasma rising around us, as I keep watching through the window families walking by, holding packages.

This afternoon — I can feel it deeply inside me, hard as obsidian, as we pass through the dim afternoon and home again — marks the unstoppable point for this girl of true teen — not the bratty, lip-curling caricature our society portrays as adolescence, but a relentless, adamant, justice-driven quest to know why the world is flipped upside-down.

“First Sight”

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

— Philip Larkin

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Farm Kids

I left early yesterday morning, giving my daughter in her bed a cat and a kiss, and heading to a rural corner of Vermont where traffic wasn’t a problem — as if traffic generally ever is in Vermont.

I was checking out a high school ag program to write about. The students were funny, a little rough around the edges, the boys joshing each other. They cheerfully answered my questions — it took nothing more than for me to ask, Tell me what you’re doing, and the kids started their stories, knowledgeable and ready to share their know-how, as farm kids often are.

The landscape in that part of Vermont spreads flatly around enormous Lake Champlain, as if there’s so much more terrain than in my mountainous part of Vermont. Driving home, I thought about those kids, one girl who was determined to be an artificial inseminator technician, another who was headed to cosmetology school, all so young, just beginning their lives. One boy struggled with a steer, tugging with all his weight on its rope. A girl came over and took the rope from his hands, said Hey, now, and the steer followed her.

I left with a dozen pepper plants from their greenhouse. I’ve buried their roots already in the last bit of open space in my garden, with a silent prayer, Thrive.

losing you
was the becoming
of myself.

rupi kaur, milk and honey

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Girls

A mother I don’t know particularly well commented recently that she feels so old, seeing her daughter head off to college, and I thought, Really? While babies and little ones are darling and endearing, those so-intense early mothering years wore me down. Now, as my oldest blooms into her own young adulthood, I’m able to take a kind of pleasure I couldn’t when she was younger. Maybe it’s just me, learning how to stand back , or I’m beginning to accept her life is her own birthright, that my daughter is the master of her destiny – not me. Maybe, simply, I’m learning to elbow away perpetual fears and take joy.

At a breakfast of crêpes, my younger daughter read aloud the word of the day: oenomel: something combining strength with sweetness.

I laughed. That’s me, I said. Or least what I’m aiming for!

.. to a poet, the human community is like the community of birds to a bird, singing to each other. Love is one of the reasons we are singing to one another, love of language itself, love of sound, love of singing itself, and love of the other birds.

– Sharon Olds

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Hardwick, Vermont