The Only Question

Picture this: the three of us — two daughters and myself — clustered together in my older daughter’s car, driving to Craftsbury to ski. My older daughter is talking, talking, talking, when her 13-year-old sister dryly mentions from the backseat the kind of tepid comment she sometimes offers — a sentiment along the lines of what the heck is life all about, anyway? A kind of classic, existential angst that seems perfectly normal — to me, at least — for a rapidly-heading-toward-adolescent.

Bingo, I think. There’s the question. The only question, really.

Her sister, cut perhaps from a very different philosophical cloth, directs our attention to the afternoon which is turning sunny, and notes the skiing is going to be amazing, yet. That terrific kind of April skiing that’s like dessert.

Later, I go looking for my old copies of Alan Watts and find this:

Really, the fundamental, ultimate mystery — the only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets — is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together.

— Alan Watts


Putting It All Together…

No earthshaking moment, but satisfying nonetheless, last night I cast off the second sleeve on the sweater I’m knitting for my daughter, and she slipped the blue sweater over her head.

Verdict? Unravel the hem and lengthen. But this will fit; I can see it now. Whether she wears this or not, my knitting eyes and fingers, a little math, some decent yarn, are pulling together.

I love knitting because it’s functional — especially in Vermont — creative and satisfying, because it’s portable, comforting when alone, a source of interest when together, because fellow knitters are often decent and curious people. Knitting never ends. Sure, eventually I’ll tie in the loose threads of this sweater, decide the length will do, and pass it along to my daughter. She will wear it; if not, I will. The cornflower blue yarn will hold dirt. The sleeves will fray. I’ll repair with a silver needle and scrap yarn. Maybe eventually her beloved cats will claim this sweater, nestling and purring.

The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.

Alan Watts



Kid Zen

My 12-year-old shoveled a path across our sizable lawn, ending at the cemetery’s fence, putting considerable effort into this project.

My teenager, arriving home from work, asked me, in her trademark language, What the hell?

The next morning, I stood on the porch, watching my girl walk through her path, leap the fence with her backpack, and then plunge through the snow on the cemetery side. She lifted her hand once and waved at me.

The girls are both teetering on the precipices of new ages — one into adolescence, the other leaving adolescence for adulthood. I loved that dogged determination of my daughter, shoveling snow through a field in the bitter cold. A few mornings later, doubtlessly wising up to avoid wet jeans all day at school, she opted to head down the road and take the unshoveled path. At the top of Spring Street, she waits for her friend, holding her sister’s insulated mug with hot chocolate.

This girl reminds me that the journey really is the thing, that parenting isn’t ever about a goal or an ending place. Innately, she knows this, while I’m still standing on the porch step, watching.

A scholar tries to learn something everyday; a student of Buddhism tries to unlearn something daily.

— Alan Watts





With so little snow and a great deal of sun, we spent some time walking through the neighbors’ fields today. When they bought the property, they dragged out all the abandoned farm machinery, the wheels and gears, and lumped it together on an old cement slab. The collection had been in the weeds for God knows how long, and doubtless it’ll remain clustered together, gradually rusting, accumulating leaves and the odd fallen stick, for a stretch of unknown eternity, too.

Unlike Robert Frost’s birch fences that rotted in three foggy mornings and one rainy day, machinery, having changed the landscape in such profound ways, slowly returns to the earth fleck by fallen fleck. This machinery has done all the hard moving it’s going to do.

I can’t but think there’s some odd comfort in even the mightiness of steel and internal combustion going the way of all things: that all the driving power of industrialism will yield to entropy, that the earth in her slow and patient way will fold back around the fortresses of men, and eventually have her way.

In known history, nobody has had such capacity for altering the universe than the people of the United States of America. And nobody has gone about it in such an aggressive way.

— Alan Watts