The Foul-Mouthed

We talk a lot in our house. I mean,  a lot. The mornings I work at home, I always close my laptop when my oldest comes downstairs, generally holding a cat. This daughter works late and stays up later, while I’m awake hours before January’s dawn appears. Even if only for a few minutes — often while I making more coffee or washing a few dishes — we talk, and much of it is simply my own curiosity. What’s up with you? What’s happening in your world?

What she gets from me is possibly not much, but one thing both daughters seem to be absorbing like osmosis is the interconnectedness of everything. This leads to that which prompts this… and so on. That the past is alive and real, and the future holds a myriad of possibilities.

So when my teenager mentions Trump’s denunciation of shithole countries and asked if I could believe it, part of me said God, yes, I believe it, while another part of me is perpetually shocked by such a fatuous fool as commander-in-chief.

I forwarded her this Chris Hedges’s essay my father sent me, in hopes of widening the thinness of a public high school education. Hedges begins, “I covered the war in El Salvador for five years. It was a peasant uprising by the dispossessed against the 14 ruling families and the handful of American corporations that ran El Salvador as if it was a plantation.”

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Sunday, when we’re lucky to live in Vermont.

Ladybug Table

My friend emails she’s left a stack of books in my barn on the ladybug table. The ladybug table! The children’s table my parents bought as young parents, when my sister was a toddler, long ago, when the US military was napalming Vietnam.

My friend remembers this table when her son and my daughter spent innumerable hours shaping playdough on its red-and-black surface, on breaks from tricycling around my kitchen and living room. Yes, we still have the ladybug table, worn hard from child use which might, perhaps, be the point of all this.

From one of those books…..

The cares of others can seem ridiculously small (banjo music!). And yet, maybe the small speaks to something larger. A wood beam, a hand-sewn dress, a carefully brewed coffee — each one a response to life’s uncertainty. An attempt to control what can be controlled, to make one thing as well as possible, and there’s something beautiful in that. The beauty of a slow-braised pork shoulder.

— Elisha Cooper, Falling: a Daughter, a Father, and a Journey Back

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Hardwick Postcard #9 1/2: General & Particular

On this eve, two photos: one of generalness of American life, the sludge of hurrying here and there, fueled by the genericness of roadside gas and plastic-wrapped convenience food.

Within all this, the utter uniqueness of my older neighbor opening her storm door for a long-haired feral cat, the loud boys across the street pummeling each other with snowballs, my daughter walking home, eggnog and a gift for her friend on her back.

I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.

— Anne Lamott

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Hardwick, Vermont
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Hardwick, Vermont

Good and Evil

When the holiday is finished, the dishes washed and floor swept, guests departed, the teenager headed to her nursing home job, the 12-year-old and I walk down to the post office in the dark, to drop a letter in the mailbox.

Everything but the empty laundromat and the diner with not a single soul visible is closed. Although dark, the evening is warmer than our walk that morning; a few cars rush through the village, but that’s about it. The laundromat glows overly florescent bright, empty.

We stop where we often do, at the thrift store window, and peer into the shadowy space.

As we walk, I’m thinking of a line my brother said, sprawled on our couch with two sleeping kittens – that the universe may hold good and the absence of good, and what we name evil might merely be that absence. Knitting a hat for my daughter, I paused and asked if he believed that possibility. What, really, would that mean?

We let my question lie between us. Finally, my daughter lifted a card and asked if we might try to answer a question about salamanders.

State 14 generously ran a rewrite of one of my posts. Check out their Vermont writers and photographers.

When I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.

– Dylan Thomas

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Hardwick, Vermont, Thanksgiving morning

Loon Recovery Project

 

Late last night, while my daughter ate a grilled cheese sandwich before the wood stove, we talked about a slideshow about Vermont loons we’d attended at our library and, with the cold deepening around our house, reminisced about summer nights camping at Ricker Pond in Groton, when we lay awake in our tent and listened to the loons’ wildly beautiful tremolo – a call so bizarre it hovers between our world and the mystery of the unknown.

Remember? she asked. Remember?

Perhaps for no other reason than it’s the last day of January, and winter’s teeth are easing sufficiently I know spring isn’t far in the offing, here’s a Mary Oliver poem.

Lead

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing.,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

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Flipping the Question

The summer I had my second daughter in 2005, the term “peak oil” surfaced in my world, first from a neighbor who came to see the baby. The term itself wasn’t so disturbing, but the potential social unrest was mightily so.

I’m sure Vermont has more than its share of the country’s population battening down the root cellar hatches and stocking the ammo cabinet to bursting. While I’ve been joking for years that my garden isn’t merely spiritual succor but also our homeland security project, I sometimes wonder if these hard-core survivalists just might be right, and I should be mapping a route out. What’s my reluctance? Laziness? Immersion in magical thinking?  Lack of ready cash to invest in an underground bunker equipped with a five-year supply of Spam? Or just, where the heck would we go? 

Evan Osnos writes in the recent New Yorker about ultra-rich disaster preppers, then winds up chatting with Stewart Brand, hippie cult creator of the “Whole Earth Catalog.” Osnos writes:

At seventy-seven, living on a tugboat in Sausalito, Brand is less impressed by signs of fragility than by examples of resilience. In the past decade, the world survived, without violence, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; Ebola, without cataclysm; and, in Japan, a tsunami and nuclear meltdown, after which the country has persevered. He sees risks in escapism. As Americans withdraw into smaller circles of experience, we jeopardize the “larger circle of empathy,” he said, the search for solutions to shared problems. “The easy question is, How do I protect me and mine? The more interesting question is, What if civilization actually manages continuity as well as it has managed it for the past few centuries? What do we do if it just keeps on chugging?”

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Morning commute, West Woodbury, VT