Winter Travels Near to Home

We drove home through falling snow tonight – real snow – not ice, not grapple, not nerve-wracking freezing rain. As my kid and I wound up our steep dirt road, the visibility diminished to just a blue twilight, white flakes and road, and my windshield wipers.

That narrow vision mimicked my day – both parenting and working. In my twenties, I would have raged; now in my forties, I still rage, but at least I’ve figured out the value of endurance.

Working in Greensboro today, I stopped by Caspian Lake, scene of so many swims, beach chat, peppermint ice cream cones. On camp stools, three ice fishermen sat in the lake’s middle, beneath the open sky.

Winter solitude —
In a world of one color
the sound of wind.

– Basho


A New Compact?

Snowed and iced in today; no school. My teenager, lying on the couch, reads the news aloud, then shows her sister and me image after image. Although I’m hardly ancient, photos were never so prolific in my childhood. In her hand, she scrawled through the nations. It’s mesmerizing.

And yet.

Lying on the rug before the wood stove, listening, I thought of the Mayflower Compact, when those pilgrims, faced with starvation and illness, in a foreign and bitterly cold country, pledged to hold together for their survival. One of the aspects of small town Vermont politics I like best is coming together on metal folding chairs, looking directly at each other, and determining the course of our future, face to face. In these little towns, open meeting laws rule – not email and certainly not Facebook.

Don’t we need a contemporary version of the Mayflower Compact? Here’s a single mighty sentence.

Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

– Mayflower Compact, 1620



The summer I had my second baby was particularly hot, and I frequently nursed my baby beneath one of the enormous sugar maples on the Montpelier state house lawn. My six-year-old played on the capital steps, and ran up and down the granite walkway, admiring the blooming flowerbeds.

Yesterday, with my kid contingent, we stood somewhat elevated on the DMV steps. Readers, the people kept coming and coming. This place we know so well was filled to bursting and more – with an odd kind of quiet and extremely polite tension, which was then dissipated by a full-throated roar of collective energy.

My teenager, walking and driving all over town with her friend, relayed that the interstates were backed up and the exits closed. Vehicles were abandoned on the roadsides and mediums, and people walked in.

That’s the Vermont I’m proud of. Resilient and smartly dressed in winter footwear. The Vermont who shows up – traffic jams be damned – when needed. If there’s hope for democracy’s survival anywhere in this country, it’s here.

I stood beside two older women who had set up their folding chairs and were prepared to stay as long as needed. One woman held a lavender homemade sign, with a sunflower and a single word: RESPECT.

Here’s a few lines from the library book I was reading last night while the children slept.

For a long time I have hesitated to write a book on woman, is how de Beauvoir starts one of the most famous books on women ever written…. The wounded woman gets called a stereotype and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true…. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.

– Leslie James, The Empathy Exams


Montpelier, Vermont

January 20, 2017

Since the holidays, my 11-year-old daughter and I have played The Enchanted Forest just about every night. Each round of the game is different, involving only a few things: a  journey and remembering what’s beneath each tree. A red cap. A glass slipper. A gold star. Who wins or doesn’t hardly matters in this game; it’s just fun.

On the not-so-fun spectrum, when my marriage broke up, I knew this was not a matter of winning or losing, but there was an enormous gray area I wanted to emerge from in a way I’ll describe as “least soulfully damaged.” Perhaps one of the few things I’ve learned is that there are no winners in this life at all, either in our intimate realms or the political world. That knife of mortality cuts across all of us, from Trump Towers to Rio’s dump dwellers. But it does seem to me that there are better ways than others to emerge from the firestorm of life we all come to, at certain points in our lives.

In our world, the threads of discontent are so manifest, and the threat of widespread societal violence and misery so palpably real. We may be entering the lightless trek of our forested journey, and yet, I myself know, through my own hard-earned experience, that our reserves of faith and empathy are far, far mightier than we might ever envision. I’d like to believe that’s a spring we may draw from, without cease.

Here’s a few lines from one of my favorite poems.

This is the season of mud and thrash, broken limbs and crushed briers
from the winter storms, wetness and rust,
the season of differences, articulable differences that signify
deeper and inarticulable and almost paleolithic
perplexities in our lives, and still
we love one another. We love this house
and this hillside by the highway in upstate New York.
I am too old to write love songs now. I no longer
assert that I love you, but that you love me,
confident in my amazement. The spring
will come soon. We will have more birthdays
with cakes and wine. This valley
will be full of flowers and birds.

Hayden Carruth, “Birthday Cake”



Who Shows Up

What’s for dinner and politics fill a chunk of our household conversation these days. My Facebook-loving teenager keeps me abreast of the social media world, while I’m in the world of Democracy Now.

As we hurtle towards this contentious presidency, I keep remembering Gandhi’s insistence that politics begins in the house, among the most intimate of relationships. I see that in the wider circle of my own world as well. At school meetings, who doesn’t show up is as important as who does, and tips the balance of those conversations in uneven ways.

As we head into these uncertain times – times that are bound to get even more dicey – I want my daughters to understand both their actions and non-actions make a difference and that passivity does not equal patience. More than anything else, I pose this as a challenge for myself. And to remind myself that even in the bleakest of times – personal or politics, or where the two mix – that we live in a world of laughter, too.

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.

– Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed


This Day

Sensible advice from my dad arrived via email this morning.

Two days after I was born, Dr. King was assassinated, when my mother was still in the hospital. I imagine my father returning home in his blue Volkswagen beetle to his two-year-old and his babysitting mother-in-law, switching on the evening news and drinking bourbon in the brilliant Albuquerque light.

48 years later, a mother myself, I intend to walk with my two daughters next weekend in the Women’s March on Montpelier.

Why? my daughters ask. I begin by answering, Because we must.

My dad’s advice was to read Dr. King’s two greatest essays, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence.”

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

– Martin Luther King, “A Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence”


Photo by Molly S./Woodbury, Vermont