White Rags or Gulls?

Across the road, I chat with my neighbor in mid-afternoon about the general weirdness of this time.

She says it’s like the country has no president now, and in a weird way that seems true, as though in Vermont we’re in our own sovereign world, under our earnest governor and his team. Of course, we’re not, as she knows and we all know. Among the endless lessons the pandemic has taught us is how our planet is connected. The governor pleads, Stay home for the holidays. Think of not just your wants, but the needs of others around you.

Pre-holiday, we’re again waiting: what way will our collective behavior push us? Will the virus surge again, or will the bulk of us concede and stay home?

My neighbor and I linger, talking. Her little boy pretends to be his younger brother, giggling under our conversation. He shouts with happiness when I call him by his brother’s name, ecstatic that I’ve fallen for his role change.

The pandemic has opened our eyes, too, to see what was always there. The Hardwick dam recently lowered the Black River to a trickle. On Saturday afternoon, we walked through the muddy bed.

Gulls flew overhead, pure white in a November landscape of gray and black, steadily flying into the wind.

“Throughout history, women have too often been seen as subjects of art, rather than artists… As a woman painter, one needs to work out a strategy.”

— Celia Paul, Self-Portrait

Pandemic Pause

When I was a young newlywed, I read Green Mountain Farm by Elliot Merrick — a nonfiction account of a Quaker family. At the very end, Merrick ends with a short section saying that World War II changed their lives, as it changed so many lives.

Last evening, after supper and dishes, I was outside, moving stacks of library books from one car to another, waiting for my daughters. Although it wasn’t late, the stars were already spread across the sky. I was waiting for my daughters to come out and join me for a walk.

Finished, I leaned against my car, waiting, remembering how I had walked around this house before I bought it. I had wanted to see how bright the stars were, and if the property had a good view of the moonrise.

My daughters came out. Lit by the porch light, I saw they were both wearing black jackets and scarves. Watching them, I realized my oldest daughter was all grown up. And my youngest? Rapidly heading there.

Tuesday

… one can either choose to live, or not. We have to tell ourselves a story that makes living possible.

— Katherine E. Standefer, Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life

And so we go on, telling our stories. My daughter returns from her one high school class on Monday morning, and tells me so many teachers were out.

I head to work, leaving her in front of the wood stove with her chrome book, the cats sprawled on either side of her.

At the library, a teen comes in and tells me he thinks the school will close soon. The teen lives on a back road and can’t drive yet. He’s a voracious reader. In the spring, he told me, he read everything in the house, then everything again and again, and finally resorted to Netflix. I tell him to take as many books as he wants. He fills a bag. When he leaves, I wonder when I’ll see him again. Maybe Wednesday. Maybe not.

And so we go on. I name our little wood stove Jenny.

Okay, my daughter says. She is part of our family.

Stay well.

The Long Haul

After work, it’s too dark to go running, and I’m home in a foul mood while my daughters cook dinner. While cleaning out a closet that afternoon, they discovered a box of photographs and claimed the photos were evidence there was little adult supervision in their early childhood.

I insist there was plenty, but I had always seen wildness as more of a virtue than a vice.

The three of us are wise enough to let that lie, and dinner conversation winds into the details of the day. After, the girls wash the dishes and I carry in firewood. Then my oldest and I walk through town. There’s no one out these days. It’s dark; the cold is beginning to staple down around us.

Coming home, we stand on the knoll outside our house, watching the creamy, waning moon rise. As we stand there talking about hard deep things — how we carry the past around with us — I remember myself as a brand-new mother, believing that the wildness of imagination shapes our lives. I no longer believe that; I know that, but I also know what a long hard haul this life can be.

I call into the house for my youngest to come out and see the moon. She walks barefoot through the snow. We stand there, the moonlight on our faces, soaking up that ethereal light, before we head back in.

Half Moon

I step around the barn in the twilight and see the half moon shimmering above the barn’s back corner, like a surprise.

I empty the ash bucket and set it on the cement step, waiting for my daughters and our twilight walk, as the dusk shakes down.

A year ago, my oldest was in New Mexico, visiting my parents and hanging out with my brother and his girlfriend. After a wild wind and rain storm, the power went out, and my youngest and I ate take-out by candlelight. Always, at this time of year, as the days perceptibly shorter, I realize how profoundly cold and dark has wound into my life, spread physically and metaphorically into the life I’ve shaped as a woman and a mother.

What’s different this year is the collective darkness of disease as the rates of Covid increase around our little world, of the unraveling political world relentlessly marching along.

And yet — there’s that ancient silent moon.

My daughters are laughing as they walk towards me.

What? I ask.

They look at each other again, and my oldest says, Nothing, Mom, and then they laugh again.

“I am more convinced than ever that we are shards of others.”

— Jenn Shapland, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

Photo by Molly S.