A Few Crumbs of Manna

The Craftsbury Public Librarian invited me to host a book discussion for my book — full disclosure, I’ve known Susan since before I was a mother.

Because there’s a pandemic, we sat outside in the library’s tent. Because it’s Vermont and October, it was raining, but that not chilly. And October brings out the handknit-hat crowd.

For months, I’ve been worried about Unstitched joining the public ranks from my own teeny tiny little world. Unstitched is about opioid addiction and addiction writ large, but it’s also about my story, too. Besides sharing the stories of others, I share mine, too. As my youngest daughter would say, Did you have to take out the whole skeleton? Maybe just a bone or two would have done.

I took out (most of) the skeleton.

But yesterday’s afternoon made me realize, yes, this is why I wrote this book. To have it gnawed over by those I know and complete strangers. Chewed over. Shared. At the very end, a woman who hadn’t read the book asked if I had a copy to sell. I didn’t. But a woman across the tent jumped up and offered her copy. Seeing my book go hand in hand — that, my friends, is manna for the writer’s soul.

Be well, all.

Craftsbury, Vermont

What’s Real

Like a quilt, the fall’s early darkness abruptly pulls over us.

Late afternoon, I swing by the library, then pull off my wool sweater and go for a run. The rain falls so hard I appear to be running through clouds. I’m on a loop, so I keep on — there’s no easy turning back to get home. At home, I feed the hungry cats and light the first wood stove fire of the year, just a small one, with a few handfuls of kindling. There’s no turning back for fall, either.

After dinner, the daughters sprawl on the couch. The cats, who didn’t care much for summer, anyway, curl in a laundry basket, utterly satisfied.

Again, I realize I’m looking at this the wrong way: there’s never any turning back, just going on.

The wonderful poet Kerrin McCadden will be reading and talking with me virtually tonight, hosted by The Norwich Bookstore. Check in, if you have time and inclination.

“To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. The problem is to see reality as it is.”

– Thich Nhat Hạnh

The Obvious

In a terrible mood on Friday afternoon, I’m driving too fast through town when I round a corner and see a rainbow spread over Hardwick.

The arc shines so brilliantly and near I imagine I can reach out and touch its particularly vibrant green. I pull into the Village Market, and a woman I know gets out of her car, wearing a mask, too. For a moment we stand there, marveling, then walk towards the market door.

Another woman — vaguely familiar to me, in the way of small town Vermont — is loading her car with groceries. My companion and I urge her to go see the rainbow; it’s just a few steps around the building.

She shakes her head, saying she can’t see it.

But we insist and walk those few steps with her. The rainbow by then has morphed into a double arc. Then, as we watch, the rainbow fades.

Over her mask, the woman looks at us and says, “Well, that’s a nice thing after all today. Something good.”

October 5. So much more winter to come. Watch for rainbows.

It was the Rainbow gave thee birth,

And left thee all her lovely hues;

“The Kingfisher” by William Henry Davies

Goodness

This morning, hearing news of the Trumps’ positive test results, I think of where I was just a few hours ago, on a hillside in Greensboro.

The Nature Conservancy owns pieces of land all around where we live, some unmarked, others with a trailhead and sign, beckoning in the curious foot traveler.

At Barr Hill yesterday, I didn’t have time to walk that short loop, but paused to admire the view, the little crickets leaping over my shoes. A couple, seeing me, put on their masks, got into their car, and drove away. So for a little while, it was just me and the postcard-stunning autumn — yellow and red mountains, the shining patch of lake, the sky.

The land was donated years ago by a local family. In Greensboro, there’s deep channels of money, its origins often hidden — “old money” — and in Greensboro, too, there’s runnels of poverty, far away from the lake’s summer wonderland, but just as real and alive.

Whatever happens with the Trumps, the virus will go on, until it’s finished, one way or another. But all through this time, these long months and what will inevitably stretch ahead, my daughters and I have gone into the wilderness around us. At the library where I work, often these days I walk along the wetlands, even just for a handful of minutes, breathing in.

Try to do some good in this life, I think. Keep land open. Write a book. Teach a kid to read. Use what’s at hand…

“If you want to live, it’s good to be friendly.” 

― Art Spiegelman, Maus

Pastimes

I wake before dawn thinking of shuffleboard and listen to the rain pattering.

It’s Wednesday, and my high school daughter is home today. With high school in session two days a week, she’s patched together a strange schedule. Yesterday, she walked to school around ten (skipping the idiocy of study hall in the gym), had algebra and driver’s ed, and spent the afternoon playing soccer.

I lie in the dark, grateful beyond grateful for soccer.

When her father and I divorced, I kept thinking, my god, we need to do better for this girl. So it goes with school this year. Really? I keep thinking. Is this the best I can do?

I remind myself, again, that I’m part of the problem. At 15, she’s stepped into a kind of college schedule, coming and going, utterly responsible for her own work, burrowed on the couch with her school-issued Chrome book, determined.

The truth is, the best has long since slipped out of vision. Hence, perhaps, the appeal of a shipboard game, hours of leisurely chat, surrounded by the glittering sea.

I’m not about to get that shuffleboard option. I rise and feed the hungry cats, brew coffee and open my laptop.

Rain falls steadily — a welcome sound. The chaos of the world is clamoring loudly. Meanwhile, my daughter leans into her work. I brew more coffee. Day by day — the only way to parent.

Crushed Leaves

A colleague tells me her brother contracted Covid in January. A professional chef, he opened an oven and wondered what was wrong with the meatloaf — it had no smell. He survived after an intense illness.

So this week, I know I’m alive as Vermont autumn is all scent. The after school kids ask me to step into their fort. I lean over the wall built of leaf and vine and breathe in, and I’m eight-years-old again, with my siblings and the neighbor kids, building houses of fallen leaves.

Wood smoke and skunk and the soil I’ve turned over in the garden.

As the daylight shrinks noticeably and we turn more and more indoors, inevitably I look for sources of strength — geese flying low over our back porch, their wings rushing, the rising cream-colored moon, our neighbors’ laughing boys — and my youngest daughter on the cusp of young adulthood, sharing bits of her world in snippets, puzzling over this great big world.

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,

      This autumn morning!

— Robert Browning

Calais, Vermont