Woodchuck

Geese fly overhead in the dark evening, so near I hear their wings beating. Frost hovers, gathering strength.

Yeah, my daughter says, that’s what geese do. They’re out of here!

The garden’s gone wild at the end of the season, its queen the mightiest and heaviest sunflower head I’ve ever grown. Its stalk might rival a sturdy sapling.

The woodchuck’s gnawing my cabbage heads near the garden gate. In another year, I might have set the trap, but this year…. Gnaw on, chuck. Winter’s coming. The cabbages are profuse.

A touch of cold in the Autumn night –
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

— T. E. Hulme’s “Autumn”

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Mid-October Garden

In the garden, fat Brussels sprouts nestle against the stalks. My daughter says two words when she sees them: With bacon.

While the light funnels away — every single day, a little less — the remaining flowers in my garden brighten: marigolds, pink and violet hydrangeas, gold calendula, ragged now and past their prime.

None is travelling
Here along this way but I,
This autumn evening.

— Basho

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End of September? Apple Pie Season

Every year in Vermont there’s speculation about the upcoming foliage season — will it be good…. or lousy? While the season infallibly delights — and often astonishes — we view fall foliage very personally, almost as if the quality of its splendor reflects on ourselves.

More than any other season, autumn reminds me of being a child, of picking apples in the enormous Mapadot Orchard near our house (named after Ma and Pa and Dot, of course), of the distinct, humus-y scent of fallen leaves in the maples we raked from our trees, of how fine it feels to hike in  woods painted like a wildfire — crimson and gold.

Last night, my older daughter decided to bake an apple pie today.

We might live in a society where the traditions of church have dwindled to near naught, but the ritual of apple pie? Still steaming, in our house. That’s something.

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all….
Slow! Slow!
— Robert Frost, October
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Through my window.

Autumn Dusk

With no snow, our late autumn Vermont appears like coals burned out, none of our summer’s radiance, our snowy luminosity. This afternoon, not yet four, with the light already leaking away, I lay down in my daughter’s forest lair, dead logs propped up against an enormous white pine. While she wandered away, busily scavenging planks for a footbridge over a culvert with a running stream, I lay back on the pine needles and closed my eyes.

The afternoon was extraordinarily still, with not even a stir of wind, a chatter of chipmunk. I smelled mud, that thick, humusy scent of forest floor opened up. Still waiting, I opened my eyes and, through a part in the branches overhead, saw three crows traveling across the gray, cloudy sky, their wings steadily flapping, quite possibly not at all disturbed by the night falling down and the dearth of glow. And that, perhaps, might be the flight of autumn across our sliver of the world.

A lone crow
sits on a dead branch
this autumn eve

— Basho

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November 2015

Vermont Public Radio and my teenager and so many questions, questions: what does this mean? Why did this happen? So many questions and I have no answers, merely: think of this bit of information, and that geography matters, history matters, that anger and desire and fury and bitterness matter.

I slid potatoes and squash in the oven and stepped outside for firewood. With the sun going down, the air had abruptly cooled. My younger daughter and the neighbor child were in the darkening woods, laughing. Overhead, the clouds parted over the crescent moon, and then concealed this heavenly beauty. Unseen, geese honked their mournful journey, away.

Between our two lives
there is also the life of
the cherry blossom.

— Basho

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Wild Gulls

In Vermont, November is a month of diminished color, the profusion of blooming gardens long since gone the way of frosty death. This afternoon, I stopped by the Hardwick reservoir, drained low. Seagulls crouched in the center, surrounded by shallow water skimmed over with green algae. The summer lake had sunk into a thick, foul-smelling muck, its bank strewn with a rusting car gas tank, broken bits of plastic, crumpled paper cups. The creatures had left their debris, too. My fingers reached down for an emptied snail shell about the size of a quarter.

A mist began falling, and the wind blew dried leaves. A flock of gulls, far down the reservoir, lifted into flight, a great white undulation of wings, rising and falling, carrying these birds across the sky, spread out between the water and sky like dozens of fluttering prayer flags. They landed and hunkered into small knobs on the muck.

I had stopped there hoping to see a heron with its immense wings and steady flight. Instead, these common birds – the trash pickers and pesky divers –  opened like an ornate fan in surprise and exquisite splendor, pristine white against the gray sky and trees, before folding shut again.

…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

— Mary Oliver

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West Woodbury, Vermont/photo by Molly S