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





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



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


West Woodbury, Vermont/photo by Molly S


After a morning’s work, I stepped out on the balcony and saw wild turkeys slowly picking their way through the frost-bent buckwheat around my garden. These birds are amazingly large, with their red and gum-blue heads vibrant colors against the autumn’s gold. By the time I was in the garden, the turkeys had gone on their way, back into the woods.

With my hands, I tore out the pepper plants, the marigolds and nasturtiums, the cosmos, the end of the squash, these beauties finished for this year. The sunflowers and zinnias I left standing, heads bent down, yet rich with seed, for the birds.

Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce. In summer, we work hard to make a tidy garden, bordered by pansies with rows or clumps of columbine, petunias, bleeding hearts. Then we find ourselves longing for the forest, where everything has the appearance of disorder; yet we feel peaceful there.

–– Natalie Goldberg


Garden/West Woodbury, Vermont

Laughter and Rain

The February my older daughter had just turned one, she and I went to a playgroup in Craftsbury, and only a woman I hadn’t met and her one-year-old son showed up. The tykes fought over a red plastic shovel (my child was the aggressor), and eventually we hid the shovel. While the kids checked out the plastic toys, the woman and I talked, and talked, and talked, and in some ways haven’t really stopped talking since.

Today, in one of these weird slips of time, my friend and I drove around Woodbury, this rural Vermont town, population 902, over dirt roads, up hills and along narrow roads without guardrails beside ponds, looking for one particular thing.

Crisscrossing these roads in the rain, we passed my daughter’s elementary school several times, and I thought of my child at her tidy desk, in the warm red schoolhouse with the rain coming against the windows.

My friend and I met no one else but a pickup truck or two on these back roads. Several times I asked, Should I drive up there? It looks like a bike trail and not a road.

Yes, she insisted, yes — and only once got out so I didn’t back into a ditch.

How long our friendship spins out, stitched through with so many things:  new babies, and gardening, books and more books, a courtroom, jobs, days at the lake, coffee, broken vehicles, farmers markets, deaths, and a whole lot of laughing. I wouldn’t trade the laughing for anything.

Nobody sees a flower, really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

– Georgia O’Keefe

Photo by Molly S.

Photo by Molly S.

Use What’s At Hand

We are no longer in the gardening season, no longer in the season of growth and warm days, of the earth turning green. October heralds the season of decay, of stillness and quiet, broken not by songbirds but the geese winging their way south. Weeding once, with someone else, he suggested laying the handfuls of weeds over the living ones, as a smothering mulch. Use what’s at hand.

That phrase comes back to me, in this season of pulling up a garden, ending one thing, and entering this other season. It’s a way of looking at the world where one thing morphs into another, where this as plague becomes that as assistance. It’s a way of looking at compost as life, at your weakness as truly your strength.

I thought I knew about all that (loss) when my first wife, Jackie, died of cancer… It isn’t just that I don’t believe in love; I’m not sure I believe in anything. But, looking at these radiant canvasses (of Vermeer)–unreachable yet familiar–reminds me. The rapturous inner life of each woman and the infinitesimally detailed and self-contained life of the street are each imagined as an undiscovered heaven on earth…

–– Michael White, Travels in Vermeer


Photo by Molly S.