Mysterious Visitors

When my youngest daughter was four, she and one of her best four-year-old friends were playing outside and called me to come from the kitchen and, “See the bunnies, mama!”

This was right around Easter, when the yard was worn-down snowbanks interspersed with wet earth. Two enormous hares were hopping around the yard, their white winter fur turning brown in patches. Or maybe the hares looked so large because the girls in their boots were so small.

Our house was surrounded by thousands of wild acres. We had seen moose and deer and bear wander through, but never hares that came to visit for a morning. The girls had made an open air house beneath the branches of a spruce tree. All morning, the hares came and went, hopping through on their powerful legs, then disappeared and never returned to play.

This Easter arrives in a strange and disorienting period in our family life, of tests and quarantining, of worry and waiting, of days of eating take-out Japanese food sent from my parents and coconut birthday cake. We’ve abandoned the dining room for the living room, surrounded by piles of library books, cats sleeping on blankets, and my two knitting projects. I’ve begun to wonder if I might ever brush my hair again.

My youngster asks what’s this holiday about anyway, with the rock rolling away and the ascension? On the phone, my brother offers his own explanation that I’ll keep unrepeated, although I woke wondering if Jesus himself wouldn’t have objected. Jesus walked in the most profane of the human world and perhaps embodied the most holy, too.

On this spring morning, with the robins singing in the box elder outside our kitchen, I’m grateful for both the ineffable mystery of spring — thaw and crocuses — and the mundane chores of dish washing and a kitchen floor badly in need of a sweep. Or, maybe, as so often before, I’m utterly wrong, and there’s not two things, not a both, but one.

Put a Fork in Winter

On a sunny and breezy Friday afternoon, the Transfer Station Guys assure me the back of winter is broke. Their weatherman — who’s never wrong — told snowmobilers and skiers to put a fork in winter. It’s about done in.

I’m on my way from here to there, later changing out of the mud boots I’d worn to the dump, switching to shoes on a sidewalk. A log truck driver, seeing me in sock feet, raises one hand in a thumbs up.

Later, picking up my daughter around five at the high school, the grownups stand around chatting while the kids scale the enormous, dirt-blackened snowbanks flanking the parking lot.

Redwing blackbirds are singing: oh, sweet harbingers of spring.


Visitor, An Ask

On a sleety day in rural Woodbury, the bright spot in my afternoon is the woman who walks to the library — a mile or so on slushy backroads because she and her partner have no vehicle. The truck died.

She checks out books, we talk about men and raising kids, the cost of living in Vermont. I’ve been working in rural libraries and schools long enough now that I quickly know who’s hard up versus who’s driving that old Subaru because an old Subaru might make them look a little less affluent. In the sogginess of March, my library visitor is sharp and funny, with an amusing eye for details. Sitting there, in the warm library, after a few hours of relative quiet to catch up on work, I winch, thinking of how carless-ness, unemployment, and rural Vermont can crowd up against a person.

When I leave, I drive her down the road to Hardwick, the two of us, talking, talking. It’s after 5, and while dusk isn’t far off, the day still holds light. She’s pragmatic about her chances for a ride back up the road. I never know. Then, just before she gets out, she asks for two dollars, for him, the boyfriend.

… understanding, and action proceeding from understanding and guided by it, is the one weapon against the world’s bombardment, the one medicine, the one instrument by which liberty, health, and joy may be shaped or shaped towards, in the individual, and in the race.

James Agee



My favorite opening line from a Ray Carver short story reads, “I’ve seen some things.” Winter weary, in mid-February: I’ve heard some things.

A colleague shares a nearly-unbelievable story of her marriage breakup, and I think, madness, madness. The story is so unreal, it’s plausible to me. Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Every morning, every evening, the light lingers just a little longer, reminds us that spring is buried deep but not impossibly buried, that forwards is always the thrust of life.  Smartphones and the internet notwithstanding, the human story in many ways repeats its endless variations of the same simple story, over and over. We’re sentient beings on a changing planet. Snow trickles into tulips. Spring light inevitably emerges.


Little Kid Yellow

Two summers back, I bought a gallon of paint for $10. At the local hardware store, the clerk had inadvertently mixed the wrong color and offered it to me. What a score, I thought. The color approximated the hue I once used to paint windows in a cupola — a color I christened Little Kid Yellow.

Not everyone in my household has been an enormous fan of painting our front steps bright yellow. Afterwards, even I wondered, Why do I do these things?

Likely, because of January. Because of November, too, and December, and February. Heck, March and April. By the end of May, tiny blue squill will sprinkle the greening-up grass.

But right now, color in northern Vermont is hard to come up. And the little bits of brightness — that’s gold.

The winter wind
flings pebbles
at the temple bell

— Buson


Under the Dentist’s Knife

As I’m finishing a book about, essentially, pain, maybe it’s fitting that I undergo my own particular pain experience.

In the oral surgeon’s chair, as he came at my face with a small, extremely sharp blade, he paused for a moment and said I was welcome to watch, but I likely wanted to close my eyes. I definitely closed my eyes. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to open my eyes. Almost immediately, my mouth was suffused with salty, rich blood: the taste of the sea and the earth.

While allowing my mouth and those stitches time to repair, I read Chanel Miller’s  gorgeous book — this young woman known as Emily Doe, who was assaulted on the Stanford campus. Her book is filled with food — chocolate and pork dumplings — and begonias, with love of rain falling on skin and a young woman’s excitement about living in a city, but also filled with bodily pain and the complexity of living in a female body in America.

Of all the books I read this year, this author is likely my most favorite, this young woman who took this unasked-for experience, endured, and turned it into strength for so many other women.

Her victim impact statement that initiated the book can be read here.

I survived because I remained soft, because I listened, because I wrote. Because I huddled close to my truth, protected it like a tiny flame in a terrible storm… Stay tender with your power.

—Chanel Miller, Know My Name