I’m working on my laptop in Hardwick’s Front Seat Coffee when a man who I wanted to sell my house to, a few years back, comes up to me. In those days, he and his wife had a few young kids. The house was creative and cool, but in fairly lousy physical shape, and I believed he had the skills to right the rotten places. Life unspun in a different way, a pandemic set in, and that was that.

He’s now read my book about addiction. When we hug, he smells of woodsmoke. These days, he’s boiling sap outside, making syrup for his family.

When my youngest tells me she doesn’t know why anyone would ever write a book, I tell her there’s no reason at all, perhaps, except that it seems impossible NOT to write the book. Maybe all creativity is this way — that we’re driven to do things that otherwise no rational human would. Thank goodness for the madness of art, really.

After we talk about writing and addiction, he tells me he and his wife bought a house I once knew quite well, and we marvel at the interconnection in our little world. I may see him next week, or not for four years. And then our conversation will undoubtedly begin again.

Why Love Cats

My daughters’ cat and I are listening to Chris Hedges lecture about the collapse of the American Empire — extremely serious and unfunny — when the cat falls off the hutch and splashes into my pan of lemon-yellow paint.

The cat probably yowled; I certainly shouted. The creature scrambled through the dining room to living room, through my study, into the kitchen, where my daughter grabbed the paint-soaked cat. While she cleaned paint from the cat in the basement, I washed wet paint from our floors on my hands and knees.

We’ve lived in this house not much more than a year. While I love the maple floors, I generally don’t spend much time mopping.

While Hedges kept talking, I realized some of the narrow boards were birdseye maple. Through the closed basement door, I heard my daughter murmuring, comforting her beloved cat.

Whoever laid the floors in this house passed from this life decades ago. I thought of these slender, hard boards in a carpenter’s hand, his sight appraising the grain.

The decision by the ruling elites in ancient Rome—dominated by a bloated military and a corrupt oligarchy, much like the United States—to strangle the vain and idiotic Emperor Commodus in his bath in the year 192 did not halt the growing chaos and precipitous decline of the Roman Empire…. Trump and our decaying empire have ominous historical precedents.

— Chris Hedges, America: The Farewell Tour


The Larch Season, November, Vermont