Stone House.

All night, wind howls around our house. I give up the charade of sleeping and pull out my library book. I’m in the final pages of Meredith Hall‘s memoir about growing up in New Hampshire, Without a Map, and I’m in no rush to end her story, close the cover, and return the book.

At my feet, my little cat lies awake, thinking cat thoughts, in a cat circadian rhythm of his own. The Ides of March howl in fiercely. All day, the wet snowstorm has swirled around us. My wet boots lie beneath the wood stove. Our house banked in by white and the ash bucket melting dirtily into the path where I’ve left to cool, its embers to burn out and die.

Somewhere in those hours before dawn, I shake flat the wood stove’s embers with the ash shovel and lay one, two, more pieces of wood on the flickering coals. In the dark house, the little cat follows me downstairs, curious about breakfast but not insistent.

I think of what I’ve read that day, about a stone house built nearby in the 1800s from a single boulder. A curious endeavor. Take this stone, cut it into pieces, and make a home. In the darkness, the wind rakes over our house, hurls over my snow-submerged garden plot, and whirls over the town cemetery.

“The past lies beneath the surface, intransigent truth. Remembered or not, what we say and do remains, always.” 

— Meredith Hall

Family Stories.

The cats eye the dog with disdain. The dog considers the cats a potential meal or simple annoyance; we don’t know. The dog sneaks into the kitchen and steals the bowl of chocolate covered stars which horrifies my daughters. In that tussle, the braver cat slinks behind the wood stove and regains his favored position.

My oldest has no heat in her apartment, worries about her houseplants, has heat and then again has no heat. She texts me before five in the morning, and then my brother and I lie awake and text each other through the bedroom wall. I write, looks rough in Buffalo. I make endless pots of coffee. My brother, the brewery owner, drinks beer. We play Concentration, Chinese Checkers, Wordle.

The bathroom needs painting, and we discuss paint options, how Steam might pair with Orange Juice like our father’s study. The remains could be used in our tiny dining room.

After he’s home, he sends me three photos. In one, my youngest as a tiny girl stands in a borrowed homemade dress with mud smeared to her elbows and daubed on her face. My oldest leans down from an apple tree, sunlight in the leaves over her head. My brother pedals a tricycle. I remember the summer day I took that photo of my youngest. We had stopped by a site where her father was building a house. So much mud, so much pleasure for this child. Years later, I saw that homeowner ice skating with his young daughter. How much I wanted to know if he still lived in that house. How well had it held up for him? Instead, we exchanged chit-chat about the ice, and I never learned his story.

In the dog’s absence, the cats retake their rug and wood stove territory, protagonists in their own cat-language drama.

Reading. Fear of Dogs. Starlight.

The July after I graduated from college, I stayed in a cabin a short walk through the woods on a back road. The one-room space had been built as a studio with a wall of windows that faced what had once been a view and now was shaded by leafy maples. In winter, the cabin was heated by a woodstove. An outhouse had been dug behind the cabin. My friend was visiting her mother in California. I stayed in the cabin and fed her dog. The dog didn’t listen to me at all. He ran off and chased the sheep down the road, whose owners claimed they could shoot the dog. I was twenty-two and knew nothing about farming, but I was afraid of the angry farmer and didn’t argue. The dog still didn’t listen to me.

Despite the dog and the farmer, I loved the cabin. The economy was terrible; there were few jobs, and I was trying to figure out my next step. I read a lot of Ann Beattie who was popular in the 1990s. I remembered that small paperback Chilly Scenes of Winter I owned for years, when I stepped outside yesterday evening. I had been reading Tess Gunty‘s The Rabbit Hutch, a novel a far stylistic throw from Beattie. In the dark, a truck towing an empty trailer rattled by.

Down the sidewalk, a dog growled. A man tugged the dog’s leash. No: the dog snarled. I knew the mutually unhappy pair, the man’s sole dominance apparently through that leash. I crossed the street and cut down along the brook through the log yard, walking quickly in the tepid night. On my living room rug, that Gunty library book waited, spread pages-down, spine up. Sure, the world changes, moment by moment. And yet, sometimes not so. Overhead, stars and no moon.

“What will happen can’t be stopped. Aim for Grace.”

— Ann Beattie

January Dreaming.

The cats and I write in the mornings, ski in the late afternoons. In the middle part of the day, on these cold weekends, I paint the downstairs walls yellow. The yellow approximates the hue and consistently of vanilla cake batter. If this is my way of keeping sane in a pandemic winter, I suppose it’s holding firm enough.

While I paint, I listen to stories about Sidney Poitier, about the teachers’ union strike in Chicago, about Ginni Thomas — spouse of Clarence Thomas. If nothing else, the words remind me that the world goes on. The first room I ever painted by myself was a room I rented in a house on High Street in Brattleboro, Vermont. I was 21. It was July, and the windows were open. I was drinking gin and tonics. Now, water has replaced the G&Ts. I have two daughters, two books, and I’m imagining a little orchard I’m going to plant this spring. Maybe it’s just the yellow paint (or the fumes) but more and more, I dig down into my imagination, into its deep reserves.

Our cats dream of good cat things: cardinals and tuna on a little flowered plates and sunlight before the wood stove. A loving hand on their furry heads.

Words from Thich Nhat Hanh:

“We have the tendency to run away from suffering and to look for happiness. But, in fact, if you have not suffered, you have no chance to experience real happiness.”


Every morning when I wake in the dark, I think, I’m not sick, a revelation that begins the day. Although I’m not headed out of the house, for any number of days, I’m up especially early these days, thinking of Salinger’s Zooey telling Franny not to fritter away the best part of the day, buddy.

It’s all jumbled up here, even more than the past year. I am so grateful my daughter isn’t sick, that she’s counting down her quarantine days not with pleasure, but with her trademark resolution, her will do, but I’m plotting my summer plans….

For me, it’s wait and watch, a negative test followed by another test, results in 36-72 hours. Over us hovers the thought: which way will this go?

I set up work on the kitchen table, then move to the back porch in the afternoon. My daughter disappears on a long walk through the woods. At the tail end of winter, we haven’t pulled any outdoor furniture from the barn yet, so I sweep the boards and lean against what remains of the railing broken by falling ice.

In the late afternoon, I’m painting the interior windows of my upstairs office when I see the town librarian walking up my road with two books she’s leaving for me. I holler down, Thank you! We talk for a moment through my screen, and then she’s on her way again.

Like the rest of the world, I keep listening to the trial in Minnesota. My daughter appears and leans in the doorway, watching me. I tell her I’m going to savor this quarantine with her, that we’ll be talking about it someday, years hence, when she has twins and a baby and I show up to change diapers.

That’s wonderful, she tells me, and you have paint on your elbow.

Thank you so much, my readers, for writing in. It means the world to me.

Kitchen office, complete with (working) cat and borrowed tortilla press.

Strange Bed

The forecast for this Vermont Christmas is 100% rain, which pretty much sums up the year 2020.

From work, I take home a donated cat bed, lined with a downy fuzz and nearly new. When I set it on our living room floor, our cats approach with caution, sniffing, and then begin growling, doubtlessly sensing some former occupant.

A dog? Or simply some stranger?

All evening, our pampered house cats pace around the bed, suspicious. But, in the morning, I see our tabby Acer curled up in the bed’s center, sleeping, paws over shut eyes, tail tucked beneath his chin.

And so it: 2020 and on into 2021. Wherever each of you are, dear readers, I hope you take some comfort in this strange bed of where we are, as our planet slowly turns back toward the light, again.

Cutting with the ax,
I was surprised at the scent.
The winter trees.

— Buson

Hardwick, Vermont