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.”

Quarantining

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