A few years ago, when I desperate to sell my house and move away from my former husband, a woman in the state tax department shifted a line on a map. The property was enrolled in a tax-relief program for agricultural land, and I couldn’t sell the house without a paying a substantial fine for withdrawing the land.
She made a minor change on a map — something that might have seemed very small — but made all the difference in the world to me and my daughters. I never met her, but I called and thanked her.
On this terrible anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, if little else, after such a terrible year and more, in myriad ways we’ve seen that our actions affect others. We’re wound together. This can have terrible consequences, but it also holds a mighty power, too. The map can be changed.
There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.
On inauguration eve, I dream of wandering through my childhood hometown and wake thinking of the November morning four years when I woke early and realized I would have to tell my daughters that Donald Trump won the presidency.
Four years seems so long ago — far longer ago than my own childhood of the 1970s when not all that much seemed to happen.
As I lie in bed reading about the Vikings — these ancient, fascinating people — snow drifts down outside, twinkling in my neighbor’s porch light. She’s up, too, as are my neighbors across the street, all three of our houses awake this morning long before dawn. In a different world, I’d pull on my coat and slip into my boots, walk through those unshoveled inches of fresh snow, and offer a piece of coffee cake my daughter baked.
In my own family life, we’ve slipped through so many borders and changes in these four years, one tiny ripple in the endless ripples of human life. Today, January 20, yet another change. May this be for civility and decency.
The Viking Age was very much a time of borders—between cultures and ways of life, between different views of reality, and between individuals, including at the level of liberty itself.
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.
My 19-year-old shoots me a photo for an essay I’ve written and hands over her camera card. Scrolling through, I find this picture of her younger sister taken by my friend Jessica Ojala.
With almost tactile precision, I remember tying my daughter’s little blue shoes, how seriously she and her friend took this photo shoot, how my little daughter ran with her short legs along the pebbled path but was so careful to stay on the paths and not tread on nursery plants.
Look at her little hand on that lichen-covered bench arm and — all around — that gorgeous garden.
Below zero this morning. The now 13-year-old sleeps with one hand on her tabby cat. Same child, different season.
Wind tore around the house last night, howling. I left this morning in the dark, with clouds rushing over the waning moon. It was so early the sky was yet that deep blue, nearly black, just before dawn.
The nights are cold enough the warm house is welcome. The 12-year-old, teetering on that cusp of childhood and teenage-land, revamps her cardboard cathouse creation, from a Victorian three-story into a sprawling mansion. The cats, bored with me when I’m not feeding them, clamber excitedly through her construction zone.
April is that in-between month, too. Winter dying — hard, reluctant — the soil not loosened for planting peas. Every day is longer, the sunlight rushing headlong back to us. Bring it on!
The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.
Spring may be fêted with pastel bunnies and pale eggs in the Hallmark and Nestle worlds, but Vermont’s spring must be brutally strong to break winter’s back.
Thaw, and the ice pounds back. Melt, and freeze steals into the night.
The hardest I’ve ever worked in my life is sugaring season. When my younger daughter was two, I remember lying with her under the skylight over our bed, completely spent, reading Louse Gluck’s poem in The New Yorker. I had little time for reading in that season, and this poem always reminds me of this season’s pithiness, the stubborn desire to press on through mud and ice, toward the blossom season.
The sea doesn’t change as the earth changes; it doesn’t lie. You ask the sea, what can you promise me and it speaks the truth; it says erasure…
Nothing can be forced to live.The earth is like a drug now, like a voice from far away, a lover or master. In the end, you do what the voice tells you. It says forget, you forget. It says begin again, you begin again.