Sing, Robins

I lingered on our porch yesterday evening, gathering a few pieces of firewood. It’s warm enough now that the fire could stay out, but somehow letting the hearth go cold in March just doesn’t seem right.

There’s that worn-out cliche that the laughter of babies is one of the best sounds on this planet — and it’s not a cliche, because baby laughter is really dear.

But so is the songs of robins.

We’re back again in these melodies. Around us, mud and thaw pushing up the debris that’s hidden under the snow all winter. Pieces of cardboard and empty yogurt containers, the runny mess of my ash pile, my youngest’s holey (or is that holy) pink socks where she tossed them over the porch railings in a burst of spring enthusiasm.

Oh, robins, mud your nests, lay your eggs, raise your newborns. We need you!

Open a window. Rain falling
on good land is good for melancholy.

Jody Gladding

Hardwick, Vermont

Yes

Driving home from work, I see my daughter and her friend walking through town, talking. I pull over, and they run across the road. We stand there for a little while, talking. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this at all. They tell me a little about kicking around a soccer ball that morning, and remark how hot the day has suddenly become.

They finish their walk, then we all go swimming.

These days, I sometimes think of my grandparents, whose lives were marked by the depression. As a kid, when we went out to eat with my grandmother, she’d swipe ketchup packets, because, she said, you never knew when you might need it.

For these teens, the pandemic will mark their lives, too. Someday, I imagine, they’ll be saying, remember when high school stopped, and we all stayed home?

They won’t forget. Sleepovers and cozy breakfast in the kitchen are on permanent hiatus, but summer is back. Sitting on the bank, watching them swim, I’m happy for just for this moment — sunlight and pollen-flecked water, croaking bullfrogs in the weeds, laughter — a little more childhood yet to come.

Many people find it easy to imagine unseen webs of malevolent conspiracy in the world, and they are not always wrong. But there is also an innocence that conspires to hold humanity together…

Tracy Kidder

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Photo by Gabriela Stanciu

Day by Day

In library land — as if the masks aren’t enough — I keep reminding myself that the world isn’t the same. I’m not supposed to say, hey, kick off your shoes and relax. Lie down and read if you want.

In my library, an older woman comes in wearing a mask, looking for a locally written book that apparently no one can find. Maybe she has a copy. Maybe someone else in town has a copy. Do I? I don’t, but I manage to find one copy in a library in southern Vermont. That library, of course, appears to be closed.

A young couple arrives next, excited to print out a copy of their nursery license.

The afternoon passes in fits and starts. While I tackle the backlog of details, I listen to The Daily podcast about George Floyd’s funeral. A friend wanders in and leans against my desk, listening, too. By the end, we’re both weeping. I close my laptop and ask how her life is going. What’s happening? We stand apart, talking.

Shortly before I lock up for the night and head home, a woman and her daughter appear. The daughter shyly tells me, I’m in second grade now.

Goodness! I say.

She’s lost a front tooth.

We move outside, into the breeze and sunlight. I listen to her mother who’s working and in school. While I marvel at how she’s kept what appears to me an impossible life tougher, I keep looking at her little girl, holding a stack of library books. Step by step, I think.

I’ve seen enough things to know that if you just keep on going, if you turn the corner, the sun will be shining.

— Rev. Al Sharpton

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Childhood, End of Year 14

Three months of glorious summer stretch ahead — we may be (mostly) shut in, threatened by a virus, wondering about the fall and the future — but the apple and lilac blossoms are profuse.

Early mornings and dusky evenings, I water barefoot in the garden, carrying buckets silently, listening. My daughter waits for a game of soccer. When I lean against her trampoline and ask what’s up, she says merely, Nothing.

There’s no arguing here. That nothing encompasses a great deal these days, including the studious picking apart of dandelion heads.

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Travels into the Past

My daughter and I stop briefly in the New Hampshire town where I grew up, as part of a much longer day trip. Although Goffstown is three hours from where we live, my younger daughter had never been there. My parents have long ago moved back to New Mexico, my siblings spread out in their own adult lives.

The little village, where I haven’t been in years, is surprisingly unchanged. There’s some sprawl here and there, but not as much as I expected. A town ballfield has been converted to a cemetery, planted with saplings and marked, so far, with a single tombstone. Below that, the small pond where I learned to ice skate is still encroached by weeds and brambles, making for tricky skating but immensely interesting viewing for a child lying on the ice.

The snow has mostly melted here, and the earth is an amber-brown. Not a single shoot of spring green is visible yet. Walking around, I see the places that I loved: the gone-to-wild swathe behind our neighborhood houses — places a child could endlessly explore for years — the Ucancoonuc Mountains, the woods with huge glacial erratics surrounding the town. The library where I read out the children’s section and held my first job as a library page has been expanded. We walk through the library. Tom Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t ever go home. I can’t quibble with that wisdom, but walking through this library I loved so dearly, I step back into my childhood for a few minutes. Crammed with books, the library was both alive for me with the social chatter of the town but also ineffably fed my hungry imagination.

On this Wednesday morning, the library staff says hello and good morning to my daughter and me, and I feel, again, that same hum of life, endlessly unspooling, utterly fascinating. The shelves now stretch far up to the high ceilings, and this makes me so happy, to know the library is loved and funded.

Likewise, walking past my former house, I see a treehouse in the backyard and a tire swing from one of those enormous maples. Every summer, my father — and then his three children — painted the clapboards. Whoever lives there now does the same, I see.

I had expected to be sad, maybe nostalgic, about this town I never visit any longer. But walking around with my teenager, I see immediately that I’ve taken that town with me, that the child and teenager I was then carried that love of woods and wild, of imagination and dreaming, the same quirky family story and laughter with me.

At my parents’ former house, I see children play in that mixture of tended domesticity and the small patch of woods behind that old house. It doesn’t make me feel old; instead, I feel resilient. Driving, we listen to Coronavirus news, to the stock market careening, to the political uncertainty of this world. My daughter and I talk and talk and talk. Listening, I don’t second-guess myself, I don’t wonder what I’ve failed as a mother. I know, instead, I’ve given her a fertile, imaginative childhood, and I know it’s hers, to decide her own course, too.

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Little & Big Worlds

On an incredibly warm afternoon, a little girl discovers a pencil-thin garter snake curled up in the gravel alongside the library. Snow lies ubiquitous on the playground, but the earth there has emerged from its winter hibernation: a green iris shoot, dark mud. I love snakes, the girl says dreamily.

VPR carries news of the stock market’s plunge, of quarantine, of illness. All these factors, in one way or another, may eventually — later? sooner? — reach this little girl. For now, she stands in the snow in her boots and a t-shirt, staring at the creature. Under her arm is tucked a grownup natural history guide, a book she’s checked out of the library.

Later, after a nearly six-hour-long school board meeting filled with simply stuff, we lean back in chairs. It’s nearly midnight. There’s still snacks on the table. I’ve long finished my tea. Head home? I put my forehead on the school library’s table, its wood hard beneath my bone. Eventually, I gather my papers. Outside, the air is balmy. I breathe.

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