Socked in by snow, I wander through the neighborhood where kids are usually outside. Two boys ride along the unplowed street, the back wheel of one bike just a metal rim, no rubber tire. The wheel leaves a trench behind the boy. The boys are talking seriously, their words muffled by snowfall. Down the hill, a little boy, maybe five or so, stands in his too-big snowsuit, mouth open to catch falling snowflakes. The moment feels intimate, as if I were staring through a window. I pick up my pace a little and keep on.
“One winter morning Peter woke up and looked out the window. Snow had fallen during the night. It covered everything as far as he could see.”
Thanksgiving weekend, we pulled out the memory game. Not so long ago, my youngest and I played the game almost daily. The game was from my own childhood, and somewhere along the way came to us.
The cardboard squares are now old and well-used from hundreds of games. We turn them around and around in our hands, talking and playing, remembering and mis-remembering.
On this December 1 day of sunlight, I cut kale from the garden. The soil beneath my boots is soft, the ice melting into mud. At last night’s virtual Almanac launch, the editors spoke about the importance of print, of books you can hold in your hands, press your face into the opened pages and breathe in the scent of paper and ink.
The memory pieces all have names we’ve made up: pointy tree and leafy tree, yellow girl, blue girl, ugly quilt, the ball, the sun. Strangely, there is no moon. I brew tea. We eat leftover pumpkin pie. Here again is the question: what’s real? Answer: bird in the hand.
As a kid, I wanted to grow up and live on a farm. We lived in a New Hampshire village and spent a few summers driving west and camping from Wyoming to southern New Mexico. National Forest camping was cheap in those days — a dollar or two per night — and we cooked over the Coleman stove and slept in tents. My parents were frugal. They didn’t rent motel rooms, hardly ever bought a cup of coffee, and generally operated on the rule of don’t spend (a learned lifeskill I remain grateful for). My father bent that rule in a Boulder, CO, bookstore when the reading material we’d packed in our green Jeep needed an infusion.
The summer I was ten or so I read Huck Finn and Norma Fox Mazer’s I, Trissy over and over. In retrospect, the books were a good pair for a kid.
Last night just after dark, I walked out to the herb patch for a handful of mint to brew tea. After a long day of high heat and the evening’s dew, the world smelled sweet, alive. I had mowed the lawn in the late afternoon, and I breathed in freshly cut grass.
What was it I had wanted when I dreamed of living on a farm? To be outside as much as possible, to put my hands in the dirt, and to see where the sky meet the horizon. Three things I achieved in one Friday, if little else.
That adolescent me, the girl who was, as I remember her, insecure, unsure, dreaming, yearning, longing, that girl who was hard on herself, who was cowardly and brave, who was confused and determined-that girl who was me-still exists. I call on her when I write. I am the me of today-the person who has become a woman, a mother, a writer. Yet I am the me of all those other days as well. I believe in the reality of that past.
Walking to mail a package, I hear pebbles grinding under bike tires and step back to let a girl on a bicycle pass by. She’s about ten or so, and she shakes her head and slows. I step back on the grass and tell her to go ahead. She swoops around me, wordlessly, then cuts out from the sidewalk to the road.
We’re along a busy road, but for this moment, there’s no traffic. She heads down the center of the road, crossing back and forth over those the double yellow lines. She doesn’t wear a helmet on her dark curls, and she’s riding a beat up old bicycle. She pedals quickly down the hill, the wind lifting her hair.
In a world so burdened by fear, encumbered by care, this girl flies down the pavement, heads into the parking lot of a storage facility, and disappears.
We’ve had so little snow this winter in Vermont that this morning’s deep snowfall comes almost as a kind of surprise. The day before, a cold rain fell all morning. As I bent into work, I kept glancing through the windows, glad of the indoor work that morning.
This snow is the classic, pillowy powder of the most magical childhood memories. Sure, spring is far in the offing on a day like this, but the billows and mounds embody winter’s profound silent beauty.
A decade ago in my life, this kind of storm would have whooshed in with a number of worries — will the sugarhouse collapse before the roof is raked? How long can I endure cooped-upness with small children? Will our firewood hold out? These days, my worries are different, as my life is in another place. But I’ve changed, too. We’ll do what needs to be done. What doesn’t get done, perhaps doesn’t need to be done. And some sun is in the forecast for this weekend, too.
[The 1800s opium epidemic in China] was once widely interpreted as a story of a once noble society destroyed by a powerful drug, but more recent scholarship has argued that this simplistic explanation overlooks the turmoil, poverty, and widespread dislocation caused by the wars themselves which in turn exacerbated the epidemic.
Here’s where we are in the world of tender gold tamarack needles and cold mud.
For two nights, I got up and read Andrea Elliott’s Invisible Child, unable to leave that world, needing to know how Elliott ended her book. I won’t reveal that. But here’s a few lines worth an extra mention:
“The world ‘understand’ comes from Old English — understandan. Literally, it means ‘to stand in the midst of.’ It does not mean we have reached some ultimate truth. It means, to my mind, that we have experienced enough of something new, something formerly unseen, to be provoked, humbled, awakened, or even changed by it.”
These words ring true for me in my own writing and, I’ll add, my experience of parenting. Elliott goes on to write, “Almost nothing counts more than the person who shows up.”
Here’s hoping you’re all weathering the weather wherever you are.