Unfolding, Opening Up

Midday Friday, I’m driving and listening to the Governor’s Friday press conference. For maybe 14 months now, the Governor and his cabinet have answered questions from the press all over Vermont every Tuesday and Friday — with no time limit.

I’m listening so intently, I make a wrong turn, back around, and drive on a dirt road along a river, looking for a bridge and the chance to cross. It’s May, and the roadside are strewn with brilliantly gold marsh marigolds.

I cross, then pull over and clamber down a steep embankment to the river. I’m late, already, to where I’m headed, but this May midday is so green and warm, so filled with sunlight and the promise of spring, that I feel out-of-time, as if this moment might linger forever.

I crouch near the current, broken in place by rocks that have been worn down by the ages of water and ice. I remember, so long ago, in March 2020, listening to one of the Governor’s first press conferences about the pandemic, standing in my living room with my youngest. She was delighted to be out of school for a bit; I kept wondering, what is happening?

Now, so many months later, I’ve heard hours of: look at the facts, admit what you don’t know, be decent to others, and act as a member of a society. As a writer, I interpret this as context matters. We live in the context.

We’re somewhere in May now, the ice cream cone season in Vermont. Eventually, I take off my sandals and walk barefoot up that riverbank, the day drenched in beauty.

The cool breeze.

With all his strength

The cricket.

— Issa

Kindling in December

Frost twists upward this morning on the sticks of our lilac bushes. Come early June, we’ll live outdoors, surrounded by the fragrance of multiple blossoms. Not so, these New England winter days.

In a brief pass of sunlight, we hurry outside, take a walk through the woods, observe the ice curling over a running brook. Later, in my Sunday housecleaning, shaking rugs over the deck railings, I hear the girls in the cemetery laughing. From the barn, they’ve taken the sled in search of a snowy hillside.

Mid-December — the hard and holy time.

Upstairs, my daughter plays the clarinet, the melody languorously easing into the afternoon’s already fading sunlight.

Mid-December, holy perhaps precisely for its hardness. Draw the darkness fast around us; see what we hold, what we cherish.

I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

— Gary Soto, Oranges

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Where You Can Find Us

Late last night, cleaning up my desk for the morning’s work, I found a flip book my daughter had made, with scraps of white paper from my recycling box and stapled together. On its cover, she had written in pencil Where You Might Find Me.

The first page began with a band of rainbows stars drawn in colored pencil – the Milky Way – followed by the classic solar system with orbiting planets, and then the azure and emerald orb of Earth. Her maps decreased to graphite renditions of North American, the United States, New England, Vermont, Washington County, and finally the town of Woodbury.

At the very end, I anticipated her typical drawing of our house, with a second floor balcony and the cupola that yet remains unfinished, the front door flanked by tiger lilies. Instead, she drew the Woodbury Schoolhouse, smoke cheerfully curling from its matching chimneys.

I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.

– Calvin Coolidge

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Go For It, Kiddos!

Not only the season of popsicles and swimming, summer for 11-year-olds is truly Trampoline Season. About a month before my daughter’s birthday, I inquired at a local on-line forum if anyone had a trampoline no longer in use. Almost immediately, a grandfather at my daughter’s school located a trampoline in a nearby town. And then, as back-up, a few more, too.

The gift was an utter surprise to my daughter, and brought her such joy it made me happy, too.

Up above the garden, behind the burgeoning forest of asparagus and weeds, elecampane already massing into its giant summer growth, comes the squeak squeak of trampoline springs, the children launching themselves off our buggy bit of Vermont into their kid version of the wild blue yonder.

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright…

… the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.

– Shel Silverstein, “Where the Sidewalk Ends”

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West Woodbury, Vermont

Tuesday: a Few Miles Travelled

Eleven years ago, I drove away from Copley Hospital in Morrisville, sitting in the backseat of a car – a place I never sit. My six-year-old daughter was in the backseat, too, her infant sister between us, just days old. Although it had rained every single day in May – either a drizzle or deluge – the beginning days of June were sunny and hot. Leaving the hospital, we passed enormous corn fields where emerald shoots of corn had emerged from the dark soil in those few days I had been cloistered.

Sick through almost the entire pregnancy, by the end I was less alive, submerged in that pregnancy’s difficulty. But all that passed immediately with the birth of my second daughter. Within minutes of her birth, I felt myself returning to life.

In all the marvelous experiences of my life, those minutes driving by those June corn fields rank very near the apex: the two children I was meant to have, beside me birthed and healthy, the gloomy raininess of a long hard season dispersed, and all around us, radiant in sunlight, those fertile fields rich with life pushing upward, in those long sweeping rows of gems.

blessing the boats
(at saint mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back
may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

— Lucille Clifton

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The Earth Curves, of course

After a day of downtown Portland’s busy scene – art and wharf and walking, and my brother crashed a bachelorette party while my daughters ate gelato, and my older daughter bought the younger a miniature ship in a bottle – we drove over a drawbridge in search of the wide open ocean.

At the beach, we left our shoes by the car and spread out, one daughter gathering shells and sea glass, the other carrying her camera. Away from the city’s hurdy-gurdy, the ocean  – sky, sand, stone, gull, the steady and infinitely changing waves – churned, at once noisy and calming, a place we had never been and yet was familiar, expansively glorious.

We leapt over enormous chunks of pink granite to an old lighthouse while the sun tugged the daylight over the horizon. Afterwards, all of us laughing while I drove through the dark, I told the children we would stop in Pierre, South Dakota, for gas. With our three drivers, we’d switch off until we hit the north California coast. Even when we returned to my brother’s New Hampshire house, late, the little girl tired and nearly asleep, we were still laughing, the world wide-open and full of possibilities, as if my little car with its two bright headlights could trek all around the the globe and ferry us back to home.

…where we choose to be–we have the power to determine that in our lives. We cannot reel time backward or forward, but we can take ourselves to the place that defines our being.

Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer

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Cape Elizabeth, Maine/Photo by Molly S.