In the dark, we walk downtown and leave letters in the mailbox. Through the valley’s mist, house and streetlights glow. November looms. Poet Thomas Hood described November: “No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.”
The news around us is of two, unrelated homicides, neither far from our house, in our rural state with scant violent crime. In the dark, I bring in an armful of wood and pause for a moment. Across the valley, I see a pair of headlights crest a dark hillside and begin a descent, slow to my eyes through the mist.
Through the house windows, I see my daughters before the wood stove, our walls painted butter-yellow. The crickets are gone. Late fall pushes in. Every year, the darkness enfolds us again, inescapable and mysterious.
On this balmy October morning, the cats and I woke up early to read Katherine Dykstra’s What Happened to Paula. In book’s midpoint, the word “possibility” appears, the same word that appears in my book Unstitched.
As the mother of two daughters, there’s so much conversation in our house about women’s bodies in this world — what keeps us well, what feeds our souls, and, inevitably, how women and men have a different experience in this world. Dykstra’s book is a narrative about a long-unsolved murder of a young woman, but also the story of women’s bodies and souls in our nation. Dykstra writes: “There is rarely physical equality between men and women.”
I’ve been on a reading binge on the Anthony Swofford/Christa Parravani husband and wife author duo, jumping around their memoirs. I picked up Parravani’s most recent book, Loved and Wanted, and then interlibrary-loaned others. Swofford wrote Jarhead — the marine memoir that just about everyone was reading a number of years ago, and I never did.
Yesterday morning, my oldest daughter got up at three to make her flights to visit my parents in New Mexico. In those murky depths of the night, I got up at three, too. When she left, a cat and I lay on the couch, reading Hotels, Hospitals and Jails. Ending with a father and son RV journey, the book’s ending did that miraculous thing, spinning not just that book but how I look at literature in a wider, more powerful light.
Hotels ends with the beginning of the couple’s marriage. Parravani’s Loved and Wanted takes place years into marriage and baby-raising. That, perhaps, is about all I’ll say about that.
My papers and notebooks were scattered around the couch from the virtual select board meeting I attended the night before. Nearly four hours long, the Selectboard discussed darn near everything in town, from federal Covid money to the sheriff’s update regarding a shooting to whether the board should consider moving a road. While democracy may be struggling in much of the country, in rural Vermont, messy democracy still rules.
I pause my afternoon run when a couple waves me down in a little memorial park in Hardwick. I’m guessing they’re looking for directions, maybe a suggestion where to eat an early dinner or the road to another town. Instead, they’re curious as heck about Hardwick.
What drove the economy in the 1800s and 1900s? When was the beautiful granite town office building constructed? Do I know the population?
Weirdly, I know the answers to all these questions, and ask a few of my own. Where are they from? Where are they headed?
They’re from the northern shore of Lake Champlain — St. Albans — a town where I once bought a sizable (and expensive, oh, was it expensive) piece of maple sugaring equipment.
We stand beneath a gold-leafed maple, talking about this and that, and I share my speculations about what living in Hardwick might have been like in the early 1900s. It’s all speculation, as my daughters would readily point out.
At the end, just before we part, they ask if I know someone who lives in town. He’s a high school teacher, and I met his family over twenty years ago. In fact, I live beside his mother-in-law.
We laugh. How little separates us. Then they get in their car, and I head off on my run.
Sunday afternoon, the board of the local food co-op hosted a meeting, posing the question: buy a building a few blocks down and encumber the co-op with a million-dollar debt, or stay in the tiny, owned-outright space? Philosophically and financially, the debate was heated.
I leaned against the pavilion’s post, listening, drinking my tea. Around us, fallen leaves rustled across the grass. My cheeks burned with windburn from that morning’s hike with my daughters. We climbed to a cliff and looked down at a glacial lake, the surface choppy with white caps. On our way home, we stopped at the beach of this enchanting lake, mountains rising steeply on either side. A bald eagle dove into the wind, its head and tail whiter than snow.
Before the meeting ended, I packed up my knitting and headed home, still thinking about that eagle.
From one of my childhood favorite reads — and from a paperback still on my shelf…
The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her … In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible.”
These Vermont days unfold one after one, exceptionally warm for this time of year. Mornings, I write on our back deck. By dinner time, the air has cooled, so we eat in our little dining room, while the dark descends around our house.
Over dumplings, my teen shares stories of high school, and we chew over the school’s new open campus policy. She talks and talks. Listening, I realize so much of the past year and a half was this strange virtual world. Her stories are mesmerizing with intrigue and merriment, but also laced through with all kinds of complicated things.
No parenting advice here. While I’m on the phone Friday morning in our glassed-in second story porch, pitching a story, I see a Subaru dash into my driveway. My daughter and her friend leap out, laughing. Before I finish my call, they’ve disappeared, deep in their own narratives. They’re serious students, with long thought-out lists of goals. How glad I am to see them together, cackling. Before I head back to work, I brew another pot of coffee and stand on the back porch, listening to the crickets.
Be well, I think. Be happy. Be very careful driving and keep your eyes open. And return and tell me, some at least, of your world.
…. I bought my friend the newest Mary Lawson novel, A Town Called Solace. She’s loaned it back to me.
He’d assumed that you went to school because you had to learn things, starting off with the easy stuff and moving on to the bigger issues, and once you’d learned them that was it, the way ahead opened up and thereafter life was simple and straightforward. What a joke. The older he got, the more complicated and obscure everything became. ”