Flattening the Road.

I drive home in a pouring snow, remembering when we bought a Toyota pickup years ago, and I drove with four-wheel drive, how the road suddenly flattened out. I’m driving my daughter’s car. In Hardwick, I stop at the auto parts store. Her right wiper is torn. I’ve known the person my daughters call The Auto Parts Man for years. He opens the wiper packages on the counter and then puts on his coat and heads out in the snow and replaces my wipers, too.

It’s the last day of February, and he says he’d rather winter just quit. He laughs and shrugs.

Nonetheless, for the moment, my windshield is clear.

This hill
crossed with broken pines and maples
lumpy with the burial mounds of
uprooted hemlocks (hurricane
of ’38) out of their 
rotting hearts generations rise
trying once more to become
the forest

just beyond them  
tall enough to be called trees  
in their youth like aspen a bouquet  
of young beech is gathered

they still wear last summer’s leaves   
the lightest brown almost translucent  
how their stubbornness has decorated   
the winter woods

— Grace Paley


Checking out at the co-op, an acquaintance says she has a question for me. I follow her outside, and we stand in the falling snow, she with her bags full and me with the tomato and yogurt my youngest requested.

Through the snow, the mural across the street glows its brilliant rainbow of colors. Across Vermont, murals have appeared in the past few years, not just in the usual suspect cities — Burlington and Brattleboro — but in places where art seems least expected: a parking lot, or the roadside field in Jeffersonville where cement silos are beautifully painted with an old man sowing seeds, a red clover blossom. Half a decade ago, driving with four young teenagers, I pulled over and we walked around and into the empty cement tubes. Springtime, we splashed through standing water in the hayfield.

Now, snow swirls around us, my favorite kind of drifting snow, magical and full of possibilities. We talk for maybe ten minutes, while I hold that tomato and a paper bag of granola, shivering, while people trudge through the snow around us, buying baguettes and greens and bottles of wine. We’ll find no answers in our brief conversation that picks up those knots of privilege and power, of pretense and betrayal. This far along in our lives, there’s nothing textbook here. The questions shape our lives, the little world where we live.

I suggest a sliver of a solution, a tiny change, a minuscule movement, a small slice of good. By then, I’m shivering fiercely. The night’s falling down, and my small household will be hungry.

The painter’s vision is not a lens,

it trembles to caress the light.

— Robert Lowell, “Epilogue”


Dreaming, I untangle my knitting conundrums: rip out one half-finished cardigan and use the yarn for a cabled pullover. Nothing earth-alternating, planet-changing, simply my need for order and creation. Some small measure of satisfaction.

Which is why I understand the volunteer in the Giving Closet, the room in the old school building where I work these days. The Giving Closet holds the community’s castoffs and giveaways, an endless motion of clothes and toys and dishes and not enough artwork that swaps around from household to household.

Late afternoon, low clouds pressing around the wide windows as a storm moves in, I wander into her space and offer hot water for tea. She’s endeavored to straighten and tidy the concatenation of stuff that invariably slides into chaos. Two women are looking for scrubs, holding up shirts and asking each other, This? or This?

Through the windows, snow drifts down. The roads part and V around this old schoolhouse, empty. Across the way, the Ukrainian flag hangs down from the church’s sign.

….. and here’s a few lines from a recent review of Unstitched by Joanna Theiss.

While Unstitched is a valuable and important book for its discussion of opioid addiction, the writing is quietly beautiful, every word appreciative of the Vermont landscape and its seasons, on mothering girls while grieving with a mother who lost her own daughter, on the stark class divides that hinder our efforts to grow past this crisis, and the joy of community, no matter how much mending it requires.

Verbal Valentine.

I’m drinking coffee in an empty corner of a coffee shop when two strangers meet up at the counter and strike up a conversation. They’re kidding the young man behind the counter who’s been sitting on the floor behind the counter, talking to a young woman. It’s a quiet morning, and their chatter has been gently full of laughter and wit.

One stranger buys the other a coffee — “and throw a shot of espresso into it” — and then his card jams and won’t work. The barista turns the card reader upside down (I mean, what else can you do with those things?) and then the other stranger pulls out cash. The men talk songwriting and growing up in North Carolina and the price of a cord of wood.

It’s a kind of Valentine’s bit of goodwill on a snowy morning that soon will turn to sun in Northern Vermont….

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
There’s nothing to write about
But radishes.

— Basho

Fierce Ties.

Like darn near everyone else on the planet, the pandemic pushed me hard to evaluate how the pieces of human world fit together. In my life, the pandemic tumbled in on the heels of a brutal divorce when nearly every friendship I had cracked. It was a loss I had not anticipated. The pandemic made so many of us look at the world through a different and perhaps less clouded lens. What holds us together?

All this is a way back to the Galaxy Bookshop….. Saturday was a day jam-packed in the bookstore. All the writers Sean Prentiss and I had reached out to responded quickly and easily, happy to come. Gifts of donuts and local cheese, of sweets and olives, arrived. People flocked in, cheerful, and bought stacks of books.

The day reminded me of the events I organized when I was librarian: poets and novelists, speakers about bear habitat, moose in Vermont, the return of big cats, and a series about climate change I had just begun when the pandemic shut down that world. Those events were the times when the library was most vibrant, most alive. Community, togetherness, are age-old things, deep hungers, a joy to participate in.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

— Maya Angelou

Water. Ice. Rain. Cold. Mud.

The light is slowly returning; I repeat this to myself in defiance of the gray and brown. How bright a fresh sparkle of snow would feel.

Is it mud season? Sugaring season? Has winter barely begun? One thing that does seem evident is that cabin fever has set in extraordinarily early this year. At work, a stranger phones in and asks for info. I offer the facts, just the facts, and then the stranger remarks, What I’d really like is a small piece of good news to start the new year. I can’t resist; I laugh. I note his bar is pretty darn low. I tell him about seeing a flock of evening grosbeaks Christmas morning in the box elders behind our porch.

That’s something, he agrees. He asks me a few more questions, then remarks that he doesn’t even need to care about these questions, anyway. He could let this go. He says thank you, goodbye, and hangs up. In a strange circumstantial way, I realize I was his good news.

“Caring for each other is a form of radical survival that we don’t always take into account.” 

― Ada Limon