Unexpectedly, I end up with a short period of time in Montpelier, and, rather than work in the library as I once did (for years), I open my laptop on a bench. I set up beside the city’s old train roundhouse, marked now by a sign but nearly hidden under foliage.
It’s fitting, in these days of change.
In our family life, my youngest daughter’s birthday approaches. Last night, I watched my daughter and her friends laughing in the flickering campfire. What a change from last year.
In the world-at-large, the world changes, too. Our town canceled the annual Memorial Day parade, but set off fireworks at the high school. This is now, I kept reminding myself as we watched the fireworks from our yard, not a memory, but now.
The temperature sank. We wondered about frost warnings. I remembered how Peak Oil was the buzz right after this daughter’s birth. But here we are, sixteen years later, young girls on the cusp of womanhood.
Sweet, I thought as I gathered the dinner’s dirty plates. An actual potluck again. Sweet, sweet sixteen.
Skiing through the town forest yesterday, I ducked beneath sap lines. The sugarbush there is tapped and ready for the sap to run. I’m ready, too.
For years, our family sugared, and February began weeks that turned around the season and sap flow. We had no weekend. We had no days off. So now, on Sundays, I (mostly) fold up my laptop and lean into family.
One (small) silver lining of the pandemic is the pleasure of a single donut: peach, flower, poppy seed.
When I step out to start my daughter’s car before she heads to work this morning, a very light snow is falling, flakes drifting in the light from the kitchen window.
Last year, I would have been headed to Burlington through the snow, driving through whatever the weather might have tossed at me. This year, I’m headed a far shorter distance up a back road.
In my twenties, I lived in Washington state for a few years, on the western side, in the Cascade mountains. The mountains were beautiful, the people kind, but I missed the heart of winter, the drama of Vermont’s swinging seasons. On mornings like this, I sometimes wonder what the heck I was thinking. In February, so many Vermonters draw in — even pre-pandemic — hibernating at our hearths against the winter.
For a moment longer I stand shivering. In the village below, only a few lights glow. A milk truck drives along Route 14.
Then I head back in to make more coffee. My daughter yawns and packs her bag for work. She asks me, Remember the smell of rain?
On a whim, I bought three tickets to an outdoor light festival. Each ticket was cheaper than the price of a movie ticket, back when we once went to the movies.
It was below zero when we arrived, and the three of us stood very near a crackling fire watching the winter twilight sink through deepening shades of blue into dark. We were outside a theater where I attended a fantastic poetry reading just before our world shut up last March.
Eventually, my daughters and I, warmed enough by the fire and hot chocolate, wandered through the enchantingly lit grounds. Overhead, the stars shone. At the far end, two little kids played in the snow that was lit cobalt — laughing with great pleasure, The snow is blue!
Just before we left, my daughters started the car and the heat, and I ran back to the window for sweets to bring home. I guessed who was bundled under layers of bulky coats and scarves and balaclavas.
A stranger who was stamping his feet and waiting for drinks asked if I was from here. Our house with our cats was eight miles down the road, but he had driven well over an hour to come. We have to do something, he said, then we wished each other a lovely night, and then disappeared into the night.
Way back in the last century, when I first moved to Vermont as a young woman, my then-boyfriend and I drove in the middle of one night to Boston. We passed through tiny Massachusetts town after town, shuttered up and dark for the night. As our old Toyota hurried through, I wondered who lived there. At two in the morning, hardly anyone but a parent with a crying baby is awake.
Walking downtown last night, while my daughters wash our dinner dishes, I marvel how the pandemic seems to have placed us in a very long 2 a.m. In the dark, I pass a single masked person. Treading carefully on the ice, we each half-raise a hand, a human version of ships passing in the night.
This morning, my neighbors’ lights are off. Last year, with their youngest, their house lights glowed at all hours. Now, at 6 a.m., the house remains shrouded in the darkness of sleep. And so it goes, I remind myself, night always yields to dawn.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.
A warm Christmas Day rain washes away every bit of snow in our patch of northern Vermont, save for a few ice-hardened and blackened plowed-up ridges. As the dawn drips in with its gray, the landscape appears unfamiliar to me in December — an experience that, again, sums up 2020.
Friends of ours had Christmas dinner on the in-laws’ porch, with the in-laws inside and themselves on the covered porch, eating Christmas dinner 2020-style. Strange and weird, but what wouldn’t I have given that for hilarity.
Talking with my brother on Christmas morning, he mentions he may grout a floor that afternoon. My youngest, afterward, tells me how fun that sounded and then wonders if she would see her uncle before she’s all grown up, headed out into the world on her own, not so far away.
And so it goes in this landscape of unfamiliarity: suspended in a warp of uncertainty. In the midst of all this, there’s me with my lists, my agendas, my determination to craft plans for happiness.
In this gray and blue and brown landscape — not the traditional Vermont snowy Christmas — there’s nothing to do but let all that fly away in the rising and balmy breeze. The heart of the Christmas story, after all, is the unexpected gift in the barn’s manger, the promise of joy where we least expect its appearance.