Two, Not-So-Random Visitors

A young AmeriCorps worker stops by looking for information about how small town Vermont government works and brings a crabapple pie he baked.

The pie is deep-dish, about the size of a dinner plate. He’s tall and cheerful and tells me about his dog named Mindy. Eventually, I give him a paper map and tell him to drive around town. I highlight one section of the map in yellow. Here, I tell him, is one especially beautiful stretch of dirt road, high above a lake. He’s driving his grandmother’s hand-me-down Toyota Corolla.

Good luck, I say as he leaves.

When he’s gone, a friend stops in, looking for town info, too. The sunlight comes through the windows. I offer her a piece of pie. We talk and talk. She finally says, I feel like I haven’t seen anyone in so long.

The strange thing is, I feel that way, too. We keep eating pie. The young baker has peeled the crabapples, one by one, to sweeten the pie. We eat the whole thing, and then I wash up the plates and forks.

There was earth inside them, and they dug.”

— Paul Celan
Hurray for autumn garden.

Ferry Boat Captaining

For years, I’ve taken my daughter and her friends camping for a few days on an island in Lake Champlain. We’ve been going so long now that the years and memories have interwoven — the July the raccoons ate most of our food, how I always cook pasta and clams and greens from my garden, the way we always explore every bit of the island.

What’s changed is that the girls themselves have grown from kids to teenagers. This year, less biking and more talking.

In the early night, I lie awake in the dark, listening to the lingering remains of a thunderstorm and the girls tracing through school and soccer, questioning and wondering and thinking their way through the world.

On the way home on the ferry, we admire a sweatshirt the ferry boat captain is wearing. The shirt must have been issued by the Vermont State Parks. The back reads, 2020 We Did It.

We sit on the ferry’s open top. In the cabin, the captain invites in all the little kids on the ferry, surrounding himself with five and six and seven year olds. On the loudspeaker, he says, Lots of future captains with us today. We’re so lucky. All the way back from the island to the mainland, the kids cluster around him. There’s one place between rocks, marked with buoys, so shallow we can see rocks gliding beneath the lake water. He guides us through effortlessly, and in the open water again offers his chair to the children, who take turns. The children are radiant. The captain places his hand on a boy’s head and smiles joyfully.

Burton Island, Vermont

July 1.

This photo snapshots summer for me.

I snapped this photo of my beloved daughter’s bare feet at a gas station, just before I had a conversation with a couple who had left Tennessee (brutally hot, they repeated) for the romantic life in Vermont. I kept thinking, but you haven’t meet Vermont’s January yet….

After so long, we finally had a full dinner table on our back porch yesterday, myself and the daughters and the boyfriend and my brother and his partner, all of us together with summer’s greenery pressing in — the domesticity of my potted plants and the wildness of box elder and cardinals interwoven.

Rain sprinkled, and we grilled steak and vegetables. Our conversation wound through drought, the pandemic and the Delta variant, QAnon, and my teenager’s job in a general store this summer.

Over the valley, I saw clouds darken, and rain broke again. Plate by chair by glass we carried in what needed to be covered, and kept talking.

A Year Ago

…. A year ago, the date was looming near where I had that wretched dental procedure. On the 21st, as the oral surgeon brought a scalpel near my face, he said nicely, You might want to close your eyes for this.

This December, after weeks of virtual schooling — whatever that may be — I knock off work Friday afternoon, so the 15-year-old can drive. My oldest asked us to bring coffee. She steps out behind the doctors’ office where she works, dressed in scrubs, with a stethoscope around her neck.

Then she heads back in, jazzed for the afternoon challenge of of families and fears, from earaches to coronavirus.

In the village, my youngest parks behind the famous Stowe church, and we walk along the bike path. The path winds along the river, not at all iced over yet. We pass a few dog walkers. Behind a restaurant, the scent of dinner cooking follows us as we walk in the thin December sunlight. The savory smell reminds me of when I lived in Brattleboro, so many years ago, above a Korean restaurant.

The smell is delicious, and it follows us for a long way across a field. Stowe reminds us of those summers and falls when we sold maple syrup and ice cream at the farmers market. As we walk, my youngest tells me what she remembers of the market. These are good memories, and we share snippets of the vendors we knew in those years.

Back at the Subaru, it’s nearly four, and the sun is sinking towards the mountains’ horizon. We’ve been gone from Hardwick just a few hours and filled these hours with coffee, a scattering of snow beneath our boots, the sky overhead, the smell of dinner, and the narrow December sunlight between our words.

Carefully, she backs out of the parking space and heads for Route 100. She reminds me my brother told her to enjoy the small victories.

She pauses at the stop sign and looks at me. This is a big victory, she says.

December, 2020.


By William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows...

Adequate Materials

When I was in labor with my first daughter, at some point I glanced at a clock and realized I was in trouble. That was the only rational moment I remember from that entire labor; everything else is nearly wordless in my memory.

In those final hours, in the pauses between straining to push her into this world, I imagined the peace of a summer forest, the leaves sun-dappled. She was born in wintery February, but I drew on that memory, gathering much needed strength, as I imagined digging my fingers into the black soil, fingering pebbles of quartz and shards of slate.

So, too, now, as we’re entering the dark month of December, I look at my youngest daughter — my teenager — who is learning to endure the closure of school, the upsidedownness of her world. How invaluable, suddenly, appears a game of Yahtzee, a batch of cookies, a cat before the fire, hot coffee and conversation.

It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Rain, Cats, Kids, Home

It was raining this morning when I carried out a pail of hot ashes. For a moment, I stood in the cold rain, looking at the village below, its few lights blurry through the mist that creeps in on these early winter mornings.

Like just about everyone I know, we’re home — the three of us — for this holiday, with not much more planned than cooking and walking and hanging out in our warm house, with the walls I painted the color of daffodils.

It’s the strangest time, for sure. Decades into my life, I know this, too, will pass. My daughters — ages 21 and 15 — will someday decades hence look back at this time. I imagine they’ll remember this holiday as a time when so many relinquished their own desires for the health of the whole.

So much in 2020 was not as usual, so it’s fitting, I think, that the holiday season starts this way, too. In past years, we’ve had a huge Thanksgiving table, or we’ve traveled, or sometimes it’s simply been our family. But this year, perhaps, draws out the quieter, deeper meaning of this holiday.

So, of all the many things I’m grateful for, I’m grateful that we can endure the pandemic together, the three of us. Around us, I know, as my daughters know, there’s so many eating alone today, separate, but lending their energy toward better community health, even in a cold rain.

I thank thee God, that I have lived
In this great world and known its many joys:
The songs of birds, the strongest sweet scent of hay,
And cooling breezes in the secret dusk

— Elizabeth Craven