Slanted World

In the evening, we walk on a narrow footpath through a cedar forest where I’ve never been. In a worn-down kind of fog, short of sleep, I abruptly realize the trees are somewhat slanted. Through the forest, the dwindling light highlights scattered bit of white birch bark.

Ending, we descend backwards through a trail I’ve walked up many times. From this angle, coming down along a hillside, we hear a running stream. Save for the three of us, we see no one else in the town forest.

Someday, of this strange time, I’ll remember the unusual kindness and intimacy of people towards each other. That day, taking photos of our friends’ farm, my friend walked out of her greenhouse, and we stood apart in the road, just talking, sharing pieces of what’s going on in our lives. She asked my daughters’ plans, and what’s going on with them.

In other days, maybe we would have hugged. But over and over, in this time, I find myself exchanging only words — what we’re afraid of, what we’re struggling with, sometimes threads and stories of our past — who we’ve been and who we might want to be again.

It’s a fragile time, these days. We’ll remember these endless, daily walks, too, threading through our lives, stitching us together. Take heart, friends. Day by day.


Strength Lies in Vulnerability

When my daughter heads to work yesterday morning, I stand on the kitchen step, listening to rain on the porch roof.

As a writer for a Vermont magazine, I’m ordered to stay home, and my intention is to drink coffee and work at the kitchen table. All day.

But my daughter, my 21-year-old, works on the front lines of this unknown illness. All day, she texts me periodically. Hours later, when I’m listening to the governor declare a state of emergency in Vermont, she walks in wearing jeans and a pretty blouse, her scrubs bundled in a plastic bag and left outside on the porch. While eating beef stew, she shares her day.

I’ve spent much of the afternoon reading about the history of poverty in Vermont, about Roosevelt’s relief programs and the story of social welfare, for an article I’m writing about wages in Vermont. Listening to my daughter who’s embraced this beginning of her working life with such gung-ho enthusiasm, doing difficult things, pulling her own weight with a busy medical team, I keep thinking about time and place. In the manuscript I just finished, I wrote that individual qualities of courage and cowardliness, of persistence and dishonesty, shape and alter our lives. But, likewise, so does our historical time and place.

Our conversation inevitably shifts to our family, as we figure out the possible economic pieces of our household, bracing for far harder days. This responsibility, too, this young woman steps into seamlessly, accepting her responsibility in her father’s absence as a given. Later, as we head out for a walk in the evening’s dark, I think back to that governor’s speech — so different from the current commander-in-chief’s remarks. I remind myself what I once believed was impossible — strength grows in vulnerability.

Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.

Franklin D. Roosevelt


Not the Rose Garden in bloom. Hardwick, VT, in March.

When In Doubt, Do Handwork

My 19-year-old, pondering what to do with her life, buys fat skeins of yarn and begins knitting a blanket. The metaphor of comfort consoles me, too.

I just read David Grann’s The White Darkness, about Henry Worsley, descendant of Frank Worsley, of the Shackleton Endurance expedition. It’s hard to imagine a more manly man than Henry Worsley, who ultimately perished from complications of his solo South Pole trek. Yet Worsley sewed to calm his nerves. He was skilled at needlepoint. He volunteered to teach tatting — yes, tatting — to London prison inmates. How cool is that?

Shackleton… sought recruits with the qualities that he deemed essential for polar exploration: “First, optimism; second, patience; third, physical endurance; fourth, idealism; fifth and last, courage.”

State 14 ran the first of my monthly Postcards From Hardwick. Check out terrific Vermont voices here.


#10 Pond

Happy Arkhipov Day

Two mothers relax on the floor of my library with their babies when my dad sends me an email reminding me that October 27 is Arkhipov Day. Not yet a year old, the babies haven’t begun to walk. Their smiles rise so radiantly joyous you instinctively smile back. Sleet drills against the library windows.

On October 27, 1962, Vasili Arkhipov refused to agree with his fellow Soviet submarine officers and fire a nuclear-tipped torpedo at the USS Randolph, preventing the nuclear holocaust that would have World War III.

The mothers check out children’s books, bundle up their babies again, and head out into the sleet that’s turned to wet snowflakes: everyday Vermont.

World War III was averted not by decisions in the White House or in the Kremlin, but in the sweltering control room of a Soviet submarine. Vasili Arkhipov saved the world. We should celebrate his obedience to humankind, not to the Nation-State, on October 27, Arkhipov Day, a proposed international holiday by students of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

— George Stanciu. For more about Vasili Arkhipov and my dad, read here.


April Showers Bring….

Sometimes all day, days, rain falls, writes poet Janisse Ray.

Waiting for the school bus this morning at the driveway’s bottom, with the robins and redwing blackbirds silent, and not even a solitary crow winging its way through the mist, the children waited under our one umbrella, surrounded by greasy mud.

This is the season of last year’s debris rising from the thawing earth: split garden hose, broken bits of sap lines, sodden paper from who knows what, piles of lumber never put to use, a shattered red plastic shovel from a childhood friendship long worn out.

At breakfast, I told the children, Two days from now, the sun will appear, the green emerge, and we’ll find coltsfoot.

My teenage daughter said, Keep hoping, mom.

I am.

…Let it not be said that in passing through this world
you turned your face and left its wounds unattended.
Instead, let it be said that when your friends
cut open your chest to partake of its courage,
a loon was calling.

– Janisse Ray, “Courage,” in A House of Branches


Garden, West Woodbury, Vermont