A week of sun ends in scattered raindrops and my hands dirtied with creosote from cleaning out my wood stove. The cats hunker against the wall, glaring at my labors, annoyed at the chill descending into their cat realm. My daughter, fluent in Cat Language, feeds the creatures small pieces of roast chicken. I brew more coffee.
Mid-March, the sudden season of reckoning: what is it I’m doing? This is the week of self-doubt and the week of the kindness of strangers, too. March has long meant the season of sweet maple and cold hands, of leaning hard into work, the season of faith that spring’s crocuses and snowdrops and ephemerals will return—that they always return—to remind myself that the wider world holds us inevitably, for good or ill and sometimes for both.
Cutting into with the ax,
I was surprised at the scent.
The winter trees.
Reluctantly, my daughter drags herself to a required high school poetry recitation.
While I chat with parents I haven’t seen in ages, I see her laughing with a boy she’s known since third grade.
Adolescents and poetry — how fun! One boy gives a comedic performance of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” beginning by asking the prompter, Where am I stopping now?
Another boy’s fingers tremble as he reads a particularly beautiful poem. A shy girl comes alive.
Afterwards, talking in the dark on the short drive home from the theater, my daughter tells me about each student, how they chose their two poems, and what their voice was like. My daughter’s second poem was Frost’s Two roads diverged in a narrow road, so familiar, such a beloved poem. Nervous for her first poem, Emily Dickinson, she gained her voice with the second, her eyes on the upper balcony, her voice clear, melodious, utterly her.
Tonight the bear
comes to the orchard and, balancing
on her hind legs, dances under the apple trees,
hanging onto their boughs,
dragging their branches down to earth.
Having never lived in a large city — or any city at all, really — I don’t know the social lay of the land, or the complex paths of how people know each other.
In my small world of Vermont, I now write monthly for the online State 14, and my short essays are often paired with the incredibly talented Nathanael Asaro. His mother sold her handmade soap beside our maple syrup and root beer float booth at the Stowe Farmers Market, and we spent an awful lot of hours — sweaty, shivering, or under perfect skies — talking and laughing.
My friend has long since quit the soapmaking and finished law school. I’ve quit the syrup business and moved on, too. But here’s a connection between the two of us surfacing again.
At library class yesterday, I’m in one of my places — like canoeing on Calais’s Number 10 Pond or Bandelier National Park in New Mexico — I’m (at least temporarily) where I’m supposed to be. Housed in the original Barre, Vermont, Spaulding High School, the building was constructed as schools once were — as places of community pride and beauty — with tin ceilings, ornate woodwork, and a view of the city below.
I love Vermont’s Department of Libraries because the staff is articulate and funny and clever — because they champion intellectual freedom in a time of increasing censorship and groupthink, because they’re adamant about the rights of children to have their own thoughts, and because they’re committed to librarians working together.
When they say We have your back, I trust that — and I’m not someone who easily trusts. No hard sell, no payment plan, no exchange of cash. Simply: this is the good mission we’re committed to, and we’re doing it.
Libraries were a solace in the Depression. They were warm and dry and useful and free; they provided a place for people to be together in a desolate time. You could feel prosperous at the library. There was so much there, such an abundance, when everything else felt scant and ravaged, and you could take any of it home for free. Or you could just sit at a reading table and take it all in.
— Susan Orlean, The Library Book
Frost sprinkled around us last night. I hear the local reports on Goddard College-supported WGDR this morning while the cats stretch on the sunny kitchen floor. Alan LePage in his Curse of the Golden Turnip radio show takes calls and shares his farmer’s intel on climate change.
Halfway through the weekend, our house lies in actual physical chaos: the upstairs floor I bungled painting and must repaint. Failure, I remind myself, clasps hands with creativity.
In Vermont, season’s change — from a luxuriously warm summer to chillier fall where the shadows hold no light — begs interior reflection, too. Where are we headed? Or, what’s the plan?
As part of a larger writing project, I’ve been interviewing a woman in recovery from opiate use. Again, what impresses on me is the constant motion of life, that while our past imprints on us, marking each of us indelibly, life goes on.
A misprinted floor — wrong paint — is so minor, a mere irritant. A surmountable challenge. Perhaps, a sheer piece of luck.
With writing, we have second chances.
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated
Like a long-ago friend, the cold has settled in. Those summer nights sleeping with the windows wide open, listening to the peepers’ throaty hum, might as well be a memory from a long ago life.
With gusto, the girls ski, their appetites enormous, their cheeks red as cardinal feathers.
Halfway through January, we’re meshed in winter’s routine, with so much of the season ahead. In breaks of thaw, memories of spring will tease us again, reminding us of loosening earth, the rustle of rain on leaves. Robins singing their love songs.
It seems to me that the desire to make art produces an ongoing experience of longing, a restlessness sometimes, but not inevitably, played out romantically, or sexually. Always there seems something ahead, the next poem or story, visible, at least, apprehensible, but unreachable.
— Louise Glück
Kid note. Sunday afternoon.