Me, the Mother, Grimacing

Sunday morning, my daughter drives on icy roads to meet a friend to ski. In the passenger seat, I grimace. There’s no more polite way to reveal my actions: I’m grimacing. My daughter — perfectly capable, but my God, she’s 15, driving on icy roads.

She intends to be driving thus for decades to come, without me, of course, grimacing away in the passenger seat.

We head over the mountain and down along the river where the roads improve. Driving, she talks to me, as if the steering wheel has loosened her natural reticence. She laughs and confides, there’s just so much you don’t need to know.

Oh, my Queen of Economy. Wise and experienced beyond your years.

On the way home, we stop for coffee, and I drive while she eats and talks and plays country music that, good lord again, I’m becoming quite fond of.

Who knows will happen next year, this summer, this spring, this very week — goodness, even this afternoon with so much yet spread out before us? For this moment, here we are.

On the way home, I pull over, hand her the keys, and knock off the grimacing.

Coyotes feed themselves on gaunt dreams of spring. 

— David Budbill, “March”

East Burke, Vermont

Same, Same

The weeds lining the pathway beginning my evening walk are shoulder-high now, wet last night after the afternoon and evening downpour. We chatter this year about ticks, ticks, and Lyme disease, and at soccer games, the parents wonder when did we become afraid to sit on the grass?

Nonetheless, I push through the wet grass while the kids are home, playing Yahtzee or laughing about something or someone, possibly me. Midsummer, gloriously hot, weedy, chaotic. When I dig out the Japanese beetles burrowed into the pink roses, the flowers yield their heavenly fragrance. That’s summer in Vermont — both hungry pest and the ineffable delicacy of roses.

There are other birds too, visitors we hear only
in the summertime, but it’s the screened door slamming
that is the definition of summer for me.

— David Budbill, “The Sound of Summer”


Photo by Molly S.


Cobweb Sweeping

When my daughters suggest a Saturday afternoon skiing with me, I’m immersed in that eternal list of must do, must do, as if the universe’s spin depended on my crossing out whatever rises next on the list.

Maybe I’m simply utterly annoyed at another half day of work I’ll lose again next week — no doubt in vain — seeking child support. But goodness, both teenagers want to cross country ski with me. The younger girl skies ahead, and then loops back. We ski through the woods and over streams, and then a long slow uphill through open fields. We can see all the way to Creek Road, where the bare branches of roadside maples link the sky to the snow-covered earth. Stripping off hats, sweaty, I remember again why I love Vermont’s stark and signified winter beauty, why I love Vermont’s patchwork of small farm and wild forest, why I was certain at 18 that Vermont was the place for me to live.

We ski all afternoon, passing by where our friends once lived, old farmhouse of such merriment. My older daughter talks and talks, about work and about love. At home, we cook dinner together, our cheeks beaming red with cold and happiness.

Pare Everything Down to Almost Nothing

then cut the rest,
and you’ve got
the poem
I’m trying to write.

David Budbill


Photo by Molly S.

Monday Morning, Back to Work

When my little daughter was three, one morning in the kitchen she noticed the orange day lilies had opened their buds, and she ran upstairs to her sister, calling, Willies! Willies, sissy!

Yesterday, driving around Vermont — perhaps in an attempt to shake off a funk — day lilies bloomed everywhere, colorful masses along the roadside and white clapboard meeting houses and tiny shacks with fantastic views of green and blue mountains.

Fully into July now, I know our summer will be filled with work — some terrific and some not so — with the family complexities of single parenting, of keeping our life not only cohesive but creative. There’s lists of things I’d like to do — climb the Underhill route to Mansfield’s summit, paint the trim, plant two fruit trees — but lying in bed this morning, listening to the songbirds crack open the daybreak, I decided to par this down to one single thing: swim in the pond until the water grows cold and hostile. I lay there thinking that’s free to do, and then wondered when I had lost the sense of free in this life might be.

… (the day lily is) coarse and ordinary and it’s beautiful because
it’s ordinary. A plant gone wild and therefore become
rugged, indestructible, indomitable, in short: tough, resilient,
like anyone or thing has to be in order to survive.

— David Budbill, from “The Ubiquitous Day Lily of July”


Sudbury, Vermont


June 4

Here’s the story of June: I walk behind the barn this morning and the tree branches grab for me. Just the day before, mere branches with fresh leaves — this morning, fierce growth.

May is delicate, fragrant. By July, Vermont’s wildness will be tempestuous, crazy with green. By August, we’ll be picking blackberries surrounded by wild apples, a profusion of fruit on vine and branch.

This year, I’m determined savor the summer, come what may — brutal humidity, a woodchuck with an appetite, or, what’s far more likely, what I haven’t imagined.

Nonetheless….. that’s my mantra. Snow will return, soon enough.

You got to understand: here
Winter stays six months a year—
Mean, mean winters and too long.
Ninety days is what we get, just

Ninety days of frost free weather….

— David Budbill


Hardwick Sign of Spring #3

A dozen turkey vultures circled overhead, spiraling on wind currents, silently following us on a walk. They’re back, my daughter noted.

A day of serious wet: cold rain, rivers running high with melt-off, black mud thawing.

We walked in no particular hurry, talking, my daughter awkward in her sister’s too-large boots, pausing to study the vultures circling low, their wing feathers black against the clouds. As our path turned, the circling birds followed us.

I’m fascinated by the landscape around us of junco and robin, hawk and vulture, vegetable garden and cemetery. My daughter zipped her jacket against the raw spring. Those vultures are following us, she said. Creepy.

To pretend that all is right with the world when it is not, to use art as a pair of rose-colored glasses to distort the reality of the world, to paint over the agonies of our time, is to misuse art. Any light and life, joy and ecstasy we can derive from art in our time must be paid for with the admission that this joy and goodness comes to us out of the barbarous darkness all around us.

— David Budbill in Yvonne Daley, Vermont Writers: a State of Mind