Postcard from Vermont, July

An elderly woman and I stand in the library’s open door, sheltered by the overhang, watching rain move in, great billows of fine drops rushing across the field.

Summer people visit the library on these steamy afternoons, in a their winding-down, relaxed, vacationing way. We’re different here, one man tells me. I like how we are in Vermont. 

Boys with their faces painted a greasy blue-and-black circle around the library and school, hiding in the woods and behind the greenhouse, in an elaborate game. Two best-friend girls stroll in, return books, ask for fish crackers, and request more books. When I leave that afternoon, the girls are still there, lying on the slide’s top platform, staring at the cloud-heavy sky, talking.

All afternoon, bits and pieces of people’s lives knock into mine: a woman applying for a job online, a saleswoman over the phone, a couple who needs a letter written.

Later, when I’m alone again, gathering strewn puppets and closing windows, I realize my phone has a message. Someone dialed my number without realizing it, and I stand in the doorway again, in the sweet post-rain scent, listening to that odd audio window of others’ conversation. A gangly-legged heron flies overhead, then disappears over the trees. I erase that unintended recording and lock up for the day.

When I was nineteen,
I told a thirty-
year-old man what a
fool I had been when
I was seventeen.
‘We were always,’ he
said glancing down, ‘a
fool two years ago.

— Donald Hall



On a late afternoon, I walked out of the Montpelier Library and down the street. The trees along the street were shedding their pale yellow leaves in a balmy, golden light; the sidewalks were busy with children, the afternoon commute already inching its way home.

I walk this way frequently, and always, at one particular place, in front of the stately Montpelier Inn, I remember one evening I stood there, many years ago, with my baby daughter on my back. It was late October then, although I don’t remember any cold. Instead, I remember swaying from foot to foot, already habituated to holding a baby – in my arms or on my back – and watching the twilight creep in, the day’s pale light slowly passing to dusk.

I remember that afternoon-slash-evening as one of the longest pauses in my adult life, waiting for someone who never appeared. Later, I realized my message had gotten lost along the way.

It’s odd, how even in the sunniest and lightest moments of our lives, there’s the past we keep walking through – and I do keep walking, every time, heading back into the busyness of my life – this afternoon, at least, graced with that lovely autumn light.

The trees go on burning
Without ravage of loss or disorder.

From Donald Hall’s “Letter In Autumn”



Long Childhood Summers

In this room is a photo of my daughters I took a few years back, maybe ages 3 and 9, a summertime shot, the girls’ heads tipped together. Both girls smile, radiant. The oldest daughter’s arm is wrapped around her sister, in the unabashed ownership she has claimed over her sister since the youngest’s infancy. The littler girl is snuggled to her sister, eyes closed in bliss, knowing her most rightful place is with her sister.

At 18 and 12, the oldest is still preening her sister, asking (and sometimes not asking) to brush her hair, trim and paint her nails, for your own good.

This week marks the youngest girl’s first week of overnight camp. Reaching into a spill of moonlight on the porch tonight, I wondered how the moon flows over my girl, this pure light. How gritty is that sleeping bag? What stories will you tell us?

Sure, I embrace this opening of my growing girls’ worlds and my own release from near-constant mothering, while remembering the incomparable sweetness of an infant sleeping, cheeks milk-flushed rosy, along my forearm. Lady Moon shining over all of us: familiar friend.

Summer Kitchen

In June’s high light she stood at the sink
With a glass of wine,
And listened for the bobolink,
And crushed garlic in late sunshine.

I watched her cooking, from my chair.
She pressed her lips
Together, reached for kitchenware,
And tasted sauce from her fingertips.

“It’s ready now. Come on,” she said.
“You light the candle.”
We ate, and talked, and went to bed,
And slept. It was a miracle.

– Donald Hall