Mysterious Memory

There’s six years between my daughters – a significant gap. When the littler one was two, she had a habit of raising her arms and saying, Uppy, to her sister. Naturally tall and strong, my older daughter was happy to tote her sister on her hip or back.

Both in adolescence now, those years narrow.

Late yesterday afternoon, while I’m laying phyllo with olive oil, spinach, and feta, my daughter returns from skiing, red-cheeked, happy. Since the morning, she’s braided her hair. She wears a red ski cap of her sister’s, a gift from friends whose son lives in Norway. Across her forehead is VITAL. I loved this cap on her sister, and I love it on this girl, too. VITAL. And again: vital.

Chattering, peeling a clementine, she tells me one of her coaches asked if she has a sister. My girls love this question. With so many years between them, their similar faces serve as reminders of each other – and the hat, now, too, I think.

It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats.

– Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

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Good and Evil

When the holiday is finished, the dishes washed and floor swept, guests departed, the teenager headed to her nursing home job, the 12-year-old and I walk down to the post office in the dark, to drop a letter in the mailbox.

Everything but the empty laundromat and the diner with not a single soul visible is closed. Although dark, the evening is warmer than our walk that morning; a few cars rush through the village, but that’s about it. The laundromat glows overly florescent bright, empty.

We stop where we often do, at the thrift store window, and peer into the shadowy space.

As we walk, I’m thinking of a line my brother said, sprawled on our couch with two sleeping kittens – that the universe may hold good and the absence of good, and what we name evil might merely be that absence. Knitting a hat for my daughter, I paused and asked if he believed that possibility. What, really, would that mean?

We let my question lie between us. Finally, my daughter lifted a card and asked if we might try to answer a question about salamanders.

State 14 generously ran a rewrite of one of my posts. Check out their Vermont writers and photographers.

When I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.

– Dylan Thomas

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Hardwick, Vermont, Thanksgiving morning

Being a Child

Later in the summer, when the gardens are overrun with weeds, and cucumbers and string beans need to be picked from sagging vines, and the days are long with children swimming, and smoke hangs in the air from cooking outside, there’s often a point in the late afternoon when the world seems just a little much: that so-called witching hour mothers of babies know. We’ll move through that hour, through dinner and dishes, and washing up, and the cool leisure of evening comes in.

But now, in the spring, the world is yet at that new place. The weeds are nowhere near knee-high, and the warmth is as welcome as a novel in my hands I want to read.

I imagine this is how childhood should feel.

…And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and
cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams…

– Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill”

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Montpelier, Vermont

Summer: Sing Like the Sea

Day by day, this sweet August season winds down. Next week, I’ll walk with my girls down the driveway to the bus stop, where we’ll kick around the fallen apples from the wild trees along the road, looking through the misty fall mornings for the bright yellow bus. Our summer has been packed with all kinds of things: hiking and friends and art camps, not enough swimming, countless s’mores with the cousins.

We spent a lot of miles with my older daughter at the steering wheel, me with my knitting in the front seat, the three younger kids in the backseat, everyone talking sometimes all at the same time. Near the end of the cousins’ stay, late one afternoon we drove up the winding dirt road towards home, everyone hot and hungry, miserable and crabby all the way around. Without thinking, I put both my bare feet out the window and waved my soles at the passing trees. The children shouted, What are you doing? and because I started laughing, they all started laughing, even the teenager in the driver’s seat who does not approve of such undignified behavior, not at all, although she graciously tolerates my foolishness.

Silly? Completely. But in the face of things that are not humorous–words that none of us even want to say, like cancer for instance–why not occasionally throw your feet up and rally to the grubby children in the backseat? Say: I don’t want to hear bickering; just hang with me for a little bit in this golden summer, with all of you so near?

Driving to work today, I thought of these kids of mine and that afternoon, and the last stanza of one of my most beloved poems, “Fern Hill.” I’d always considered the final words tragically bittersweet, but I wonder perhaps now if I misunderstood these lines. Perhaps this poem is about acceptance of our mortality, and simultaneously an exhortation to sing like the sea, rage on against the dying light, laugh in the face of despair. Write beautifully in this good world.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

–– Dylan Thomas

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Photo by Molly S. Gabriela and Kaz, Sterling Pond

Summer

My younger daughter told me today, It will be bad for me in a few years.

Why’s that? I assumed she was pre-mourning her older sister’s forthcoming passage into adulthood and that ached-for leap into adult life.

My child said, Because my aunt buys my really nice pajamas at a place where she buys her boys’ pajamas, and we love these pajamas, and the sizes don’t go above 12.

My child will never remember this conversation. Two years hence I could bring up this remark around the woodstove, and I bet cash now she likely won’t remember this. But today, here, this meant something to her. A summertime world of utter happiness, a way of living this season where she and her two beloved cousins sleep in a small room, reading and giggling, all in their same beloved pajamas. These are days filled with bikes, swimming, endless meals –  also of ears primed to hear, trying to piece out the puzzle of adult lives, the constant threads of conversation and emotion. Mainly, though, these children seek space for their growth and energy. Tonight, this child wanted to go walking in the gloaming. We went out, all of us, walking along the gravel road, and didn’t cross back into the house until long past dark.

Here’s Dylan Thomas on childhood in a stanza of “Fern Hill”:

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was
air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the
nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

Photo by Molly S.
Photo by Molly S.

Eyes

My dear daughters sometimes  look at the books I’m reading and moan, How can you read that? My Struggle? Come on, mom…..

I read on, I read on. In this cool and rainy Vermont July, my nephew and daughter picked wild raspberries this evening, while the clouds darkened ominously and the wind stirred up, and I bolstered my fence against the woodchuck. As a child, summer days wound out into a sheer infinity, but now it seems perhaps tomorrow the children will be back at school and I’ll be stepping into my boots to carry in another armload of wood. Tomorrow seems tucked into today, the years interlaced like a pair of folded hands.

In the light the moon
sends back, I can see in your eyes

the hand that waved once
in my father’s eyes, a tiny kite
wobbling far up in the twilight of his last look:

and the angel
of all mortal things lets go the string.

–– Galway Kinnell

Yasuhiro
Yasuhiro