Somewhere in Summer.

Vermont’s summer mugginess settles in, and I lie awake at night, remembering the much stickier summers of my childhood in southern New Hampshire, a thousand days of no school and bike riding and eating salted cucumber and playing Acquire with my brother and the neighbor — the ultimate game of capitalism.

But those were likely much less than a thousand days.

My youngest texts me at work. She and her friend explore different swimming holes and go hiking. Together, as new drivers, they match route numbers with roads, beginning to master maps. I worry about her — my youngest navigating the world on her own — this place of such ineffable beauty and real badness. This is the summer she’s learning the price of a tank of gas — a transaction between labor and coin. But it’s also the summer she’s beginning to realize the phrase girls travel in packs has much more meaning than looking for the women’s room.

This is the summer of phenomenal sunsets and sunsets, of studying the sky, wondering if rain might move in.

Quit counting, I counsel myself. The hot days unwind into hotter nights, but the dawn is cool, the dew lush over my toes.

Promises.

A thunderstorm rumbles in early Saturday morning, in that darkest spot before dawn. We’re nearly at the solstice, and the days are long and lovely, full of just the right amount of warmth. Our Vermont world is in bloom.

The rain this morning is welcome. When the downpour passes, I lie in bed beside the open window, listening to the pattering of a gentle rainfall on the leaves of the mock orange below my window. In bloom now, its flowers are white as snow.

In my memory runs a few lines from an Eric Clapton song. The day before, I had driven to St. Johnsbury, a road I had often driven when I was first married. As I crested a mountain, VPR cut out, and that song came over my radio, scratchy. Long ago, we had a second-hand turntable, and a few cast-off records, and that album we played over and over.

The thing is, I didn’t like the album much at all, but I gradually came to like it, maybe simply through habit. That one sweet song had always been my favorite. Now, over the radio, my past returned, fuzzy and unclear, but never forgotten.

A year ago, George Floyd had recently been murdered, his death replayed endlessly around the planet. Riots erupted around the country. Now, under a different administration, Juneteenth is honored.

So much. All that great wash of the past — from immense societal waves to the tiny trickles of our own lives — pushes us along. And yet, sweet rain on this quiet morning. Even the hungry cats press their whiskers against the screen, welcoming in the morning.

Roaming

Hard up for reading material, I get my 15-year-old to drive to Craftsbury, where I raid the free book pile on the porch.

In this village, we see no one, not a single human soul, only two geese flying overhead. It’s late Saturday afternoon, and she keeps driving on the dirt roads, heading by the Outdoor Center where I worked many years ago, and then by the summer camp where she spent happy summer weeks.

The road crests by the old farmhouse where our friends lived for years, and where we spent so many happy hours. She slows, and we look carefully. The house has been freshly painted and glows a pale yellow on that green hillside.

In one of those strange twists of fate, my former husband and I had also considered buying this house before our friends — who were not yet our friends — did. At that time, the farmhouse hadn’t been inhabited for a few years. A couple with two children had lived there, divorced, and the house had been snarled in the divorce.

In one bedroom, in place of a headboard, pillows had been stapled to the wall. I remember thinking, Who would ever think that’s a good idea?

I ask her to pull over on the side of the road. I get out for a moment and walk into the field where I stand looking at the ridge of mountains in the distance, the house on the hillside, and all that sky overhead.

A pickup pulls up beside my daughter, speaks to her, and drives off. I walk back to the car and asked what happened.

She says, He asked if I needed help. I told him it was just my mother.

She puts the car in gear, and we roll forward, picking up speed along the road. She glances at me sideways and says, I didn’t tell him you wanted to see how far along the tree buds are. That would just be weird.

 Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of ‘psst’ that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.

David Foster Wallace

Twilight Walk

On these warm spring evenings, my daughters and I often walk through the town forest and circle around back to town along Bridgeman Hill Road. The woods are the solace of living in town, sprinkled now with spring beauties and red trilliums and gold trout lilies.

At the high school, we watch a young teen drive a pickup around the parking lot with his father, the truck lurching into gear as the teen finds that sweet spot between clutch and gas. As the dusk drifts down, watching this kid seems almost wildly hopeful as he turns and loops back again around that long parking lot.

This whole walk I’d been trailing my daughters, listening to the evening birdsong in the treetops, for some reason remembering the man who coached basketball for many years at the high school. He’d dug a basement for my former husband and me, many years, when we bought that first eight acres. I’d run into him a few years ago when we were both pumping gas. As the world goes in little towns, we’d each heard small strands of gossip about each other, and we caught up about what we were each doing for work.

Then I turned the key to my car and asked if he would listen to a grinding sound in my car’s engine.

Water pump, he said, and then asked if I needed help fixing it.

I thanked him and said no, I was fine. He went into his day, and I into mine. On my way to work that morning, the water pump failed.

The teen turns on the headlights. Back at my car, my daughter gets in the driver’s seat, ready to drive — not home, but somewhere, anywhere.

I make her wait, though; I don’t get in the car. I stand there for a moment longer, the night sprinkling down, the peepers singing, and that boy making a long slow turn in the parking lot. Around us, the ineffable mystery of the world widens around those two spots of light.

The Me World V. Context

The May my youngest daughter was born, rain fell every day that month. Day after day of deepening sogginess, the earth drinking up that water. She was born on the very last day of May, and in early June, nibs of corn nosed up through the black, plowed fields.

This May, I wake early, long before light, listening to the robins singing sweetly in the tree outside my window, our little cat pressed near the screen, more interested in birds than breakfast in his bowl.

And so our lives unfold, a summer of plans unfurling slowly, tentatively around us. I live in the state with the highest Covid vaccination rate, but around us swirls this debate about vaccinating, particularly among the young adults. Listening, I think of those young sprouts of corn, how each shoot needs the earth for growth, the rain for water, the sun for nourishment. It’s impossible to grow alone; impossible to live alone.

Against all probability our bulbs have blossomed,

opened their white rooms, given their assent.

I pull myself from your breathing to take a closer look.

It happened overnight.

Laura Case, “Morning”

Spring

The temperature weirdly shoots up to 70 degrees. 70 degrees in Vermont in early April! For anyone who doesn’t live here, know that this warm, daffodil-growing weather makes our world a communally happy place.

While my daughter plays soccer, I take a walk, then spread out my work on a picnic table. Three geese fly overhead, making a honking racket. On the other side of a school building, I hear the kids laugh. Two dads roll up on bikes and stand in the parking lot, chatting.

Another parent I haven’t seen for a long time appears and stands at a distance. We talk and talk, about how our work has changed, and what’s happening with our kids, and even more, about each of us might want this summer — happiness, in some small way. Listening, I think, of all the many things we’ve learned this year, surely valuing the connection between us rises high. How little that might seem, and how infinitely valuable.

My daughter returns with a blister. At home, the carpenter has just finished repairing the porch railings broken by falling ice. We stand for a bit, talking and waving at early mosquitoes. He admires the view of the village below us and asks how I like living beside a cemetery. I like it just fine, I tell him.

Don’t talk to me about the stars, about how cold and indifferent they are, about the unimaginable distances. There are millions of stars within us that are just as far, and people like me sometimes burn up a whole life trying to reach them.

— Ted Kooser