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

Mysterious Visitors

When my youngest daughter was four, she and one of her best four-year-old friends were playing outside and called me to come from the kitchen and, “See the bunnies, mama!”

This was right around Easter, when the yard was worn-down snowbanks interspersed with wet earth. Two enormous hares were hopping around the yard, their white winter fur turning brown in patches. Or maybe the hares looked so large because the girls in their boots were so small.

Our house was surrounded by thousands of wild acres. We had seen moose and deer and bear wander through, but never hares that came to visit for a morning. The girls had made an open air house beneath the branches of a spruce tree. All morning, the hares came and went, hopping through on their powerful legs, then disappeared and never returned to play.

This Easter arrives in a strange and disorienting period in our family life, of tests and quarantining, of worry and waiting, of days of eating take-out Japanese food sent from my parents and coconut birthday cake. We’ve abandoned the dining room for the living room, surrounded by piles of library books, cats sleeping on blankets, and my two knitting projects. I’ve begun to wonder if I might ever brush my hair again.

My youngster asks what’s this holiday about anyway, with the rock rolling away and the ascension? On the phone, my brother offers his own explanation that I’ll keep unrepeated, although I woke wondering if Jesus himself wouldn’t have objected. Jesus walked in the most profane of the human world and perhaps embodied the most holy, too.

On this spring morning, with the robins singing in the box elder outside our kitchen, I’m grateful for both the ineffable mystery of spring — thaw and crocuses — and the mundane chores of dish washing and a kitchen floor badly in need of a sweep. Or, maybe, as so often before, I’m utterly wrong, and there’s not two things, not a both, but one.

April

The wind chimes on our back porch tingle and clang all day and all night long. Spring pushes in not just with purple and pearl and gold crocuses, but with birdsong. 5 a.m., when I step out with a bucket of hot stove ashes, the robins are at it already, mating and nesting, busy with robin family-life.

I lie awake thinking of that window of time when my daughter contracted Covid, imagining when she might have let her mask slip, rubbed an eye with her fingers, the slightest of gestures she’ll never recall. Then I imagine the hours when she was contagious, before this gorgeous healthy teen said, My back hurts. I’m tired, and I closed my laptop, looked at her carefully, and began to worry suddenly, in earnest.

With my own two negative tests, the virus has (at the moment) passed over my body.

Snow falls, all day, on April first. We sleep with the windows cracked open, and I smell the particular damp scent of snow in the night. I lie there, thinking of the practical, mundane things of my world (as a single parent, could I get with it and write a will?) and the visible and invisible mysteries of this world. How I’ve tarnished and sullied the prayer of my everyday life, distracted by things that mean very little, while all along our days are unfolding, one after another, in their finite number.

The cats insist on breakfast. I stand at the back door, drinking coffee, watching snowflakes drift in a gray dawn, listening to NPR and a courtroom in Minnesota.

It’s another month. Despite the snow, spring edges in.

You’d better get busy, though, buddy. The goddamn sands run out on you every time you turn around. I know what I’m talking about. You’re lucky if you get time to sneeze in this goddamn phenomenal world.

— J. D. Salinger

Former Hospital Grounds, Lunch, March

My daughter signs up to give blood in Waterbury, about an hour away from us. The three of us decide to make a morning of the expedition, with the youngest driving, including the stretch of interstate.

After we drop her off, my youngest and I walk around town, and I buy her a watery hot chocolate in the one place that appears to be open that morning. It’s cold, and we end up back in the car, watching a few skiers on the town’s rec fields.

We talk about dogs and high school and how writers are the most annoying people on the planet, always peering into strangers’ lives, wondering. Even worse, writers write about their families.

True, I admit. It’s a burden.

It’s about 11 degrees. She orders sandwiches on her cell phone from a nearby bakery, and I tell her to add cheesecake to that digital order.

When my older daughter returns, we pick up that order at the bakery window — or, I pick it up. One person only, please. We eat falafel in my car in the enormous and utterly empty parking lot of the former Vermont State Hospital for the Insane. The extensive brick buildings are now state offices. Empty, now, too.

As we eat, we talk about the tall smokestack, crumbling and apparently unused, with VSH bricked near the crest. Two geese fly by, and I realize how near the river we are. So much has happened on these grounds, so many people, so much living, so many years.

It’s cold, cold, and we keep driving. March, my father’s birthday, a promise of spring in the offing.

But I’m beginning to understand this: We never know. Life is a foray into mystery.

— Suleika Jaouad, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

March

The winter my youngest daughter was two, I remember lying in bed one night with her after we had been in our sugarhouse all day. The washing machine churned with the children’s wet snowsuits, grimed with mud and ashes. I was worn out with working, my hair laced with the scents of wood smoke and maple, infinitely pleased that we had made a barrel of syrup.

As my little daughter fell asleep, I read Louise Glück’s poem “March” in the newest New Yorker, beginning:

The light stays longer in the sky, but it’s a cold light,
it brings no relief from winter…

A year into the pandemic, I feel as though we’re mired in an eternal Vermont March. I am now old in ways I have never been old before; all three of us have bent and changed this year, as has everyone I know.

When my daughter gives me this photo she took, I cringe for a moment, with a definite glass-half-full fear. But she doesn’t. Infinite possibilities…. surely, spring is there.

Photo by Gabriela S.