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.

Vermont Town Meeting Day

… today, except it’s not.

So much for those days jammed into town halls and school gymnasiums, debating school consolidations or upping appropriations to local food shelves. So much for buying a bowl of chili for lunch and supporting the local PTO. Stand up and vote by voice has been replaced this year by the ubiquitous paper ballot all over the state.

All night, the wind blows — March’s mighty lion. I wake thinking of the old farmhouse and broken down barn I visited the day before. Someone I knew years ago has bought the property and intends to build a new house. The farmhouse lies along a mountain ridge, with a view into a valley. Far up the valley, wind towers sparkled in the sunlight.

There’s no one around at this house, just the sun and myself, snowbanks sculpted by the wind far higher than my head. I might as well be on the edge of the world. I walk back up that long driveway, the snow drifted nearly to my knees. At the crest, I turn again and look back, curious to see next summer how this property will return to life.

Spring Dreaming

At bedtime, my daughter calls me into her room and asks me to listen. The prayer flags strung over our back porch are flapping fiercely in the wind. I tell her that’s the point. The wind chimes from my sister are jingling, too. The wind strengthens.

This morning, stepping out, the air is warm in a way I haven’t felt in a very long time. The back of winter might not have been broken yet, but it’s getting there, breath by breath. This is a hard point of Vermont’s winter, when the snow and cold have lingered past their welcome, and our green summer world appears as an illusion. Last year, so many people I knew flew to Florida or Mexico. This year, hardly anyone I know has flown for pleasure.

Our back porch remains that wreckage of clumped ice and broken railing. Yesterday afternoon, my daughter stood in her t-shirt and boots, a hatchet in one hand she used to chop that ice. She suggested digging a swimming pool behind the porch next summer. I mused about a flower garden.

We mutually agreed to plant grapes along the barn, our tiny version of a vineyard.

Flying at Night

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us, 
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death, 
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas, 
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Ted Kooser
Published in “Flying at Night”

Falling Ice

In the night, ice slides off our back roof and breaks our porch railing. I discover this in the morning while I’m carrying out the stove ashes, cautiously looking for one of the neighborhood skunks.

The broken railing doesn’t even register as an annoyance. While I’m making coffee, I think this over. Just a few years ago, I would have brooded on the broken wood, resentful of the expense of money and time to repair this piece of our house. Now, I think merely, That can be repaired.

There’s a lesson here, I think, on this mundane Thursday morning. Of all the broken things in my life — inevitably, in all our lives — a snapped piece of wood hardly matters. For years, I saw the accumulation of disrepair, from a loose coat peg to a leaking roof, as sure evidence that my family life was unfolding. A year into the pandemic, a broken railing is evidence of warming nights. Repair, and move on.

From Leland Kinsey’s poem “Winter Stay in a Peat Bog”