Fox Running Down the Road…

Midday, driving from here to there, a fox runs across a field towards me, its jaws clamped around what appears to be a yearling groundhog. I immediately slow my Subaru. The fox runs quickly, darting across the road. I pull over and jump out, watching the fox run along the shoulder. It’s backwoods Vermont, and no one’s around but me and this fox intent on carrying home its slain prey.

Surely the fox knows the road is empty of humans but for me, and I am no threat. Running, running, the fox disappears into the hayfield. In no great rush, I admire the lake through the trees. It may rain, or not. The hazy swimming weather has been usurped by cold, by the strange smoke from the Canadian wildfires so far from us. Here, this midday, it’s just me and the fox and the groundhog turning doubtlessly into fox kits.

Eventually, a pickup appears and stops. The driver’s an acquaintance, and he rolls down the window and asks what’s up. I lean against the door. He and I grouse for a bit about town business and human chaos. When he’s gone, I linger just a little longer, remembering the rushing fox, those moments of human and wild.

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you…” 

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Conversation in the Moonlight.

At the open hatch of my car, I’m writing a mental grocery list, when something — what it is I don’t immediately know — happens. I’m fucked, I think. I’ve broken my hand.

A pneumatic hatch strut has broken, and is pinned between the hatch and taillight, the plastic light smashed. I turn my hand around and around. My hand suddenly seems very small, utterly familiar, a thing easily ruined.

People walk around me, going in and out of the co-op. Weirdly, I remember a car crash from my twenties when a Subaru Justy ran into my gold Rabbit. My Rabbit was knocked off the road. I got out and ran. The Justy had spun around and around and came to a stop, the wrong way in the middle of the road. No one was around. The Justy’s driver was crying, her window rolled down, saying, “I’ve killed you.” I begged her to get out of the car, leaning towards the Justy in the falling snow but not touching it, saying, “But I’m alive. I’m here.”

In a twist of great good fortune, my hand isn’t broken, only bruised. I go in the co-op and buy scallions and yogurt. The hatch and the strut are an irritation, another thing to sort out and solve, a fixable occurrence.

Later that week, after the dinner guests have left and it’s just me and my daughters and their friends, the five of us pull our chairs around the fire. The neighbors have taken their little kids into bed. The band in the village has quit by then, too, and the frogs are signing again, snippets of frog melodies.

In the darkness, we talk about relationships and marriage, what holds people together, what makes people endure. What makes people split. I toss another chunk of wood on the fire. A glistening half moon hangs over my house. Listening, I turn my hands around and around. So often, my hands are full and busy. Now, the moonlight falls in my open palms.

We keep talking and talking and talking. The moonlight is endless.

Birds are a Kind of Souls.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table talking with my daughter about past, present, future — one or all of those mixed in together; it’s late adolescent talk; the future hovers around us all the time, all day long — when I see a robin swoop up to our porch beam, its beak full of limp weed.

For the first time in the half dozen years we’ve lived here, robins are building a nest a few feet from our kitchen door.

In our other house, robins crafted fat nests in our sugarhouse and under our balcony. We witnessed baby beak feedings and collected blue ragged shells. Twice, a hawk ate fledglings — the course of nature, but sorrowful.

Rain has fallen all day. There’s an underlying promise of deepening green with the rain, but the hours have been cheerless and cold, filled not with any bad news but the accrual of petty things that drag at all our lives.

A robin stands on the porch railing, eyeing us through the glass door. Its mate flies in quickly, busy busy in the nest. Time is of the essence in bird movement. The robins are a little story come to stay with us for a short while.

Build and thrive, I think. Thrive.

“I was convinced that birds were kinds of souls. Not the souls of people but of previous birds whose mystery and beauty were so necessary on earth that God would not allow them to be anything in their second life but birds again.” 

— Howard Norman

Vermont’s Foundation: Freedom and Bread

A possum circles in the highway, no doubt startled by my headlights. It’s past midnight, and no soul’s around. I drift into the other lane and let the possum do what it wants to do.

I’m listening to the radio playing the Rolling Stones and thinking of a David Budbill poem I read that afternoon, about Vermont’s colonists and centuries of following folks, seeking freedom and bread. The possum is definitely seeking her or his own version of possum bread, but freedom…? The question looms large. I haven’t far to drive this night, but the words stick with me — bread and freedom — surely two of the main drivers in my life, likely in yours, too.

The peepers are lusty along the Lamoille. The air reeks of wet mud, of that sweet fecundity of spring.

At home again, we lie down with the windows open. I hear the teenagers talking and laughing before they slip into the thickness of young sleep. To ward off the night’s gloom and cold, I’d started a small fire in the wood stove. Through the open window now drifts smoke. In these May days — both hot and chilly — I’ve moved my wood piles, again, as I tend to do, raking the bark and broken bits to dry in the sun. Foolish, perhaps, to keep a fire smoldering while the bedroom windows are open. Or maybe simply a kind of freedom.

What Is June Anyway?

After three weeks of hot weather and drought,

           we’ve had a week of cold and rain,

just the way it ought to be here in the north,

            in June, a fire going in the woodstove

all day long, so you can go outside in the cold

            and rain anytime and smell

the wood smoke in the air.

This is the way I love it. This is why

           I came here almost

fifty years ago. What is June anyway

          without cold and rain

and a fire going in the stove all day?

— David Budbill

Our Moon Shone on Helen of Troy, Too.

Rain falls in the night, a pattering through the open window on the mock orange bush. The rain winds through my half-asleep dreams of different places I’ve lived with open windows and falling rain. I’ve often thought of the moon as my constant, my anchor in the arc of the universe. Moonbeams fell on Helen of Troy’s face, too. But spring’s gentle rainfall? Such a sweet sound.

A rouge frost browned pieces of our May world, and the rain promises deeper green. The morning after the frost, a man in line at the post office told me he’d lived in Vermont all his 63 years and had seen frost in July. I detailed the frost damage to my daffodils; he shared his apple blossom woes.

July? I asked, are you sure?

He laughed, quite sure indeed.

As I lay listening, the morning songbirds began, a snippet, then a rising thread of song, pushing away the night.

Random Spring Scrawlings.

Back about a hundred years ago when I started to read, my elementary school had these large books with colored pages. I read only on the right-hand pages, then flipped the book upside down, and read on the other side. The net effect was a perpetual mystery: I was reading forward, but there was always this tantalizing upside down text on the left-hand side. Could I dart my eyes there and jump ahead in the storyline?

The storyline had castles and princesses. I think of these books every spring, because Vermont spring colors are so darn brilliant — just like those colored pictures.

I’ve never seen those books again, although I searched for them for my own daughters.

May. Let’s never sugarcoat anything, never cheapen our world into an Instagram I’ve got more than you post. Snowflakes fell yesterday, even midday, swirling flakes. My daffodil petals were gnawed around the edges this morning. But it’s May. Spring alone: reason to live.