Signpost

Earth Day gives us snow in Vermont, that poor man’s fertilizer.

In a lightly falling snow, I lean against a school building, talking on the phone to my brother while my daughter plays soccer. Snow drifts in flakes about the size of a nickel, some melting on the pavement, others accumulating on tree branches and the toe of my boot.

The phone connection is stunningly clear — a surprise in rural Vermont.

As the snow falls, we wonder at the happenstance of circumstances — how the fall of a family member might have gone disastrously awry. Our conversation wanders beyond that, to the Chauvin trial, and the bystanders on that terrible day who, by happenstance, were present, and the teenage girl who pulled out her phone and shared her witness’s eyes with the world.

We’re in no hurry to hang up, and my brother suggests that, if Washington D. C. achieves statehood, the flag’s tidy stars will be kicked out of kilter. Vermont should succeed, he says.

After I hang up, I lean against that wooden wall. A fat robin lands in the snow, seeking a worm. My daughter and two friends walk across the parking lot, laughing, their braided hair damp with melted snow, their cheeks and bare knees bright red. It’s spring.

The Saving Grace of Winter is Beauty

These December days are so cold the air is smoky with a mist that can’t melt. Daylight is scant.

Walking up Main Street in Greensboro, my boot heels kicking clumps of road salt, I detour to the public beach, scene of so many summer hours of pleasure.

In the otherwise empty parking lot, two pickup trucks are parked side by side, drivers’ windows rolled down, a cloud of cigarette smoke motionless between them.

December narrows us down and opens us up; we relish the pleasure of our warm, well-lit houses, the bowl of steaming noodles, our cats and our library books. And yet the cold appears to ripple endlessly, infinitely beyond the frozen lake and mountains. The winter night sky dwarfs us. We’re but tiny stars ourselves, on this icy landscape.

Day by day we’re spinning towards the solstice.

Winter solitude–
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.

— Bashō

Caspian Lake, Greensboro

Starlight

At 5:30, my daughter picks me up from work in complete darkness. I turn off the lights and gather the bag of giant pillows someone donated to the town’s free closet. I intend to wash these nearly brand-new things and use them as winter reading places before the wood stove.

All day, I seem to have moved through this strange miasma of timelessness — in a realm where time or month (everything save the year, 2020) is merged into the Time of the Pandemic. A woman stops in and, after town business, remarks about the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, how on planet earth we’re spinning through much larger cosmological forces that we might imagine.

In dark, my daughter drives faster than I would have, speeding along that back road through the forest, and then the road crests a hill and fields open up on either side. Farmhouses are outlined with colored Christmas lights, and overhead, all that sky.

My daughter points to where the even darker line of mountains marks the horizon. There, Jupiter and Saturn are immediately obvious, making their slow and steady celestial way across the heavens.

Our conversation winds back and forth between us, mundane snippets of this or that. I imagine our headlights swooshing through the dark, as the two of us rush home in all that darkness, to the youngest sister at home, cooking sausage and potatoes, the kitchen warm and redolent with baking squash and maple syrup.

Afterwards, we go out for a walk in the deepening cold, under the brilliantly beautiful starlight, until eventually the cold drives us back under our warm roof again.

Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.

— T. E. Hulme

Why Memories?

I’ve never been a woman to “make memories” or cherish photo albums, but here’s the thing: memory and story are so intertwined. The other night, eating dinner around a fire with the parents of my brother’s girlfriend, we began stitching our baggy and cumbersome story into their long and craggy story.

The daylight dispersed, dark pressed in around us, rain began falling in sprinkles, and still, patiently, back and forth, question by curious question, we kept at it.

Come January, sea fog, a curious barred owl, driving through a pounding rainstorm — these elements of August days we’ll remember in January.

I see nothing in space as promising as the view from a Ferris wheel.

E.B. White

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Crisis of Faith

Exiting the interstate at midnight last night in rainy St. Johnsbury, it’s just me in my little silver car, the strange combination of lonely hearts’ radio and tinny country music, and that profound country Vermont darkness. That stretch of interstate rims the outer edge of utter nowhere.

Year ago, returning from a trip to my sister and her husband and their hospital-bound infant, my brother and I had trouble finding his snow-covered truck in the New Hampshire airport parking lot. Maybe it was midnight already, maybe not, but we certainly passed it, driving north on the interstate, where we stopped at a gas station and bought (and drank) terrible coffee. We were so tired we laughed until we were too tired to laugh, and then too tired to talk. Finally, at his house, his wife sat on the stairs and offered us take-out Indian food. I lay on the kitchen floor. Possibly, I even slept there, in a pile of boots and cat food bowls.

The next day, my friend and her 4-year-old drove over the White Mountains in a snowstorm to bring me home to my family — and my four-year-old. At the top of the Crawford pass, I got out of the pickup and brushed snow from the windshield and stood for a moment in all that white, not sure entirely where the unplowed road lay.

But I got back in. Her son waited patiently in his carseat between us. She kept driving. What else could we do? We couldn’t stay there. And, that, perhaps, is all I ever needed to learn about faith.

Miraculously, the snow lessened as we neared the Connecticut River, heading home.

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Return From Hibernation

On this unsurpassable, sunny, snow-melting April afternoon, I prop open the library door and stand on the walk. My patrons — a teenage boy, a near retirement age woman — stand there with me, the three of us collectively thinking, what the fuck?!  about this winter — as if a months-long temper tantrum has just passed by.

The school field is still a foot-rich with snow.

Later, as the evening cools, I walk through the crusty patches of remaining snow behind the house, discover there’s a patch of the garden open where I may plant my pea seeds.

I’m back in the cemetery, in my own sacred spot in this town. From the crest, I see the Dollar General with its faux brick and Woodbury Mountain, where bear live. Someone in the trailer park nearly concealed in a hollow is burning something, and smoke rings the mountain’s base. Overhead, a hawk catches an air current so fine the raptor sails out of my sight without a single flap of its wing.

The world? Moonlit
Drops shaken
From the crane’s bill.

— Eihei Dōgen

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spring kid crafts