Ancient Arts

Oh, Vermont community! Young and older women came out on a cold morning to my library for knitting lessons, with bags of yarn, needles, questions, and a lot of desire. At the end, a young woman who had capably learned the three key skills – cast-on, knit, purl – smiled and said she hadn’t believed she could ever learn to knit. But I so wanted to, she said.

One of the things I love most about knitting is its communal aspect. Begin knitting and the world of knitters will come to you, drawn to the creation your fingers are spinning from yarn. Write a book, and you remain in your own solitary interior world, but cast on some stitches, brew a pot of coffee, work and chat. Creative counterbalance.

One likes to believe that there is memory in the fingers; memory undeveloped, but still alive.

– Elizabeth Zimmerman


My 11-year-old daughter’s life skills

Winter Sky

Last evening, I stopped by Lake Elmore, summertime sacred scene of popsicles, barefoot children running over immense lawns, swimming and more swimming. My daughter’s happy birthday parties, the little girls in their flowered dresses.

8 degrees Fahrenheit under a half moon and scattered stars, Orion’s belt hung over the snow-covered lake, hoarfrost creeping up the crumpled remainders of weeds. Scraps of clouds passed quickly over the moon. After too many meetings and too much talking, I gulped the cold eagerly, my boot heels on the sand-scattered road the only scuffling sounds. Ancient, great-horned Taurus, the bull in the spinning constellations, hung above me, familiar and dear as the oldest of lovers.

… There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed….

Robert Hass, “Meditation at Lagunitas”

A sunshiny bit of my world….

Early January, at Home

In the morning, driving along the Lamoille River and its flanking snow-buried farm fields, my daughter and I note the river’s ice buckled across its serpentine surface and speculate about its thickness. With this year’s early insulating snow, the fire department posts warnings about treacherously thin ice.

These days are long, beginning in darkness and ending in darkness, arcing over the eye of grayish light in the middle. Last night, our windows filled with spinning snowflakes, while my teenager and I held onto the day, talking, talking, our words swirling around each other, sharing our worlds.

Later, as the wind howled over the house, I read from my library book Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times – irresistible title.

Poetry is like the sawdust coming from under the saw
or soft yellow shavings from a plane.
Poetry is washing hands in the evening
or a clean handkerchief that my late aunt
never forgot to put in my pocket.

Jaan Kaplinksi, “‘Once I Got a Postcard…..'”

North Calais, Vermont


Repeatedly, I’ve said that Vermont winter has two saving graces: its exquisite beauty and skiing.

On my way home from work today, I stopped briefly at #10 Pond in Calais, where it was just me and a black crow and two pairs of footprints with a sled trail.

Winter, perhaps, is equally about economy, and economy is poetry.

There are certain times where it does not matter if you hear the word yes or the word no in answer to your question, whether you turn left or right, you will reach your destination.

Not many but some.

Joy Williams, “89” in Ninety-Nine Stories of God

#10 Pond


In Vermont, the winter is ubiquitous and possibly unending now. Fresh snow falls frequently, and all day yesterday the children were in and out of the house, hanging snow pants and mittens and hats clotted with snow to dry beside the wood stove.

Last night, driving through the tiny town of Lake Elmore, I pointed to a glowing line of lights on a hillside, and mentioned to my teenager that I wondered who lived there.

She answered, “It’s obviously a merry-go-around.”

This is a terrific thing about having a teenager – despite the crabbing or the exhausting insistence that life should be fair when of course fairness is not a universal principle – teenagers are simply fun. Why shouldn’t there be a merry-go-round in rural Vermont? It’s possible.

So, beginning another year, I’m bending toward brighter possibilities. Maybe that line of lights was nailed up to outdo the neighbors, or maybe the lights were bought by a teenage girl and her sister with money they earned, to illuminate their house, or maybe it is a carousel spinning around, welcoming in 2017 with music.

Bless this my house under the pitch pines
where the cardinal flashes and the kestrels hover…
Please, no foreign wars.
Keep this house from termites and the bane
of quarreling past what can be sweetly healed….
mostly keep us from our sharpening fear
as we skate over the ice of the new year.

Marge Piercy, from “On New Year’s Day”fullsizerender

Stitch by Stitch

When my younger daughter was two, my friend Jessica taught me to knit, which revolutionized my world. A life with little ones underfoot is improved by creativity which may be picked up or put down at any time. Unlike time (say, 2016), yarn can easily be unraveled, and the work improved.

Since my first knit, purl stitches, I’ve knit in numerous houses and meetings, across country on a train, in the ER, the endodontist’s office, at concerts, under trees, in the sugarhouse, in my bed.

With innumerable strangers, I’ve handed my knitting and their knitting back and forth, admiring and discussing. In despair, occasionally, I’ve thrown out knitting gone badly awry. My best knitting was a pair of mittens I knit my daughter for her 15th birthday, blue and white, compass pattern. Now I’m on a pattern a little too difficult, with yarn overs that are trouble to drop, with a pattern I am, stitch by stitch, accomplishing; it’s beautiful.

When my girls and I were talking about wishes for the new year, I thought work hard, but perhaps what I really meant was love well.

The products of science and technology may be new, and some of them are quite horrid, but knitting? In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep. Seamless sweaters and one-row buttonholes; knitted hems and phoney seams – it is unthinkable that these have, in mankind’s history, remained undiscovered and unknitted. One likes to believe that there is memory in the fingers; memory undeveloped, but still alive.

Elizabeth Zimmerman (who else?), The Knitter’s Almanac