Snowed In…. and more

My brother borrowed my daughter’s car and returned it with the back door dinged in, which made us laugh. That’s all? 2016 has thrown a lot more at us. But here’s the thing: at the very beginning of my novel’s draft, I have that classic line from Dante: In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.

In my forties, the straight way is concealed, undoubtedly. But what I’d missed in that line until today is the coming to yourself gem buried within that sentence. Earlier this fall, I had a conversation with someone who described this phase of life as not solved by geography; this is an interior journey of the heart.

So, for a moment here, what better way to end a long year than with laughter? Big and little kids went sliding on the ice today – no sleds required; our kitchen is well-stocked; the snow falls – lovely as I remember from childhood; and my first novel hit the Galaxy Bookshop‘s 2016 bestseller list. Satisfaction.

Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno

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My garden in winter.

Where You Find Yourself

The first job I ever had, when I was fifteen, was a library page in the village library where I read darn near every book in the children’s section. I was so desperate to read, I even read the sic-fi and books about dinosaurs, neither of which were my favorites. One day, I discovered the classics were hidden in a back room off the children’s section. Dickens! Tolstoy! Steinbeck!

This fall, I became the librarian at Woodbury’s even tinier library. While I had to be talked into this position, I should have taken it right away; the library is one of my natural places. Likewise, a welder I sometimes use has a group of guys in his shop, hanging out in lawn chairs, with a hot wood stove crackling in the winter. That’s the place for those guys.

I see love of places in both my children, too. My teenager runs every day along our dirt road, breathing deeply of the woods. The younger girl has a place in her circle of friends where she’s at home. Which brings me to the present I’m knitting for someone’s Christmas gift. Knitting (and creativity) is a portable place, a true winter activity.

Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.

– Elizabeth Zimmermann

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A Glimpse of Redemption

Standing in a parking lot in Stowe, trying to negotiate the sale of farm equipment on the phone while my daughters buy doughnuts in a bakery, a woman pulls up beside me in a flashy red car and calls out my name.

I don’t immediately recognize this woman although I’ve known her for years, known her so well she was present shortly after both my daughters’ births. She’s beautiful today, this friend of mine, her skin glossy, her smile magnificent. She’s had a harder life than most of my friends, and as we talk, I marvel at how her life has turned – as she wonders, too. My happiness was so long in coming, she says, without a trace of bitterness.

As we’re just about to part, she tells me about visiting a person we both know well who had caused her suffering, years and years of suffering. We all believed his death was imminent then, and she had given him her forgiveness. She says she doesn’t know how to explain this, but when she forgave him, a great weight – like a stone she says – fell from her.

As we laugh and talk, I realize she’s in love. In a bit, she gets back in her candy red car and disappears into traffic again, but her charm has spread to me, whooshing away some of my daily dust with her radiance.

….Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

From Joy Harjo’s “Remember”

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Photo by Molly S.

 

 

End of One Road….

After a summer of chaos and bitter heartbreak, tears, the Vermont state police, too many times through the county courthouse’s metal detectors, I crashed my car yesterday. The impact came at slow speed, and when I got out of the car, I knew instantly I was uninjured. The woman in the car I hit also assured me she was fine.

I stood on the road, my vision caught for some reason at the sun shining in the canopy of an immense maple nearby. I stood staring upward for a moment, admiring the brilliant September afternoon. In every sense of the word, I had been driving blind, the inside windshield of my car smeared greasily, never tended to, and I had been crying. I hadn’t seen the woman who was at a standstill, until after I hit her. By sheer grace of luck, I had managed not to hurt this stranger, and then she spent three hours sitting in the grass with me, infinitely patient. This morning, an apple pie bakes in my oven as a meager gesture of my gratitude.

My publisher, Dede Cummings, describes herself as a glass-half-full woman, a feature I’ve tried to emulate. That afternoon, my glass foamed over. All the things I had held coiled so tightly within me – my daughters’ well-being, lack of childcare, too many demands for money and too little lucre – released from me when I stepped out of that crumpled car. Standing on the road, I felt strong, resilient as a birch sapling, and immensely calm, expansively alive as the nearby hayfield. Oddly, I had been returned to whom I was once, soles on the ground, my eyes sparkling and full of sunlight.

It had been a very long time since I had hoped for more than that my daughters and I accept and endure their father’s apparently unbreakable descent into a place where we cannot reach him. In that brief moment, I realized we would thrive, too, that our lives would unfold further in a vibrant tapestry, and the goodness of the world was, truly, yet at my hands, there for the taking. The world hadn’t turned its familiar back to me.

In my novel, the moon in all her various faces – crescent, gibbous, cloud-strewn – appears repeatedly as a talisman to my main character. Yesterday’s geometry of sunlight descending scattershot through leaves, dusty road beneath my clogs, and the  September afternoon with its darting dragonflies wound together as my own unbidden talisman.

I never accomplished what I intended that afternoon. That evening, the moon rose full, the hue of spring-grass-tinged cream. O, sweet lady moon, traversing her patient path across the heavens. We slept with the windows open to the night, moonbeams moving across our cheeks as we slept.

Come, see the true
flowers
of this pained world.

Bashō, On Love and Barley

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Woodbury, Vermont