What Nourishes Us.

On my way home from Bookstock — a terrific book festival in Woodstock, Vermont — I stop at a farmstand for strawberries. I’m a little dizzy with heat, with talking, with the sheer writingness of the day. No one’s around, and I admire the lake across the road.

The farm owner backs up his truck. End of the day, he’s pulling in what remains in the wooden stand. We talk for a little about the pontoon boats and how the lake is surprisingly deep at his shoreline across the road, a perfect temperature for swimming.

He tells me about the alarm that sounded in his greenhouse recently when the overnight temperature dipped near to forty. We’re standing in near-90 degree heat but Vermont weather is fickle. The farm owner was a patron in the library where I worked. I bought political books for him that maybe no one else but he and I read. Cold winter days, he’d sometimes appear and read silently for an afternoon and then leave with a stack of books.

This day I’ve driven on blue highways down the heart of Vermont, along rivers and through narrow valleys, past homesteads with fat gardens, through classic white clapboard villages and a town center dominated by a post office and a rusting flag pole. On one farm, TRUMP is painted on a metal storage box beside the farmhouse where the roof is bitten out in pieces. Lilac bushes cover the first floor windows. An RV in the side yard appears to be the occupied space.

I buy two pints of strawberries. The farmer loads up his truck. I stand at dusty roadside in the hot breeze. Bring it on, I think. Summer. The strawberries are the sweetest I’ve tasted in years. Nourishment from the goddesses.

Somewhere in Snowy Spring….

Through a few inches of snow, I follow stone steps down to nearby Lake Caspian, winding around a cedar-shingled house, holding a railing someone has taken the care to build, baluster by baluster.

The homeowner wants to build a tiny boathouse by the shoreline. While I listen to his plans, I eye the lake visible beneath the bent that hang over the lake. Although I’m wearing my winter coat, I imagine wading in, sweeping my fingers in the cold water.

The few of us stand among white birches, sharing names and stories. Because this is Vermont, we talk about the weather, the need for precipitation, and how everyone’s wood pile is faring. We make our way back up the hill, still talking.

A robin, in a crazed songbird rush, swoops by, nearing clipping one woman’s ear. She laughs.

It’s Saturday. Later that afternoon, I’ll stand in my driveway, talking with my friend about the fat list of things that worry and stress us. But for this half hour or so, I visit with acquaintances and strangers, talking about the area’s barns, how these great structures were built with care. Some remain; some are simply memories.

For listening recommendations, my father passed along this link to This American Life‘s Three Miles.

Chance Encounter

Rain? Snow? Sleet? A mixture of all falls this morning.

Rounding a bend on a snow-covered dirt road in East Hardwick yesterday morning, I suddenly brake when hundreds of little black birds cover the road. There’s no one behind me, no one ahead of me, and I get out. A few birds flutter upward and perch on the electric wires, strewn already with these little creatures.

I’m at at farm, near a manure pit. Through the barn’s open sides, I see cows twisting their heads.

The birds don’t move. I don’t move. Then, eventually, because I’m a human and the birds are wild, I get back in my car and nudge forward slowly. Grudgingly — or maybe patiently — the birds part to the fields and the wires, and I move on.

Still February here.

On snowy afternoons there is a special blessedness in saying, oh it is too snowy to chop wood this afternoon. And the gray snow sifts down, and one takes off one’s boots and sits by the fire and is glad of the way wool socks smell; and a pie is baking in the oven, and the gray snow is sifting down.

— Elliott Merrick, Green Mountain Farm

Happy April is Poetry Month

The other night I heard Leland Kinsey read from his new book of poems, Galvanized, at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick. Leaving home on a weeknight is always a pain, with homework rearing up, dinner dishes, and – although it’s only ten minutes – the ten minutes in the car to drive. I’m always glad when I get to the bookstore, though. The company is familiar and jovial; the books are terrific.

I’ve been to many, many readings at this Hardwick bookstore, but this reading was particularly fine. I’d brought my knitting, but I left it in my lap, untouched. A couple in the back had come with their baby, and the little one’s babbles wove beneath Leland’s voice. Leland hails from a lengthy line of Vermont farmers, and his poetry is strewn with glacial erratics, swallows, ponds  – with a keen awareness of mortality, of hard physical work, of human frailty, and love. Perhaps what I admire most about his poetry is that constant thread of beauty, winding all through his words like that baby’s murmur.

Galvanized is a collection of poems suffused with life, penetrating into the deepest recesses of our lives, a book of laughter and tears and beauty, the matter of our everyday lives. Isn’t that what poetry is all about?

…. The same uncle said recently about a blue suit,
“I bought it to be laid out in;
now I’m wearing it to the wakes of others.
Life takes so long.”

Wear.

From “Deer Camp,” Leland Kinsey, in Galvanized

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Barre, Vermont/Photo by Molly S.

 

Gift of Abundance

When I belonged to the Stowe Farmers Market years ago, as a maple vendor, I knew many farmers. For innumerable reasons, I admire the tenacity and dedication of small scale Vermont farmers, but at the end of this November day, I admire my neighbors for their practical generosity.

For an ill friend, a single father, I stopped by one farm and the back of my Toyota was loaded with carrots, onions, beets, potatoes, squash. I was told that the door’s open; come back. I dropped these boxes at his house, where two young women mopped the kitchen floor. The freezer, empty yesterday, was filled with beef from a nearby farm.

I would never want to sentimentalize my hardscrabble state, but in the face of dire unhappiness, time and again I’ve seen farmers give unstintingly – perhaps in the knowledge that larders fill and dwindle, and fill and dwindle again, as the time of need comes knocking on everyone’s door.

John Cheever famously said, Writing is not at all a competitive sport. How often I think of that line – in school board meetings, for instance, when I think, Educating children is not a competitive sport. Nor is life. In this season of diminishing light, anyone whose hands work the earth knows we’ll each meet our own comeuppance one day, and if golden beets and garlic sweeten our days until then, how lucky we are.

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