Gathering Kindling

My daughters and I watch New York Times clips of Dr. Ford, my 13-year-old’s eyes wide, her hand paused over her algebra homework at the kitchen table. My 19-year-old and I talk and talk, and then she replays Kavanaugh’s testimony. The 13-year-old says, in wonder, Someone is lying. She ponders this, then says, Why would someone lie?

Tomato vine by cauliflower plant, I empty the garden, exposing black earth, finishing the final coat of white paint on a few patches of clapboards, eyeing the porch windows and gauging when I’ll plastic those for the winter’s duration.

In the dark this morning, my daughter and I talk briefly in her room, rain beating on the roof. Cold October rain illuminates foliage colors, tugs out the very best. I mention I’m going to paint the dining room a sunflower color this weekend, the window trim Santa Fe blue. Cool beans, she says.

What concerns me even more, though, is the loss of those values the (communal) fire precipitates and reinforces… How will the affirmation by others of one’s own necessity in the world be validated? What will be the opportunities for profound courtesy and for ceremony, of which there is such a dearth in the modern world?

We can lose the communal hearth and survive, but survival without the values of the hearth… seems a brutish prospect, a retreat into intolerance.

From Barry Lopez in Hearth: A Global Conversation on Community, Identity, and Place


Barre, VT, Courthouse

A retired Barre police officer sat beside me while I was waiting outside a courtroom in the Washington County Criminal Court, and he mentioned he thought he knew my former husband. He suggested that clearly I didn’t know my former husband all that well, and he told me some wrongdoings he knew my former spouse had committed. I protested that the man he referred to wasn’t my former husband.

The officer persisted. Listening, I began to wonder how much I knew about anyone, really, in the end. In my bag, I had a copy of Janet Malcolm’s biography of Sylvia Path, The Silent Woman, which I had read with enormous interest many years ago, right before I was married. In this book, Ted Hughes is quoted as writing, “I hope each of us owns the facts of her or his own life.”

I knew when I entered that courtroom, again, as I had before, that I would need to relinquish some of the darkest facts of my life. Just the facts, ma’am, and yet the facts seem so much. The reality is, of course, none of us own the facts of our lives. We’re hardly discrete entities, spreading into each others’ lives messily as we do.

Just the facts. Granite photos, the trio of a judicial panel, bailiff, what must be an endless of stream of adults coming and going through the security at the door. Outside, robins sang in the maples behind the courthouse. I’d been there so frequently, I knew the way out of the one-way streets.


Icy Reminiscences

This February reminds me, yet again, of how rapidly our world changes: nearly 70º degrees yesterday, with my daughter reading on the back porch and eating a turkey sandwich, to this nearly colorless day, where the younger daughter and I slide over the ice around our house, tacking to the neighbors’ bare patch of ground beneath her pines.

Early today, I drove to Greensboro, pausing in my few spare moments to walk on the frozen beach at Caspian Lake, a soul-spot for my girls and me.

Scene of innumerable sand castles, swimming lessons, watermelon slices, of cold, wonderfully clear water, and the legendary wind that rushes black thunderheads across the water.

Sure, some of days parenting young children I’ll let go from my memory without a tinge of sadness, but I’d keep every one of those beach days. Every last one.

I think one of the primary goals of a feminist landscape architecture would be to work toward a public landscape in which we can roam the streets at midnight, in which every square is available for Virginia Woolf to make up her novels.

— Rebecca Solnit


Greensboro, Vermont

Whose Baby Are You?

Searching through my younger daughter’s baby pictures the other day, gathering a handful of images for her sixth-grade graduation ceremony, I sometimes wondered, is this her? Or her sister? Once upon a time, I couldn’t believe parents might confuse their children’s baby photos; now I join those ranks of beleaguered – and, admit it, lame –parents.

In her face now, I see her woman’s visage emerging: my brown eyes, her father’s thin shape. As a writer, I’m trained to note specifics, like the way she regularly trims her own bangs these days. But details are only bits of her story, keyholes for my curious eyes.

These early wet May days, wildflowers bloom profusely – trilliums, bellflowers, spring beauties, Dutchman’s breeches – each day seemingly a new variation, every stalk and petal one tiny voice in the overall chorus of spring. The symphony rages mightily. So, too, with my daughter, in this spring.

I find myself listening to the symphony-in-the-creation of her.

In writing, you can always change the ending or delete a chapter that isn’t working. Life is uncooperative, impartial, incontestable.

Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply






Mother’s Work

Maybe I’m just incredibly narrowly read, but it seems far too infrequent that I read a male writer exclaiming, “Thank god. The kids played Monopoly all afternoon and left me alone at my desk. For two whole hours.” Perhaps what I need isn’t so much a room of mine own (which I now have, after many years) but a nanny of my own.

Rain is rumored, but long in arriving. We’re now settled into a summer routine of kids swimming at the lake while I spread out my laptop and a bag of work on a stained towel. By the dinner, it’s been a full day of work sandwiched with swimming and snacks. This is the high point of the summer – the crickets at full throttle, the lakes endless, the garden escaping its fence and long past the dire point of must-weeding. What will grow, will indeed grow. Blackberry tart rears its maplely head this evening.

Here’s a brief bit of beach reading from Mary Norris’s Between You and Me, one more womanly skill among many mothering others:

Used well, the semicolon makes a powerful impression; misused, it betrays your ignorance.


Quiver of Arrow-Words

My daughter’s friend offered a solidarity sentence about her friend at lunch today: The friend was irate. There had been a squabble about seating, and the allegedly irate child sat with her back toward another. While I’m not a fan of children hurling ire at one another, I admired the girl’s satisfied ten-year-old pleasure in using this mighty word. I pictured this girl with a bow held tight between her hands, arrow strung tight and ready to fly.

What is it a girl might need in her quiver of arrow-words? A child will need tumble and sungold-tomatoes, milk, and mirth. A woman needs moxiewariness, appetite,
wonder, sorrow, and mirth.

No history books used in public school informed us (girls) about racial imperialism… No one mentioned mass murders of Native Americans as genocide, or the rape of Native American and African women as terrorism. No one discussed slavery as a foundation for the growth of capitalism. No one described the forced breeding of white wives to increase the white population as sexist oppression.

Ain’t I a Woman, bell hooks