Mark a Line in a Forest.

The farmhouse is built on a cliff above a glacial lake. It’s been years since anyone lived there, although the roof and windows are intact yet. I walk around the house and then stand for a moment at the steep hillside that tumbles down to the lake. Someone lives down below, and I spy a flash of silver roof in the sunlight. Beyond it, the lake.

The road is exceptionally narrow, winding uphill more steeply than most Vermont roads. Whoever built here, I’m guessing, chose this place for the sheer beauty of the view. A foolhardy choice, perhaps, as the house and farm have long since turned over and over in ownership.

I’m here to look at survey marks, line up orange and blue blazes with paper, and read deeper down into the stories of people, of friends and enemies, of what land means to various people. Surveys, roads, grudges, loyalties, all the barriers we erect between ourselves.

Inadvertently, I take the slow road home, stuck in construction on the highway that winds along the lake. A duck flies overhead. At home, I meet my daughter who has just returned from soccer practice. We sit in her car, talking, talking, about olive bread and cheese, sautéing mushrooms with garlic. Around our house and my garden the foliage is simultaneously luminescent and gone by, the leaves dropped dead to the ground, the trees uncloaked. For these moments, the sky is suffused pink. My daughter says, “Not bad.” Around us, an infinity of stories held just for a moment in my hand.

“Nevertheless, something will come of all this.”

– John Gardner

Emerging From Quarantine

When my youngest was just over a year old and not yet walking, I was at a child’s birthday party around a pond. I sat her to play on a blanket. Her back was to me, and, after a while, a little girl ran over to me and said something was wrong with my baby.

My baby’s eyes were watering terribly. Before long, she seemed to have trouble breathing. A woman I had just met drove me and the baby to the ER. I sat in the backseat, talking to my littlest, hearing my voice speaking quietly, as if I was dividing in two. I knew I was terribly afraid, because I wasn’t panicking.

By the time we had reached the ER, whatever bothered her had passed. Although I had her tested for multiple allergies, this event never occurred. But for the rest of the summer, I felt as though a knife had sliced over me, shearing off some essential part of me.

The pandemic has changed all of us — both over a year, and in smaller, sharper pieces, as in my family’s recent case. The New York Times shares stories today of new lives emerging, reshaping and reforming. Of lives going on.

Hardwick, Vermont

Hey, Kid!

The other evening I walked by a kid in shorts and a t-shirt crouched down in the mess of road construction on Main Street. What the heck? He was about seven-years-old or so, his hands on a thick stake with a blue triangle flag hammered into the bulldozed dirt.

The little boy was so serious that I stopped and looked back at him. Evening, the workers had long since quit, and no one was around except for cars and pickups on the road. The boy snapped off the stake, immediately put it over his shoulder, and walked down the road quickly.

Slow-thinking perhaps, I didn’t realize what the child was up to, until I saw his yet-serious face glance over his shoulder at the blue flag, and then his fingers came back and brushed the triangle, lightly, without lessening his speed.

The kid was working, doing serious stuff, holding up the veritable imaginative life of the village. So intent he never smiled, he hurried across the street and disappeared around a building, out of my sight.

When we are mired in the relative world, never lifting our gaze to the mystery, our life is stunted, incomplete; we are filled with yearning for that paradise that is lost when, as young children, we replace it with words and ideas and abstractions – such as merit, such as past, present, and future – our direct, spontaneous experience of the thing itself, in the beauty and precision of this present moment.

– Peter Matthiessen

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Summer girl

Sunday

Growing up in southern New Hampshire, the summer sky often skimmed over with smeary white humidity, and I spent a lot of my childhood summers reading library books on the cool front porch behind the trumpet vine. Our box fan in a green metal cage was missing a screw and rattled until my mother jammed it somewhat quiet with a folded-over piece of cardboard.

These days, it’s often just the 12-year-old and me. Yesterday, I found her, hidden on the back porch, reading. While the summer to me seems to be soaring by in a few heartbeats, for a child I often forget a day is yet a day.

Good book? I asked.

Her eyes came to me slowly, returning from this fictional land with people I’ve never met. She nodded. Yeah.

Walked and walked
Here still to go—
Summer fields

– Buson

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Hardwick, Vermont, community garden

Tuesday: a Few Miles Travelled

Eleven years ago, I drove away from Copley Hospital in Morrisville, sitting in the backseat of a car – a place I never sit. My six-year-old daughter was in the backseat, too, her infant sister between us, just days old. Although it had rained every single day in May – either a drizzle or deluge – the beginning days of June were sunny and hot. Leaving the hospital, we passed enormous corn fields where emerald shoots of corn had emerged from the dark soil in those few days I had been cloistered.

Sick through almost the entire pregnancy, by the end I was less alive, submerged in that pregnancy’s difficulty. But all that passed immediately with the birth of my second daughter. Within minutes of her birth, I felt myself returning to life.

In all the marvelous experiences of my life, those minutes driving by those June corn fields rank very near the apex: the two children I was meant to have, beside me birthed and healthy, the gloomy raininess of a long hard season dispersed, and all around us, radiant in sunlight, those fertile fields rich with life pushing upward, in those long sweeping rows of gems.

blessing the boats
(at saint mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back
may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

— Lucille Clifton

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Ah, Monet

When my older sister was a student at Williams College, I often rode the Greyhound and visited her. While she was in German or physics class, I walked to the Clark Art Museum. Entrance was free for students, so I could visit over and over. As I read a lot, too, I learned about Monet and his garden, and Renoir and his women.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was learning art is a physical craft. None of the guards cared if I leaned into the paintings and admired brush strokes, bending in to see the raised curved of paint Sisley’s brush had left. I studied how a particular shade of yellow lent a certain light. I became a writer and not a painter, but those hours in the Clark were invaluable to me. I learned to step into light, to realize darkness as moving force, and to see what is there, rather than what I expected to be there.

Yesterday, I visited with my daughters. In a room suffused with natural light, filled with Impressionist beauties, my younger daughter walked to my most beloved painting in the whole museum – Monet’s ‘Geese in the Brook’ – a golden, sunlit beauty. This child, who had been more interested in the possibility of ice cream rather than Pissarros, said that was her favorite.

When I asked her why, she said, Because it’s beautiful. Look at it, mom.

Bingo, I thought to myself. That was worth the trip alone.

I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides it was a secret.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

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Williamstown, MA