August Day

Awake before dawn, I lie thinking of my friend’s 49th birthday today, remembering that October afternoon we swam in Lake Caspian with our five- and six-year-olds — swimming outdoors in Vermont in October! The leaves around the lake flamed gold and orange. That night, I realized I was pregnant with my second child.

Lying there, I remembered the March morning you didn’t appear for coffee, and I suddenly realized your stepfather had passed. That foggy day we drove for hours, searching for a house for my daughters and me when my marriage had shattered, and the fall we canned sticky quart after quart of peaches and tomatoes? The steady drop-off of eggs this pandemic that has fed my family for so many meals?

Someday — the world willing — we’ll look back at 2020 and, even then, cringe. And yet, your birthday for me has always marked the high holiness of Vermont summer — fatly rich with sunflowers and vegetables gardens escaping their fences. The dew is cold on my bare feet, but the day promises that heat you love so well.

Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody were writing poems?… By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.’

— Ted Kooser

IMG_8060

Van Gogh

Late Saturday afternoon in the heat, the girls load up the canoe while I’m lying on the porch reading. I’m so tired I’m near to sleeping, but the girls have packed up dinner. On there way there, my 15-year-old, driving, says, Uh-oh, as the canoe slides ever so slowly to the left on the roof of my car.

Again, so near to sleeping in the heat, I say, You could ease the car over to the side of the road. She does. Her sister does some magic (or enough magic) with the straps, and then we’re on our way again.

Fortunately, we’re not going far.

On #10 Pond in Calais, we paddle out, listening to the loons. In the center, we pause and eat dinner. Eventually, the youngest says, Those loons are surrounding us — mama, daddy, teens. For the longest time, we simply sit there, listening. Then the oldest dips in a paddle and breaks the pond’s glassy surface.

It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.

— Van Gogh

For lovers of Van Gogh — and who isn’t? — here’s a fascinating NYT piece about his presumed final painting. I recommend the free book.

IMG_8864

Photo by Molly S./Calais, VT

Crickets

My daughter’s friend spends the afternoon on our back porch. When I come home from work, the girls are still chatting and doing crafts. The sunlight dapples through the box elders. Around us, tomatoes ripen.

We are ensconced in porch life, our half-covered deck redolent with drying garlic, the nasturtiums dangling their delicate, impossibly beautiful blossoms from hanging baskets. In the mornings, we read Henry IV, Part One aloud with my parents in Santa Fe, my sister and nephews in Virginia, circling back to Falstaff’s words — “A plague of sighing and grief! It blows a man up like a bladder.” Beside me, my 15-year-old rubs a finger over the scraps on her knees from blackberry brambles.

August is the sunshine month in Vermont, the season of wild berries, of warm lakes, of flowers in excess, of lying on the grass as the stars come out, of a great long pause before autumn sets in and winter grinds her teeth.

Our deck, our house, and garden might as well be the whole world, with the turkey vultures silently circling overhead, the wood thrush singing sweetly in the ravine. Before dinner, I toss a withering bouquet of giant zinnias in the compost and cut a fresh handful for our dinner table. August is our rainbow month. I know my daughter’s desire for school, for soccer, for this future none of us seem able to imagine — but long may August last, please.

The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.

— E.B. White

IMG_8152

Little Gummy Bears

Dirty, grubby, road-salt-stained: that’s my midwinter boots.

Walking down Montpelier’s Main Street, on a whim I stop into Delish, the candy store. Not so long ago, my younger daughter eyed their door each time we walked by. Yesterday afternoon, on my way to meet someone for an interview at Capitol Grounds, I impulsively walked in, bought a small white paper bag of chocolate-covered gummy bears, and slid it in my backpack to take home to her.

I’ve been mothering — a mother — for twenty-one years now. Not a single day — and hardly an hour, it seems — has passed when I haven’t been actively or mentally engaged in parenting.

Now, my older daughter is all grown up, busily writing her own narrative about work and college and a complex network of friends. In our house, it feels like all of us are on precipices — of turning 21, of adolescence heading toward young adulthood, and myself. Even the cats are keeping busy. Midwinter? Oh yes.

Happy final day of January, 2020.

IMG_7110