The Horizon’s Edge.

Photo by Diane Grenkow

Many years ago, one of my daughters’ playmates wandered through our sugarhouse with a huge pine branch over her shoulder. My then-husband and I were working in the kind of frantic way we often did in those days, sap-turning-to-syrup boiling fiercely in the pans. The playmate was a slight and quiet child. She moved through us and then disappeared outside again, enmeshed in whatever imaginative world.

On this below zero morning, heading towards my oldest daughter’s birthday, this photo taken by my friend comes into my email, which reminded me how much of my approach to parenting little kids was let them wander around the world. More than a few times, that seemed to have evolved into a kind of what the heck is happening now sense from the kids.

Just for the record, we swam a great deal at this beach, too, although never in the frozen months.

The horizon’s edge, the flying seacrow, the fragrance of saltmarsh and shoremud;
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes and will always go forth every day,
And these become of him or her that peruses them now.

— Walt Whitman

Evening Meet-up

With two 12-year-olds and a giant dog cage in my small Toyota, I drove along the dirt roads in Woodbury, in search of the woman who said she had chickens. Ignore the no trespassing sign at the foot of the driveway, she told me, a warning for burglars. That part of the Woodbury is mountainous in the small, Vermont way, with curved hillsides cupping homes, and lots of clear running streams and glacier-carved ponds.

It was nearly dusk, and she was outside, waiting for us. The girls eyed the chickens, who were not yet in their houses. Waiting, the woman showed the girls her fluffy chicks, and then we went inside. Her house had an amazing floor made from stones on the property. While the girls waited quietly, the woman and I talked about her relatives who had been in the area since before the Revolutionary War. She showed us a photograph on the wall of her distant relative in a Civil War uniform with his wife, who must have native blood.

The woman’s house was filled with dusky light. She was one of my people, a small woman, and, standing, we were eye-to-eye. I could feel the girls getting antsy for the chickens, but they were quiet, saying nothing. This woman had raised three sons alone in a mobile home on this property, and then built a house about the time the boys moved on and began their own families, cutting a deal with her ex-husband’s child support arrears for more land instead of the  money he owed.

The girls petted her lovely black lab. I stood listening to the unexpected bends of her life, to an autoimmune disease and the loss of a job, and then, she said, the chickens saved her life. Began her on a new track. In the descending gloaming, we walked behind the coops and visited her new bees. For a moment I guessed she would offer to take us further, up that steep hillside I admired where she and her son cleared a field.

But the girls edged toward the chickens. The hens muttered, stepping slowly into their houses for the night. We took four, driving out through the sound of the clattering peepers.

Morning glories
enough thatching
for this hut.

— Issa



A steady May rain turns up the most beautiful things: bits of green leaves on our two pear trees, the slender stems of lily-of-the-valley, gold coins of bright yellow dandelions in the greenest of green grass. Inimitable green.

Years ago, I drove through hayfields rich in dandelions to take my daughter to preschool. She was four when she first called me on the telephone, her tiny voice over those black lines.

Yesterday, while I was at work, my youngest texts me, just a single line: We have an egg.

I stand there for a moment. I’ve propped the door wide open in the library and opened all the windows. A breeze blows through, sweet with spring air, with that mixture of grass that’s both freshly cut and growing, the way May in Vermont flings itself headlong toward full leaf and blossom.

While two little brothers in the library are chatting at me about Goosebumps books — companionably and nicely — I’m thinking of my daughter in our dim barn, with her four chickens clucking and muttering around her, holding an egg in her left hand.

The Pasture

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
— Robert Frost

O, The Maple Loveliness

On a cheesecloth foray for the 12-year-old and her friend (a must have for making mummy luminaries), the kids and I stand in a parking lot, and I point out a maple tree across Route 15. More or less, the foliage is finished around us now, but this mature maple had gold at the crown sprinkled down to green at its lower branches.

We were in one of the uglier areas of town, swampy, with a gas station/liquor store, a depressing Dollar Store, some rundown houses and trailers. The tree, however, was so exquisite that my daughter’s friend remarked it appeared to be pruned. We laughed at that  thought – as if a ladder could scale this great beauty, as if human hands might shape this natural perfection.

Across the cemetery is another lovely maple; down Spring Street are the silver maple gems…. and on and on…. And if you’re in Montpelier, admire the maples on the library’s lawn.

Her teacher’s certainty it must be Mabel
Made Maple first take notice of her name.
She asked her father and he told her, “Maple—
Maple is right.”…

From Robert Frost’s “Maple”


Far Travels

Here’s something I never told my daughters: the summer I was 19, the hitchhiking tour of New England my then-boyfriend and I took ended in a convertible ride from Springfield, MA, up I-91 to Brattleboro. The car was an enormous old beauty from the 1950s, and the boyfriend sat up front and talked nonstop with the driver, an ebullient pilot of his darn cool car. I sprawled in the back, the wind wildly noisy, holding my hair out of my face with both hands.

I was 19, in lust but not in love with the boyfriend, and I knew I wouldn’t marry him, as he doubtlessly knew he would never marry me. But we were both at that age of no longer child but not really adult, and we were madly in love with the world, with just the sheer possibility of living.

Every now and then, I think back to my younger self, flying up that interstate in a stranger’s car, my legs stretched out on the red leather seat, with no seatbelt tethering me in, admiring all that sky gradually darkening into a bloody July sunset.

I wear seatbelts now. I never hitchhike. My daughters sleep under a solid roof, in a well-built and deeply insulated house. My older daughter is 18, and I think of this story sometimes when she’s headed off with her friends. I say the same things my parents said intently to me, Drive safely. Keep your eyes open. Come home.

I stand in the doorway, watching her leave. What are you doing? she asks. And when I say, humor me, humor me, she’s gracious enough to do so.

It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened…

– Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn





How Many Leaves on that One Tree?

Our back deck looks out on steep dropping-down place filled with July’s leafy box elders, a tangle of wild raspberries, and a mystery further below of shaded stream. The house I lived in as a very young girl had a deck that seemed enormous when I was three, and faced a huge expanse of northern New Mexican mountains. Surrounded by all that wilderness, as child I couldn’t help but wonder, What’s out there?

I haven’t thought of that deck in years, but that view was there, all that time, folded deep within me.

Here’s a summery recipe from one of my favorite poets:

Sit. Feast on your life.

From Derek Walcott’s “Love After Love”