Words and Stale Bread.

Where I am these days…

I’m standing in front of the town office where I work when a Subaru swings in, and the driver pulls up beside me. I’d been eating the stale focaccia and watching a swiftly moving rainstorm moving across the lake. The driver is someone I’ve know off and on for years, through school board and select board meetings, through the connections that unite people in Vermont towns.

We share a conversation about a resident who’s using his parcel of land hard, hard, so unnecessarily. Rain spits a bit. I gnaw at the side of the focaccia, worried about stressing my tooth with its repeated root canal work.

Of all the many things I’ve learned or observed in the pandemic, our collective need for these small moments has surfaced repeatedly. We’ll come to no plan of action, no change, but for this moment in a breezy June midday, there’s one more stitch in my life, tugging me back in the community life.

On my drive home, a deer leaps before my own Subaru — all long legs, glancing over its shoulder as it disappears into the woods. I take the long way home on the ridge above the Black River valley that twists along Route 14. The two-lane blue highway passes a highway that flows two ways — north and south.

… Today the fields are rich in grass, 
And buttercups in thousands grow; 
I’ll show the world where I have been– 
With gold-dust seen on either shoe. 

Till to my garden back I come, 
Where bumble-bees for hours and hours 
Sit on their soft, fat, velvet bums, 
To wriggle out of hollow flowers….

~ William Henry Davies

Foxes. Friends.

June, and I work in the garden or the outside tables as much as possible, countering my indoors job and the pandemic years that have thrown me (and humankind) off-balance. Despite the unusual cold and wind, I often read outside in the evenings while the neighbors’ boys bike on our dead-end road, calling out my name.

Just beyond the pin cherry trees, the foxes come and go, reddish-brown, their front legs black. They’re not disturbed in the least by the man who walks his leashed dog in the cemetery, both man and dog head down, preoccupied with what, I have no guess. Across the milkweed and lupine, the foxes and I stare at each other, before I silently head my way, or they head theirs.

They go about their lives of hunting and playing, their ears and eyes alert to the world around them. I go about my human life of language and thought — a life that sometimes seems fixated on lists and transactions. For these moments, coming and going like the sun through clouds, this relationship feels like one of the realest in my life, devoid of our human tendencies towards deceit and self-absorption. I’m not about to become a fox, but I might become a slightly better human for these true friends.

The gods, we are taught, created humankind in their own image. Everyone has an urge to create. Its expression may flow through many channels: through writing, art, or music or through the inventiveness of work or in any number of ways unique to all of us, whether it be cooking, gardening, or the art of social discourse. The point is to honor the urge. To do so is healing for ourselves and for others; not to do so deadens our bodies and our spirits.

~ Dr. Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

Foxes. Writing.

Foxes set up kit-making and housekeeping in a den behind our house again this year. Last year, three kits scrambled around. This year, two kits tumble over each other, already growing long-legged.

Their den is in the woods not far from our yard and garden, beyond a patch of weeds and across a stretch of sand. On a recent hot afternoon, I saw a kit stretched out on the sand, sleeping or half-sleeping, soaking up the rays.

A naturalist and his class make arrangements to stop by one evening and see my wild neighbors. Before they arrive, I’m reading outside when my friend stops by. The foxes appear. Near my garden, the neighbor’s gray cat watches, too, in the disdainful way cats do so well. My friend and I marvel at the juxtaposition of wild and domestic, and then the foxes scamper away. We’re knitting and talking when the others arrive. Not on the human agenda and with other things to do, the foxes do not re-appear.

Besides myself and my daughter, I’m not sure who else has seen these foxes. I’ve witnesses these creatures roll over each other and hunt baby woodchucks. They’ve doubtlessly seen me wander about, doing my garden chores. For long moments, we’ve stared at each other over that distance of milkweed and pin cherries, sizing each other up as a potential threat. Each of us appears to have drawn conclusions.

When the naturalist and his companions disappear, I’m slightly sorry they haven’t met and admired the foxes. But there’s also a part of me that relishes this secret world, this relationship devoid of human words.

Last…. here’s the essay I finished reading just before my friend appeared. This is from the final essay (‘On Becoming an American Writer’) in Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.

‘Only in America do we ask our writers to believe they don’t matter as a condition of writing… To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it… All my life I’ve been told this isn’t important, that it doesn’t matter, that it could never matter. And yet I think it does. I think it is the real reason the people who would take everything from us say this. I think it’s the same reason that when fascists come to power, writers are among the first to go to jail. And that is the point of writing.’

Writing.

I’m working on my laptop in Hardwick’s Front Seat Coffee when a man who I wanted to sell my house to, a few years back, comes up to me. In those days, he and his wife had a few young kids. The house was creative and cool, but in fairly lousy physical shape, and I believed he had the skills to right the rotten places. Life unspun in a different way, a pandemic set in, and that was that.

He’s now read my book about addiction. When we hug, he smells of woodsmoke. These days, he’s boiling sap outside, making syrup for his family.

When my youngest tells me she doesn’t know why anyone would ever write a book, I tell her there’s no reason at all, perhaps, except that it seems impossible NOT to write the book. Maybe all creativity is this way — that we’re driven to do things that otherwise no rational human would. Thank goodness for the madness of art, really.

After we talk about writing and addiction, he tells me he and his wife bought a house I once knew quite well, and we marvel at the interconnection in our little world. I may see him next week, or not for four years. And then our conversation will undoubtedly begin again.

House of Glass and Copper.

Albuquerque

I sit between two strangers in the stratosphere between Newark and Denver. In the plane’s window seat, a young man reads The Habits of Seven Highly Effective People and encourages me to read it, too. He tells me he’s twenty-one and has begun reading books. Then he offers to adjust the window shade in whatever way I prefer. He asks how I can knit and read. I demonstrate how to do a knit stitch.

On my other side, a man is headed to visit his son. The three of us share pieces of why we’re flying, little scraps of our complicated stories. As we begin the long descent into Denver, the man to my left shares that this date is the third anniversary of his wife’s passing. He shows my seat companion and me photos of the slate and copper memorial he made for his wife. As his camera roll unfurls, glass conservatories appear. He builds these custom houses of copper and glass across the country.

The plane lands, and we exchange good wishes for our different journeys. The Colorado sunlight streams in through the window. Tired, I lean on the setback in front of me. We’re in a vessel of metal and glass, too, not so pretty as the stranger’s creations, but just as miraculous.

The Denver airport is suffused with sunlight from overhead skylights, too. I stand beside a potted tree, talking with my daughter about her plans for giving blood for the first time the following morning. Crowds part around me, looking up at the timetable on a screen, parents herding their little children. The line for my next flight forms. All of us are coming and going, joining and separating. I say goodbye to my daughter, walk to my gate, and head back up into the sky in that metal craft.