Every so often, a friend and I make plans to meet at a rural crossroads, at a brick inn that was once a stagecoach stop. I imagine in those days the crossroads was populated with chickens and horses, with people coming and going, not Priuses, but in wagons and on foot. My friend and I began this habit in the summer of 2020, and so the inn has been shuttered to the public all this time.
Walking, we pass a few other Sunday walkers bundled in coats and hats. But few people are out, and there’s scant traffic. In contrast, our conversation is packed — about raising kids and planning spring gardens, about relationships, about navigating the working world as a female in a patriarchy (why are these conversations still necessary, anyway??)
The thing about Vermont in midwinter is the stillness and what breaks that quiet. Icicles drip, freeze, and then thaw and drip again. Birds appear at our feeder in increasing numbers, then whisk away again. A rouge wind blows in a squall, soon chased away by the emerging sun.
Pandemic notwithstanding, robins return to our crabapple trees.
“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”
I met a friend yesterday, and we took a walk we’ve journeyed in various seasons — in bright green spring, in the summer when we admired flower gardens along houses. Yesterday, we walked through frozen mud ruts and sprinkles of rain, the jumbled up season and time of where we are.
On this New Year’s Day, I’m passing along a VTDiggerstory written by Kevin O’Connor about a Vermont couple’s 4,000 World War II letters. A history lesson and a love story — isn’t that what we need right now?
May ends in a welcome rain, and June begins with a watercolor-esque sunrise over our wall of fading lilac blossoms.
This is the weekend when our vaccinated friends stood in our kitchen, talking and talking, and then walked slowly around our downstairs, asking, “What’s happened here in the last sixteen months?”
I showed the window trim I had painted a pale blue, called Innocence.
This was also the weekend I drove my friend and her daughter. Over years, this friend and I have drove endless hours together, and the car I’ve owned for over a year she’d hadn’t even sat in.
The afternoon was rainy. I drove along a dirt road, and the maple trees gleamed a brilliant green. We had been at a ceremony that was both happy and terribly sad, and I was cold to the bone. I turned on the seat warmers.
Seat warmers! my friend said. That’s wonderful.
We started laughing, my friend still hunched against the partly open window, as if that mattered now.
Bring on the wonderful, please.
(Highly recommended reading below…. :))
It was the dandelion principle! To some people a dandelion might look like a weed, but to others that same plant can be so much more. To an herbalist, it’s a medicine—a way of detoxifying the liver, clearing the skin, and strengthening the eyes. To a painter, it’s a pigment; to a hippie, a crown; a child, a wish. To a butterfly, it’s sustenance; to a bee, a mating bed; to an ant, one point in a vast olfactory atlas.
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.’
At a baseball game at the high school, my friends and I talk about the shape of the evening clouds. The high school has a view of Buffalo Mountain. Behind it, the sun goes down.
I’m late to the game, finishing a book I’m reviewing and answering a handful of emails. When I arrive, I stand back for a bit, watching my younger daughter and her friends who are sitting by the side, apart but not that much apart, their hair piled on their heads, talking and laughing. There’s nothing new here — talking is the lifeblood of teen girls — but that world seems so rare in our world these days. — Go be a kid, swap stories, figure out your place in the world — the pulse of adolescence.
As the sun lowers and I keep talking with my friends, I keep glancing at these girls, their eyes full of sparks and joy, for this evening, these hours, this very moment.
Like wars and depressions, a pandemic offers an X-ray of society, allowing us to see all the broken places. It was possible Americans would do noting about the fissures exposed by the pandemic: the racial inequalities, the poisonous partisanship, the governmental incompetence, the disrespect for science, the loss of standing among nations, the fraying of community bonds. Then again, when people confront their failures, they have the opportunity to mend them.
Nearly 14 years ago, my friend and I drove to Burlington to shop for a baby carseat. I was pregnant; she was pregnant. In the backseat, our two 6-year-olds chattered and ate snacks. Somewhere in the midst of our errands in Burlington, we discovered it was Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day.
What’s 14 years in the scope of human history? A nearly nothing. But for us, two baby girls, one death, five jobs, one book, a rabbit, two cats, one divorce, and a whole lot of living later — 14 might as well be a trip around the moon and back.
No free cones on this trip. We returned with four boxes of Narcan, oodles of info, and even more talk….
Why love what you will lose?
There is nothing else to love.