Bringing Back the Wonderful

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.

— Lulu Miller, Why Fish Don’t Exist

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

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Spectator

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.

— Lawrence Wright, “Crossroads”

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14 Years Ago… On a Hot Day…

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.

— Louise Glück

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Things Left on the Back Porch

A woman I worked with for one summer in Craftsbury, Vermont, lived the rest of the year in New York City. Before she left, I offered to mail her a few books. Don’t, she said, really alarmed. The mailman leaves packages on my doorknob in my apartment building, and people steal them.

Really? She assured me, yes, people did, in fact, steal.

People steal in lovely Vermont, too, but not like that. On my back porch, I leave my friend’s vest and a jar of peaches my daughter and I canned last summer. When my daughter returns from school, she discovers a gift of chocolate cookies and a cat calendar.

While boiling pasta for dinner, I leaf through the Eliot Porter photography book my friend left, too. In it, I discover a chapter written about nearby Glover, Vermont, not far from us.

The passage below reminds me of when I was 18 and moved to Vermont, and knew this state was exactly where I wanted to live — with a kind of certainty I’ve known about a handful of things — being a mother and a writer, tending a garden, the necessity of laughter…. and handing things from friend to friend.

Vermont is a great character mill, and it grinds exceedingly fine. It is too rough a country for pretenders, but it will make room for anyone, however odd, if he doesn’t on airs or show himself incompetent or think himself above the homespun and the calluses and the hard-mouthed virtues that Vermonters have come to the hard way, and don’t intend to lose.

— Wallace Stegner

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May the Road Glaze Up to Meet Us….

No school today, due not so much to snow but to ice. While I was gone most of the day, literally sliding on Barre’s sidewalks, the kids were home. With great gusto, the teenager plowed the driveway, while the ten-year-old teamed up with the neighbor boy. In the afternoon, the boy’s mother and I went walking. I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking right now, and I realize my deepest conversations with this woman have been along our mutual dirt road.

Our relationship began before either of us had kids, meeting for the first time along the road when it had washed out in a summer storm. We have now stretched through births, illness, carpooling, innumerable passing back and forth of cake pans and eggs.

And yet it is always the road where we return. Today, with the road’s center sheer ice, she walked on one gravelly edge, I on the other, and we spoke across this narrow road. Back at my house, in the rain, the children had built a couch of snow complete with footrests. I watched the two children later from the kitchen windows, sitting on their mitten-made couch in their bright hats and snowsuits, chatting.

This constellation called walking has a history, the history trod out by all those poets and philosophers and insurrectionaries, by jaywalkers, pilgrims, tourists, hikers, mountaineers, but whether it has a future depends on whether those connecting paths are travelled still.

–– Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: a History of Walking

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February, Elmore, Vermont