As the garden withers for the winter, I collect seeds — tithonia, marigold, coneflower — pulling the dry seeds with their tufted ends with my fingers, secreting them in my coat pockets.

My daughter takes a handsaw to the mammoth sunflower stalks fencing the garden, their heavy heads picked nearly clean of seeds from marauding birds. From a scant palmful of seeds, what pleasure these beauties have given us this summer. Now, the birds and the scavenging squirrels feast, too.

A friend stops by with a bare peony root, cushioned in paper, transported in a Negra Modela box. I’m out that evening. When I return, my daughter carefully unwraps the root — not merely a stick but a complicated branching — and then lifts another smaller root. Good luck, she says. They may not grow.

Or, they might.

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?

— Galway Kinnell



Juncos flock the double glass doors in our kitchen, tantalizing our cat.

Local Wanders

When I lived on 100 acres in fairly rural Vermont, I didn’t imagine we’d change that story. 100 acres is a large chunk of land, and those 100 acres didn’t end at any boundary save a single dirt road along one side. The corners were rebar pins, surrounded by thousands of acres alive with fisher and bear and moose, jack-in-the-pulpit and hobblebush.

Living in Hardwick village now, the wild still surrounds us. Along our former road, tumbled-in stone foundations are reminders of farming families, who at some point packed up and moved along.

Yesterday, we walked along the railroad tracks, walled in at times by forest, and crossed the Lamoille River over a questionable bridge, hidden in this oh-so-June green beauty behind the town. I could imagine a hundred years ago, terrain cleared around the tracks, the rail bed studded with cinders. Save for the four of us, we saw no one but a crow.

The first step … shall be to lose the way.

— Galway Kinnell


Photo by Molly S.

Our Lives, Seen and Unseen

A few minutes early to collect the 12-year-old and her friend from track practice, the 19-year-old and I take a walk around a neighborhood circle near the high school, passing a house I considered buying but didn’t.

Full of excitement about her morning, my daughter talks on and on, her happiness as visible as red-breasted robins in a bare-branched maple tree. We pause for a moment before the three-story house, with large original windows on the first and second floors, bordered at the top by ornate stained glass. The owner confessed the windows leaked air profusely but couldn’t bear to replace them. The house is no longer for sale; my daughter and I speculate the family still lives there.

We walk by another house flanked by five sugar maples, the trees young enough to live for many more decades.

Robins, both visible and hidden, sing.

My daughter and I pass these houses and these possible lives our family might have taken but didn’t. Then we’re back at the high school, still in the cold and clear March sunlight, beside a maple filled with robins fluttering their wings, chorusing in the beginning of spring.

I know that I love the day,
The sun on the mountain, the Pacific
Shiny and accomplishing itself in breakers,
But I know I live half alive in the world,
I know half my life belongs to the wild darkness.

— Galway Kinnell


Yearling Bear

Driving alone up Vermont Route 12 this morning, in a forested area that winds between two ridges and along dead-tree-choked swamps, I spied a young bear on the pavement ahead of me. There was no one but me and the bear, and I coasted to the side and got out of little car. Overhead flew a single crow.

The bear, too young to see me at all, was small enough to be round in its four limbs and soft paws, walking in a circle, and I looked for the creature’s mother, as it seemed to be searching as well. Then, the youngster ducked beneath the guard rail and was gone, simple as that. I was back in my car and on my way. I passed no other traffic.

150 years ago, bear and deer were nearly extinct in what was a nearly deforested Vermont. The wildlife has surged back in strength, both in the dearness of its young, and sometimes in what would be the fierceness of its parents. I hadn’t seen a bear in a few years, and I was glad to see this one. I’m hoping its mother was just beyond my sight.

In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear….

From “The Bear” by Galway Kinnell



My dear daughters sometimes  look at the books I’m reading and moan, How can you read that? My Struggle? Come on, mom…..

I read on, I read on. In this cool and rainy Vermont July, my nephew and daughter picked wild raspberries this evening, while the clouds darkened ominously and the wind stirred up, and I bolstered my fence against the woodchuck. As a child, summer days wound out into a sheer infinity, but now it seems perhaps tomorrow the children will be back at school and I’ll be stepping into my boots to carry in another armload of wood. Tomorrow seems tucked into today, the years interlaced like a pair of folded hands.

In the light the moon
sends back, I can see in your eyes

the hand that waved once
in my father’s eyes, a tiny kite
wobbling far up in the twilight of his last look:

and the angel
of all mortal things lets go the string.

–– Galway Kinnell



Fishing My Place in the River

This morning, my daughter’s friend tapped the fishtank and remarked, “Fish are like birds.”

Busy picking up stray socks or something, I nodded and said, “Right, yeah, they’re all in the animal kingdom.”

But something made me turn and look and forget those socks for a moment.  Kneeling beside the tank, the girl’s face stared upward at the water, mesmerized by the gray and bright copper fish a neighbor had gleaned from his pond a few years back.  “Birds are up in the trees.  Fish are in the water.”  This could have been one of those well, duh moments, but the girl was so transfixed.  Maybe what she was seeing was fish hovering in the water, birds fluttering through the air, and us — the human world — plodding along earthbound.

In a recent New Yorker, Sharon Olds writes of her friend Galway Kinnell’s death:

… you fish your side

of the river, I’ll fish mine, you said

it meant – and I can see us, decades,

fishing both sides of the river,

together, sharing the catch.

Writing, as John Cheever famously said, is not a competitive sport.  Where I fish in my shallow part of the river shouldn’t impinge on your territory.  Why not eat each other’s fish and poems?  This girl reminded me that I should push the map of my world deeper and wider, beyond my daily geography.  The natural venue for birds is air, for fish water. Sharon Olds and Galway Kinnell knew a territory where a river of poetry looped through, a wild terrain where they worked separately and yet together partook of the river’s bounty.

All this poetry aside, the girl also remarked, “This fish tank really needs to be cleaned.” On that, too, I concur.

Photo by Molly S.

Photo by Molly S.