A Miniature Temple.

A number of years ago, my friend and I were sitting near a lake watching our little kids play in the sand when somehow our conversation drifted to fear. I began rattling off what I feared — and the list was long. My friend had her long list, too.

Years later, my list might be shorter, but the items are all darn scary.

I wake in the dark as our cats creep around the downstairs, fearful and entranced about my visiting brother’s dogs. Over the millennia of human history, countless people have lived — and are living — through periods when the world around them was crumbling apart or being blown to smithereens. On this Thursday morning, here’s a few lines from a recent poem in the The Writer’s Almanac.

Wishing happiness to all of you, in whatever way the light finds you….

Isn’t it enough to be a person buying

a carton of milk? A simple

package of butter and a loaf

of whole wheat bread?

… I look outside,

but I can’t see much out there

because now it is dark except

for a single vermilion neon sign

floating above the gas station

like a miniature temple.”

— Marlena Morning

Kicking Up Leaves.

My daughter and I are standing on a street corner in Montpelier, Vermont, talking about some little thing — maybe the mighty silver maple on the library’s lawn and how those leaves are always the last to turn gold. How I remember this every year at the same annual mark, and then forget this for the rest of the year.

While we’re talking, I keep thinking of this lovely library, and how I took my daughters there as little girls. Later, I often worked all day in the upstairs reading rooms with views of the trees. Not so, anymore, in our pandemic world.

Across the street, a couple kicks fallen leaves at each other. I stop talking, thinking, Oh, no, what fresh hell is this? when the couple begins laughing. They’re each holding white paper cup, and he has a paper bag that might be full of sweet delicious things from a nearby bakery.

That moment — that tiny joyful moment — opens up our day. Sweet normalcy. Oh, yes. Bring that on.

One of my most favorite autumn poems:

on a withered branch
sits a crow
autumn nightfall

—Basho

Rain, Cats, Kids, Home

It was raining this morning when I carried out a pail of hot ashes. For a moment, I stood in the cold rain, looking at the village below, its few lights blurry through the mist that creeps in on these early winter mornings.

Like just about everyone I know, we’re home — the three of us — for this holiday, with not much more planned than cooking and walking and hanging out in our warm house, with the walls I painted the color of daffodils.

It’s the strangest time, for sure. Decades into my life, I know this, too, will pass. My daughters — ages 21 and 15 — will someday decades hence look back at this time. I imagine they’ll remember this holiday as a time when so many relinquished their own desires for the health of the whole.

So much in 2020 was not as usual, so it’s fitting, I think, that the holiday season starts this way, too. In past years, we’ve had a huge Thanksgiving table, or we’ve traveled, or sometimes it’s simply been our family. But this year, perhaps, draws out the quieter, deeper meaning of this holiday.

So, of all the many things I’m grateful for, I’m grateful that we can endure the pandemic together, the three of us. Around us, I know, as my daughters know, there’s so many eating alone today, separate, but lending their energy toward better community health, even in a cold rain.

I thank thee God, that I have lived
In this great world and known its many joys:
The songs of birds, the strongest sweet scent of hay,
And cooling breezes in the secret dusk

— Elizabeth Craven

Starting Stick Season

At the end of our dead-end road, my neighbor and I call to each other, checking in, seeking news.

Their 5-year-old loves kindergarten, cut his own hair, lost his first tooth, and is learning to read.

My neighbor laughs at all this, holding a giant box of diapers. When they came down with a cold, he and his wife had to get a Covid test — negative! hurray! — and daycare has been screwed up as their provider had to get her own Covid test.

The old lilac bushes surrounding our houses turned a particularly pretty shade of gold this year, but those little leaves have fallen now. Across the cemetery from our two houses, one sugar maple determinedly holds its leaves, a shimmering reflective pool for sunlight in the afternoon.

And so life goes on.

The kindergartner jumps down the front porch steps, sees me, and points into his mouth. See!

From my distance, I nod and cheer. And so Saturday goes.

Walking

Rural Vermont is often (and embarrassingly) a car culture. So walking along the railbed yesterday, it was a pleasure to walk from one village to another — a great big expedition from Hardwick to East Hardwick, along the river and through the forest.

It was a reminder for me that walking from one world to another is an ancient method, and that slowing down and looking at the sky and the river current are meaningful parts of life, too, especially in good company.

We’re somewhere in October, the days marching along towards the election and winter. Take the time to lift up a curious stone and see what’s beneath — a centipede, a tiny pebble, or the loose and sweet-smelling dirt.

Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors…disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.


― Rebecca Solnit

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