Light Turning.

Walking into town, I pass a house that has been abandoned for the five years I’ve lived here. Last winter, a vehicle skidded off the road and smashed through the front window. Since then, plywood has covered the front.

There’s a few houses like this in that neighborhood, the paint gray, the windows filthy, tiny yards gone over to weeds or dirt. In the pandemic’s craze, people moved back into a few of these, converting abandoned places into homes again. The driver of a fuel truck stood outside this house yesterday with a young couple, the three of them talking seriously, nodding heads. Sheets of foam insulation leaned against the house. On the side wall, someone had ripped off the dirty plastic and exposed a large square window, its top edge red and blue stained glass. Without stopping, I wondered what else was inside the house.

End of January — and suddenly the sunlight returned in full force. Today may be cloudy, tomorrow, too, maybe for days to come, but the earth is tilting. Slow as spring is, we’re leaning that way.

Don’t say my hut has nothing to offer:

come and I will share with you

the cool breeze that fills my window.

— Ryōkan (trans. John Stevens)

Which Way?

Midday, I walk along Caspian Lake’s edge. By now, the summer people have long since gone elsewhere, back to their own tangled lives. In no mood to see anyone and chat, I take the woods path. I know my way well enough now — all these little wanders — that I know where to turn and hide when I hear voices through the woods. The day is clear, the water so transparent I can almost imagine swimming across its blue surface.

I’m so caught up in my mind’s little narrative that when I cross out of the trees and into a meadow I nearly step into a woman walking her dog. We nod and exchange little greetings about nice day and who knew November could be so pleasant? Her golden retriever rubs my knee. I crouch down and let her dog touch the palm of my hands with her nose. There’s nothing more between the stranger and me but this: the dog, the wet nose, the creature hungry to know me.

November is the beaver moon, sunlight falling through bare branches, and the question of winter: which way will this go?

Upon a withered branch
A crow has stopped this
Autumn evening

— Bashō

Sunday Sweets

Skiing through the town forest yesterday, I ducked beneath sap lines. The sugarbush there is tapped and ready for the sap to run. I’m ready, too.

For years, our family sugared, and February began weeks that turned around the season and sap flow. We had no weekend. We had no days off. So now, on Sundays, I (mostly) fold up my laptop and lean into family.

One (small) silver lining of the pandemic is the pleasure of a single donut: peach, flower, poppy seed.

Ten degrees and sunny. Perfect for ice skating.

Here

I’m here —

the snow falling.

― Issa

Little Bright Bits

A friend and I have a habit of emailing back and forth requesting send me something good. We’ve been doing this so long now that I can’t remember when we started, although I’m nearly 100% certain this began in a long Vermont winter.

Generally, we offer little bright bits — a book to share or a decent recipe. Yesterday, she emails about the rising full moon. Drivers along the County Road pulled over and took photos.

Little bits that are maybe not slight at all.

After dinner, my daughters and I bundled up against the sharp cold and went walking in the silvery moonlight. We hadn’t dressed warmly enough and shivered by the time we returned. Chattering, my girls were exuberant that winter had finally arrived in all its radiant beauty.

That gleaming round moon, the sparkling snow, a warm house: solid strands of our web.

  Barn’s burnt down 

     Now I can see 

     the moon! 

— Mizuta Masahide

Photo by Molly S./Hardwick, Vermont

Small Joys

Friday afternoon, I knock off work early and stack wood with my youngest.

She’s a far better wood stacker than I am, precise in her ends, creating long tight rows on our porch. About the only thing I have going for me is endurance; I’m determined to stack it all, on this fine sunny day — that endurance, and my utter pleasure to be working outdoors, breathing the sweet smell of sap.

She rakes the piles of bark and the slivers we’ll use for kindling, as we talk about little things, nothing much. Later, she swims with a few friends, the three happy. Seeing her happiness fills me with joy.

On the cusp of school reopening, uncertainty is palpable. Will school open for a week? A month? What kind of crazy plan is this? Like most parents, I’m wondering what’s the way forward? What’s the way to feed her desire for learning and friends — in a pandemic? Who knows?

When I set the rake back in the barn, I find our hatchet. Its head is dull and loosened, in need of repair. Years ago, ax repair would have been my husband’s purview. I hold its hardwood handle. Okay, I think. Find a different solution.

The neighbor’s cat sprawls on our woodpile, gray belly up to the sun, purring.

The cool breeze.
With all his strength
The cricket.

— Issa

IMG_8167.jpg

Photo by Gabriela S.

Mind, Cold, Beauty

17 degrees below zero this morning.

When I head out to start my daughter’s car before she heads to work, a perfect half moon is poised over our house, moonbeams glistening on our black metal roof.

Cold. But the Vermont way is to say, I’ve seen colder. I have. I will (presumably) again. Just as the body accumulates tolerance, the mind unwittingly relaxes into perspective.

But that’s the mind. As the dawn opens up, the sky bruises violet. Stars gleam. The day moves on.

It’s interesting.
Lied upon one another
The umbrellas in the snow.

— Shiki

IMG_7206