Treasures of the Least Likely Kind

Rough-cut diamonds rain on Jupiter: we learn this at a planetarium presentation in St. Johnsbury.

Afterwards, my daughter and our friends walk out of the Fairbanks Museum — one of my favorite places with its collection of local and exotic: freshly picked flowers in season and an ancient clay vessel for wine, Egyptian mummies and Civil War paraphanelia.

And, a fantastic collection of Richard W. Brown’s photographs temporarily on-display, the real reason we had driven to St. Johnsbury that day.

When my younger daughter was three, we had the head rebuilt of a Volvo station wagon we had bought from someone who likely botched the original job and passed the vehicle to us. A mechanic far out on a back road in St. Johnsbury did the work. My three-year-old and I on a beautiful summer day drove along twisting back roads I had never traveled, and ended up at an enormous windowless garage with a single green door at one end. I knocked; no one answered.

Holding my daughter’s tiny hand in mine, I entered and walked through what seemed to be an Alice-in-Wonderland mechanic’s world of room after room of greasy engine parts. I found the mechanic, a man in his sixties, his face and hands permanently hued with that same black used engine oil, in the labyrinth. The inside to my Volvo’s heart he had wrapped in a cloth. He opened the cloth and showed me the shining silver.

I lifted my tiny daughter, in her yellow and red-flowered sundress, a hand-me-down from her sister. He showed my child the work he had done. He and I spoke for a bit, while I wrote a check. As I turned to leave, he noticed my daughter was staring at a tiny plastic horse on a cluttered desk and told me to take the toy for her. He said the horse had been there for a long time and must have been waiting for her.

In a borrowed car, I followed the dirt roads down to the river, then turned left, toward  home. My little daughter sat in the backseat, that horse clenched in one fist, staring through the window at the landscape passing by. In the back was that rebuilt piece of our car, wrapped in clean cloths.

That Volvo has long since passed out of my and daughters’ lives, in the endless way of consuming minerals and money cars claim. My daughter wore that dress for years, until it was far above her round knees. The horse is likely still in our possession, in a treasure box of childhood mementos. And the mechanic? We never saw him again. But I still hold the kindness of a stranger who paused on that July day to wonder what interested a small, unspeaking child.

 

Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes….

From Hayden’s Carruth’s Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey

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Richard W. Brown

 

 

 

January 20, 2017

Since the holidays, my 11-year-old daughter and I have played The Enchanted Forest just about every night. Each round of the game is different, involving only a few things: a  journey and remembering what’s beneath each tree. A red cap. A glass slipper. A gold star. Who wins or doesn’t hardly matters in this game; it’s just fun.

On the not-so-fun spectrum, when my marriage broke up, I knew this was not a matter of winning or losing, but there was an enormous gray area I wanted to emerge from in a way I’ll describe as “least soulfully damaged.” Perhaps one of the few things I’ve learned is that there are no winners in this life at all, either in our intimate realms or the political world. That knife of mortality cuts across all of us, from Trump Towers to Rio’s dump dwellers. But it does seem to me that there are better ways than others to emerge from the firestorm of life we all come to, at certain points in our lives.

In our world, the threads of discontent are so manifest, and the threat of widespread societal violence and misery so palpably real. We may be entering the lightless trek of our forested journey, and yet, I myself know, through my own hard-earned experience, that our reserves of faith and empathy are far, far mightier than we might ever envision. I’d like to believe that’s a spring we may draw from, without cease.

Here’s a few lines from one of my favorite poems.

This is the season of mud and thrash, broken limbs and crushed briers
from the winter storms, wetness and rust,
the season of differences, articulable differences that signify
deeper and inarticulable and almost paleolithic
perplexities in our lives, and still
we love one another. We love this house
and this hillside by the highway in upstate New York.
I am too old to write love songs now. I no longer
assert that I love you, but that you love me,
confident in my amazement. The spring
will come soon. We will have more birthdays
with cakes and wine. This valley
will be full of flowers and birds.

Hayden Carruth, “Birthday Cake”

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Reasons to Love Vermont

Yesterday, bees and butterflies busied around the garden while I planted leeks and peas, and today it’s darn near freezing. Reasons to savor Vermont?

A bit of pink pushes through the apple blossom buds. Siberian irises have dislodged stone in our backdoor entryway, and the rose-cheeked children appear to have grown two inches overnight, rivaling the dandelions’ growth. For dinner, we’re eating pork from a friend’s pig and my tart greens and another family’s sheep cheese. We hear coyotes in the morning, waiting for the school bus, and the principal made phone calls for my daughter and her friend to get together “because I like them so much.”

The sweater I knit is sifted with garden dirt, and my hands are stained from weeding. Rain pours; walk around the house, and the sun shines brilliantly. How could you want to be anywhere else?

….Can I leave
you the vale of ten thousand trilliums
where we buried our good cat Pokey
across the lane to the quarry?
Maybe the tulips I planted under
the lilac tree? Or our red-bellied
woodpeckers who have given us so
much pleasure, and the rabbits
and the deer? And kisses? And
love-makings? All our embracings?
I know millions of these will be still
unspent when the last grain of sand
falls with its whisper, its inconsequence,
on the mountain of my love below.

– Hayden Carruth, “Testament”

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November Blooms

I drove along the road to East Hardwick today, a narrow road I’ve driven countless times. I’ve transported numerous kids in many vehicles, often to the lake’s beach, wearing our swimsuits, the trunk filled with floaties, our bags packed with sunscreen and snacks and knitting. This road means to me little children in diapers, stacks of library books, and the long winter the crew worked on an old farmhouse along this road. The snow blows mercilessly across this road. This road means the public library at the end, and the general store where I buy groceries, mud boots, sugaring supplies and lemonade.

Today, driving a companion to a doctor’s appointment, we talked about his dream to get piglets and sheep. You have to think about something, he said.

There’s a line from a TC Boyle novel, World’s End, where a character defines himself as hard, soulless and free. How I aspired to that in my brash youth. But now, fully immersed in Dante’s woods, I see hardness crazes and breaks, whereas a malleable heart, smeared across the terrain of a road and intersecting journeys and lives, offers a tensile strength, the possibility for growth, the chance to bloom in this brief, dear life.

… The spring
will come soon. We will have more birthdays
with cakes and wine. This valley
will be full of flowers and birds.

–– Hayden Carruth

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Molly S. Photography

Those Necessary Tire Wrench Skills

The kids and I ended up outside a gas station today in Orleans, Vermont, loitering under a No Loitering sign. We’d changed a flat tire on my sister’s car and needed air for the (also flattish) replacement. Earlier, we’d absorbed history, in a stunning old four-story schoolhouse in Brownington, where the kids admired rooms chockfull of nifty antiques and gadgets, and I kept wandering around somewhat idiotically marveling to the guide, This building is so incredibly well-built, as if she’d never noticed that before.

My older daughter, newly sixteen-and-a-half, took charge of the tire change, then drove the car home through yet more rain and sun, commanding her cousins to stop horsing around in the backseat. When I left again, she baked and frosted a cake for her aunt’s birthday, oversaw the younger kids decorating the house, worked on her summer homework Salinger essay, and emailed me photos.

No doubt, the Brownington students in the 1800s must have been capable farm kids, but as a mother, it’s darn satisfying to see your leggy 21st century daughter tackle a tire wrench, a kitchen aide and camera with equal gusto.

While the kids were eating false maple donuts under the No Loitering sign, and my sister and I drank a thermos of coffee, we laughed at our planned day all jumbled up. It’s all in the journey, I said, thinking how trite that phase sounded to me just a few years back, so phony as Holden Caulfield would have kvetched. That doesn’t mean sometimes I’m not unbearably crabby along the way, but surely wielding a tire wrench, capably and well, sweetens your slice of cake.

…My wife is at her work,
There behind yellow windows. Supper
Will be soon. I crunch the icy snow
And tilt my head to study the last

Silvery light of the western sky
In the pine boughs. I smile. Then
I smile again, just because I can.
I am not an old man. Not yet.

–– Hayden Carruth, from “Twilight Comes”

Old Stone House Brownington, Vermont Photo by Molly S.

Old Stone House
Brownington, Vermont
Photo by Molly S.

Seeds and Sorrow

All day long, maple seed pods fluttered down in a spring breeze, a shower of twirling seeds.  Where I live in Vermont, the seasons release easy rain and fierce rain, snow in leafy flakes and snow hard as buckshot.  Last week, the dandelions burst, and all day long, all night long, seeds lifted with their miniature canopies of sail and soared free from their stalks, heading out on their journeys.  Now, maple seeds are thrown in veritable handfuls from the trees and cast into the breeze, floating in an emptied glass of lemonade, on the little daughter’s new sweater left on the porch, against the window glass, into our hair.

June 6th.  Season of renewal, of surging growth.  My daughters and I walked along an abandoned railroad bed this afternoon, bending beneath greenery tenting over the railbed.  Domestic cows, wild geese, a cardinal, the crickets already counting down the days of warmth.

June 6th.  When I was in high school, a French exchange student told me, My grandmother is from Normandy, and she will never forget D-Day.

All day long, those seeds swirled.  All night, while we sleep and dream, and tomorrow morning, too, when the girls wake and wash and eat their sleepy breakfast, while we walk down our driveway to meet the school bus, the girls already thinking of their school day ahead, me holding my coffee and saying, Have a good day, goodbye, goodbye, see you this afternoon, those seeds will still be shedding on our shoulders and hands and before our eyes.  Then, for this year, too, that will be done.

Birthday Cake

….This is the season of mud and trash, broken limbs and crushed briers
from the winter storms, wetness and rust,
the season of differences, inarticulable differences that signify
deeper and inarticulable and almost paleolithic
perplexities in our lives, and still
we love one another.

Hayden Carruth

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