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

Brief Interlude.

17 years ago, I was at the end of my second pregnancy. The apple blossoms hadn’t bloomed yet. The month of May had been especially rainy and cold.

My second child was born via caesarian. The morning she was born, I walked down to our sugarhouse and closed the front doors we had left open the night before. My oldest daughter who was six was eating breakfast at the house with her father. She was wild with excitement. Baby sister? Baby brother? What was going to happen?

Rain had fallen the night before, and the path to the sugarhouse was slick. I was huge, an unwieldy ball of a woman who was so ready to finish this pregnancy and meet this baby. I had waited years to have this second child. It was early in the morning, and friends were already on their way to meet us at the hospital. I lingered in the open front doors, breathing in the scent of mud and that particular sweetness of new leaves. We’re always leaving and arriving, aren’t we, in this transient life. This year, the lilacs have already faded, the earliest I remember.

I stood there just a few moments before I locked the door and took the longer path back to the house. My six-year-old was in the driveway looking for me. Ready.

Winter Dreaming

I found a paper butterfly on my car windshield yesterday afternoon — a gift, I’m guessing, from a local child.

My youngest and her friend, dreaming of summer and drivers’ licenses, create a plan of mountains to hike. While a pizza bakes in the oven, she lists summits on their list: Pisgah, Hunger, Belvidere….

I love this. While I worry about these girls driving, about the two of them heading off without a parent or big sister, I love that their dreams involve tying on hiking boots and pushing for summits. I love that they love mountains.

Holy/Unholy

A warm Christmas Day rain washes away every bit of snow in our patch of northern Vermont, save for a few ice-hardened and blackened plowed-up ridges. As the dawn drips in with its gray, the landscape appears unfamiliar to me in December — an experience that, again, sums up 2020.

Friends of ours had Christmas dinner on the in-laws’ porch, with the in-laws inside and themselves on the covered porch, eating Christmas dinner 2020-style. Strange and weird, but what wouldn’t I have given that for hilarity.

Talking with my brother on Christmas morning, he mentions he may grout a floor that afternoon. My youngest, afterward, tells me how fun that sounded and then wonders if she would see her uncle before she’s all grown up, headed out into the world on her own, not so far away.

And so it goes in this landscape of unfamiliarity: suspended in a warp of uncertainty. In the midst of all this, there’s me with my lists, my agendas, my determination to craft plans for happiness.

In this gray and blue and brown landscape — not the traditional Vermont snowy Christmas — there’s nothing to do but let all that fly away in the rising and balmy breeze. The heart of the Christmas story, after all, is the unexpected gift in the barn’s manger, the promise of joy where we least expect its appearance.

Photo by Gabriela S.

Wild Discoveries

Walking through the town woods after dinner, listening to what must be one of the loveliest sounds on the planet — the wood thrush — my younger daughter says quietly, “Cub.”

Just ahead, where we were about step into a hayfield, a small black bear wandered, sniffing. We stood for a moment, admiring, then slowly backed away and headed back through the woods.

Walking, we remarked on the proliferation of wildlife we’ve seen this spring — the cub, bald eagles, a den of enchanting fox cubs just behind our house. While the human world is fragmented, the animal world seems to be filling in those cracks, closer and closer.

In Vermont’s May, every day the world appear more and more alive — the leaves unfurled more, and the dandelions higher. Sure, invasive dandelions have their place — or the curse — in the world, but a field of dandelions? Joy — thank goodness for spring.

Dear common flower, that grow’st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,
First pledge of blithesome May…

James Russell Lowell

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