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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A Creamy Moon…

… rose over the hillside. Like a surprise, the moon simply appeared.

All day long it often seems, I go about moving things — words, dishes, weeds. Laundry from the line to the basket. My own sometimes tired bones. Then the moon, rising infinitely serene and wise.

After a late soccer game, the girls sat at table outside, the air abruptly cooling as the sun began to sink. The girls kept eating strawberries, shortcake, whipped cream. A forkful dropped on the table.

There you are, my daughter said to the moon, laughing. A hello from her to this heavenly sphere. July.

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White Mountains. Hiking with my brother. Photo by Jess.

Déjà Vu Hiking and a Warbler

In Plainfield, Vermont, my daughter and I start up a wide hiking road, after a discussion about why I so frequently fail to read directions — and yet, as I pointed out, I generally arrive where I’ve planned to go. This is not an abstract, metaphorical conversation. The truth is, I’ve taken the Gazetteer out of the car, failed to print directions, and my daughter — with her adolescent orientation to cartography — navigated by cell phone to the trail head.

Amicably, we’re walking up this wood-flanked, pleasant road, when I have the strangest sensation that I’ve hiked this path, many times, although I know I’ve never been here.

My daughter’s ahead, around a bend in the forest, when a warbler lands on a slender branch near my face, its chest flame-gold, so stunningly beautiful I simply stand there, alone. A second, then a third, fluttered by. Later, Peterson’s guide indicates this is the Blackburnian warbler, fairly common. 

The mystery of déjà vu and extraordinary fiery feathers.

O bush warblers!
Now you’ve shit all over
my rice cake on the porch

— Bashō

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Apple blossom season! Photo by Molly S.