Getting With The Program…

A few days of snow and rain and slush and scattered sunlight — mid-January in Vermont when the snow-heavy woods are enchanting.

Again, drinking coffee in our Subaru while my youngest daughter drives. These mid-winter days are wound through with the mittens I’m knitting and the book about the Vikings I’m reading, the phone call I made to a friend — come walk with me in the cold rain — and she did.

For a while now I’ve been saying that the bar is low — it’s something that I can offer my daughter the chance to ski with a friend. The friend’s parents and I stand in the parking lot, talking, talking. But, more accurately, the bar has vanished, and I didn’t even realize it. The world we live in is changing. History is reshaping our world. This weekend, for whatever reason, I realized: get with the program.

And the program at our contains the tangibles of yarn, colored pencils, snow.

End of a Not-so-long-ago Terrible War

While cooking a dinner I’ve made for years — udon and broccoli and a spinach omelette — I listen to NPR and wonder, like any reasonable parent, what kind of world my daughters will live in when they’re my age.

At dinner, our conversation bends around to current events — the man in the White House — and then to history. I tell the girls I remember my father telling me about the end of World World II. Although they won’t know each other for years, he and my mother were eight-years-old. World War II seems such an infinity ago that my daughters are amazed. This puts that terrible war within not only their grandparents’ lifetimes, but their memories, too.

Really? my older daughter asks.

Really, I answer. I wasn’t there, but that’s what I hear.

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

— Sir Isaac Newton

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Magic Trick

Like a great joke, a few more inches of snow arrived on April Fool’s Day. By afternoon, however, the day evolved to a breezy sunniness, brisk but radiant. I walked with writer Natalie Kinsey-Warnock to her car in the Woodbury School’s dirt parking lot. It’s Woodbury — the village built in a swamp — and, for that moment, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. In the treetops, blackbirds sang crazily. Why not? It’s Vermont spring.

Natalie shared stories with the school kids today, and at one point, I couldn’t figure out what she was headed — how did a 1865 steamboat catastrophe in the Mississippi River figure into rural Vermont?

Then, abruptly, like whisking an indigo rabbit from a top hat, the story shimmered. It’s as though Natalie unfurled one of her grandmother’s handstitched quilts, and the connections between the history’s enormity and this woman, and these children and their own place in history, lie visible as much as can anything can be seen in history’s rough beauty, the concealed pieces teasingly beckoning.

I’m the librarian, the hostess of this event, the timekeeper to move this along, make sure the kids have time to grab their coats and catch the school bus, but for these moments I’m merely me, surrounded by these rapt children, loving this particular story.

Oh, the long days of circling to sow and reap,
but, O, those few days on the river each year.

— Leland Kinsey, from “Northern Traverse”

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10,000 Years of Pollen: Storyline

An expert in New England’s ancient forests shares the story of taking a core sample from a pond not far from my library — easily within a few hours’ walk — and extracting 10,000-years-worth of planetary history. 10,000 years of pollen!

I’m standing in the dark in the back, while a few latecomers step in, carrying the cold on their coats, kicking snow from their boots. I’m also coincidentally near the hot tea, which I urge my guests to take.

10,000 years. His chart graphs the fluctuation of trees in this plot of Vermont — the persistence of beech, rise of rock maple. Exquisitely, I think of a larch not far from the library, how cool and welcoming that forest is in the summer, how brilliantly yellow its autumn needles. The extremely large view and the absolute specific.

Afterwards, finally home with my girls who are in an especially good humor, I think of the UVM museum my youngest and I just visited, chockfull of very ancient human artifacts, a variation of pollen — and in particular the arrowheads found along Lake Champlain. Whose hands made these?

Still socked in by winter… no pollen in the wild wind in the conceivable future…

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Specific child, specific 5 degree day, Burlington, February, 2019.

Wet Wool Memory

I buy my daughter a pomegranate, because she loves the fruit, because of the red it brings to our snowy Vermont landscape, and because Saroyan wrote about pomegranates. My parents did not buy pomegranates. As a kid growing up in New Hampshire, I wondered about that mysterious fruit — much like I wondered about Turkish Delight, the Narina sweet my father found in Ann Arbor and bought for us with great joy.

On a snowy day, the girls discover a coolant leak in my car. The mechanic who fixes the leak explains to my teenage daughter what the level of coolant should be in a car, when to add coolant, and when to worry. Standing between the two of them, I study his unzipped Carhartt jacket, stained with motor oil. Like Proust’s madeleine, so much of my past was redolent with wet and snowy clothes, work and words twined together.

Like that, then, the past’s gone. The girls and I stand outside the garage in a snowstorm again. I tell my older daughter as I always do, drive carefully. Laughing, they’re off again.

From one of my mentors, poet Ruth Stone:

Yes, we are everything, every experience we’ve ever had, and in some of us, a lot of it translates and makes patterns, poems. But, my God, we don’t even began to touch upon it. There’s an enormous amount, but we can touch such a little.

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