In the night, a wild wind throws rain through my bedroom window. It’s before midnight. At twilight, the maples shimmered with a rosy-golden light, but our world has shifted. The wind’s tempestuous, shaking the storm against my house, driving away that autumn dreaminess.
The cats and I are awake. I lie on the couch, reading Ducks. Our little world has seen a proliferation of cats recently — a gray one the neighbors’ boys named Follower, a glossy black, a white-and-brown tabby, a tortoiseshell. The light on the back porch kicks on when the cats, one by one, appear, sodden, and then race off again. A raccoon sniffs my sandals I’ve left out beneath the overhang. My two cats stare through the window, mesmerized.
All night long, all day long, leaves fall. The butternut tree I planted a five years ago is skinny trunk and branch. Magnificently golden, the neighbors’ maples shed their leaves into a giant carpet. Their little boys rake and burrow. As their top branches reveal their starkness, the height of these trees soars above our houses.
October, and midday the light is tinged with sootiness as the sun bends away from my place on the earth. Whether it’s the pandemic or where I am in life, the old patterns I knew for years have splintered, fractured. To my list I write long before dawn, I add: cover the garden with leaves.
The water wheel spins holding up the milky way, and then spills it out.
Above pretty much sums up where we are now. 23 years into this parenting gig, it’s now me and the teen, and if a housecat has moved into a box on the kitchen table for the winter? Well, so be it. And the other cat refuses to drink water except on the kitchen sink? Well, so be that, too.
As a young mother, I read a literal library of parenting advice and made a trillion mistakes. I take my (diminished) reading time much more seriously these days. I continue to make mistakes. And I’ve decided the cats are fine companions, even on the table.
In so many versions of my previous life, this wouldn’t fly. Now, listening to Biden talk about his proclaimed End of the Pandemic, I wonder, What’s all that about? Who gets to decide what, anyway, and why believe anyone else when your experience doesn’t jive?
Rain comes down in buckets. A friend gives us a bucket of apple drops. I cook bacon in the oven and buy the best loaf of bread I can find for our dinner. Our tomato and basil plants are still churning out their delectables. Sure, winter is in the near offing. Much more than winter, too. Our cat is the happiest creature I’ve ever loved. We offer him drops of milk on our fingertips, licks of butter from a smooth silver knife, tender kisses on his head.
As the cat climbed over the top of
the jamcloset first the right forefoot
carefully then the hind stepped down into the pit of the empty flowerpot
Five Aprils ago, I was looking for a house for my daughters and me. In a nearby town, on a weekday afternoon, I climbed over a chainlink fence separating an empty house from a town cemetery. The fence spikes ripped the back of my leggings. I was on my way to the library where I was working, and I wore those torn leggings for the remainder of the day. I still have those leggings. I wear them when I paint, and they’re now stained with patches of lemon yellow.
When I walked behind the house, I discovered tiny blue quill — spring flowers I didn’t know. The house was surrounded by those flowers and the promise of profuse lilacs in June.
I bought the house in 2017, although it wasn’t until the pandemic nailed down that the house began to feel truly ours. We are not a rowdy family of nine. We are a family of three and now two housecats.
The thing about spring is — turn around and it’s there, quietly, blooming in some unexpected way.
Right before the pandemic shut down the world two years ago, I drove with my youngest daughter to the New Hampshire village when I had spent ten years of my childhood. My family no longer lives there. An old high school flame had contacted me around that time, and I was half-thinking I might look him up some day. My daughter and I parked at the end of the street where I had walked with my siblings countless times, and then past the house where we lived and into the library when I had spent so many hours, dreaming of my life to come.
In a strange, almost sepia-toned kind of way, I felt I had been able to step into that past and see again the sweetness of it — something that seems so often lost in memory.
There’s that famous line from Tom Wolfe that you can’t ever go home again, but these days I’m wondering if that’s because you can’t ever really leave your home. I read that novel in high school, in that beloved library, a great big novel that I devoured with such enthusiasm.
Twenty-five years ago, a young woman driving a Subaru Justy ran into my VW Rabbit in a sudden snow squall, just like the one above. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and somehow miraculously survived wholly intact. The young woman sat in her car, crying, in the middle of the highway, and I stood outside her car, begging her to get out. “I’ve killed you,” she wept. I kept insisting I was fine. I was wearing a blue sweater my mother had knit me, and I spread my arms out wide. “I’m alive.”
Her insurance company gave me three thousand dollars, which my husband and I used to start a sugaring business. Much later, I sold pieces of that business and bought a house in the village. I’m still carrying that squall and that woman with me. I never saw her again. I hope she’s well.
We’re nearly at midwinter, the turning-around point of early February. The ice is hard; there’s snow; the light returns, an extra dipperful of it each day.
There’s that Currier & Ives vision of midwinter, nestled deep in fluffy snow that I’ve experienced in a few flashes. This year, unease eats us all around the edges, in strange kinds of ways. A shortage of kitty litter in the supermarket. What does that mean? Maybe nothing worth thinking about at all.
I buy a gallon of paint at the local hardware store. The young man who mixes it went to high school with my daughter. He puts the paint to shake, and I wait and wait in my winter coat and my knitted hat. I remember the first summer I canned so much from my garden and the endless jars I bought here — invested in, really — so many mason jars. High on a storage shelf above my head are those boxes of Ball jars, waiting for tomatoes and green beans and chutney.
He reappears, his face mostly hidden behind his mask. With a key, he opens the can of newly mixed paint. For a moment, he stands there, studying it. Then he asks if that yellow is the right color. I tell him, Yes. He hammers back on the lid, then pushes the can towards me. Good luck, he says.
As I walk out, I wonder if he means good luck with the color, or the painting, or just generally. But what’s the point, really? We all could use a little good luck.
2020 might not have been the brightest year on record, but then, say, 1944 might not have been all that rosy, either.
2020 became the year when our house finally became a home. Three years ago, I sold our former house and moved with my daughters. We moved, I realized only later, only out of desperation, to leave a bad scenario for what I hope would be a better life.
2020 showed me that this story — while uniquely ours — is also the human story, of movement and longing, of fear and hope. We’ve now claimed ownership of this house — us three females and our two house cats — through countless meals and nights and early mornings, through arguing about things petty and not-so-petty. We claimed ownership all those spring days when I leaned against the kitchen counter, listening to the governor and wondering what the heck was happening; through my daughter setting up high school in front of the wood stove, through the slow dawning when I realized my employment was no longer viable, and I would need to adapt.
I did. We did.
During this hard year, the ancient moon rose and set over our metal roof, over our neighbor boys’ sandbox, the road sloping down our hill and out into the world, our village, our sweet state of Vermont, the veritable globe.