On a midafternoon walk to clear my head, I’m surprised to see so many people in the small neighborhood I pass through on my way to the woods. Generally, it’s just me and the same dog walkers — all a good twenty years older than me, sometimes singly, sometimes in chatty pairs. But couples and families are out — everyone keeping their distance — some folks walking dogs, some simply strolling in the sunlight.
In Vermont, we’re on a Stay Home, Stay Safe mandate — my polite state’s kinder and gentler version of crouch down and shelter-in-place. Later in the day, we hear Vermont schools won’t re-open this year. Even for those who don’t have a student, the message is crystalline: there’s no end in sight. The other side of this disease — for health, for our economy — lies in a chasm.
But we’re not living in a chasm.
Across the street — way more than six feet — strangers and I take our time and pointedly greet each other. Later, during a phone interview for work, I talk with a woman I’ve never met. Far outside of the article’s topic — the homeless in Vermont — we talk and talk, exchanging stories of our daughters, our early motherhood, of these uncertain times. Why not? I thank her profusely for the call, not an email, and we agree to meet in person…. in some future time.
The summer river.
It’s happy to walk across it.
My hands with zori sandal.
Like I hope everyone else — I hope — we’re holing up for the long haul in our house, figuring out our world day by day, in utter suspension of any “normalizing” of life. What’s normalcy again? Something we’ll never return to — or so I imagine at this point.
In the evenings — some balmy like last night, or others spring-raw and wet — we go for walks. The open-ended time reminds me of being a young mother again. Days and nights with young children had frustrations and challenges, sure, but also the deep pleasures of those endless walks and wanders I took with my daughters, learning the names of wildflowers, splashing through streams.
When I pick up beef for our freezer from a friend’s farm, he stands on his deck while I’m at a distance. In a wind so cold I begin shivering, we talk and talk. He asks about my daughters — he always does — and I tell him how my older daughter had considered moving out this summer, but she’s offered to stay home now, for whatever the long haul might be, pooling our resources.
She’s smart, he says. Now’s the time for unity.
When I leave, driving carefully around his flock of snow-white geese and slowly along the mud-rutted back road, I turn off VPR in my little Toyota. There’s never any returning full circle in this life, never getting back to where you once were. But we’re still here, our little family, sometimes irritable at each other, sometimes joyous and laughing. It’s different world, an American dream utterly broken that my daughters will redefine for themselves.
And for these days, I hope wherever each of you are, you’re settled into your own version of social isolation, with the sky’s beauty around you.
These days I’ve discovered I’m phenomenally grateful for the state library listserv. An email sent with the subject line What’s happening in your town? opened a flurry of communication.
Librarians, like so many people, have an innate desire to please. Want a book? We’ll get it. Have a problem? We’ll solve it.
Innumerable emails have debated the merits of closing libraries, first, then of leaving books out. No one seems concerned about theft or loss. The concern is, obviously, disease. How can you leave free books on the library’s porch and not expect a few loyal (and likely elderly) patrons to shuffle through those? The library is a place of congregation and chat. How do we suddenly shut that down? Close our doors and ask you not to come? And yet, we are. I read:
Our town library has been closed to the public for two days. Staff is now being sent home to ride out the storm.
Just before we leave for the evening, the girls run out and cut some lilacs branches. On our kitchen table, forsythia sticks from a friend soak up water in a jar, their yellow blossoms half-open.
Since my girls were little, our house’s doors were a porous membrane between wild Vermont around us and our domestic space: moss, pebbles, fungus, bark…., tempered off in the snowy winters.
In Vermont, April, not March, is the season of in like a lion, out like a lamb. All night long, wind rushed around our house, the official month of opening the windows.
… truth, which I believe to be both unchanging and at the core of all art. I think the essential thing about truth is that it must be experienced, and in order to be experienced, I think it has to appear nakedly, not woven into inherited notions.
—Karl Ove Knausgaard, So Much Longing In So Little Space: the Art of Edvard Munch
Where the fields have opened up, robins flock in the trees, singing the melodies that always remind me of spring’s running water — icy cold and much welcomed, harbingers of green. These are the first flocks we’ve seen this year, and we’re doing what I’ve done with this daughter since she was a little one on my back — we’re searching out robins, these beloved spring birds.
Same activity, different backroad. We’ve moved towns and houses, and so tinged through all of this cusp-of-adolescence for this girl is both the headiness of new experiences threaded through with loss. Impermanence, I remind myself over and over, sometimes daily, is the ticket price for all of us, even these little palm-sized birdies, the fat earthworms they’re devouring, and the stones in the fields, gradually giving up their edges to the elements.
We stop for a moment and talk about the dirt road behind our boots, the shape of its crown in the middle. Birdsong, wind, running streams. The fields are so wide open here we glimpse a herd of deer at the distant crest, just a quicksilver moment as they rush across the ridge and vanish again.
My daughter, humoring me, hungry for her late dinner, asks me, Are you actually talking to those robins?
Oh, that thin scrim between mind, body, landscape….
The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.
In our former house, the pink Owens-Corning insulation had been so shredded by mice in the ceiling that we could easily hear rain on the metal roof — a pleasant sound, although the resulting winter cold didn’t match that coziness.
Our house now is cool in the summers, warm or certainly warm-ish in the winters, the most well-insulated house I’ve ever lived in, and I’m darn grateful for that, all the way around. Last night, I opened my daughter’s window so she could hear the sound of the rain. Her cat jumped up on the sill, his nose pressed against her screen, curious about what was happening in the night. We haven’t heard the rain for a very long time now — a few aberrant storms in the winter — but this steady rain promised the chirping peepers will return.
Nearly 40 degrees out, I left the window open a few inches so my daughter could lie in bed, reading and listening to the rain.
On the other side of her wall, I read an article in The New Yorker about lost notebooks in Egypt. The sap will be running all night.