The Way Forward

Skiing along the former railroad bed in the late afternoon, I meet a fellow skier — a man wearing a gray knit hat who’s retired now from the local high school. In one connection or another, I’ve known him since before I became a mother.

We pause and talk for bit. He asks about my daughters, and then he opens our conversation to what’s happening in the nation’s capital. Behind him, I see the Lamoille River winding towards Lake Champlain, flowing its slow way to cross the Canadian border and head to the Atlantic Ocean.

As a complete non-sequitur, I say, The sun actually came out today.

We look at the blue sky overhead between the trees. It’s January in Vermont, and the sun’s presence is never a given here.

We talk for a few more minutes, acknowledging chaos and the pandemic, these odd days and that sun overhead — light without warmth.

Then we part ways, he to his ski, and I towards home.

But time is only another liar, so go along the wall a little further: if blackberries prove bitter there’ll be mushrooms, fairy-ring mushrooms in the grass, sweetest of all fungi.

— William Carlos Williams


Dreaming

Often after the new year, the cold hammers down in Vermont, like a nail gun, sealing the human world except for well-bundled expeditions. The coldest I’ve seen is 40 below zero; mist moved ghost-like over the river, creeping over the icy banks like a strange memory.

This year, what small amount of snow we have is often soft, and the air during the day often thaws and carries the scent of water.

It’s an illusion, I know, to imagine that anything but a long, long winter lies ahead of us. But still, yesterday when I left work, I mentioned to a coworker that it was nearly five and day still lingered.

For a just a moment, we stood there with car keys in our hands, reveling at the light.

Winter rain—
The field stubble
Has blackened.

— Basho

May, 2020

Snow, Saturday, Living in History

Saturday morning, we wake to a snowfall — gorgeous fat flakes swirling down — the kind of sparkling snow that miraculously turns the world brand-new and utterly beautiful.

In early afternoon when I return from work, the girls have shoveled the paths and driveway and deck. Inside, they’re drinking tea in front of the wood stove and putting together a puzzle my sister sent from Virginia, a pretty blue puzzle with birds.

I stand at the glass door drinking coffee, thinking where I stood that morning, on the shores of Caspian Lake, its center obscured by drapes of falling snow. Bundled in hats and masks and scarves, I stood talking with another woman about the small town planning process. Then our conversation wandered into the oddities of human life, how determined we all are at times — and I’ll put myself firmly there — to keep our attention focused on our own little stamp of land and home, be it a postage-stamp-sized piece or hundreds of acres. Meanwhile, the snow, the rising and setting sun, the wandering woodland creatures, continue on.

Saturday afternoon, I claim my own place near the fire and read The New Yorker‘s recent “The Plague Year” by Lawrence Wright, reading aloud pieces to my daughters, saying, This is the history you’re living through. This is your story, too…. It’s a lesson for me, too, when I dream of living elsewhere, where sleet doesn’t fall, where the cost of living isn’t crazy-high, where the sun shines even in the heart of winter — a reminder for me to embrace my own accidental luck to live here.

Nations and states that have done relatively well during this crisis have been led by strong, compassionate, decisive leaders who speak candidly with their constituents. In Vermont, Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, closed the state early, and reopened cautiously, keeping the number of cases and the death toll low. “This should be the model for the country,” Fauci told state leaders, in September. If the national fatality rate were the same as Vermont’s, some two hundred and fifty thousand Americans would still be alive. 

— Lawrence Wright

More found stuff…

Things May Start….

So long, 2020.

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.

I’m reading Lauren Redniss’ Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American Midwest — a book both terrible and beautiful. Redniss writes:

If you go back to the beginning,
everything was dark.
You start from nothing.
Things start to come to light.

Hello, 2021.

Little Bright Bits

A friend and I have a habit of emailing back and forth requesting send me something good. We’ve been doing this so long now that I can’t remember when we started, although I’m nearly 100% certain this began in a long Vermont winter.

Generally, we offer little bright bits — a book to share or a decent recipe. Yesterday, she emails about the rising full moon. Drivers along the County Road pulled over and took photos.

Little bits that are maybe not slight at all.

After dinner, my daughters and I bundled up against the sharp cold and went walking in the silvery moonlight. We hadn’t dressed warmly enough and shivered by the time we returned. Chattering, my girls were exuberant that winter had finally arrived in all its radiant beauty.

That gleaming round moon, the sparkling snow, a warm house: solid strands of our web.

  Barn’s burnt down 

     Now I can see 

     the moon! 

— Mizuta Masahide

Photo by Molly S./Hardwick, Vermont