I’m working on my laptop in Hardwick’s Front Seat Coffee when a man who I wanted to sell my house to, a few years back, comes up to me. In those days, he and his wife had a few young kids. The house was creative and cool, but in fairly lousy physical shape, and I believed he had the skills to right the rotten places. Life unspun in a different way, a pandemic set in, and that was that.

He’s now read my book about addiction. When we hug, he smells of woodsmoke. These days, he’s boiling sap outside, making syrup for his family.

When my youngest tells me she doesn’t know why anyone would ever write a book, I tell her there’s no reason at all, perhaps, except that it seems impossible NOT to write the book. Maybe all creativity is this way — that we’re driven to do things that otherwise no rational human would. Thank goodness for the madness of art, really.

After we talk about writing and addiction, he tells me he and his wife bought a house I once knew quite well, and we marvel at the interconnection in our little world. I may see him next week, or not for four years. And then our conversation will undoubtedly begin again.

Old Photos

The couple who last owned our home mail us old photos. When they bought the house, the 100-year-old dwelling was in ragged shape. My daughters and I spend some time looking at how the house has changed, and how it hasn’t.

I bought the house in good shape, and now we’re wearing into it, scraping and chipping at its shininess with our use. In the spring, we’ll open all the windows and polish our house again. In the summer, I’ll paint, as paint perpetually falls off in New England.

Once, I had thought to sell and move when my youngest graduated from high school. Now, like everything else in our collective lives, the future is uncertain. Shelter in place — a phrase I once believed would never apply to our Vermont life — directs the shape of our lives.

In the afternoon, I ski through the woods on the nearby trails. Just as I click on my bindings, I remember last night’s dream of a snowy owl… and then I wonder, truth or reality? I stand there alone, in the cold and under the overcast sky, wondering. For just a moment, I’m not sure. Maybe I really did see that elusive owl. Then I push off into the woods, silent but for the sound of skis over snow.