A warm Christmas Day rain washes away every bit of snow in our patch of northern Vermont, save for a few ice-hardened and blackened plowed-up ridges. As the dawn drips in with its gray, the landscape appears unfamiliar to me in December — an experience that, again, sums up 2020.
Friends of ours had Christmas dinner on the in-laws’ porch, with the in-laws inside and themselves on the covered porch, eating Christmas dinner 2020-style. Strange and weird, but what wouldn’t I have given that for hilarity.
Talking with my brother on Christmas morning, he mentions he may grout a floor that afternoon. My youngest, afterward, tells me how fun that sounded and then wonders if she would see her uncle before she’s all grown up, headed out into the world on her own, not so far away.
And so it goes in this landscape of unfamiliarity: suspended in a warp of uncertainty. In the midst of all this, there’s me with my lists, my agendas, my determination to craft plans for happiness.
In this gray and blue and brown landscape — not the traditional Vermont snowy Christmas — there’s nothing to do but let all that fly away in the rising and balmy breeze. The heart of the Christmas story, after all, is the unexpected gift in the barn’s manger, the promise of joy where we least expect its appearance.
Friday afternoon, I knock off work early and stack wood with my youngest.
She’s a far better wood stacker than I am, precise in her ends, creating long tight rows on our porch. About the only thing I have going for me is endurance; I’m determined to stack it all, on this fine sunny day — that endurance, and my utter pleasure to be working outdoors, breathing the sweet smell of sap.
She rakes the piles of bark and the slivers we’ll use for kindling, as we talk about little things, nothing much. Later, she swims with a few friends, the three happy. Seeing her happiness fills me with joy.
On the cusp of school reopening, uncertainty is palpable. Will school open for a week? A month? What kind of crazy plan is this? Like most parents, I’m wondering what’s the way forward? What’s the way to feed her desire for learning and friends — in a pandemic? Who knows?
When I set the rake back in the barn, I find our hatchet. Its head is dull and loosened, in need of repair. Years ago, ax repair would have been my husband’s purview. I hold its hardwood handle. Okay, I think. Find a different solution.
The neighbor’s cat sprawls on our woodpile, gray belly up to the sun, purring.
The cool breeze.
With all his strength
Awake before dawn, I lie thinking of my friend’s 49th birthday today, remembering that October afternoon we swam in Lake Caspian with our five- and six-year-olds — swimming outdoors in Vermont in October! The leaves around the lake flamed gold and orange. That night, I realized I was pregnant with my second child.
Lying there, I remembered the March morning you didn’t appear for coffee, and I suddenly realized your stepfather had passed. That foggy day we drove for hours, searching for a house for my daughters and me when my marriage had shattered, and the fall we canned sticky quart after quart of peaches and tomatoes? The steady drop-off of eggs this pandemic that has fed my family for so many meals?
Someday — the world willing — we’ll look back at 2020 and, even then, cringe. And yet, your birthday for me has always marked the high holiness of Vermont summer — fatly rich with sunflowers and vegetables gardens escaping their fences. The dew is cold on my bare feet, but the day promises that heat you love so well.
Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody were writing poems?… By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.’
Rain fell yesterday morning. I stood in my dusty garden, thinking, Bring it on.
Halfway through the morning, the light held the thin green translucence, like we moved in a piece of sea glass that was alive.
All afternoon in my library, people wandered by, singly and in pairs — nothing more. Most had tidied up, wearing sundresses and ironed shirts — all with masks — as if swinging by the library was an outing. Which, perhaps, it likely was. We spoke with the same underlying uncertainy and loneliness, and a tender care with each other.
At the very end, I loaded up two bags for a 10-year-old hungry for books — my good deed for the day.
The day I bought this house, I realized roses bloomed beneath the dining room windows. Of all the things I scrutinized when house buying — location and purchase price and paint — I never considered these old, overgrown rose bushes. So early in the season, Japanese beetles haven’t yet set in with their hunger. The blossoms emit the sweetest fragrance, drifting around the back of the house.
Hello, gorgeous and ineffable summer.
There will never be more of summer
than there is now.
Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 11 a.m., like clockwork, I turn on Vermont Public Radio for the governor’s address. Sometimes my daughter takes a break from whatever high school endeavor she’s engaged in, and stops in the kitchen.
Are you actually listening? she asks.
Sometimes, raptly. Sometimes, I simply sink back into whatever email or work I’m doing. But I generally listen — and particularly listen to the commissioner of health, whom my daughters have taken to calling That Dr. Levine. Sometimes the press conference is jammed with news I’d rather not hear; the state’s unemployment rate is astronomical; Covid-19 seeped into a state prison.
But sometimes I laugh out loud — such as when Dr. Levine does a weekend shopping spot-check (although not frivolous, as he always buys an undisclosed item) and provides his estimated data about mask compliance by staff and shoppers. How much I’d love to see our state’s health commissioner standing in line with, say, a bag of oatmeal, calmly asking questions and dispersing info to fellow Vermonters.
Laugh on, daughters, but my older daughter shares that the doctors in the clinic where she works are all devoted Levine fans, too. Or maybe simply fans of adherence to science, honesty, calm in the face of despair and near panic, and steadfastness.
Here’s an article about free milk, farmers, and the Secretary of Agriculture — another reason I’m grateful to live in the Green Mountain State — despite the two inches of snow this morning.