Stitches and Snippets.

At night, I knit and read, diligently counting stitches two-by-two before beginning the yoke pattern. I read about witches in 18th century New England, about muddy roads and fieldstone chimneys, about hunger and families and the complicated passions of small communities. About fear and remorse.

Around my house, the wind howls, lifting pine needles and crows’ feathers. November is the season of reckoning and looking towards the new year, of town and school budgets, of placing what you have beside what you want, of financial cost-and-benefit analysis, of a personal reckoning, too.

I remain awake unreasonably late, determined to proceed carefully this time to avoid ripping apart these stitches, anticipating the pattern work, the joining of color to color. Outside, I imagine smoke rising from our chimney, dissipating into the starry sky. A mouse nibbles in the wall. I keep counting.

“Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.” 

— Flannery O’Connor

Last the third Vermont Almanac —one of the loveliest (and most useful) print publications — is out. The Almanac folks are virtually kicking off the third edition at Burlington’s Phoenix Books Thursday night, 7 p.m. You should come!

Gloves. Rain. A Few Sentences.

I spend some phone time with a woman who works for Delta Airlines, straightening out a cancelled ticket I need refunded. While she does whatever she needs to do on her end, I lean my head against the glass kitchen door. A light rain falls. I’ve just come in from moving firewood from our stacks to the porch, and my sweatshirt is sprinkled with damp bark shavings. I’ve forgotten my gloves on the back step.

I guess this woman is working at home as the phone line is quiet around her voice. She takes her time, sorting through my request and answering the questions I keep asking about airports and taxes and if she has any suggestions for better flight prices. (Nope.)

We exchange a mutual thanking each other for our patience, and inevitably our conversation tips over into the world’s instability. She tells me about her son, a college student majoring in history, and reminds me that human history is infinitely complicated. Finished, she’s on her way to some other phone call, with someone who might be impatient and angry, or perhaps someone funnier or more eloquent than me.

Through the glass, rain falls steadily on my gloves.

March in Vermont is wet and cold. This morning, stepping out for kindling, I stood in the dark listening to robins singing in the day. I remembered to bring in my sodden gloves.

Thaw, Finally

Right at the equinox this year, spring cracks winter’s back in Vermont. The pavement buckles into frost heaves. The dirt roads mush and muddy. Sunday, I find the season’s first coltsfoot, the tiny gems of gold.

A Vermont spring is either a heartbeat — bang, done — or weeks of freeze and thaw, thaw and freeze. Although the days have hit 60 degrees, the nights are still cold, and our wood stove keeps our house warm.

Last evening, we walked by a sugarhouse, its cupola open and steam billowing. The air was tinged with the sweetness of maple, the slight rotting of thawing mud. Instinctively, my upper arms ached. Walking behind my daughters, listening to their chatter, my arms remembered those years when we sugared, and how my arms and gloved hands bent into the woodpile.

Spring is all those things: the radiance of the strengthening sun, the beauty of wildflowers, and how, when the earth thaws, our winter debris of ash pile and last year’s kale stalks emerge.

The bush warbler.
The rain wouldn’t let up.
The travel clothes.

— Mizuhara Shuoshi

Hands at Work

I’m working at home on a Friday afternoon when an email pops into my inbox from the librarian in town. He writes my interlibrary loan book is in, and would I like to come get it?

Indeed, I would. I pick up the book, wrapped nicely in a white paper bag, with my first name, Brett, written in black marker. I stand there in the sunshine, holding this book like some kind of present.

By randomness, I chose this book — Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.

Go read it, too. The book embraces the hammer and chalk line, the beauty of wood, the functionality and satisfaction of making things with your hands, all antidotes to this virtual world. Even more, the book embraces being a woman and a working woman.

Spring Dreaming

At bedtime, my daughter calls me into her room and asks me to listen. The prayer flags strung over our back porch are flapping fiercely in the wind. I tell her that’s the point. The wind chimes from my sister are jingling, too. The wind strengthens.

This morning, stepping out, the air is warm in a way I haven’t felt in a very long time. The back of winter might not have been broken yet, but it’s getting there, breath by breath. This is a hard point of Vermont’s winter, when the snow and cold have lingered past their welcome, and our green summer world appears as an illusion. Last year, so many people I knew flew to Florida or Mexico. This year, hardly anyone I know has flown for pleasure.

Our back porch remains that wreckage of clumped ice and broken railing. Yesterday afternoon, my daughter stood in her t-shirt and boots, a hatchet in one hand she used to chop that ice. She suggested digging a swimming pool behind the porch next summer. I mused about a flower garden.

We mutually agreed to plant grapes along the barn, our tiny version of a vineyard.

Flying at Night

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us, 
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death, 
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas, 
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Ted Kooser
Published in “Flying at Night”

Chance Encounter

Rain? Snow? Sleet? A mixture of all falls this morning.

Rounding a bend on a snow-covered dirt road in East Hardwick yesterday morning, I suddenly brake when hundreds of little black birds cover the road. There’s no one behind me, no one ahead of me, and I get out. A few birds flutter upward and perch on the electric wires, strewn already with these little creatures.

I’m at at farm, near a manure pit. Through the barn’s open sides, I see cows twisting their heads.

The birds don’t move. I don’t move. Then, eventually, because I’m a human and the birds are wild, I get back in my car and nudge forward slowly. Grudgingly — or maybe patiently — the birds part to the fields and the wires, and I move on.

Still February here.

On snowy afternoons there is a special blessedness in saying, oh it is too snowy to chop wood this afternoon. And the gray snow sifts down, and one takes off one’s boots and sits by the fire and is glad of the way wool socks smell; and a pie is baking in the oven, and the gray snow is sifting down.

— Elliott Merrick, Green Mountain Farm