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

Our Perpetual Holiday

To practice night driving, my daughter and I set off after dinner, delivering a book and knitting needles to a friend. We’re laughing on the way there, and my daughter remarks, Why is it so dark?

I answer that I’m going to let that question lie.

At our friends’ house, we can see through the windows where the family is around the wood stove, talking, the walls painted yellow. I have a sudden flash of envy at the intactness of mother, father, two children, and then that passes quickly, too. At our house, warm and well-lit, with interior walls painted limoncello, we’re as intact as any family, too.

With my friend’s book in my lap, my daughter drives up the back roads, over ice and sand, through all that darkness. We reach the crest of hillside. There, as she drives and talks, I see across the valley to where a barn is lit in a long string of lights on the opposite hillside. Sporadic houses glow in the cold night, and not much more.

She drives down, then along the S curves along the river where I remember a terrible accident years ago. We stop and fill the gas tank. Beneath the bright gas station lights, it’s just us. I walk around the car, washing windows. In the driver’s seat, she watches me, and then I step back and bow. She shakes her head at me, amused.

Middle of February. Cold. A little chit in our collage.

Tuesday

When I step out to start my daughter’s car before she heads to work this morning, a very light snow is falling, flakes drifting in the light from the kitchen window.

Last year, I would have been headed to Burlington through the snow, driving through whatever the weather might have tossed at me. This year, I’m headed a far shorter distance up a back road.

In my twenties, I lived in Washington state for a few years, on the western side, in the Cascade mountains. The mountains were beautiful, the people kind, but I missed the heart of winter, the drama of Vermont’s swinging seasons. On mornings like this, I sometimes wonder what the heck I was thinking. In February, so many Vermonters draw in — even pre-pandemic — hibernating at our hearths against the winter.

For a moment longer I stand shivering. In the village below, only a few lights glow. A milk truck drives along Route 14.

Then I head back in to make more coffee. My daughter yawns and packs her bag for work. She asks me, Remember the smell of rain?

Yes, I say. I do.

Photo by Gabriela