Pandemic notwithstanding, the car I’m selling needs to be inspected. Since who the heck wants to talk through masks, I call the mechanic where I’ve left this car for a week or so. What’s a week, anyway?

The soft-spoken mechanic, who’s been undercharging me for years, quietly explains what needs to be done. Then he asks me, What do you think of that? Is that okay?

I’m leaning over the back deck railings, staring into the tangle of wild raspberry canes. I answer, What I think is it’s 2020, and I don’t like any of this.

He busts out laughing. I hate to say it, Brett, but we’re so fucked. This has only been going on since March.

I know. What’s going to happen in November?

I’m laughing so hard at this point; there’s so nothing funny about any of this — pretty much nothing funny about 2020 at all — but we keep laughing and laughing.

Then I say, It’s just a car. Fix it. I’ll sell it. That’s small potatoes.

And — it’s still Vermont July — with a creamy half-moon and endless cucumbers.

The cool breeze.
With all his strength
The cricket.

— Issa


Photo by Molly S.

Somewhere In December…

We’re all home at 3, the youngest just home from school, the oldest finished with exams and lying on the couch with her cat who eyes me warily. What now? that cat seems to say. As if the cat himself is out of sorts with the weather.

Are any of us made to live so far north? I insist we pull on boots, go outside. The sun slips down over the mountain before four.

Then — here’s the thing — we’re talking about not much at all, and the younger daughter says something about the cat that’s not shall I say kid appropriate, and I just laugh. I mean, I really laugh. I’m not entirely sure she knows why I’m laughing. The other day she asked if I was intended to hang little white Christmas lights in the “residential quarters.” I did, and I do.

But just thinking about it makes me laugh again. Why not?

Like a wheat grain that breaks open in
the ground, then grows, then gets
harvested, then crushed in the mill for
flour, then baked, then crushed again
between teeth to become a person’s
deepest understanding…

There is no end to any of this.

— Rumi


Laughter, Light

Standing in mud and slush in the dark last night, we watched women spinning cords with knots of flames. Their faces concealed in the darkness, I listened to the women talking and laughing, each of their laughs remarkably distinct.

Later that night, walking down Montpelier’s State Street, with hardly anyone around, we admired the mighty Christmas tree at the State House. On the capital’s shiny dome, Ceres — goddess of agriculture, grain, and motherly love for children — reigned.

Vermont — realm of wild blackberries, chittering sparrows, lush forests, and the deep, dark winter. There’s no denying this state holds its portion of troubles, but also the willingness to lift fire, spin it around in the darkness, and laugh.

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter….

— Pablo Neruda


Mud Season in All Its Holy Glory

My daughter texts me at work: My car is stuck in the mud.

Snap, I think. I continue what I’m doing, thinking my girl can likely solve whatever she’s gotten into now. It’s the last day of February, 2018, a day so warm I’ve propped open the library door. The lilies are pushing up around the school, and I step outside with a patron to watch a woolly bear inching its way across the walk.

My daughter, laughing, calls me and tells me she could no longer drive her little Toyota on a muddy road. I just stopped! In her nice Danskos, she stayed in her car, surrounded by glistening mud. The town road crew, working nearby, asked if she was going to move, and she explained her predicament. The road commissioner had her slip over to the passenger seat. He floored her car, drove it free, and suggested she might want to stay off that stretch of road.

Ah, spring.

….I, who so often used to wish to float free
of earth, now with all my being want to stay,
to climb with you on other evenings to this stone,
maybe finding a bear, or a coyote, like
the one who, at dusk, a week ago, passed
in his scissorish gait ten feet from where we sat—
this earth we attach ourselves to so fiercely….

— Galway Kinnell


Laughter…. Levity….

Now that we’ve reached the time of year in Vermont when it’s dark pretty much all the time, in a variation of that Platonic cave, the game season has fully opened in our house. We began this years ago, in an attempt to stave off the mad-as-hatters element of northern winters. After a few rounds of Battleship, the kids relented and played an art history trivial pursuit card game. (Up front, I’d like to acknowledge I stacked the deck against myself, and I lost).

About halfway through, my older daughter read a card with the word bar cue. I asked her to repeat the word, and then I asked if the word had an O in the middle and maybe a Q.

Baroque? I asked.

She admitted it might be baroque, and then asked who he was.

I write this only because she laughed so hard, so truly cheerful about whether this might be bar cue or baroque, or maybe even barbecue. Whatever, she laughed, genuinely nonplussed. This is not her way of knowing the world. But what is her innate gift is a profound sense of balance and color and proportion. She spends hours drawing, her creativity flowing from a well whose depths are pure and lovely, hardly yet tested. How humorously this daughter reminds me that my own hard vision of who this baroque fellow may or may have been could use some not so serious jostling at times…

To say that it is impossible to communicate is false; one always can. To refuse to communicate is a failing; we are biologically and socially predisposed to communication…

— Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved



Gabriela is a ten-year-old guest blogger.

One afternoon me and my mom went to get lights at the store. So we just got some normal ones. Well, that’s what my mom thought. So we got some snowflake ones, too. So we go home do some stuff. The next day my mom goes to work and and leaves me and my sister a list of chores to do. One of the things we have to do is put up the lights. So we plug them in to make sure they work, and I say, “why doesn’t that one work? wait that one just flickered.” My sister said, “I don’t know, let’s put them up to see them a little better.” So we wind them around the beams and plug them in and look at them. Some of them are blinking I say. My sister says, “yeah that really bugs me. Let’s look at the package” so we look at the package and it says shimmering. My sister says, “Mom probably didn’t read the package.” I say, “I have to agree.” So when my mom came home from work, she said “I kind of like it.” I agreed with her. So we kept the lights because everyone liked them.


Photo by Gabriela Jean

Children Laughing

A number of years ago, we were having dinner with friends in our kitchen, laughing and talking, when suddenly one of us ordered the others to be quiet. Our friend held up his hand. I had recently laid my baby in her crib upstairs, in that rosy end-of-the-day glow. She lay there babbling her echolalia, singing away happily in her own baby world. Our friend, whose children were older then, insisted we listen. Our own clamorous adult chatting ceased, and from the open room just above, we listened to the baby’s talk.

This morning, I sat on the couch and ceased my own work for a moment. My ten-year-old daughter and her friend were whispering in the bunk bed they had slept in together, giggling and planning their day off from school. Like a brook, their laughter tumbled to me, clear and sweet.

…Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die.

— Pablo Neruda


Photo by Molly S.