Often after the new year, the cold hammers down in Vermont, like a nail gun, sealing the human world except for well-bundled expeditions. The coldest I’ve seen is 40 below zero; mist moved ghost-like over the river, creeping over the icy banks like a strange memory.

This year, what small amount of snow we have is often soft, and the air during the day often thaws and carries the scent of water.

It’s an illusion, I know, to imagine that anything but a long, long winter lies ahead of us. But still, yesterday when I left work, I mentioned to a coworker that it was nearly five and day still lingered.

For a just a moment, we stood there with car keys in our hands, reveling at the light.

Winter rain—
The field stubble
Has blackened.

— Basho

May, 2020

Kindling in December

Frost twists upward this morning on the sticks of our lilac bushes. Come early June, we’ll live outdoors, surrounded by the fragrance of multiple blossoms. Not so, these New England winter days.

In a brief pass of sunlight, we hurry outside, take a walk through the woods, observe the ice curling over a running brook. Later, in my Sunday housecleaning, shaking rugs over the deck railings, I hear the girls in the cemetery laughing. From the barn, they’ve taken the sled in search of a snowy hillside.

Mid-December — the hard and holy time.

Upstairs, my daughter plays the clarinet, the melody languorously easing into the afternoon’s already fading sunlight.

Mid-December, holy perhaps precisely for its hardness. Draw the darkness fast around us; see what we hold, what we cherish.

I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

— Gary Soto, Oranges



August 9, 1945

At a particular juncture this year, although I increasingly make my living from words, I became, quite simply, fed up with talking. I wanted action. Action infused with intentionality, with great thought and empathy, but action.

This summer, with my nephews’ extended visit, I determined to alter – in at least one small degree – the course of our lives by action, to swing the pendulum one minor stroke toward happiness. A raw truth of myself is that the outer dark of despair, of pain’s gnashing teeth, the fiercely cold howling winds of evil, hover perpetually just an arm’s length from my own outstretched fingertips, those turkey vultures I keep writing about silently soaring. There’s not a bit of schizophrenia in this worldview, not one jagged bit of insanity, not one curl of my toes over the edge into any abyss; our world is not a two-dimensional plane where grief can merely be rubbed away for the wishing.

The children are tucked into their beds, sleeping the slumber of children who have played and swam and biked together, all day. Bickered and made up and told each other stories, their faces scrubbed clean, their hair scented with lake water and wood fire smoke, at ease.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

— Ecclesiastes 3:2