Ships Passing in the Night

Way back in the last century, when I first moved to Vermont as a young woman, my then-boyfriend and I drove in the middle of one night to Boston. We passed through tiny Massachusetts town after town, shuttered up and dark for the night. As our old Toyota hurried through, I wondered who lived there. At two in the morning, hardly anyone but a parent with a crying baby is awake.

Walking downtown last night, while my daughters wash our dinner dishes, I marvel how the pandemic seems to have placed us in a very long 2 a.m. In the dark, I pass a single masked person. Treading carefully on the ice, we each half-raise a hand, a human version of ships passing in the night.

This morning, my neighbors’ lights are off. Last year, with their youngest, their house lights glowed at all hours. Now, at 6 a.m., the house remains shrouded in the darkness of sleep. And so it goes, I remind myself, night always yields to dawn.

Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.

— Yoko Ono

Sunday Rescue

I’m reading on the couch Sunday afternoon when my daughter calls from her cell phone.

She’s walking on a nearby trail system and met a woman who lost her dog. The woman gave my daughter her cell phone number, in hopes that my daughter might find her dog.

My daughter says excitedly, I found the dog!

Good going, I say.

The dog, however, keeps rolling around on its back and begging for rubs. The dog won’t walk. What do I do?

Good lord, I think. I close my book.

The afternoon is rapidly heading towards dark. I take the leftover soup from the refrigerator and set it on the woodstove to begin heating. My younger daughter, excited to be doing something, knocks off her homework and offers to drive, nothing that her sister needs assistance.

As we head through the village in the twilight, I say, Hey, look at you. At fifteen, you’re already on your first dog rescue mission.

She asks, You’ve done this before?

Nope….

It’s dark by the time we find the elderly woman, wearing a mask, in her car in the dark by the side of the road, talking on her cell phone with my daughter.

I tell the woman my daughter is in the field, on the other side of the ruins of an old house, marked by maple trees. My youngest goes ahead, and I walk with the woman, lifting strands of electric fence that have been turned off for the season. In a break in the parting clouds, the sunset appears briefly as a dark bruise in the sky, before the night swallows it up. It’s balmy yet, for December; but it is early winter, and I know our house will be warm when we return.

My oldest — who cares not at all for dogs — has remained with the dog. At home, she washes away the scent of dog under her cat’s serious scrutiny.

Her sister says, You kept the dog’s person from getting lost, too…

Wild

December: cold, a scattering of snow, the ice settling into the ground.

In Hardwick, on impulse, I stop into a store and buy a string of white lights with wooden reindeer for my daughters. It’s Sunday morning, and hardly anyone is out.

Walking home with those lights tucked into my backpack with a brown paper bag of rice and a square of cheese, a bottle of sesame oil, I cut through the cemetery. Before long, the cemetery will be snowed in for months.

I’m walking up the path from the piney woods, near last summer’s potato patch, when a bald eagle glides down from a white pine. I stand quietly — yes, white tail feathers, head, its curved beak earthward. Without flapping a wing, the eagle catches an upwind and drifts over my blueberry bushes and garden, then disappears around our white clapboard house.

I grew up in New Hampshire and never saw a loon as a child. We never saw wild turkeys, didn’t dream of bald eagles swooping over a trampoline in a backyard, never heard coyotes except when we were camping in the Rocky Mountains.

When I step into our kitchen where my daughters are baking cookies, they greet my news of the eagle with cool, and keep on with what they’re doing.

While the pandemic reigns, the wilderness hasn’t gone away. Hungry eagle, what did you find for dinner?

On our kitchen wall…

Adequate Materials

When I was in labor with my first daughter, at some point I glanced at a clock and realized I was in trouble. That was the only rational moment I remember from that entire labor; everything else is nearly wordless in my memory.

In those final hours, in the pauses between straining to push her into this world, I imagined the peace of a summer forest, the leaves sun-dappled. She was born in wintery February, but I drew on that memory, gathering much needed strength, as I imagined digging my fingers into the black soil, fingering pebbles of quartz and shards of slate.

So, too, now, as we’re entering the dark month of December, I look at my youngest daughter — my teenager — who is learning to endure the closure of school, the upsidedownness of her world. How invaluable, suddenly, appears a game of Yahtzee, a batch of cookies, a cat before the fire, hot coffee and conversation.

It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath