Promises.

A thunderstorm rumbles in early Saturday morning, in that darkest spot before dawn. We’re nearly at the solstice, and the days are long and lovely, full of just the right amount of warmth. Our Vermont world is in bloom.

The rain this morning is welcome. When the downpour passes, I lie in bed beside the open window, listening to the pattering of a gentle rainfall on the leaves of the mock orange below my window. In bloom now, its flowers are white as snow.

In my memory runs a few lines from an Eric Clapton song. The day before, I had driven to St. Johnsbury, a road I had often driven when I was first married. As I crested a mountain, VPR cut out, and that song came over my radio, scratchy. Long ago, we had a second-hand turntable, and a few cast-off records, and that album we played over and over.

The thing is, I didn’t like the album much at all, but I gradually came to like it, maybe simply through habit. That one sweet song had always been my favorite. Now, over the radio, my past returned, fuzzy and unclear, but never forgotten.

A year ago, George Floyd had recently been murdered, his death replayed endlessly around the planet. Riots erupted around the country. Now, under a different administration, Juneteenth is honored.

So much. All that great wash of the past — from immense societal waves to the tiny trickles of our own lives — pushes us along. And yet, sweet rain on this quiet morning. Even the hungry cats press their whiskers against the screen, welcoming in the morning.

March: Rejuvenation

We wake to a morning of deep cold and sun-sparkling fresh snow.

Illness has moved through my daughter; her eyes are merry again as she laughs with her sister. March 1: we’re ready to greet the remainder of the winter, the coming weeks of snow and cold that inevitably will end in mud.

These small and temporary illnesses have their place, too, pulling us inside and quieter. In a fever, I dream of a book I’m reading, how memory lies deep within our bodies. As if in a strange journey, the fever draws me into the mysteries of flesh and blood, of synapsis and neuron, and I’m a little child again, holding a paper doll. The slick paper is tangible beneath my fingertips.

The dream ends, and I’m here again, mother to two daughters who are laughing as they do math homework together.

The linear view of time may be an illusion, but it’s one I’m happy to join again, finished with illness and fever, ready for March, green, spring.

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
There’s nothing to write about
But radishes.

— Basho

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Photo by Molly S./Hardwick, Vermont

Memory, Body

In the middle of the night, I’m awake thinking of myself, years ago at 30, standing at the roundabout in Montpelier between Main Street and Route 12, baby on my back, trying to figure out where my life—where our lives—would go. It was October then, 1999, and the news amped Y2K fears.

Every time I walk along that section of street in Vermont’s capital city, I think of that cold autumn’s crepuscular hour, as if I pass through its shadow again. The notion of linear time is supercilious. Walking with a friend in the Hardwick town forest, we talk about our 13-year-old daughters. Both of us mothers now, long past adolescence—and yet, we’re both 13. Our conversation crackles with memory.

That baby on my back is now 20. No one but myself will ever remember that evening. And yet, there it is: always with me.

Women have been driven mad, “gaslighted,” for centuries by the refutation of our experience and our instincts in a culture which validates only male experience. The truth of our bodies and our minds has been mystified to us. We therefore have a primary obligation to each other: not to undermine each others’ sense of reality for the sake of expediency; not to gaslight each other.

— Adrienne Rich

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Februrary sunbathing….

Vermont Dawn

It’s autumn here. Better — Vermont autumn — a landscape hordes of people drive and fly hundreds, thousands, of miles to see.

Because the world is dying down, my prolific garden beginning to crumple, autumn always seems to me the season of memory.

A memory of pulling beets and carrots in an enormous garden while my friend’s husband lay in the house, dying of skin cancer. More happily: a memory of my older daughter’s first Halloween costume, a piece of a sheet I cobbled into a baby ghost costume.

Tricia Tierney directed me to Leslie Schwartz’s The Lost Chapters: Reclaiming My Life One Book at a Time. Late nights, I lay awake reading, thinking how glad I am not to be jail. Early one cold morning, I pull on my down jacket, a beautiful turquoise hand-me-down, now worn thin and stained at the cuffs, and follow the path behind my house, disappearing into the darkness and walking all through the sunrise, the ebony sky streaked through with endless ribbons of luminescent pink.

Schwartz writes, “Writing is survival.” Surely creative work of any kind carries us along. Like the Vermont landscape I live in, creativity has its cycles, too, my garden’s sunflowers shedding their golden petals, bending down for winter’s dormancy.

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Four Maples

A friend from my high school years (which, my daughters remind me, were literally in the last century) sends me an email, and I email back from my car, in a gray parking lot beside even grayer Lake Champlain. I remember canoeing from Burton Island to the mainland on a bright, balmy morning last July, and then waiting on a high point on the mainland, watching the ferry traveling across the lake with my 12-year-old daughter and her friend. When the ferry docked, I ran down to meet them, the girls glowing and happy with their adventure.

This friend writes about taking his kids swimming, and I wonder, pond or lake, river or pool? It’s been so long since I’ve seen him I would pass him by on the street, and not recognize him.

Finished, I fold up my laptop. I nod goodbye to this polluted and yet gorgeously beautiful lake and head towards a building where I’ll be blind to the lake all day, but I think for just one more moment of that town where I grew up. Along the square of lawn that my sister and brother and I wore down through endless kickball games stood four giant sugar maples, so tall their lowest branches were high above our heads. I wonder if there’s any chance those maples are still there, haven for songbirds, their leaves lifting up and ruffling over in approaching summer storms.

Once there was a tree….
and she loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest…

— Shel Silverstein

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Where we are now

Elementary School Literature

On my wedding invitations, I printed a line from Robert Frost, and a guest, mistaking Carl Sandburg for crusty Frost, gave us a collection of Sandburg’s poems.

I woke this frosty morning thinking of a poem we read aloud in my fifth grade class, in the basement of a three-story brick building later converted to senior housing. Although I grew up in wooded New Hampshire, far from any harbor or city, the poem’s perfect for kids – short and muscled, primed to pounce, cat-like.

Here’s the past again materializing: I’ve long since forgotten that teacher’s name, or even anyone else in the class. Yet I distinctly recall sitting there as a quiet kid wearing orange tights, in a warm classroom where the basement windows opened to the back driveway, loving this poem.

Hard frost last night. Wearing winter coats, the 12-year-old and I walked last evening, the stars overhead, passing no one.

“Fog”
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
– Carl Sandburg