17 years ago, I was at the end of my second pregnancy. The apple blossoms hadn’t bloomed yet. The month of May had been especially rainy and cold.
My second child was born via caesarian. The morning she was born, I walked down to our sugarhouse and closed the front doors we had left open the night before. My oldest daughter who was six was eating breakfast at the house with her father. She was wild with excitement. Baby sister? Baby brother? What was going to happen?
Rain had fallen the night before, and the path to the sugarhouse was slick. I was huge, an unwieldy ball of a woman who was so ready to finish this pregnancy and meet this baby. I had waited years to have this second child. It was early in the morning, and friends were already on their way to meet us at the hospital. I lingered in the open front doors, breathing in the scent of mud and that particular sweetness of new leaves. We’re always leaving and arriving, aren’t we, in this transient life. This year, the lilacs have already faded, the earliest I remember.
I stood there just a few moments before I locked the door and took the longer path back to the house. My six-year-old was in the driveway looking for me. Ready.
A colleague and I discuss our somewhere-in-the-pandemic plans: gardening and creativity and as much outdoor time as possible. We’re somewhere in the pandemic; that’s our determination. This somewhere might extend for a very long time yet.
This week, I was invited to a FB event where people all over the country signed in. I began by talking a little about my own dear state — tiny Vermont — whose entire population of 650,00 souls is less than many cities in this country. Some villages have a post office and a single paved road, a scattering of houses, streams and trees, gardens and swing sets. Since I was talking about my book and addiction, I spoke about how the wide world seeps into the most hidden places in my world, too. And yet, our lives go on. That same, age-old question — how to find meaning in our lives?
Memorial Day in Vermont is a big deal. The town cemetery beside my house is freshly mowed. New flags wave near stones. All week long, families have been tending gravestones. May is the season of lilacs and green. I make notes for the weekend: tend my garden. Make friends with the new neighbor and the scary dog.
My phone rings with a number I don’t recognize. On the other end, the caller and I begin to piece together a message I may or may not have left, tracing an odd connection between two people with the same common name.
It’s late afternoon. I’m home from work, bacon sizzling in the oven, my daughter washing her hands at the sink. The cats are pawing their bowls, finishing their early dinner, wondering what might be next.
For a moment, I’m suspended in this interesting conversation with a pleasant voice, remarking on the strange coincidences in our small town world.
It seems to be nothing more. Afterwards, when I’ve hung up and headed out to my garden to cover against possible frost, I keep thinking about that call. In an odd way, the pandemic suspended the once normal world. There’s plenty of just lousy stuff that’s happening and still happening in our world (and likely always will). Then, this: random bits of politeness. Sunshine in May. Blossoms.
My daughters each go their own way today in search of waterfalls with friends. It’s a perfect day for waterfalls, the temperature hot, the air drenched with sultriness. I remain behind in my garden’s dirt, moving Jonny Jump-Ups and sowing seeds. The world is alive around me with pollinators and earthworms and the chorus of nesting songbirds. It’s lilac season, here just for a few moments. I remind myself to breathe in, breathe in, while this sweet season lasts.
Driving down the heart of Vermont today, I hear an ecologist on public radio explaining how trapping beavers altered our landscape. Something that seems so simple and petty — a craze for beaver hats — changed the flow of water, the flora and fauna, and human transportation, too. As a kid, we made tiny birch bark canoes in grade school. Birch bark canoes were once a kind of Volkswagen for people who lived in Vermont. Serious water flowed over this landscape then.
I drive along the Connecticut River. Eventually, I just pull over and admire where I am. So much green. Such an infinity of shades, and all that water, flowing steadily to the sea.
Our world smells of lilac these sweet days.
I’m parked near an abandoned brick mill, in a town that has seen more vibrant days. The temperature may hit 90 this weekend — in May! in Vermont! — and no one in a rational frame of mind can claim this is right.
But yet….. here I am by the side of this great river, the mountains rising on the other side, the leaves leafing out in summer beauty. I’m in a shifting place in my own tiny life, my youngest nearly grown. Which way this will go, I have no idea, but I’m here, breathing in the humid lilac air, for this moment at least in no rush at all.
A woman I’ve never met starts speaking to me on a street corner in Brattleboro. I’d been staring across the street staring at windows on the second floor above the Shin La Restaurant where I lived when I was 20. On my 21st birthday, I walked down the street, drunk, to visit two friends. They lived in a house just a few blocks away. I was sleeping with one friend, in love with the other. The man I loved has long since died. His housemate has disappeared back into his moneyed world of investment banking and whatever that might mean. He was a decent guy, and I hope his life has gone well.
The woman says she sees a break in the traffic, and we should cross together. I tell her I’m a confirmed jaywalker. She tells me that she is, too, but not alone. “I like to cross with someone.” She’s about my height, which is in the Land of the Little People at around five feet.
On the other side, she heads one way and I go the other. It’s brilliant May, and hallejulah for this. Birds sing in the many trees. Lilacs and fruit trees bloom. For a moment, my body feels light — as if I leaped across a stream. Thirty years have passed since I lived in those rooms. Here I am again, in all this sunlight, remembering with what I joy I read Céline for the first time in that apartment. I was a philosophy, not a literature student; I was reading Heidegger and Kant and furiously writing. The apartment’s previous student was a lit student drop-out, and he had left shelves of books in the closet. Death on the Installment Plan? Good lord — no one has ever written a better book title. I read the book in a few long gasps.
“In the whole of your absurd past you discover so much that’s absurd, so much deceit and credulity, that it might be a good idea to stop being young this minute, to wait for youth to break away from you and pass you by, to watch it going away, receding in the distance, to see all its vanity, run your hand through the empty space it has left behind, take a last look at it, and then start moving, make sure your youth has really gone, and then calmly, all by yourself, cross to the other side of Time to see what people and things really look like.”