Florence is crammed with tourists. My daughter and I sit on a stone bench in the shade and watch pigeons and people. Midday, we climb stone stairs into the duomo while the organ plays. I’ve never been in a structure like this, such an awesome concert of art and size, art and music. My daughter whispers, You’re going to keep talking about the organ, aren’t you?

Later, we eat pizza. At our table, strangers strike up a conversation with us, give my daughter wine, offer shopping and college advice, and an espresso appears before me. I lift the tiny white cup and drink the brew.

Remember Joy.

The May I was pregnant with my second child, rain fell every day. I remember this keenly because my husband wasn’t working that month. I was about to have a baby, and I wanted very much to be finished with pregnancy. I had been so ill for eight months, and I just wanted to move on.

As it turned out, a gorgeous healthy baby girl was born on May 31. The summer was long and hot, just perfect weather in Vermont.

This year, I didn’t realize until today that we had passed over into the month of May. I’m writing this, as I’ve been in the same kind of dissatisfied funk that I was seventeen years ago. It seems silly to admit this — at the time, perhaps, I was in a funk only because of my own dissatisfied soul. I had — and have — plenty. I was talking to new acquaintance yesterday about the general dissatisfaction and irritability that blossoms up everywhere these days. It’s complicated — it’s always complicated — and by no means do I want to diminish that. I don’t want to diminish where I was in those days, either. Now, I can look back at those days and marvel, at least a little, that I did manage to survive intact, more or less.

That summer, though, I knew it would be the last summer I would ever have an infant. Almost right away, I was lucky enough to know that. I remember thinking, let the laundry go unwashed if need be.

This afternoon, walking around my house in a gently falling cold rain, I remembered those days. My daughter has one year of childhood left. Already I’ve begun to recriminate myself for what I should have done, how, given another shot, I’d be such a better mother. In the rain I came back to that same thinking I reminded myself of years ago, Be here now. Remember: drink joy, too.


Kitchen table, Hardwick, Vermont

In below zero temps, I stop by the library on my way home from work to pick up an interlibrary loan book. My friend in her mask runs down from her balcony office, and we huddle against the library’s 100-year-old radiator.

She tells me about the death of a person in town, from Covid. My friend is wearing a sweater from yarn she spun and dyed, from goldenrod blossoms she gathered. The sweetness of early fall is a long, long way from us. I’d been thinking that someday these days will be but a remembrance to us, and here I’m hearing word of family who will never forget these bitter January days.

I finish the afternoon chores I’ve set out to do — buy cheese at the co-op, get the mail at the post office, stop by the superintendent’s office to sign the high school budget warning we voted on last night. At home, I feed the wood stove and the cats and set pizza dough to rise.

Then I do my final outside chore — I gather bits of bark and kindling from the barn floor and a few dry sticks into a cardboard box. In the early, dark morning, I’m up first, and this kindling box is my easy way to begin the day. I think of it as a little gift to myself.

The cold is fierce around me. I stand in the barn, holding that box in my leather gloves, thinking of nothing at all. Just standing there.

Sunday Morning Reading.

On my drive a few weeks ago to New Hampshire, I listened to Donald Antrim’s essay in The New Yorker about his hospitalization shortly before he published a memoir about his mother’s death. He was eventually treated with electroconvulsive therapy, partly at the urging of David Foster Wallace.

In this sticky August weekend, I’m reading that memoir, The Afterlife.

Here’s a line from this fiercely written book:

People are fond of saying that the truth will make you free. But what happens when the truth is not one simple, brutal thing?”

— Donald Antrim
Greensboro, Vermont

Night Driving.

I had dinner with six other adults last night at a restaurant beneath a tent. Across the table from me, one man said he didn’t think he’d eaten with that number of people in, well, what seemed like forever.

Ditto, me.

I’d driven down I-91 along the Connecticut River to meet the team at Steerforth Press and talk about my book Unstitched that will be published in a month.

On my way home, I drove out of New Hampshire in the dark that had fallen while we were talking and telling stories. I drove away from the congestion of Dartmouth, and then north again, into the deepness of Vermont. The day was still humid and sticky with summer, and I left the windows open, while I listened to The New Yorker‘s Atul Gawande talk about the Delta Variant.

I remembered driving in the dark in my mid-twenties, alone, over the Continental Divide. At the top, I parked and stretched. Although it was summer then, too, the elevation’s chill made me shiver in my t-shirt and shorts. In the women’s room, drying my hands under a stream of hot air, I chatted with an elderly woman. Where she was going, and what she was doing, I’ve long since forgotten, but I remember stepping outside the little building with her and admiring the stars.

So many years later, I sped through the warm and velvety night.

At home, my daughters had left the little string of lights on in the living room, and the back porch lamp glowed. Our house, freshly painted white, glimmered a little as the clapboards rose above the woodpile and purple echinacea. The cats sat at the door, watching moths, or maybe waiting for me.

A few minutes early to New Hampshire yesterday, I walked through a park and discovered a community garden devoted almost exclusively to flowers. A woman and her dog paused and watched me admire the blossoms. The poodle suddenly stood up on its hind legs and barked a hello. I laughed. The woman nodded. Then she went her way, and I went mine.

‘This is what you shall do…’

Planting rudbeckia this afternoon, my shovel hits something hard in the sandy soil. I scrape and unearth a brick and then several pieces, all in surprisingly good shape. How useful, I think.

I dig harder, wondering, who buries bricks? and then discover a drill bit, too.

With my fingers, I unearth that and ponder. I know a carpenter who worked here a number of years ago, and I wonder if the tool is his.

For a moment, my eyes sweep the perennials in the front yard — forsythia and roses and lilies and peonies — and wonder what else lies buried in all that soil.

I plant the rudbeckia, stack the bricks in the barn, and hide the drill bit in a secret place.

Oh, sweet July and all your forty shades of green. Keep on surprising me.

This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families…”

— Walt Whitman