Postcards from Charlottesville

My daughter and her friend dug into boxes of records and gleaned out The Beatles, set up the stereo and record player in our barn, and cranked up The White Album. They hung up the hammock, strung lights around the walls, and then – needing a disco ball – smashed a mirror and hot-glued shards on a soccer ball.

While I wander around the edges, moving from chore to chore – nothing egregiously awful, but edgy and dissatisfied, preoccupied with I’m thinking – the girls are in the barn, creatively busy, smiling, wanting only a break to go swimming and eat ice cream sundaes.

Later, in the dark, I go for a walk in the adjoining cemetery, familiar enough with these paths that I can walk both by the scant light and my memory. The crescent moon rises in the black sky, over the mountain ridge and our house, where I see the girls’ string of Christmas lights shining. I pause, noting the moon’s hue. Tinged amber? Faintly orange?

Then I wise up and just stand there, shivering a little in my sweater, admiring this slice of moon, autumn creeping near.

… I have been there all along and this, I suddenly and certainly know, is motherhood; this mere sufficiency, this presence. With every cry she has tutored me, in what is plain and hard: that my affection, my silly entertainments, my doting hours, the particular self I tried to bring to my care of her, have been as superfluous as my fury and despair. All that is required is for me to be there….

– Rachel Cusk, A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother

My sister, Tanya Stanciu, who lives in Charlottesville sent these photos.

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Teenagers

As a mother of a teenager, I do actually listen to her music, and I’ve noticed it’s pretty much the same old American story: the good times are on their way. Be a little more daring, and the guy will come your way; work harder and happiness will rain down; vote for Trump, and the country will be great again.

AKA: that theme I remember from high school history of Manifest Destiny, sailing in.

Could anything be less Zen? What is it with this linear thinking, the view that happiness is a plateau that might be scaled, somewhere off across a desert?

Sip your soda, girl; be here now. I might as well throw that advice back at myself: enjoy parenting the teenager, unique as this may be.

It’s only when caterpillarness is done that one becomes a butterfly. That again is part of this paradox. You cannot rip away caterpillarness. The whole trip occurs in an unfolding process of which we have no control.

– Ram Dass

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West Woodbury, Vermont

More Than the Whole

This afternoon, my daughters baked a raspberry tart, gathering like any craftswomen the pieces of their creation: oats, sugar, butter, fruit. Thinking over the book I’m writing, like any writer I gather my pieces – characters in their tangible and intangible complexities (a green and gold wool vest, a port wine birthmark, the memory of driving rashly along a rainy street), story, and language – shaping this creation.

But a book is greater than the sum of its pages and cover, and I kept thinking of Akenfield, a nonfiction book about a small Suffolk village in the 1960s, told primarily in the villagers’ own voices. The village, too, of course, is more than the sum of its people: nurse, blacksmith, head mistress, gravedigger, odd-job man.

Now that the tart is half-eaten, made in merriment by two sisters, I see that sweet delight is more than the sum of its parts, too.

… I am willing to forgo a lot of the things other people now take for granted in order to keep Akenfield, by which I mean the deep country. The power of wonder is here…. It is man’s rightful place to live in Nature and to be a part of it. He has to recognize the evidence of his relationship to the great natural pattern in such things as flowers, crops, water, stones, wild creatures. Where he destroys such evidence… he gradually destroys a part of himself.

From the village poet in Ronald Blythe, Akenfield

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Galisteo, New Mexico

On the Quest

My teenage daughter hands me her high school summer reading book the other day and asks me to read a paragraph. She’s seventeen, wearing sunglasses and a new swimming suit, lying on the beach, and exasperated with this assignment. Her younger sister and friends swim in the lake, searching, faces down, for the giant rock named Big Yellow.

The real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason. In fact, more often than not, the quester fails at the stated task. So why do they go and why do we care? They go because of the stated task, mistakenly believing that it is their real mission. We know, however, that their quest is educational. They don’t know enough about the only subject that really matters: themselves. The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.

Thomas C. Foster, How To Read Literature Like a Professor

With enormous gusto, I keep reading, and then I begin laughing at the chapter’s end; the writing is that great. Then I point out to her, Look, this is about you: a young adult, beginning the quest of her life.

She takes her sunglasses off and holds them in her hand. I am? she asks. And then she repeats, I am.

I hand her back the school’s book and tell her gently, Literature is about you. 

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Greensboro, Vermont

 

 

Summer Song

On this first day of summer, my daughters and I swam in Caspian Lake, the cold and beautifully clear water where we’ve swum for years. The earliest, this far north in Vermont, that I’ve swam there has been April, a month where the ice sometimes still knocks up against the shore. The latest was a sunny first of October, and that evening I knew I was pregnant with my second child.

Everyone must have their sacred spaces on this earth. Here’s one of mine, singing eternally the melody of the changing sky, water or ice, some measure of wind, and the children – happy, happy, happy, to be there. Yeah.

Juana sang softly an ancient song that had only three notes and yet endless variety of interval. And this was part of the family song too. It was all part. Sometimes it rose to an aching chord that caught the throat, saying this is safety, this is warmth, this is the Whole.

– John Steinbeck, The Pearl

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photo by Molly S./Greensboro, Vermont

Child’s Footprint

Stuck in traffic yesterday, overdressed in the afternoon’s high temps as I’d left the house in the dewy cool of morning, I was lost, looking for a meet-up place with my kids. Surrounded by big box stores jam-packed with plastic stuff, that territory is one of my least favorite of Vermont roadsides.

Years ago, I delivered a 5-gallon bucket of our maple syrup every month to a bakery in that area, and afterwards, I let my daughter, who was two, run in the weedy field behind a strip mall, flanked at the far end by condominiums. By chance, I passed that still-undeveloped field and pulled over.

All day, a  white tree fluff had floated around my office windows, a drifting June version of snow. At that field, the white gossamer yet drifted through the air, random bits, here and there. Not that many years ago, this expanse was farm field, with the mountains rising like a blue dream to the east and the Winooski River flowing nearby.

The day was quite hot, and I thought of my own garden’s tomatoes and melons, thirsty on their vine, and I knew I wouldn’t return to water barefoot until twilight.

I had turned back towards the asphalt and the intersections of noisy traffic, when I saw a small footprint in the cracked earth. Crouching, I rubbed my fingers through its chalky dust, wondering what child had run through this field when it was muddy. How I wished that child had found some hidden treasures, secrets just for her.

It is quite possible that an animal has spoken to me and that I didn’t catch the remark because I wasn’t paying attention.

E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

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