Vermont Currency

My neighbor offers to pay me to stack her wood. I reply she can’t pay me, but I would stack it anyway.

The woman and I stand in her yard, looking eye to eye. I am inches below five feet. In her seventies, the woman seems both tough and fragile. She asks what she’s going to have to do for me – cook, is that it?

Without thinking, I say something that surprises me: Maybe you should just be happy with this? Why not do me a favor and allow me to do this?

She thinks this over – there’s an actual pause – before she agrees.

It’s an interesting and largely unspoken contract. She’s an attorney; I’m a writer. We’re each divorced. Both small and scrappy, accepting help is a reluctant relief.

The next morning, while I’m cooking noodles to pack for my daughter’s lunch, my neighbor appears at our double glass kitchen doors. I’m in trouble, she says.

I ask her in, cautioning her not step on a kitten.

She’s closing on her house at noon, and behind in packing. When my daughter heads to school, leaping the cemetery fence, I walk over to the neighbor’s and take a look. Then I walk back to my house and shout for my teenager to wake up. Your help is needed! In a bit, my long-legged girl walks over drinking a can of this orange juice she keeps buying, takes a good around, says, Hmm, and then, Where’s the packing tape?

A skilled packer, when we run out of cardboard boxes, she goes out to the woodpile, empties plastic milk crates, and loads those with the iron skillets. We pass a fat black marker back and forth between us, to label the boxes.

Written on my summer fan
torn in half
in autumn.

– Bashō

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Flux

When I was a very young girl – maybe four – and lived in New Mexico, my parents visited friends in Ames, Iowa. In the murky way of memory, mostly what I remember is the house we stayed in had hardwood floors, and Iowa seemed to possess an infinite sprawl of gorgeous lawn. The friends had kids of their own, and their father sprayed us on the lawn one afternoon, raising and lowering the spray while we pretended we were flowers opening our blossoms in the morning light, and folding closed again with twilight. For a desert child, the abundance of water and the sweet scent of cut grass was magical.

Today, our front door will be swapped out with a new, tighter door to keep the cold out, not if but when the bitter cold arrives.

My daughters had lived in our former house all their lives – a combined total of 30 years – but already in these months, this house has changed its shape with us: the scent of freshly coated floors wafted through open windows, paintings of flowers hammered on plaster walls, kittens shedding their fuzzy hair over the kitchen floor.

The house I visited as a little girl held more than its portion of misery, but from a knee-high vantage, there was sunlight and laughter, too.

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It’s all

over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It’s dusk. Your daughter’s tall.

A Little Tooth by Thomas Lux

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Two Decades Ago

I haven’t lived in a town in what to me is a very long time – over twenty years – and in those twenty years, I went from newly married, to raising two daughters, maple sugaring on a scale that become way oversized for two adults, and wrote a book. I did a few other things, too.

Oddly, living in a small town again, I’ve been given a glimpse back into my female self I might not have gotten before. What’s different from when I was twenty is that I’m a mother now, a writer, a woman who knows her way around a garden and what to do with garlic scapes. Useful things.

I have wrinkles and a great tangle of gray, but I’m no longer afraid of the dark. In an odd way, what I once thought would be so difficult – uprooting – has evolved into one of the easier phases of my life. Or maybe it’s just July, and the greenery is mellifluous. Then again, maybe this is one of the easier parts, and the children aren’t bickering now.

You got to understand: here
Winter stays six months a year—
Mean, mean winters and too long.
Ninety days is what we get, just

Ninety days of frost free weather….

From David Budbill’s “Summer Blues”

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Hefty Lifting

In my first pregnancy, I developed a fear of the transition phase of labor. Even without experiencing labor, I knew that would be my point of trial and terror. As it turned out, that so dreaded transition was but a moment or two. I had my single place of easy breathing. I looked at an analog clock, the time of 3:14 pm lodging in my memory. Sunlight streamed through an enormous window.

Moving, as Ben Hewitt once told me, sucks. As usual, Ben is succinct and dead-on right. Moving is the transition phase I dreaded in labor, the leaving one place and not-yet-in-another.

In days of acute stress, like the times my former husband was arrested, I wrote notes to guide myself through days – call this person or buy coffee, but also fragments of dialogue, or the state’s attorney’s ironed, lavender shirt – anchoring those moments in my notebook, hungry writer that I am, to return to that time later, when the miasma dissipated, and glean.

I want people who write to crash or dive below the surface, where life is so cold and confusing and hard to see.

Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth.

– Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

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Rock On…..

Anyone who knows my daughters and myself knows our story of moving from this beloved house to another; our path not wholly determined. These days, in the rush and glory of Vermont spring, we are still fully here, reveling in the first sighting of trillium blooms, our familiar dirt road we have walked and biked thousands of times. This spring, surrounded by the upheaval of change and illness, reminds me yet again that the salvation of our world is through children: in the steady joy of trampoline jumping and chocolate-egg-with-sweet-cream-yolk eating.

Yesterday, standing outside the library with another adult, listening to the raucous chorus of Woodbury’s wetland peepers, far down below the school’s garden, concealed in the thick brush, we heard children’s voices. As we listened, into the song of frogs and robins and sparrows wound peals of laughter. On and on…..

Here’s the beginning of a poem one friend wrote, and another sent me today:

Out walking in the swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold,
this sweet first green of spring. Now sautéed in a pan melting
to a deeper green than ever they were alive, this green, this life…

– David Budbill, “The First Spring of Green”

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