Rain begins falling yesterday evening and falls all night. Through the open windows, the wet scent of soil drifts into our house. The cats sit on the sills, a little confused apparently by the breeze and wet.

For whatever reason, I wake remembering a visit to the emergency room with one of my daughters a number of years ago. I had wait for my then-husband to pick me up, and my little girl and I sat in the empty waiting room. It was night by then. My daughter slept in my lap. The nurse on duty was a mother in a parenting group that we had both participated in a few years before. Her daughter was in school then, and she had long ago ceased having any weekday morning free. We spoke for a little while, and she gave me a bottle of cold water to drink. It was June and hot, and the water was delicious. Such a small thing, remembered so many years later. Doubtlessly, she’s forgotten it.

This rain has the same deliciousness — tinged with fall, yes, but watering my dry garden. Summer’s gone. We’re in the season of red maple leaves.

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face…

By Don Paterson

Four Conversations.

A local radio station asks me to call in for a morning show this week. To cut down on the background birdsongs, I dial from my glassed-in front porch and stand looking out the windows at the hydrangeas which are particularly pink this year. My cat knocks over a glass of water. The water spills around my bare foot just as the announcer patches me on.

Radio’s particularly fun because the conversation moves quickly. The mystery of our conversation — the host and I talking about things that matter — travels invisibly into people’s living rooms and studios and cars and job sites. Meanwhile, my cat splashes water on my ankles. When I hang up, a friend phones me. As I tie my shoes to head to work, we talk quickly and make a plan to meet.

At the end of the week, I’m at a soccer game, watching the girls’ team, listening to the conversation behind me. Two men talk about roadside mowing along a stretch of back road I happen to know. I think I know this stretch really well, but listening to the men and how they describe the dips in the roads, the rocks in the ditches, the proximity of houses to the road, I realize there’s plenty I don’t know about this road at all. In the hot, late afternoon, I smell the sweetness of fresh sap mingled with two-cycle oil on their clothes.

Last night, my youngest and I were talking with my brother on the phone when my oldest called. My youngest patched her in. For a few moments, the four of spoke together — from two houses and a car mired in road construction. My oldest said, I’m calling to tell you the full moon is red. We each hung up and headed out to admire the night sky.

As season come
And seasons go
The moon will always glow

— Basho

Keep Walking.

The summer people are still summering it up around the lake. In a few more weeks, these noontime walks will be me and the goldenrod. The kids will be back in school, the adults back in the adult world.

Walking, I can’t help but take stock of the summer. In a quiet way, this has been a summer of learning for me. Perhaps more than anything else, I’ve started to let go of how hard I hold onto time. I stop and talk to the gardener who often seems to be mowing under a wooden split rail fence. I see him just as he’s turned off the motor, and we talk for a while about phlox and coreopsis, milkweed and butterflies. He’s been gardening around this lake for over forty years, and he’s in no particular rush for anything.

The day has warmed since the cool of the early morning when I left my house. I’ve had plenty of coffee and there’s a long stretch of day ahead. With the toe of his boot, he brushes grass clippings from the mower. He asks how far I intend to walk.

Not far, I answer.

He says he’ll offer me a piece of advice: go further than my plan. Walk around the next curve in the path.

In his mirrored sunglasses I see myself, a small woman in a blue dress. I agree, All right.

He nods and starts the mower again.


Every summer for years now, my daughters and I have gone camping on Burton Island in Lake Champlain. We always bring the same friend of my youngest daughter. Sometimes another friend and sometimes my oldest hasn’t come. This year for all kinds of reasons, I went alone for a night.

I stopped first to visit a friend and meet his friendly sheep. Then I raced to the ferry. Rain and clouds had moved out. The island has no cars, so the atmosphere is particularly sweet. Little kids bike everywhere. A group of teenage boys had set up a small army of tents, bikes, and fishing poles.

I had brought what I needed for the night: a novel, my knitting, a winter hat, the recently printed out version of my manuscript, and a good pair of walking shoes. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a single mother, it’s make friends with strangers. Much to my daughters’ annoyance, I often find someone to chat with at soccer games, the co-op, the post office. A kind of survival skill on many levels. But I wasn’t there to chat. I walked around the island on its slate-pebbled shores in the daylight, during the enchanting sunset, and in the dark. As the night fell dark, the tree frogs sang melodiously. I slept dreamlessly under the rising moon. In the morning, I drank coffee and read and read until I packed up my few things and headed back to the ferry.

The island, a state park, is mostly staffed by college kids, who are polite and enthusiastic. The young man on the ferry folded up the wildflower guide he was reading to roll a few bikes on the ferry.

On my way home, I realized next summer I could take my kayak and stay a few nights on Champlain’s islands. I can’t swim to save my life but surely that’s something I could learn.

A few lines from Dan Chaon’s Sleepwalk:

“No doubt, a day of reckoning for mankind is coming, yet even for those of us who accept the inevitability of mass human death, there’s still a cautious hope; we’re waiting to see how Armageddon plays out, keeping an eye open for ways it might turn to our advantage… I’m no evolutionary biologist, but I have faith in our species’ stick-to-it-iveness.”

— Dan Chaon

July 31. Swim.

The dog is a new thing in our lives. My oldest daughter lives nearby with a sweet and curious dog. Yesterday, we brought the dog into our house to meet our two house cats. One cat remained on the kitchen table in his beloved cardboard box (I know, I know who allows things like this? a cat in a box on the kitchen table not for an hour or a day but for months?), paw crooked over the edge of the box, looking at the dog in the cool disdainful way of felines. Our other cat trembled in the doorway, holding his ground. Curious, cautious, verging on endearing and ridiculous. The dog seemed just happy to be there.

We decided to swim and took a giant floatie shaped like a pineapple that I had bought last year for camping. Jammed in the trunk, the floatie hung over the backseat which bothered the dog, who moved into the passenger seat. My daughters sat in the back under the floatie. I drove and talked to the dog. The wind blew in through the windows, muting my daughters’ voices. So many miles I drove with kids in the back, looking over my hands on the steering wheel. For few miles, I was back in the world of young motherhood.

Despite the heat, the lake wasn’t crowded in the least. A woman walked down the sandy path holding a beer can. She and the group at the far end exclaimed that they hadn’t seen each other in thirty years. My oldest whispered, Thirty years? I answered, What’s thirty years, really, forgetting entirely for a moment my daughter is far younger than thirty.

The drive to the lake was a short one. After swimming, we went up the road to the general store and ate pizza on the deck. We chatted with people we saw all the time, and some we hadn’t seen in years. The dog — good creature — waited patiently.

Water. Sky. Lilies.

Sunday morning begins hot and out-of-sorts in our house. As antidote, we load the kayaks on the car. We paddle through a passage between floes of waterlilies in a breathtaking landscape — clouds reflected in water and all those perfect flowers. We’re not far from home, but the kayakers and canoeists we pass are all strangers who raise hands in quiet hellos.

In no rush at all, we paddle to the pond’s far end, where we drift for a long while, talking and handing a box of crackers between us. A loon and a single chick bob nearby. The other loon parent appears with a string of lunch in her or his mouth.

Later, we pull our kayaks on a shore and swim out to a raft where we lie in the sun and talk about where we might be five years, ten years, down the line. A man swims out with his two daughters, and we talk a little with him about the raft and the sun and the waterlilies that cover the pond.

I’m reminded of William Blake’s line about seeing the world in a grain of sand as we slowly paddle back to where we began. I’ve walked across sections of this pond in the midwinter around ice fishing holes. A number of years ago, a teenager drowned here, a boy I knew as a baby. His parents were vendors in the same farmers market where my husband and I sold maple syrup and ice cream. We all had little ones in those days. On those hot afternoons, we shared stories while swaying with babies on our backs.

The pond this July day reflects only sweetness and beauty. At the shore, my daughters load our kayaks back on our car. I rinse off my bare feet at the water’s edge. A little boy runs to the end of the dock. His father stands waist deep in the water. He raises his arms and says, Jump. I’ll catch you.