So much for those days jammed into town halls and school gymnasiums, debating school consolidations or upping appropriations to local food shelves. So much for buying a bowl of chili for lunch and supporting the local PTO. Stand up and vote by voice has been replaced this year by the ubiquitous paper ballot all over the state.
All night, the wind blows — March’s mighty lion. I wake thinking of the old farmhouse and broken down barn I visited the day before. Someone I knew years ago has bought the property and intends to build a new house. The farmhouse lies along a mountain ridge, with a view into a valley. Far up the valley, wind towers sparkled in the sunlight.
There’s no one around at this house, just the sun and myself, snowbanks sculpted by the wind far higher than my head. I might as well be on the edge of the world. I walk back up that long driveway, the snow drifted nearly to my knees. At the crest, I turn again and look back, curious to see next summer how this property will return to life.
At bedtime, my daughter calls me into her room and asks me to listen. The prayer flags strung over our back porch are flapping fiercely in the wind. I tell her that’s the point. The wind chimes from my sister are jingling, too. The wind strengthens.
This morning, stepping out, the air is warm in a way I haven’t felt in a very long time. The back of winter might not have been broken yet, but it’s getting there, breath by breath. This is a hard point of Vermont’s winter, when the snow and cold have lingered past their welcome, and our green summer world appears as an illusion. Last year, so many people I knew flew to Florida or Mexico. This year, hardly anyone I know has flown for pleasure.
Our back porch remains that wreckage of clumped ice and broken railing. Yesterday afternoon, my daughter stood in her t-shirt and boots, a hatchet in one hand she used to chop that ice. She suggested digging a swimming pool behind the porch next summer. I mused about a flower garden.
We mutually agreed to plant grapes along the barn, our tiny version of a vineyard.
Flying at Night
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations. Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies like a snowflake falling on water. Below us, some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death, snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn back into the little system of his care. All night, the cities, like shimmering novas, tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.
In the night, ice slides off our back roof and breaks our porch railing. I discover this in the morning while I’m carrying out the stove ashes, cautiously looking for one of the neighborhood skunks.
The broken railing doesn’t even register as an annoyance. While I’m making coffee, I think this over. Just a few years ago, I would have brooded on the broken wood, resentful of the expense of money and time to repair this piece of our house. Now, I think merely, That can be repaired.
There’s a lesson here, I think, on this mundane Thursday morning. Of all the broken things in my life — inevitably, in all our lives — a snapped piece of wood hardly matters. For years, I saw the accumulation of disrepair, from a loose coat peg to a leaking roof, as sure evidence that my family life was unfolding. A year into the pandemic, a broken railing is evidence of warming nights. Repair, and move on.
While my daughters and I have skated for years on lakes, Lake Morey is groomed specifically for skaters. Last early Sunday, we packed up skates and snacks and drove south. At the far end of the lake, I realized this was exactly what I had been craving — all that sky overhead, the lake ringed by mountains, the promise of summer and swimming with rope swings tucked into tree branches for the winter. Beneath my silver blades, the ice was swept by humans but created by nature, stippled unevenly, split with cracks, utterly uneven.
We’re now in the final week of February. Maples are tapped for sugaring. The forecast predicts warming weather. The ice, I remind myself, won’t last.
Skiing through the town forest yesterday, I ducked beneath sap lines. The sugarbush there is tapped and ready for the sap to run. I’m ready, too.
For years, our family sugared, and February began weeks that turned around the season and sap flow. We had no weekend. We had no days off. So now, on Sundays, I (mostly) fold up my laptop and lean into family.
One (small) silver lining of the pandemic is the pleasure of a single donut: peach, flower, poppy seed.
Rain? Snow? Sleet? A mixture of all falls this morning.
Rounding a bend on a snow-covered dirt road in East Hardwick yesterday morning, I suddenly brake when hundreds of little black birds cover the road. There’s no one behind me, no one ahead of me, and I get out. A few birds flutter upward and perch on the electric wires, strewn already with these little creatures.
I’m at at farm, near a manure pit. Through the barn’s open sides, I see cows twisting their heads.
The birds don’t move. I don’t move. Then, eventually, because I’m a human and the birds are wild, I get back in my car and nudge forward slowly. Grudgingly — or maybe patiently — the birds part to the fields and the wires, and I move on.
Still February here.
On snowy afternoons there is a special blessedness in saying, oh it is too snowy to chop wood this afternoon. And the gray snow sifts down, and one takes off one’s boots and sits by the fire and is glad of the way wool socks smell; and a pie is baking in the oven, and the gray snow is sifting down.