Running.

Fisher Railroad Bridge, Wolcott, VT

Twice in one Friday, I’ve met acquaintances from long ago — the first at the coffee shop, the second at the transfer station. Now, having lived here for thirty years, I run into people who I’ve known in the past — maybe not well — but I know deep parts of their stories. I wonder what parts of my life they remember — and if I remember my story as they do.

On the way back from the transfer station, I stop along Route 15 and admire the Fisher bridge, the last of the covered railroad bridges in Vermont. Such effort went into building this infrastructure, and it was used for such a comparatively short time.

Because I’m wearing my running shoes, I follow the graveled rail bed. I cross the highway and follow the former track bed behind the lumber yard that smells sweetly of sap and freshly milled boards. There’s no one around on the rail bed at all. I run on the path right beside the river. The river is wide and slow moving, relatively tame for April. We’ve had little rain and less snow. I chance upon a pair of nesting ducks, and the mallard leads me away. I imagine in the heat of July how lovely it might be to swim across this water.

I stop to catch my breath. It’s me and the glossy mallard and the breezy cold afternoon. I wonder if we’re pulling out of the pandemic, truly. The brisk late afternoon takes my wondering and tosses it downstream. Eventually, I turn around and head back to wherever it is I need to be.

“It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.” 

~ Mark Twain

Stranger Aid.

Retreat Meadows, Brattleboro, Vermont

A stranger in the post office asks me if I can free her mail from her box. It’s a narrow box, nearly at the bottom of the wall. I crouch down, extracting envelope by envelope, taking care not to tear the paper. It’s clear she hasn’t collected her mail in some time. She waits patiently while I tug with some effort. While I hand up envelopes and fliers and magazines, I talk and talk, rambling on about the mail and whatever inane thing drifts into my mind. Around us, people open their boxes, collect their stuff, and disappear. I keep at my project, now kneeling. Finished, I shut her box door.

She thanks me, and we go our separate ways. Walking home, I keep thinking about that simple thing, how easy it is to give to a stranger. There’s likely an obvious lesson here. But one thing is clear, I got as much from the mail extraction as this woman.

… A cold and soggy April. Miniature daffodils push up through black soil. I keep feeding my wood stove.

Nameless Places.

My daughter discovered the foundation of an old mill near where she lives, a fieldstone structure built beside a rushing stream. A grist mill I speculate.

Sunday afternoon, and the day has warmed. The bugs haven’t risen yet. The spring ephemerals haven’t unfolded from the forest floor.

With one daughter grown, my youngest nearly so, my own parents well along in old age, I think about the things I wish I’d done as a parent. I wish we’d traveled more, seen the northern lights, gone to concerts. I wish my daughters’ father had stuck around. That trite phrase — glass half-empty or half-full — comes to mind. But maybe a truer comparison is this foundation, this well-crafted structure that has now morphed into a wilderness home, where birch trees set seeds and grew in improbable places.

We keep walking, and she shows me a small swamp in a hollow far off the road. The peepers are singing. The mud beneath my boots is black and rich. Water runs through it.

Travels through Time. Along the River.

Write a novel and, at some point, you’ll start henscratching or typing notes about when the protagonist moves from reaction to action. Why not think of your life as a novel you’re writing?

I drove down the long center of my Green Mountain State yesterday to return to Brattleboro, where I lived for years as a college student (so long ago). I bought my first car for $500 in Brattleboro.

For the drive, I had one rule: stay off the interstate. I began through the chain of towns I know, Montpelier and down through Northfield and Brookfield, along the Dog River. I headed up through a pass where the snow returned in clots along the road, and where trailers were surrounded by old cars and pickups, the kind of stuff that someday might be used. The forest flattened and gave way to fields where barns were built nearly in the fields. I drove through upscale Woodstock and the burned-out industrial buildings of Springfield.

Southern Vermont was like a magical dream — sunlight streamed over blooming daffodils, forsythia spread bright yellow, emerald green paired with black earth.

I met an old college friend who works at Everyone’s Books on Elliot Street. Thirty years ago, I lived right near that bookstore, and I spent a lot of time there. We exchanged thumbnail stories about our lives and kids and work and exhusbands and books of course. My book was in the front window of the bookstore, and she told me it “had been selling like hotcakes” — utterly gratifying.

In a park, I pulled out my laptop and wrote up a few notes. As I headed back to my Subaru, my friend Sean Prentiss walked towards me. He lives just a handful of minutes from me and was meeting his lovely family for a few days in Brattleboro.

I went to Brattleboro to meet friends from my past, and I met a friend from my present. Put that in as an interesting plot point.

On the way home, I listened to This American Life about babies switched at birth. I’m an TAL devotee, and this episode is especially fascinating.

Breaking Ice.

On a midday walk around the lake, I hear bits of breaking-up ice crash against a cement pier. Vermont spring — ice and green shoots, rain and rouge snow and sometimes sun.

This time of year — school break and tail-end-of-winter doldrums — many folks have flown to warmer and sunnier climates, seeking the old stand-by of the geographical cure. Around the lakes where summer folks own the large houses, hardly anyone is there, save for carpenters and roofers and painters, their pickup trucks clustered in driveways.

But the lake keeps on with its own steady world, the fierce ice gradually giving up its ghost. By the time these summer folks return, the water will have warmed again. For now, though, ice clinks as it breaks apart.

I tie my long hair back with a rubber band I found in my coat pocket. The breeze carries the damp scent of the earth, the dream of unfurling leaves, the memory of children crouched among the cedar tree roots, playing.

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April day.”

~ Robert Frost

The Long View.

I’ve reached the point in my life where suddenly my parents are old and my daughters are fleeing childhood. Technically, this is the Empty Nest realm, although I dislike that phrase. I’m not heading anywhere. Do the cats count for nothing?

A different woman might be plotting a sewing room. Instead, I’m plotting my own Huck Finn plans, and I’ll pack my knitting needles, thank you very much.

While my youngest is still here, and I’m still reveling in the teen world (which is, honestly, utterly fascinating), I sense more and more how I saddle two generations.

So I read poet Diana Whitney’s recent IG post about intergenerational trauma and female bodies with keen interest today. I followed by reading Whitney’s essay in Longreads. You should read it, too. We’d all be healthier, perhaps, if we spoke a little more about these hard things. And that, today, is as far as I’ll write about that.