Why the World Never Ends.

In a light rain and pitch dark, my daughters and I arrive at Montpelier’s Hubbard Park for the annual Enchanted Forest. Masked, spread out, bundled up, I have the strange sensation that the three of us are alone, and yet not alone.

The forest path winds along lit jack o’lanterns and burning torches, and among live musicians and giant puppets. Near the crest of the hill glowing paper lanterns decorate a giant oak tree.

The climax of the walk is a creation story re-enactment of a very old woman. Her black dog unravels her weaving as she tends to the changing seasons. As the rain falls more steadily, I realize the story is the tale of my life, as a writer and a mother — the story of the tension between order and disorder and the human longing for order to reign. Yet total order, total perfection, is impossible in this earthly realm.

We walk back through the mud puddles. Before heading home, my oldest pulls into a convenience store. Under a well-lit overhang, I stand outside, watching a man pump gas into an enormous SUV. He’s with a woman wearing a coat that falls to her ankles, a pretty garment with leaves and vines. I’m too far to hear what they’re saying, but I see his hand reach out and slip the top button closed on her coat and smooth the collar over her clavicle.

Through the plate glass window, my daughters stand at the store’s counter, buying hot chocolate. They’re wearing masks, so I can’t see their mouths, but from the way they look at each other, I know they’re laughing.

November looms tomorrow. Our New England darkness. Tighten your coat collar.

Hardwick, Vermont

Kicking Up Leaves.

My daughter and I are standing on a street corner in Montpelier, Vermont, talking about some little thing — maybe the mighty silver maple on the library’s lawn and how those leaves are always the last to turn gold. How I remember this every year at the same annual mark, and then forget this for the rest of the year.

While we’re talking, I keep thinking of this lovely library, and how I took my daughters there as little girls. Later, I often worked all day in the upstairs reading rooms with views of the trees. Not so, anymore, in our pandemic world.

Across the street, a couple kicks fallen leaves at each other. I stop talking, thinking, Oh, no, what fresh hell is this? when the couple begins laughing. They’re each holding white paper cup, and he has a paper bag that might be full of sweet delicious things from a nearby bakery.

That moment — that tiny joyful moment — opens up our day. Sweet normalcy. Oh, yes. Bring that on.

One of my most favorite autumn poems:

on a withered branch
sits a crow
autumn nightfall

—Basho

We’re Geese.

Saturday afternoon, I’m walking with an acquaintance on the trails behind the high school, talking about public education. How is education changing? What’s happening?

Beneath a maple, we stop and talk for a little. I tell her about my youngest daughter, who’s 16 and at a place of reflection, asking, Who am I? Where is my life going? Writing made me realize how easily we drift into one life or another, drawn along by circumstances and the people surrounding us. How easily we fall into what seems like a good idea, a fad that might define us.

What seems like a hundred years ago when I was an undergraduate at Marlboro College, someone painted Know Thyself on the sidewalk beside the dining hall. Listening to my daughter as I go about doing my same old things — washing dishes or making dumplings or knitting a hat for a Christmas present — I realize I’m witnessing her small adolescent pack struggle with this same old question made completely brand-new for each of these young people. I’m riveted.

On the trail, a flock of geese flies so low I hear their wings flapping. On our way back to the school, I keep thinking about those geese.

One can claim that growing up… means abandoning magical thinking for rational thinking, yet one can also maintain that nothing should be abandoned, that what is true on one floor of the mind may not be true on another, but that one must live on every floor of the mind, from the cellar to the attic.”

— Emmanuel Carrère, Lives Other Than My Own

Driving Dream. Daughter.

In a dream, my daughter drives along an interstate and rounds a curve. A semi spreads across the road, its back-end across our lane. In a fraction of a moment, I predict we’ll hit the truck. Before I can speak, my daughter steers to the right, and I have a sickening foreboding that she’ll hit the truck and I, on the right, will emerge unscathed. I’m not afraid really; it’s grief that nails me.

She steers us around the truck, over the grass, back onto the road, and keeps driving. My heart hammers.

In the dark, I lay awake. There’s a lesson here, I counsel myself.

On this rainy October morning, here’s a few lines about parenting from Anne Lamott and an excerpt of my book in The Fix.

…one of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one’s secret insanity and brokenness and rage.” 

― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
Greensboro, Vermont

Sweaty Jerseys. The Terrible Mystery.

I knock off work early on Friday afternoon and head west with a friend to our daughters’ soccer game. There’s only so many high school soccer games I’ll attend in my lifetime; I’ve missed plenty this year.

It’s October but feels weirdly like July, with 75 degree temps, sunlight on foliage that’s at peak color. As I drive towards Lake Champlain, the terrain flattens. At the game, where we meet another mother and sprawl on the grass, seagulls swoop low. Flocks of geese fly overhead, forming Vs. At the end, despite the loss, our girls are smiling, hugging us in their sweat-soaked jerseys.

As the sun slips below the horizon, I drive back along that same route, retracing our blue highway journey from flat farming land through the green mountains and along the winding Lamoille River. I keep on through the twilight. A crescent moon hangs to our right. We talk and talk, about the complexity of being teenage females in our world, and then beyond that, too, how the past steers our own lives, hammering through generations.

As I drive, my headlights cutting through the darkness, I keep thinking of Joseph Campbell, whose voluminous writings on myth shaped my thinking since I was a teenager. “Life is, in its very essence and character, a terrible mystery—this whole business of living by killing and eating. But it is a childish attitude to say no to life with all its pain, to say that this is something that should not have been.”

At my house, we stand for a moment beneath the starlight. In my house, our upstairs glass-in porch glows, where my older daughter is taking notes, her laptop streaming a class. My friend drives away, back to her house, but I stand there for a moment longer. I’ve long resisted what I’ve seen as the superficiality of Be Here Now, as though the past doesn’t matter. Suddenly I see I’ve looked at what time means all the wrong way. Be here now with the past — another koan.

I walk up the back steps and flick on the porch light for my youngest child.

….. A few last things. Here’s a New York Times piece on IG and teen girls. Rick Agran of Bon Mot, a show about poetry and the literary arts, on the local Goddard College radio, will broadcast my Galaxy Bookshop event this Sunday, October 10, at 5 p.m.

Last, the Children’s Literacy Foundation hosts a virtual Book Club for Grown-Ups I’ll host, next Friday, October 15, at 7 p.m. The Waterbury Roundabout has details. I have a particular soft spot for CLiF — an organization that gives free books to kids in rural New Hampshire and Vermont. How cool is that??

Dinner Conversation

These Vermont days unfold one after one, exceptionally warm for this time of year. Mornings, I write on our back deck. By dinner time, the air has cooled, so we eat in our little dining room, while the dark descends around our house.

Over dumplings, my teen shares stories of high school, and we chew over the school’s new open campus policy. She talks and talks. Listening, I realize so much of the past year and a half was this strange virtual world. Her stories are mesmerizing with intrigue and merriment, but also laced through with all kinds of complicated things.

No parenting advice here. While I’m on the phone Friday morning in our glassed-in second story porch, pitching a story, I see a Subaru dash into my driveway. My daughter and her friend leap out, laughing. Before I finish my call, they’ve disappeared, deep in their own narratives. They’re serious students, with long thought-out lists of goals. How glad I am to see them together, cackling. Before I head back to work, I brew another pot of coffee and stand on the back porch, listening to the crickets.

Be well, I think. Be happy. Be very careful driving and keep your eyes open. And return and tell me, some at least, of your world.

…. I bought my friend the newest Mary Lawson novel, A Town Called Solace. She’s loaned it back to me.

He’d assumed that you went to school because you had to learn things, starting off with the easy stuff and moving on to the bigger issues, and once you’d learned them that was it, the way ahead opened up and thereafter life was simple and straightforward. What a joke. The older he got, the more complicated and obscure everything became. ” 

— Mary Lawson
Greensboro, Vermont