Warmth

When I return home from work in the evening, one cat is stretched on the rug before the wood stove, the other lies on the coffee table, front paws draped over the table’s edge. It’s a scene of utter cat joy.

My daughters are laughing on the couch about something foreign to me — some kind of iPhone. I pull over a chair and sit down with a bowl of potatoes and vegetables and meat.

While they share a story about their negotiations over dinner dishes and compost and wood chores, I soak in the warmth of our living room.

All around us rages the virus, a rising irritability, utter uncertainty over the future. For years, I’ve relied on my ability to figure out a plan. Listening to my girls, I decide this is the heart of my plan: be like the cats. Drink in where we are now. Let that nourish us. And, for God’s sake, laugh at the jokes the kids tell.

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” 

— James Baldwin

Butterflies and Crickets

On a balmy afternoon, I’m on Nature Conservancy Property in Greensboro, Vermont — Barr Hill — the first place my daughters hiked. Nearby lies the glassy blue gem of Lake Caspian.

On my short drive there, I’d been listening to the governor’s twice weekly press conference. By now, like so many people in the state, I’m familiar with Scott’s voice, his cabinet members, and the press. Scott allows the press to ask question after question; these sessions have an interesting kind of intimacy, a we’re going to get through this kind of attitude.

On my way along Barr Hill, I pass rusting old farm equipment in fields where cows are grazing. Here, the past is both near and hidden.

In a field, I paused and admired the view of the mountains and the line of lake. The sky these days is slightly overcast with smoke from the west coast wildfires. Around me, butterflies flew over the blooming goldenrod, and crickets leaped in the dusty path around my feet.

I had such a sense of living in an historic time — the Covid pandemic — and yet I just soaked up that all that sunlight, those tiny flickering wings.

Now, Somewhere in June….

Despite my covering attempts, the frost nipped the edges of a few of my basil plants. I stood in the garden this morning, chilly in my sweater, staring. Such a small, minor loss.

June in Vermont brings us into the dreamy, gauzy period, of fragrant lilacs and gentle breeze through the new leaves. This year, June brings the nightmare side of the dream world, too, in these days full of tension.

Which way will we go? The days and nights are filled with tension. A nerve-racking doubt wakes me in the night. The windows are closed against the cold. I remind myself that, even in the wake of what appears insurmountable, our individual lives matter, that history has always swept us along, and the only meaningful way forward is step by step.

In a bit, I get up and feed the cats, then pull on my jacket and stand on the porch, watching as the stars slowly fade.

Among a large class, there seemed to be a dependence upon the government for every conceivable thing. The members of this class had little ambition to create a position for themselves, but wanted the federal officials to create one for them. How many times I wished then and have often wished since, that by some power of magic, I might remove the great bulk of these people into the country districts and plant them upon the soil – upon the solid and never deceptive foundation of Mother Nature, where all nations and races that have ever succeeded have gotten their start – a start that at first may be slow and toilsome, but one that nevertheless is real.

Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery

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Photo by Gabriela Stanciu — myself and brother

Bright Lights, Sparkly City

This stepping out of the nest thing?

Wow, has the internet changed the world from my 20th-century youth. Via I-phone, my rural Vermont daughters rented their first solo AirBnb in Maine, to check out a college. My older daughter texts: It’s busy here. So much is happening.

Ocean, lights, dinner in a hippie place kind of like Vermont.

Meanwhile, the cats and I have holed up in my office, eating curry and drinking espresso. Plenty happening here, too.

I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.

— George McGovern

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Photo by Molly S.

Lemons and Rabbits

When my first daughter was two, my mother sewed her a dress she called “The Peter Rabbit Dress” — pink, her favorite color then, with a print of little Peter Rabbits holding baskets. A few years later, she was happy to pass this dress along to her little sister.

Last weekend, on an impulse, I bought this 20-year-old daughter a summer dress, with an elegant lemon pattern. I haven’t bought her a dress in years, since she began working and buying her own clothes, but this dress seemed exactly perfect for her.

At 20, she’s a variation of who she was at 4 — smart and funny, determined to make her own decisions, as fallible as the rest of us. Her birthright, though, goes far beyond a print of rabbits or lemons. As much as any man — despite Alabama’s draconian bent — she’s at the helm of her own ship, in seas of all weather.

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Happy Arkhipov Day

Two mothers relax on the floor of my library with their babies when my dad sends me an email reminding me that October 27 is Arkhipov Day. Not yet a year old, the babies haven’t begun to walk. Their smiles rise so radiantly joyous you instinctively smile back. Sleet drills against the library windows.

On October 27, 1962, Vasili Arkhipov refused to agree with his fellow Soviet submarine officers and fire a nuclear-tipped torpedo at the USS Randolph, preventing the nuclear holocaust that would have World War III.

The mothers check out children’s books, bundle up their babies again, and head out into the sleet that’s turned to wet snowflakes: everyday Vermont.

World War III was averted not by decisions in the White House or in the Kremlin, but in the sweltering control room of a Soviet submarine. Vasili Arkhipov saved the world. We should celebrate his obedience to humankind, not to the Nation-State, on October 27, Arkhipov Day, a proposed international holiday by students of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

— George Stanciu. For more about Vasili Arkhipov and my dad, read here.

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