Hill Farms

A drawback to easy-access tech is a proliferation of images, everywhere.

And then, this. From the library, I picked up Richard W. Brown’s The Last of the Hill Farms: Echoes of Vermont’s Past, a stunning book published by Godine, with the most amazing black and white photographs of rural farming Vermont.

Check out page 95, with the moon sailing over a barn’s cupola, righteously high with a cow weathervane, intimating great height over farm fields. Broken-paned, paint peeling,

There it is: that elegant, perpetual juxtaposition of human endeavor and the lasting beauty of our landscape.

A neglected landscape silently gathered the patina of the passing years. Weather stained the unpainted barns and farmhouses the color of tarnished silver and gently bowed their rooflines with the weight of one hundred winters’ snow. Seemingly forgotten by the rush of progress, they aged with a poignant grace: spare, worn, yet, to my eye, hauntingly beautiful.

— Richard W. Brown, The Last of the Hill Farms

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Empty Rooms

I haven’t bought a house in twenty years, and I’ve never sold one. In my teens and twenties, I lived in all kinds of places, from a tipi to a trailer to a string of apartments, but my daughters have lived in this rural house their whole lives.

House hunting in Vermont’s February means walking through empty houses with the heat off and the windows frosted: an exercise in imagination. The younger daughter sizes up where she would put her bike and trampoline, how her bunk bed might fit in a room. I crouch down and study plumbing, pick at linoleum with my car keys to see what wood lies beneath. Like approaching a piece of writing, I gnaw over mechanics – plumbing, roof, how to heat, affordability – but I’m also listening to the house. Does it sing to us beneath the layers of other people’s living? Where will the moonlight shine in? Can these rooms fill with our living?

My older daughter argues. Later, I realize she outdid me at what I was doing: she and her camera sought out beauty.

Maybe learning how to be out in the big world isn’t the epic journey everyone thinks it is. Maybe that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is what’s right in front of you. The hard part is learning how to hold the title to your very existence, to own not only property, but also your life.

Meghan Daum, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House

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window frost in Hardwick/photo by Molly S.

Slouching out of the Teen Years

This morning the February light shone with that clear and pure quality, as if it might endlessly extend, as far cry from December’s cramped miserliness.

Three nights running now, I found myself after midnight slouching on the couch with my daughter, talking, talking. If there’s any theme to my life and my writing these days, it should include both conversation and crackling woodstove. Domesticity.

I realized last night this young woman and I have entirely emerged from her teenage years. That’s it. All that angst folded up, as if in a fist. Our conversation is sometimes deep running, and sometimes merely about the daily pieces of our lives – who’s picking up the little sister, forward me that email, what do you think about tacos for dinner tomorrow – the day-to-day stuff that comprises our lives. Breathe deep.

Here’s a line from early morning novel reading, one of Obama’s recommendations.

He told her that every one of her enemies, all the masters and overseers of her suffering, would be punished, if not in this world then the next, for justice may be slow and invisible, but it always renders its true verdict in the end.

– Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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Shadows

July has reached the point where it’s tipping into August, early summer already flown past. Biking with my daughter along the road last night, I felt the shadows’ coolness, their dimness harboring a deepening darkness.

Nonetheless, growth roars on, the elecampane blooming way up there, above my head.

WITHOUT

we live in a small island stone nation
without color under gray clouds and wind
distant the unlimited ocean acute
lymphoblastic leukemia without seagulls
or palm trees without vegetation
or animal life only barnacles and lead
colored moss that darkens when months do
hours days weeks months weeks days hours
the year endures without punctuation…

the sea unrelenting wave gray the sea
flotsam without islands broken crates
block after block the same house the mall
no cathedral no hobo jungle the same women
and men they long to drink hayfields
without dog or semicolon or village square
without monkey or lily without garlic

– Donald Hall

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Photo by Gabriela