In fresh snow, I walk through the little neighborhoods around us. One man shovels snow. A few plow trucks hurry through. It’s nearing dinner, and streetlights are turning on, one by one, in the December twilight.
It’s been a week of phone calls and problems with no clear solutions, simply the inevitable change that comes to all our earthly doings. I’ve wandered on this walk without real intention, drifting away from chopping firewood and shoveling paths.
I turn a corner and see a house where I once bought sugaring equipment from a man who lived there. He’s passed on, and his wife sold the house and moved away. A family lives there now. Two little boys call at each other in the street. There’s no traffic about, and they’re standing beneath the streetlight. As I walk closer, I see their heads are back, and they’re catching falling snowflakes in their open mouths. Their voices are loud and excited about this small thing.
A man comes out and says, Get in the car. They get in the backseat of an idling car, and he drives away. Back at my house, my daughters have brought in the night’s firewood and swept the floor.
And because bell hooks was so amazing, another line from her:
For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?“
I stopped for a flock of crows this morning on my drive to work, half a dozen or so of them, pecking at roadkill. In the slow way of November, the birds contemplated me and then turned back to their feast.
For a moment, I got out of the car, just me and the crows and the morning too cold to be damp. Eight crows, two yellow lines, one dead tree, and all that snowy field and sky around me.
Driving, I had been thinking of the poet Lucille Clifton, who wrote the saddest poem I’ve ever read, “The Lost Baby Poem.” The poem that needs no commentary, nothing further.
Clifton wrote about sorrow, but plenty more, too. She advised, “You might as well answer the door, my child,/the truth is furiously knocking.” It’s a line I’ve returned to over and over in my life, one of my guiding stars. This November morning, cawing crows opened my Subaru door.
I step out in the morning dark to get kindling from the barn. I’m grateful for many things, but a hot hearth is high on my gratitude list. The sprawling cats concur.
In the night, snow has fallen, a cold wind blows, and winter has spread out her garments. She’s here to stay.
At Thanksgiving, my daughters asked why I didn’t stay in the Pacific Northwest, where I went to graduate school. One reason was that I missed the drama of New England’s seasons. On this late November morning, I remind myself of this love for Vermont, that the need for winter’s stillness and beauty is driven as deeply into my body and soul as May’s blue squill around my house.
Here’s a link to a radio show at WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont, I did with my former US Attorney Christina Nolan, who appears in Unstitched— a woman I greatly admire.
In the dark, we walk downtown and leave letters in the mailbox. Through the valley’s mist, house and streetlights glow. November looms. Poet Thomas Hood described November: “No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.”
The news around us is of two, unrelated homicides, neither far from our house, in our rural state with scant violent crime. In the dark, I bring in an armful of wood and pause for a moment. Across the valley, I see a pair of headlights crest a dark hillside and begin a descent, slow to my eyes through the mist.
Through the house windows, I see my daughters before the wood stove, our walls painted butter-yellow. The crickets are gone. Late fall pushes in. Every year, the darkness enfolds us again, inescapable and mysterious.
Late afternoon finds me running along the former railroad bed in a rare kind of October sunlight — a gift of warmth and honeyed autumn light. I stop where I always do, where the transformation from railroad bed to trail hasn’t happened yet. The rusting iron bridge is covered with boards, and I’m careful there.
Where a giant hole gapes with a view of the Lamoille River below, someone has spray painted You Die Here and an arrow pointing down, as if the passerby couldn’t put that hole and a potential demise together. I stand there and affirm, Sure, that would be a bad fall.
An otter runs along the riverbank, slips beneath the water, and surfaces again. Two ducks glide slowly. I crouch at that edge for a good long while, in no particular rush to head back on that trail.
In the end, of course, there’s nothing else to do but tighten my laces. My feet crunch through the fallen leaves that are piling high, releasing that inimitable scent of broken leaf and moist soil — the smell of a New England childhood.