Vermont Respite

While the daughters tie their kayaks on roof racks, I sit in the grass, keeping company with hungry bumblebees in the rhododendrons.

This hardy plant is doing its thing now, a visual symphony of color.

Spring crickets, garden soil under my toenails, pond water in my hair. And still, early June.

Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are. We are often like rivers: careless and forceful, timid and dangerous, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still.

Gretel Ehrlich

Sweet June

Summer in Vermont is so brief that every day matters — or maybe that’s just me, and my own particular worries.

Early Saturday morning and the day stretches ahead. Planting in the garden before the rain. Work emails to answers. A grant project to review. Read on the porch.

A few lines from the incomparable Walt Whitman:

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,

Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,

With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love . . .

Unfolding, Opening Up

Midday Friday, I’m driving and listening to the Governor’s Friday press conference. For maybe 14 months now, the Governor and his cabinet have answered questions from the press all over Vermont every Tuesday and Friday — with no time limit.

I’m listening so intently, I make a wrong turn, back around, and drive on a dirt road along a river, looking for a bridge and the chance to cross. It’s May, and the roadside are strewn with brilliantly gold marsh marigolds.

I cross, then pull over and clamber down a steep embankment to the river. I’m late, already, to where I’m headed, but this May midday is so green and warm, so filled with sunlight and the promise of spring, that I feel out-of-time, as if this moment might linger forever.

I crouch near the current, broken in place by rocks that have been worn down by the ages of water and ice. I remember, so long ago, in March 2020, listening to one of the Governor’s first press conferences about the pandemic, standing in my living room with my youngest. She was delighted to be out of school for a bit; I kept wondering, what is happening?

Now, so many months later, I’ve heard hours of: look at the facts, admit what you don’t know, be decent to others, and act as a member of a society. As a writer, I interpret this as context matters. We live in the context.

We’re somewhere in May now, the ice cream cone season in Vermont. Eventually, I take off my sandals and walk barefoot up that riverbank, the day drenched in beauty.

The cool breeze.

With all his strength

The cricket.

— Issa

Travels

Saturday, my daughter and I drive through Montpelier, Vermont’s capitol city. I’m in the passenger seat, as I always seem to be these days, while she negotiates intersects. Who has right-of-way? When can you turn right on red?

Eventually, she parks, and we walk around town.

At a take-out window, I order her a milkshake. Since she can’t walk down the street and drink a milkshake with a mask, we sit on the state house lawn, while she drinks the milkshake. I lie back beneath the immense maple tree and remember nursing her here, sixteen summers ago.

Eventually, she looks at me, and says, There’s so many people.

It’s true; people are walking back and forth to the farmers’ market. College students are playing frisbee. Families are everywhere. But it’s also Vermont and not particularly populous.

At just a few weeks shy of sixteen, my daughter straddles that terrain between girl and woman, beautiful and strong and curious.

Looking at her, I marvel that over a year of her life has been spent in such isolation, our world shuttered up.

On our walk back to our car, we stop beneath the crab apple blossoms and breathe in. Spring.

Yes
William Stafford
 
It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out––no guarantees
in this life.
But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

Roaming

Hard up for reading material, I get my 15-year-old to drive to Craftsbury, where I raid the free book pile on the porch.

In this village, we see no one, not a single human soul, only two geese flying overhead. It’s late Saturday afternoon, and she keeps driving on the dirt roads, heading by the Outdoor Center where I worked many years ago, and then by the summer camp where she spent happy summer weeks.

The road crests by the old farmhouse where our friends lived for years, and where we spent so many happy hours. She slows, and we look carefully. The house has been freshly painted and glows a pale yellow on that green hillside.

In one of those strange twists of fate, my former husband and I had also considered buying this house before our friends — who were not yet our friends — did. At that time, the farmhouse hadn’t been inhabited for a few years. A couple with two children had lived there, divorced, and the house had been snarled in the divorce.

In one bedroom, in place of a headboard, pillows had been stapled to the wall. I remember thinking, Who would ever think that’s a good idea?

I ask her to pull over on the side of the road. I get out for a moment and walk into the field where I stand looking at the ridge of mountains in the distance, the house on the hillside, and all that sky overhead.

A pickup pulls up beside my daughter, speaks to her, and drives off. I walk back to the car and asked what happened.

She says, He asked if I needed help. I told him it was just my mother.

She puts the car in gear, and we roll forward, picking up speed along the road. She glances at me sideways and says, I didn’t tell him you wanted to see how far along the tree buds are. That would just be weird.

 Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of ‘psst’ that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.

David Foster Wallace

The Me World V. Context

The May my youngest daughter was born, rain fell every day that month. Day after day of deepening sogginess, the earth drinking up that water. She was born on the very last day of May, and in early June, nibs of corn nosed up through the black, plowed fields.

This May, I wake early, long before light, listening to the robins singing sweetly in the tree outside my window, our little cat pressed near the screen, more interested in birds than breakfast in his bowl.

And so our lives unfold, a summer of plans unfurling slowly, tentatively around us. I live in the state with the highest Covid vaccination rate, but around us swirls this debate about vaccinating, particularly among the young adults. Listening, I think of those young sprouts of corn, how each shoot needs the earth for growth, the rain for water, the sun for nourishment. It’s impossible to grow alone; impossible to live alone.

Against all probability our bulbs have blossomed,

opened their white rooms, given their assent.

I pull myself from your breathing to take a closer look.

It happened overnight.

Laura Case, “Morning”