In a Funk….

On a Saturday afternoon of errands, I yield to my 13-year-old’s desire to drink a latte. There’s no way, she insists, looking down merrily at me, that coffee will stunt my growth.

Surrounded by the gaiety of Montpelier’s holiday shoppers, I overhear a man seated behind my daughter, speaking emphatically, gesturing wildly with his hands. Listening, too, my daughter leans across the table and whispers to me that the man is a member of the sovereign citizens. Both she and I know the phrases he uses, the code, the promise of unfettered freedom to do exactly as you want.

Through the window, I see people I know walking by, talking and laughing.

My daughter asks me why someone would join a cult. I answer I don’t know, but even as I say this, I know I’m half-lying, skimming over the surface of a black miasma rising around us, as I keep watching through the window families walking by, holding packages.

This afternoon — I can feel it deeply inside me, hard as obsidian, as we pass through the dim afternoon and home again — marks the unstoppable point for this girl of true teen — not the bratty, lip-curling caricature our society portrays as adolescence, but a relentless, adamant, justice-driven quest to know why the world is flipped upside-down.

“First Sight”

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

— Philip Larkin


The Physical Good

My 13-year-old’s wild to travel. I see in her eyes, in her schemes, as she wonders where her life will go, which way she can push her boundaries. I understand this sentiment. At 22, I gave little thought to a 9,000 mile cross country trek, save swapping a gas-fueled Toyota for a diesel Rabbit. This was during the first Gulf War, when the price of gas soared.

But now? Maybe it’s the early onset of snow that’s choked so much of Vermont’s roads or — more likely — simply that I’m at the place in life where I think, heck, remain rooted. Figure out this one particular place.

Walking after dark — darkness falls so early, early these days, before I pull out my cutting board to begin preparing supper — I think of Chris Hedges’ line: faith is the belief that the good draws to it the good. I read this good as a verb and not a noun. What a notion — that goodness is a physical force in the universe. I know violence begets violence, that using drugs leads to more drug use, that civility in a house tempers anger, knocks down the edges, and bends dialogue towards decency — and that the inverse of this is true, too.

On our back porch, the wind chimes call in a scatting of cold breeze this morning. Later, in the rising light, cardinals will appear, flashy red against all this white.


Family Lore

My father, visiting, tells the story of his parents driving from Michigan to California, in the fall of 1941. I imagine my father, 4-years-old in the backseat with his much older sister, his parents driving an American-made car on innumerable two-lane highways, in the time when cars were made with tank-quality metal.

Decades before blue jeans and seatbelts, his parents — both Romanian immigrants — must have been on the immigrant road again, traveling not for leisure but to size up the Golden State: could they make a living in this land of sunshine?

They returned with the intention to sell their business and property and move. That early winter, however, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. With the country at war, moving was no longer an option.

In the blue predawn, I lie awake, thinking of the journey of these people, a grandfather I never met, my grandmother and aunt, now long dead. How this terrible war ended the California dream of my grandparents, but made their grocery business; how my dad enrolled in the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he met my mother; and that his sister lived her adult life in southern California.

All a mystery, perhaps, that journey cloaked in the murky past — and yet not, the consequences of those years still unwinding in my life — and my daughters’ lives.

I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation — a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here… Nearly every American hungers to move.

— John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America


Postcard from Hardwick, swimming, 2018