Ocean Waters at 80 Degrees?

The other night, I drove home in my fossil-fuel burning Toyota, thinking about the library program I’d just attend where a meteorologist kept returning to our “weird weather.”

Standing in the back of the Woodbury Town Hall, a righteous old building whose front door swung in the frosty night, I drank hot tea, shivering a little. He had data – reams of it – and reading one particular chart, I noted the sharp curves right around the year 2050. I couldn’t help but think, We’re seriously fucked. What kind of world might my daughters inhabit when they’re 40, wandering through their lost-in-Dante’s-miserable-woods? What kind of world will your daughters and sons, your grandsons and granddaughters inherit?

I’d like to write that the stars overhead, when I walked into my house, reassured me, but – their distant beauty notwithstanding – the firmament did not. Today, again, pondering the unclear future, I reminded myself that where I’ve always failed is when I narrow my vision to fear, to repugnance, to outright hatred. Here’s all these contradictions, like driving my car to an info session on carbon emissions. Isn’t this the way of the human realm?

Like a muscle, deepen imagination.

Beyond the low iron fence (of the graveyard), cows graze…
All that brute flesh wandering close to graves –
how calm it is –
like two hands about to touch.

– Howard Nelson


Domesticity at our house…

Gold and Gray

In Vermont, November is knitting season, time to pull out your stash and see what might make a decent hat. This purple paired up with that long-ago blue from a child’s vest?

November is also the season of pulling the house finally tight against the winter, an odds and ends Sunday of mulching garlic and wrapping a glassed-in upstairs porch against the cold.

My 18-year-old and I left the younger girls crafting tissue paper flowers today and drove north up gray Route 16, flanked by patches of those golden tamarack torches. On a tip from Ben Hewitt, we were in search of doors, passing Crystal Lake, white-capped and as cold-looking as the Maine Atlantic.

Following directions, I stopped at the place with the dozer and knocked on a metal door. A man opened the door and said, Well, that’s a first, no one ever knocks.

I told my daughter, Bear that in mind. Don’t knock here again.

He was extremely genial and somehow in our conversation we went all over the place, from Vermont to the post office to Michigan, to a mother-in-law. Following him in a cavernous shop, against the back wall, he showed us gorgeous wooden doors, far better than I had imagined, with double panes, solid against the cold, and yet the kind of door that would let in streams of sunlight.

He asked how many doors we wanted, and while I said two, what I really wanted was to wander through that shop and see what-all was there. The doors, I had the sense, were just the beginning.

Outside, my daughter asked to go to Willoughby, just a few miles more. On this November day, time was suspended – somewhere in the not-yet-dark spectrum. The last time we had been here was a fine day of hiking and swimming with the cousins.

My mother recently remarked that it’s hard to believe my oldest is all grown up now – or nearly so. Sixteen years ago, I was driving around in an old blue Volvo, delivering syrup, while she chattered in the backseat and pretended to read the atlas. On one of my longest delivery trips, hopelessly lost in a tangle of dirt roads in Waitsfield, I pulled over, grabbed a handful of pebbles from the roadside, and she dropped them one by one into a plastic water bottle, emptied the small stones in her lap, and did it again, all the way home. Not so, now.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope.

– E. B. White


Lake Willoughby, Vermont

Balmy Days (Yet)

This autumn gives us day after day of warmth, and while the days’ length dwindles, the light oddly expands as the branches shake down their leaves, opening up the landscape around our house and on the distant mountains, too.

The cold will come. That isn’t an if; it’s a when. At its front, our house has a two-story glassed-in porch, and, pretty as these windowed rooms are, I can imagine January wind and grainy snow drifting through these old panes.

It’s October, time of house arts-and-crafts. The girls wash the windows, and my older daughter weather-strips with caulk, smoothing the beads. I bury crocus and snowdrop bulbs in the front flowerbed, smoothing the soil over these knots of roots. We leave the doors wide open, and sunlight fills our rooms. The neighbor’s little white dog comes to visit.

The crow
walks along there
as if it were tilling the field.

– Issa



On a late afternoon, I walked out of the Montpelier Library and down the street. The trees along the street were shedding their pale yellow leaves in a balmy, golden light; the sidewalks were busy with children, the afternoon commute already inching its way home.

I walk this way frequently, and always, at one particular place, in front of the stately Montpelier Inn, I remember one evening I stood there, many years ago, with my baby daughter on my back. It was late October then, although I don’t remember any cold. Instead, I remember swaying from foot to foot, already habituated to holding a baby – in my arms or on my back – and watching the twilight creep in, the day’s pale light slowly passing to dusk.

I remember that afternoon-slash-evening as one of the longest pauses in my adult life, waiting for someone who never appeared. Later, I realized my message had gotten lost along the way.

It’s odd, how even in the sunniest and lightest moments of our lives, there’s the past we keep walking through – and I do keep walking, every time, heading back into the busyness of my life – this afternoon, at least, graced with that lovely autumn light.

The trees go on burning
Without ravage of loss or disorder.

From Donald Hall’s “Letter In Autumn”



Round and Round

Autumn is my Proust’s cup of tea, recollecting for me all those childhood afternoons I walked home from elementary school, scuffing through knee-piles of fallen leaves, as they crumbled and broke, releasing their rich humusy scent.

Each morning, my 12-year-old hoists her backpack and walks across the dewy lawn, leaping over the chain link and heading down the cemetery hill. Sometimes she looks back over her shoulder to see if I’m watching; sometimes she disappears into her day without a look back, unconsciously and imaginatively creating her own teacup of memories.

While the landscape shines postcard-pretty, behind our back porch the  box elders shake loose their leaves, and up-close we’re beginning to see what was hidden under the summer’s greenery. My 12-year-old fantasizes about a zip line from the porch deep into the ravine. Her eyes sparkle as she imagines flying down that ravine, deep into the heart of a place not yet well-known.

this piercing cold—
in the bedroom, I have stepped
on my dead wife’s comb


– Ueda



Years ago, my friend and I started this saying between the two of us – Are you in your spot? Generally, our given spots were the kitchen sink in those days, which pretty much sums up why we spent so much time laughing about what might appear to be a lame joke.

These days, our spots have widened – portable now, thanks to MacBooks.

My younger daughter’s spot in those days was with her sister. Even as an infant, strapped on my chest, her little brown eyes always tracked to her sibling. When she was two, her older sister toted her on her back. Like anyone else, they bicker; they fight. Sometimes they make each other cry. But when the teenager’s now-ex-boyfriend said they spent too much time together, the teenager said simply, We’re sisters. I consider this an incredible stroke of good luck, an amelioration of some of my parenting mishaps.

I remembered all this today when I read this sweet children’s book, The Big Wet Balloon, about the complexity of sisterhood, even as very young children.

I want to thank
my sister for loving me, which taught me
to love. I’m not sure what she loved in me,
besides my love for her—maybe
that I was a copy of her, half-size—
then three-quarters, then size. In the snapshots, you see her
keeping an eye on me, I was a little wild
and I said silly things, and she would laugh her serious
laugh. My sister knew things,
sometimes she knew everything,
as if she’d been born knowing….

From Sharon Olds’ “Ode to My Sister”