Last Sunday in this July

Early Sunday morning, the cat wakes me by biting my toes. Get up! Get up!

Camping on a lake, my younger daughter wrote us news of the loons calling crazily all night long. I think of her listening to those ghostly, ineffably beautiful songs, how years from now she’ll hear loons calling and think of sleeping on that lake shore.

At an art opening recently, a friend and I heard the artist speak. The artist said sometimes you see life more clearly, with precision, and other times through a mist or fog.

This morning, fog has already melted from garden. On my list of clear-thinking things to do — bake a pie with my 19-year-old. Swim.

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.

— Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

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Sign of Spring, Hardwick, VT, #8

Raising teenagers so often feels in your face hard — sometimes breathtakingly hilarious, sometimes just not.

I remind myself of running rivers. Not far from us, Buffalo Mountain’s watershed drains into Cooper Brook, which runs around the log yard and by the old granite cutting fields into the Lamoille, which bends its sinuous way through town. Watching drone footage over our town, my daughters remark on the river’s size, its curves all through town, and how we take its mighty presence for granted.

On a Sunday walk today, robins flocked around us. Ahead, a woodchuck disappeared down a hole. Garden predators are stirring, too!

….There’s one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day…..

From Maxine Kumin’s “Woodchucks”


A $5 Rainbow-Bright Kickball

My cheerful kids returned yesterday with a bright pink blow-up beach ball they found on a back road. The older daughter, driving, had pulled over, so the 12-year-old and her friend ran back along the ice-rutted road for the garish pink ball. At home, they mended the gash with silver duct tape.

Vermont’s March palette lies heavy on variations of white — the pureness of fresh snow, the near-gray of thawed ice refrozen with dirt particles — dark green pine, the black of gravel roads where the town crew has strewn sand, the crimson patches on redwing blackbirds.

Full of spring energy with the lengthy daylight after dinner, the girls and I walked around the neighborhood. The younger splashed through a puddle and noted she stepped over the moon’s reflection. I bought the girls a $5 kickball, striped in rainbow colors. Deep into twilight, so cold we kept blowing on our bare hands, the girls and I played four-square, that brilliantly-colored ball bouncing through the thickening dusk.

And then the girls took the ball inside and played in her bedroom, confusing the cats.

Here’s the artwork from the newest issue of Taproot, with an essay I wrote about our house. The artist’s creation is a remarkable likeness, both in architecture and emotion, although the blossom season hasn’t yet returned…..


“This Infuriatingly Intricate Web”

A well-known local author mentioned at the most recent of his readings I attended that he’s writing a book about koans – a book I can’t wait to read, because isn’t life just a series of unfolding koans? Have I ever actually solved one? Some days, it seems to me, not likely.

My daughter spied a V of geese winging south yesterday, the first we’ve seen of this season, but one among countless Vs we’ve watched since she was a tiny girl, her arm crooked around my neck. Fall is familiar, graciously beautiful, infinitely sad, followed by the brilliant beauty of sparse winter: the same Vermont story, year after year, and yet I’m always surprised by the September mornings’ cool mist, the cucumber vines shriveling, all done with this life.

Cooking dinner yesterday, I read an article in the New Yorker about that terrible disease, cancer. Innocuously enough, the article begins with mollusks in Lake Michigan, journeys through seed and soil, and ends with a koan:

… as ambitious cancer researchers study soil as well as seed, one sees the beginnings of a new approach. It would return us to the true meaning of “holistic”: to take the body, the organism, its anatomy, its physiology—this infuriatingly intricate web—as a whole. Such an approach would help us understand the phenomenon in all its vexing diversity; it would help us understand when you have cancer and when cancer has you. It would encourage doctors to ask not just what you have but what you are.

– Siddhartha Mukherjee



Put on Sunglasses

Thaw. The wind screamed all night, breaking the deep cold’s back, strewing broken branches around our house, and even shattering a storm window. In return, we have a reprieve from the deep cold, and the earth – still buried beneath snow – exudes the fragrance of spring’s promise, albeit months yet in the coming.

That there’s promise in scent is remarkable in these monochrome winter days, when much of the talk seems about politics and what the future might bring. None of us know.

My teenager insisted on driving to school this morning on an icy road. I gave her two pieces of advice and let her go. How could I keep her now, at nearly 18-years-old? It’s been overcast for months in Vermont, and perhaps all over the country, and yet she and her friends insist on wearing sunglasses, these young women, so full of giddy promise.

Old man’s love affair;
in trying to forget it,
a winter rainfall.

– Buson

Sap line

E.R. Visit

Doubtlessly, I talk too much with my teenager, as if I can fortress a wall comprised of vowel and consonant around her. Yesterday took an unexpected curve when she had a knuckle stitched up in Morrisville’s ER. Dark thread; alabaster skin.

In hours of waiting, just once I asked her to look at her gauze-wrapped knuckle. I asked, Do you see what my words mean?

This girl pushing-hard-toward-womanhood said one word: Yes.

Yes. A word overspilling with meaning, used in manifold humdrum ways (is it raining yet? do you want more kale? would you wash that laundry?) and then, in that afternoon, between the two of us – mother and daughter –that word arched between us in the clearest possible manner, resonating with all our 17 years together.

Do you see what I mean? Yes.

That yes acknowledged the misery of the present ER, the unwieldy bulk of the past, and yet that yes joined us, mother and daughter. Yes to my love for her, and yes in her acceptance of my love.

Parenting books are chock-full of advice, both decent and downright dumb. Seeing my daughter’s hand x-rayed, with her long elegant bones, ethereal in beauty, hidden beneath the bloody tear of her flesh, pulled me down into that near wordless place where only a few things matter.

Rain began falling as I drove home around Elmore Lake too cold for swimming this late in the season, and the autumn leaves golden and crimson on the familiar mountain. My brother, home with the 11-year-olds, holding up the pieces of my domestic life, had texted a request for paper towels and beer. My daughter and I stopped at the small Elmore store, where years ago this girl had eaten her first grape popsicle. My friend had carefully split that frozen treat in two equal halves for two 2-year-olds. She had used a plastic toy saw as a tool.

Going that final stretch home, I drove slowly, the two of us eating chocolate chip cookies and talking.

Where you stumble and fall, there you will find gold.

– Joseph Campbell

Summer of 17, Greensboro, Vermont