Thorns.

In one Tolstoy novel (where, I can’t remember), the characters sat down for a moment in their house before they undertook a journey. It’s a Russian tradition that seems incredibly wise.

Yesterday, before my daughters set off on a journey — short but intense — we paused in the kitchen while my oldest zipped up her high heel boots. My youngest and I checked the oil in her car. I repeated the directions and route numbers of their journey.

Later that afternoon, I paused my work and listen to the sentencing for Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. How much more evident could it be that our world must change, and maybe is changing? How hard, how utterly painful, this is.

My daughters call in the early evening when I’m clipping dead ends from the roses in our front yard. No one has tended these beauties for years. While our society’s drama unfolds, our own family craziness unfolds — as does the complicated story of everyone else’s family.

I drop a thorny twig in my bucket and imagine my daughters driving along the interstate with their sunglasses and summer shirts, the sunroof open, eating French fries. Sisters on the open road.

“Real power doesn’t come from having a million followers, good hair, a Louis Vuitton purse, a new car, a new home, a title, a partner, or anything that can be weighed, measured, or acquired. Real power is the thing you’ve always had inside you… Real power can never be taken away from you and never lost once it’s found.” 

— Holly Whitaker, Quit Like A Woman

Face From the Past

Every bird around us is singing this morning. The garden luxuriates in a clinging dew.

Unexpectedly, a woman I worked with for a number of years texts me with news she’s in town for a few days. We had last in early March, just before our world shut down.

We take a walk through the town forest and catch up on kids and work. Then, for a few minutes we stand in the parking lot, and our conversation branches a different way.

She asks about when my daughter and I were quarantining after my daughter contracted Covid. In those long days, waiting to see whether I (who wasn’t yet vaccinated) would contract Covid, too, I painted the window trim in our front porches, a blue light blue color called Innocence. While painting, I listened to hours of Derek Chauvin’s homicide trial.

So much of our lives, I muse, is simply circumstance — we’re white women, living in Vermont, with particular backgrounds and education. How much of our lives do we choose, and how smartly do we make decisions of what we do choose? It’s a question that’s been asked myriad ways in the past year, in innumerable ways.

Driving home, I keep wondering, what do we do with this now?

Ceremony.

High school graduation this year is under an enormous white tent, surrounded by the community. Not everyone is pleased with the arrangement — that’s pretty much a given — but the tent looks regal, the weather is magnificent, and, well, we’re still pulling out of a pandemic.

I chose a seat in the sun just under the edge of the tent. The principal’s speech goes on and on, and I begin to wonder, where are you headed with this, David, when suddenly I begin to guess. He’s facing the sixty or so graduates, speaking directly to them, about the hard year and a half they’ve endured. A few months before the pandemic, a member of their class committed suicide. Shortly afternoon, the pandemic shut down our world.

Looking through the tent and over the soccer field, I see people I know in one way or another, and many more I don’t know at all. Listening, I feel the principal’s speech pulling us together, acknowledging the difficulty of these past 15 months without bitterness or regret, the layers of isolation and anxiety, of political division, of frustration with a world turned awry.

He asks us to breathe in deeply, collectively.

Around us, the sunlight sparkles on the grass. A tiny girl stands outside the tent, her long hair unbrushed, staring in.

The strange thing is, I can’t breathe in deeply; I’ve been holding my breath for so long. But looking around, I realize these friends and acquaintances and strangers are collectively here for one reason — to champion our youth forward — and for the first time, I begin to feel (not think, not believe, but feel) that the way forward is indeed opening.

Chaos, Roses, Life.

Friday morning, I’m washing the breakfast dishes when warm liquid runs over my bare toes. For the briefest moment, I think I’m standing in the edge of a warm ocean, and then I realize my kitchen sink drain has broken apart. Gallons of dishwater flow over the floor. 

I’ve cobbled the drain together before, but this time, I’ll actually need to fix it.

My daughter picks up a worried cat and assures him that, indeed, the drain will be fixed.

Midday, when I’ve finished work at my desk, I drive to the hardware store with a section of PVC. I’ve forgotten a mask; those cloths are at home, drying on the clothesline. I sigh, irritated. I have a six other things I want to do, besides drive around. 

But the thing is, I see a huge sign outside the store: masks are no longer required for the fully vaccinated. For the first time in however long, I walk into a store without a mask.

This has been a week of chaos. We all have these days or weeks, or maybe even decades. Who doesn’t? We’re humans, who live in a material world that’s constantly shifting (even if only incrementally) from well-put-together to chaos. The flip side, I suppose, is that sometimes we manage to arrange chaos back to order.

As in my kitchen sink: after dinner, I wash the dishes, and no flood alarms the cats.

By evening, I haven’t bought to tickets from Vermont to New Mexico to visit my parents, as I’m unable to surmount the chaos of the airline world. I haven’t eradicated my fears about my 16-year-old, driving around, heading into the adult world in what’s practically a heartbeat. The woodchucks are still doggedly determined to rise up around my gardening realm.

From the tangle of rosebushes someone planted long ago, I clip a single blossom. A thorn pricks my thumb, and a thin line of blood wells up. I touch the blossom to my blood and wipe my thumb clean.

Rain

Just before dawn, a brief thunderstorm breaks apart and cools our world, followed by a dawn suffused with rosy and gold light. Much of the town might be sleeping, but the birds aren’t.

The clouds move in again and swallow up the colorful dawn with gray.

The human world around us unfolds in its uniquely human way, clumsy and jerking as vaccination rates rises. There’s a larger story of who contributes to herd immunity and who’s riding unvaxxed along the vaccinated wave. It’s a very, very complex story, with outcomes that aren’t even approaching murky yet. At the heart of this is that eternal koan, How do we know anything?

A koan the pandemic hasn’t made any easier.

I open all our house’s windows and the cool, rain-washed air rushes through.

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 . . .