I’m late to a meeting at the library I’ll participate in when I stop in the parking lot. In the wetlands behind the library, a red-wing blackbird sings. I can’t see the bird. This isn’t a flock; a bird calls and chirrups, that old familiar, unmistakable sound of spring. I’ve driven, in years past, on the hunt, just to hear this bird.

A few years ago, by chance I met a friend outside the Woodbury, VT, post office. We stood talking about something we found mutually so enjoyable, while in a winter-bare maple tree, a flock of these beauties sang. Spring! we marveled.

This year, I remember how long and hard mud season is, most rightfully a season worthy of its own true name. Hence, love of little things like tiny birds.

The river is moving.   

The blackbird must be flying.   

~ Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

Breezy Walk. A Stranger.

March in February — the fields are beginning to open, at least for this afternoon, for this particular moment. I park by the side of the road and take the long way where I’m going, by foot, my hat off, jacket unzipped, letting the wind pull at my hair.

I’m snapping a photo of a field and the sky when a car pulls over at the side of the road. There’s no one else around, and for a moment I wonder if he’s a landowner, angry or just curious what I’m doing. Wednesday afternoon, and no one is around.

He gets out of his mud-splattered white car, laughing, and asks for directions back to a paved road. He was visiting someone and took “the other way.” I laugh back, and we joke about where the other way in Vermont leads someone.

We stand there, joking, the dirt road both melting and already beginning to freeze again as we speak.

When he gets in his car and disappears down the road, I stand for a moment longer. I’d wanted nothing more than wind in my eyes, sunlight on my face. Fait accompli. Then it’s back to civilization for me, too.

“I feel my life start up again, 

like a cutting when it grows

the first pale and tentative

root hair in a glass of water.” 

— Jane Kenyon

Book Rec.

By chance, I start reading a book of letters exchanged between a photographer and a prisoner, an exchange in 2020 that opens a view into these two men, into our country, and into art. I devour the book. The book’s title is The Parameters of Our Cage, and I keep thinking about the cages culture constructs and we construct in our own lives. It’s a question I’ve returned to, over and over in my life. So much of my life’s hours have been devoted, in one way or another, to writing. As the pandemic has created higher walls and sturdier cages, writing, art, human imagination, are increasingly powerful. Utterly necessary.

I wake to a perfect zero degrees this morning. Our house is thankfully warm and pleasant, but the cold is ever present. There’s immense snow south of here, but again the storm has sheered off to sea.

The most profound art is generated out of the depths of a personal place, then becomes an entity in its own right thus developing a different layer of function that requires a social aspect or nature.

C. Fausto Cabrera

Understanding Ice.

Caspian Lake, Greensboro, Vermont

In the late afternoon, on a day just a little above zero, I walk through the woods down to edge of the lake. I come out of the woods where Porter Brook feeds into the lake, and the ice there, despite the cold, looks thinnish. There’s no one around at all. In the summer, that stretch of beach is noisy with vacationers. But now, even not a crow appears.

The post-holiday surge of Covid rages around us. These are not the cheeriest of days. My father, sister, nephew, and I — triangulated around the United States — decide to read and virtually converse about Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease To Understand the World — in essence, the perfect title for our times.

Live in New England long enough, and you crave the return of ice, the experience of cold and clean winter, the turning around of seasons. The ice will pass, too. Cold, I crouch at the ice’s edge. A squirrel skitters out of the hemlocks and chitters at me before scampering off. Then it’s just me for a moment, and all that sky and the mysteries of the frozen lake. In January, the days give cold and a few extra minutes of sunlight….

Here’s the opening lines of Labatut’s book:

In a medical examination on the eve of the Nuremburg Trials, the doctors found the nails of Hermann Göring’s fingers and toes stained a furious red, the consequence of his addiction to dihydrocodeine, an analgesic of which he took more than one hundred pills a day. William Burroughs described it as similar to heroin, twice as strong as codeine, but with a wired coke-like edge, so the North American doctors felt obliged to cure Göring of his dependency before allowing him to stand before the court. This was not easy. When the Allied forces caught him, the Nazi leader was dragging a suitcase with more than twenty thousand doses, practically all that remained of Germany’s production of the drug at the end of the Second World War. His addiction was far from exceptional, for virtually everyone in the Wehrmacht received Pervitin as part of their rations, methamphetamine tablets that the troopers used to stay awake for weeks on end, fighting in a deranged state, alternating between manic furore and nightmarish stupor, with overexertion leading many to suffer attacks of irrepressible euphoria.

Zen. Broken Sink Drain. A Meaningful Life.

back porch view

I’m lying on the couch reading Sigrid Rausing’s Mayhem when my daughter calls from the kitchen, ‘Mom, you’re not going to like this!’

The sink drain has split apart again and gray water floods the kitchen floor. For a moment, I think, whatever, and then ask her to get an old towel.

I have now repaired this drain three times, each time in nothing but sheer annoyance and impatience.

The problem, naturally, has something to do with PVC and epoxy, but more to do with me. My ex-husband put in this drain, in his trademark cob-job way, fitting together scraps of plastic pipe. I’m irritated at my own ineptness, my unwillingness to devote real time to YouTubing a solution, the scantness of my nonworking hours.

I’d rather paint a wall than repair a drain.

After we mop up the water and pile the unwashed dishes on the sink drainboard, we put on our boots and take a walk in the falling snow. It’s the first snowfall of the year. Snow is our old friend, falling silently, sparkling in house and streetlights. This first bit will melt today and return again soon.

Sunday morning. Put the house in order. Take the broken pieces to the hardware store. Ask for advice.

True recovery is a profoundly ethical journey, finding meaning and dignity through solidarity and restitution. Without that, there may be a cessation of drinking or substance use, but there is no real recovery.”

— Sigrid Lausing