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

Late Autumn. Tamarack Gold. Rain.

Here’s where we are in the world of tender gold tamarack needles and cold mud.

For two nights, I got up and read Andrea Elliott’s Invisible Child, unable to leave that world, needing to know how Elliott ended her book. I won’t reveal that. But here’s a few lines worth an extra mention:

“The world ‘understand’ comes from Old English — understandan. Literally, it means ‘to stand in the midst of.’ It does not mean we have reached some ultimate truth. It means, to my mind, that we have experienced enough of something new, something formerly unseen, to be provoked, humbled, awakened, or even changed by it.”

These words ring true for me in my own writing and, I’ll add, my experience of parenting. Elliott goes on to write, “Almost nothing counts more than the person who shows up.”

Here’s hoping you’re all weathering the weather wherever you are.

Invisible Child.

Everyday, the light shrinks a little, contracts inward. My oldest daughter and I take a walk after dinner in the inky dark. A cat crosses the street and disappears into the night. This time, too, will pass. We who live here know this — have no other option, indeed, but to endure this — but the short days contract us, too.

In the night, I wake and read before the wood stove with the two blissful cats. Page by page, I work through Andrea Elliott’s Invisible Child, a brand-new copy from the library. Save for the clicking of our wood stove as it heats and cools, expands and contracts, our house is utterly quiet at night. Narcotized by the heat, the cats sleep too deeply for purring. I’m working the next day. A list in my poor handwriting awaits me in my notebook, the tasks I’ll diligently accomplish, one by one. Some are tedious — chores I’ll reluctantly do. But I cleave to that list, my daily rod — bread and butter and bacon for my household, and my soul, too. Around us, chaos and Covid. But for this time, cats, warmth, and words.

In self-defence, you know, all life eventually accommodates itself to its environment, and human life is no exception.” 

― Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives

Lamoille River, Hardwick, Vermont

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?