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 . . .

Emerald Moment

We pulled into the DMV exactly on time for my daughter’s driving test exam. I sped while driving there — lousy parenting example — but at the very last moment before we left, it seemed we needed my daughter’s social security card for her license — as if I knew where that was. So we left without it.

Driving there, I remembered the card is in her baby book, in the blue hope chest.

Fortunately, the DMV staff was cheerful on this Tuesday afternoon after the long holiday weekend. The missing card was glossed over; I produced her birth certificate; and then they asked me if I had a utility bill or a piece of mail with me. Weirdly, I had brought the electric bill that arrived in the day’s mail, so I could read it over while she took her road test.

When we finally walked through the doors to wait outside, my daughter and I exhaled an unintentional collective sigh.

For these 15 minutes or so, I had absolutely nothing else to do at all, but sit there — something that seemed unimaginable to me for so many years as a mother. I had things, of course, I brought with me to do — reading that electric bill, for instance. But for these moments, I slipped off my sandals and dug my fingers into the warm clover.

In the sunlight, I soaked up my gratefulness to live in gorgeous Vermont, one of the sweet spots on the globe. Sixteen years ago, as I was driven away from the hospital after a surgeon’s scalpel made this daughter’s life possible, I saw corn nubs emerging through the black soil. Corn! What a miracle!

Sixteen years ago, I never would have predicted that one member of our family of four would have absconded for another life, that the life I have with my daughters would evolve into a version of Elizabeth McCracken’s line, It’s a happy life, but someone is missing. 

So much of this past year I often imagined myself in a twisted story, a freak Camus novel, but now here I was on the flip side. Meanwhile, my daughter channeled her life into literally her own hands. Sixteen years ago, I was still foolish enough to believe that my children’s lives could be buffered, that they could live in a make-believe world of no bad things. I was still naive enough to believe that was desirable.

My daughter passed her exam. On our way out of the DMV this time, we didn’t sigh. In the sunlight, we spoke of little things — what to cook for dinner, tomorrow’s plans — the stuff of everyday life that makes a life together.

…we barely know the world around us, even the simplest things under our feet..we have been wrong before and we will be wrong again…the true path to progress is paved not with certainty but doubt, with being “open to revision.” 

― Lulu Miller, Why Fish Don’t Exist

Bringing Back the Wonderful

May ends in a welcome rain, and June begins with a watercolor-esque sunrise over our wall of fading lilac blossoms.

This is the weekend when our vaccinated friends stood in our kitchen, talking and talking, and then walked slowly around our downstairs, asking, “What’s happened here in the last sixteen months?”

I showed the window trim I had painted a pale blue, called Innocence.

This was also the weekend I drove my friend and her daughter. Over years, this friend and I have drove endless hours together, and the car I’ve owned for over a year she’d hadn’t even sat in.

The afternoon was rainy. I drove along a dirt road, and the maple trees gleamed a brilliant green. We had been at a ceremony that was both happy and terribly sad, and I was cold to the bone. I turned on the seat warmers.

Seat warmers! my friend said. That’s wonderful.

We started laughing, my friend still hunched against the partly open window, as if that mattered now.

Bring on the wonderful, please.

(Highly recommended reading below…. :))

It was the dandelion principle! To some people a dandelion might look like a weed, but to others that same plant can be so much more. To an herbalist, it’s a medicine—a way of detoxifying the liver, clearing the skin, and strengthening the eyes. To a painter, it’s a pigment; to a hippie, a crown; a child, a wish. To a butterfly, it’s sustenance; to a bee, a mating bed; to an ant, one point in a vast olfactory atlas.

— Lulu Miller, Why Fish Don’t Exist

Relish This

Unexpectedly, I end up with a short period of time in Montpelier, and, rather than work in the library as I once did (for years), I open my laptop on a bench. I set up beside the city’s old train roundhouse, marked now by a sign but nearly hidden under foliage.

It’s fitting, in these days of change.

In our family life, my youngest daughter’s birthday approaches. Last night, I watched my daughter and her friends laughing in the flickering campfire. What a change from last year.

In the world-at-large, the world changes, too. Our town canceled the annual Memorial Day parade, but set off fireworks at the high school. This is now, I kept reminding myself as we watched the fireworks from our yard, not a memory, but now.

The temperature sank. We wondered about frost warnings. I remembered how Peak Oil was the buzz right after this daughter’s birth. But here we are, sixteen years later, young girls on the cusp of womanhood.

Sweet, I thought as I gathered the dinner’s dirty plates. An actual potluck again. Sweet, sweet sixteen.