Walking with Skis.

Greensboro, Vermont

Someday, maybe I’ll look back at this photo of my daughter on the Christmas she was sixteen…. goodness, what will I be thinking then?

In the late afternoon, I ski up through the woods to where the farm fields meet the forest in two strands of electric fence. The fence is off now, and the fields are empty of grazers, save for the odd crow that picks in a bare spot. The day, although not sunny, has warmed, and snow clumps on my skis. The skis need waxing, which I haven’t done. Instead, I take the skis off and shoulder them, and walk down the trail through the few inches of snow.

These days, I’m working hard, the outside world coming at me in a fury. In the evening, we play cards. I’ve picked up a copy of a Mark Sundeen book that reminds me of my idealistic youth and a happy summer we spent in a tipi. The circumstances have changed; the world has changed, indeed, since my wild twenties; but the questions are the same.

I take the long trail back home through the woods, despite carrying my skis. At a stream, I stop. The ice hasn’t yet completely skimmed over the rocks. I pull off my mitten and dip my fingers in, the water so clear and cold.

How can a man hope to promote peace in the world if he has not made it possible in his own life and his own household?” 

― Mark Sundeen, The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America

Happenstance. Here.

Greensboro, Vermont

Christmas Day, in a light, almost-a-cold-mist rain over a few inches of old snow, we took one of our favorite walks in Greensboro, on Nature Conservancy Land at Barr Hill. Flanked by old sugar maples, the path goes through former farm fields and among 19th century stone walls. So this walk feeds my desire for history and also for the cold rawness of today in our faces. We meet not a single soul, not even a crow.

At the top, the view is obscured by clouds, the lake with its summer pleasures of kayaking and swimming occluded by winter.

We may be at the edge of the world, but what does that mean anymore? In our family, we’ve had both wonderful and terrible Christmases. As we drive, we say, remember the time…?

On Christmas evening, we drive, my teenager at the wheel, in search of colored lights. I keep my own entirely adult cynicism to myself, my snarky thoughts about the crumbling American Empire and how long will the boondoggle of electricity keep flowing for us. Instead, I tease my oldest daughter about her headlights. Are the headlights even on? I ask.

In my book interviews, this fall and winter, I’ve repeated over and over, that, by happenstance, each of us arrive in a time and place. The few us walk a downtown street, beneath glowing lights. We pass a gleaming white BMW, its engine running, no sign of a driver. A little further, I stop and read a sign at a creche, acknowledging the small figurines are on unceded Abenaki land.

The rain keeps falling in little bits. The youngest navigates us home, through mist and darkness, despite the poor headlights.

(And thank you, Barre Montpelier Times Argus, for the great interview.)

The night is so cold

even in bed it keeps me

wide awake.”

— Buson

Imaginative Life.

When my first daughter was four, my mother gave her a babydoll that I had when I was little girl — Baby Tenderlove — which my daughter promptly shortened to Tendy.

Tendy, by the time my daughter carried her around, was ratty-haired, bald in places, forever dirty, and generally well-worn. My daughter was a single child then, and Tendy morphed into the desired baby sister. Tendy inhabited a unique imaginative place in her life. One afternoon, I was driving through Montpelier when my daughter insisted I pull over now, Mama! as I had driven by Tendy who was allegedly walking on the sidewalk. Without thinking, I pulled over, open the passenger door, instructed Tendy to get in please, and buckle up.

Our household is no longer in the realm of little kids, and yet this imaginative world has spread to our cats now. One is in a PhD program, writing a dissertation on epistemology, while the other is a lifer in preschool. Both enjoy a fresh toy mouse.

….. The cold hammers in around us. I hope you’re all warm, wherever you may be.

Everyday Epiphany.

I’m sitting on the little coffee table a friend and I picked up in a free pile a few summers ago, watching my wood stove rekindle through the glass and talking to my father on my little phone. There’s this forty minute window before my daughters return from work with stories of their days. Cauliflower and potatoes are roasting in the oven, and we’re talking about all kinds of things, like this incredible novel Let the Great World Spin.

Because my father and I talk about things like this, we talk about suffering. The fire suddenly flares up, and does its beautiful wave thing through the pipes in its top, rippling in waves and emanating heat into our house. My cat rubs against my feet.

In an everyday epiphany, this great world spins around me, and I’m abruptly released from the pandemic and from the imminent holiday itself — so complex, so multifaceted, in a culture driven to the reductiveness of images and consumption.

I see the logs I’ve split from a fallen tree, consumed by flame, transmogrified into heat, and headed as ash into my garden. For this moment, I remember all those cold winters in our other house, and how blessedly happy I am that I bought this stove, and I live in a house with yellow walls, with two daughters, two cats, and all the tangledness of our lives.

That forty minutes is irrelevant. It might be ten minutes, or six hours. There’s just this moment, my father talking about Homer and Socrates, these stories that have followed me all my life.

Tasting Snow.

Where we are now….

In fresh snow, I walk through the little neighborhoods around us. One man shovels snow. A few plow trucks hurry through. It’s nearing dinner, and streetlights are turning on, one by one, in the December twilight.

It’s been a week of phone calls and problems with no clear solutions, simply the inevitable change that comes to all our earthly doings. I’ve wandered on this walk without real intention, drifting away from chopping firewood and shoveling paths.

I turn a corner and see a house where I once bought sugaring equipment from a man who lived there. He’s passed on, and his wife sold the house and moved away. A family lives there now. Two little boys call at each other in the street. There’s no traffic about, and they’re standing beneath the streetlight. As I walk closer, I see their heads are back, and they’re catching falling snowflakes in their open mouths. Their voices are loud and excited about this small thing.

A man comes out and says, Get in the car. They get in the backseat of an idling car, and he drives away. Back at my house, my daughters have brought in the night’s firewood and swept the floor.

And because bell hooks was so amazing, another line from her:

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?

Nearing Thanksgiving, a few lines for the Cashier….

….. who checked me out countless times with my bags of cat litter and chocolate chips and toilet paper and English muffins. We always did the usual ‘good afternoon’ or ‘have a nice day’ kind of thing. Then one day, she tugged the sleeves of her sweater over her wrists and said, “Seven years I’ve worked here, and they’ve never fixed that cold air coming down on me.”

Come the pandemic, and she’s disappeared. Where you are now, I have no idea, but, gracious, woman, I hope no cold breeze dumps down on you all day.

… Rereading Ann Patchett in anticipation of her upcoming book: “I could understand why Gautama had to leave his wife and child in order to find the path to nirvana. The love between humans is what nails us to this earth.”

The waxing moon is especially cream-hued tonight, strutting her mysterious beauty. No nirvana here, but plenty. Plenty.