What’s Real

Like a quilt, the fall’s early darkness abruptly pulls over us.

Late afternoon, I swing by the library, then pull off my wool sweater and go for a run. The rain falls so hard I appear to be running through clouds. I’m on a loop, so I keep on — there’s no easy turning back to get home. At home, I feed the hungry cats and light the first wood stove fire of the year, just a small one, with a few handfuls of kindling. There’s no turning back for fall, either.

After dinner, the daughters sprawl on the couch. The cats, who didn’t care much for summer, anyway, curl in a laundry basket, utterly satisfied.

Again, I realize I’m looking at this the wrong way: there’s never any turning back, just going on.

The wonderful poet Kerrin McCadden will be reading and talking with me virtually tonight, hosted by The Norwich Bookstore. Check in, if you have time and inclination.

“To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. The problem is to see reality as it is.”

– Thich Nhat Hạnh

Overheard

Running along the old railroad bed, I pause when I see a couple ahead of me. I know her as an acquaintance, and she’s walking and talking animatedly with a man I don’t know.

I linger behind, breathing deeply, just about near the end of my run anyway. They keep walking. Sunlight filters through the trees over the narrow path.

Then, abruptly, what I realize fascinates me so much is merely the carefree tone of their conversation. They keep at it, talking, their hands gesturing together. Sure, I overhear people; I’m not a shut-in. But I’m mesmerized for these moments by their unmasked and unguarded tone, or maybe I’m just happy to hear their laughter. I live in Vermont, where many people, including myself, are vaccinated and use masks; this makes sense to me. Maybe I’m just enchanted by the warm September sunlight, spilling down through the leaves that are golden and red and beginning to drift earthward.

I linger, following, until they go their way, and I go mine.

Sweet August…

August. On a run after work, I remind myself August would be a good month to step away from work and the revolving paddlewheel of our daily lives. I’ve pretty much always failed at vacations, but I fold that idea somewhere away in my memory. As I walk home and cut across a little league field, I have a sudden memory of eating grass as a young child. I remember pulling long, slightly sharp-edged blades and nibbling on these, like a goat or a cow, eating straight from the earth.

In my garden, green beans are fattening on the vines in force. We eat those in the sunlight, straight from the vine. Cucumbers. Tomatoes. Wild blackberries and the few lingering raspberries we’ll find as stragglers for weeks yet.

August is good eating.

And a few lines from poet Hayden Carruth…

“The sky

is hot dark summer, neither

moon nor stars, air unstirring,

darkness complete; and the brook

sounds low, a discourse fumbling

among obstinate stones…”

— Hayden Carruth, “August First”

Burlington, Vermont

Friday Run

Just before dusk, I’m running along the rail trail, where train tracks once lay, when a woman steps out of the brushy woods, puts her hand over her chest, and gasps.

I’ve frightened her. She’s dressed in hunter’s orange and holds a rifle pressed against her body.

I stop. There’s no one else around, and I have the sudden terrible feeling that I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m wearing the ripped blue sweatshirt and knitted cap I always wear.

It’s hunting season, and I should be wearing orange. She looks angrily at me. I nod, edge away, and then keep on with my run. On this run, I’m mostly worried about a skinny dog at the one house I pass — a creature who doubtlessly is harmless. I run through the thick woods between the highway and the Lamoille River, snaking through its bends. It hasn’t escaped me how the wilderness presses right up against the village where I live, in acres upon acres of woods where I hardly ever see anyone.

On my way back, I again meet this woman with a florescent pink mask over her lower face. I’ve seen no one else, save the dog, and I slow to a walk again and apologize for not wearing brighter colors.

Jesus, she says and keeps walking.

Not long after, back in the village, the twilight drifts down like a gray snowstorm. My daughter’s school is closing again, perhaps opening in December, but maybe not. All around us, the pandemic continues to upend lives, through loss of in-person schooling, jobs and childcare, and the widening gulfs of isolation.

Walking back through town, I admire the holiday lights turning on as the darkness filters down — lights of all colors and blown-up snowmen and reindeer. The day has been unseasonably warm for November. Take this in, I think. And next time, bring a mask and wear orange, too.

“Writing often reveals us to ourselves, lets us name what’s important to us and what has been silent or silenced inside us.”


― Gregory Orr

Maple

End of the day, in the gloaming, I’m running up the road. A little bit of snow is falling, and — dare I write this in December? — it’s just nice. That sweet, snowglobe kind of beauty.

In not so many minutes, I know I’ll need to get off this somewhat slippery and icy road before a pickup turns a bend a bit too quickly, its driver maybe distracted by the same things I am, the enchanting serenity of these maples, this field, the light funneling down over the horizon.

I know, too, as I start cooking dinner that I’ll listen to VPR. My listening, or not, has absolutely zero bearing on congressional hearings. I’ll be irked. And yet, I’ll listen, if for no other reason to participate in the dinner conversation at our house.

For for these few moments, though, I revel in the sky, the snow, the crows in the distance flying home, too.

Surely by now there can be few here who still believe the purpose of government is to protect us from the destructive activities of corporations. At last most of us must understand that the opposite is true: that the primary purpose of government is to protect those who run the economy from the outrage of injured citizens.

Derrick Jensen

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Hardwick, Vermont