Still Here, Hardwick, Vermont

I’m reading Ruth Stone in bed when my daughter comes up the stairs in her jacket and says I must go with her to look at the moon. It’s nearly eleven. We leave the younger sister sleeping with the cats, cross over the snow above my sleeping garlic, and leap the fence into the cemetery.

The moon shines like an enormous drop of cream, nearly round but not quite, waning. The two of us stand in the granite stones, over the sleeping dead, gazing up at the constellations sprawled over the dark sky, and the village below us, cupped in night-black mountains.

While my daughter sits on the ground with her camera, we talk about the landscape around us, and our family landscape. She’s so grownup now, so fully a young woman, that the terrain between us — always intimate, close — has opened like this starry sky.

On our way back, I’m tired, it’s true, and I carelessly place my Sorel boot sole on the jagged wire cresting the fence and not on the smooth bar. Carelessly, my eyes blinded with night, I ignore my own cautious worries about breaking a wrist and jeopardizing our slender livelihood. The wire snags my sole, and I fall to the cold ground at my daughter’s feet, my bare fingers in the snow. For a brief moment, the world turns upside-down, and I lie there in the beloved, beautiful moonlight, completely still.

And then life goes on. Isn’t that lesson enough? Life goes on.

Now snow falls again in ragged, loose flakes, and spring won’t hurry with my exhortations, but arrive when it will.

You have to take comfort where you can — in the nuthatches coming to the feeder, in the warmth of the wood stove, in the voices of your lovely grandchildren. You have to allow yourself to take joy.

— Ruth Stone

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Giggles, Girls, Growing

After a week of just too much, I sat knitting in the back row at the Galaxy Bookshop last night, surrounded by some adults I knew, and some I didn’t, listening to the four poets read in a round robin. The poetry and the poets all flowed into each other – stanzas about Garage Sale DayZ and an expectant father slid into a particularly exquisite love poem by Sean Prentiss.

Afterward, I spoke with his wife and admired how their baby girl smiles with her whole tiny, joyful body. In the warm June evening, scented with the town’s profuse lilacs, I lay on the grass under a sugar maple at the elementary school, waiting for my sixth grader at her first dance.

June’s blooming beauty – Siberian iris, deep purple lupine – and the children are happy. Beneath my palms, I could feel the earth herself, free from winter’s grip, breathing.

Do all things come to an end?
No, they go on forever….
The red clay bank, the spread hawk,
the bodies riding this train,
the stalled truck, pale sunlight, the talk;
the talk goes on forever;
the wide dry field of geese…
All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.

– Ruth Stone, from “Train Ride”

Cutting Wood and Soul

The first piece of writing I ever published that I made any kind of money from was titled “Maple,” and it was about the intense labor of cutting wood. As a family of sugar makers, for years we cut and split wood at far greater amounts than almost anyone else we knew. Particularly through my older daughter’s life, cutting, stacking, and hauling wood, has been a constant.

In that autobiographical essay, I wrote: “Perhaps it’s that Puritan streak driven so deeply in my soul, but I believe that living demands its toll: that creation is lockstep with destruction. As such, wood forms the crux of our life, the cycle of our turning days, months, years. And yet this rural life has also bequeathed my girl her wild wood.”

Today, undergoing yet more repair of a tooth broken twenty years ago when a piece of firewood fell from a pile stacked too high, I realized, again, our souls may be fierce, but we live and die by the body. It’s a marvel to realize something as small as tooth may do in a body. In the chair today, with my eyes closed, I smelled an antiseptic that reeked of bleach, and then…. cloves. Cloves? Exotically rich, sensual, nourishing. Could there be a greater juxtaposition?

The young endodontist showed me the film of my tooth, its root illuminated like a miniature splinter of lightning. In his pleasant, southern accent, he advised me to think good thoughts. I intend to. But I will also never stack wood higher than my shoulders again.

…When I was ten
we lived in a bungalow in Indianapolis…
Once I got up and went outside.
The trees-of-heaven along the track swam in white mist.
The sky arched with sickle pears.
Lilacs had just opened.
I pulled the heavy clusters to my face
and breathed them in,
suffused with a strange excitement
that I think, when looking back, was happiness.

Ruth Stone, from “What We Have”

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the kitchen window

 

The Change

The children came up with a phrase one nighttime this summer when they were supposed to be tucked into their beds and sleeping like little dears, but were not. The older boy said, The change is coming. We can’t sleep.

I told him to go to sleep, and I went downstairs to talk to his mother.

This illusive change reappeared in various contexts in the coming weeks. Missing chocolate bars and crocs were blamed on this change, a screen pushed out a window, irritable tempers. For all this and more, the change took the blame. But I told you, the boy laughed, I warned you the change came!

The change has arrived here. Walking after dark with the younger girl, she remarked on how quickly the days are ending now, and the sky presses lower, filled with dark. The garden’s growth has entirely dwindled, and our northern piece of this earth is slowly rotating towards cooling. Ever cheery, my younger girl remarked, But this makes the house so much cozier. It’s board game season.

Work

The voice of the laundry says, Hang me;
hang me, or I will mold.
The voice of the clothesline says,
tighter or I will sag…
While the subliminal shrews are ferociously
eating, always eating, in order to waste away.

–– Ruth Stone

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Work/Photo by Molly S.