Isolation Snippet

My friend appears at our back glass doors and startles the three of us in the kitchen. She holds up a dozen eggs she’s dropping off and the seventh Harry Potter movie.

My daughter lifts a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

Yes, my friend mouths.

I step out on the deck and suggests she step back as the porch roof is about to dump snow down her back. My daughter hands out cookies while we’re talking about wanting to step into Harry Potter’s world. Maybe the kids are interested in flying, but what we’d really like? To sit in a train car and hang out with your friends.

Until then… this snow is melting today. Bit by bit, spring is emerging here.

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Peepers

Across the cemetery from where we live, the teenagers have moved out into a tent. They’re cocooning out the coronavirus.

Not such a bad idea, I think.

My daughter, to keep herself amused while I’m working, creates a scrapbook of her friends, taking her time pasting in gold numbers and colored bits of paper.

I’ve lost track of days, of weeks; we’re somewhere in April, and that’s about the best I can do. Some days my older daughter disappears to work; some days my younger daughter disappears for a virtual version of school.

I keep on working. The squill blooms. The peepers sing.

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Dealing Cards

What? my older daughter said. You brought out the cards already? 

I am determined to remained holed up. My older daughter, as a medical worker, comes and goes, but my younger daughter and I — we’re staying home.

So, honestly, what’s more reassuring than a deck of cards? I’ve been playing Crazy 8s since I was three — maybe younger? — and my kids likely can’t remember when they began. My whole life, we’ve always had packs of cards around.

Today, unexpectedly, I learned our internet speed is suddenly amped up, with no additional fee. Until when? my younger daughter asked. I read the email again and thought, What does when mean anymore?

I finally answered, Until we don’t. Right about then, I started shuffling cards.

In sorrow, pretend to be fearless. In happiness, tremble.

Jane Hirshfield

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Kitchen, Day 2

Strength Lies in Vulnerability

When my daughter heads to work yesterday morning, I stand on the kitchen step, listening to rain on the porch roof.

As a writer for a Vermont magazine, I’m ordered to stay home, and my intention is to drink coffee and work at the kitchen table. All day.

But my daughter, my 21-year-old, works on the front lines of this unknown illness. All day, she texts me periodically. Hours later, when I’m listening to the governor declare a state of emergency in Vermont, she walks in wearing jeans and a pretty blouse, her scrubs bundled in a plastic bag and left outside on the porch. While eating beef stew, she shares her day.

I’ve spent much of the afternoon reading about the history of poverty in Vermont, about Roosevelt’s relief programs and the story of social welfare, for an article I’m writing about wages in Vermont. Listening to my daughter who’s embraced this beginning of her working life with such gung-ho enthusiasm, doing difficult things, pulling her own weight with a busy medical team, I keep thinking about time and place. In the manuscript I just finished, I wrote that individual qualities of courage and cowardliness, of persistence and dishonesty, shape and alter our lives. But, likewise, so does our historical time and place.

Our conversation inevitably shifts to our family, as we figure out the possible economic pieces of our household, bracing for far harder days. This responsibility, too, this young woman steps into seamlessly, accepting her responsibility in her father’s absence as a given. Later, as we head out for a walk in the evening’s dark, I think back to that governor’s speech — so different from the current commander-in-chief’s remarks. I remind myself what I once believed was impossible — strength grows in vulnerability.

Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Not the Rose Garden in bloom. Hardwick, VT, in March.

Little & Big Worlds

On an incredibly warm afternoon, a little girl discovers a pencil-thin garter snake curled up in the gravel alongside the library. Snow lies ubiquitous on the playground, but the earth there has emerged from its winter hibernation: a green iris shoot, dark mud. I love snakes, the girl says dreamily.

VPR carries news of the stock market’s plunge, of quarantine, of illness. All these factors, in one way or another, may eventually — later? sooner? — reach this little girl. For now, she stands in the snow in her boots and a t-shirt, staring at the creature. Under her arm is tucked a grownup natural history guide, a book she’s checked out of the library.

Later, after a nearly six-hour-long school board meeting filled with simply stuff, we lean back in chairs. It’s nearly midnight. There’s still snacks on the table. I’ve long finished my tea. Head home? I put my forehead on the school library’s table, its wood hard beneath my bone. Eventually, I gather my papers. Outside, the air is balmy. I breathe.

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Sign of Spring: Honda Takes Flight

A pale blue Honda Civic, circa 1985, parked along Route 14 not far from our house, has flown that nest.

The Honda had quite the winter, parked between an apartment building and the busy highway. The car was completely buried by snow at least twice. The back window was left cracked open. Someone removed the hood and then replaced it, repeatedly. One sunny afternoon, a young man washed its rear window with steaming hot water from a kitchen garbage can.

People have moved in and out of those apartments all winter, by pickup and U-Haul. Now, the Honda.

Craigslisted? Simply ready to roll?

While winter and road salt have eaten into Vermont, here’s an old Honda, hopping back on the road — or so I’m believing.

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
— From “The Pasture,” Robert Frost
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House town offices, snowy Sunday morning