Book Recs. Messy Democracy.

I’ve been on a reading binge on the Anthony Swofford/Christa Parravani husband and wife author duo, jumping around their memoirs. I picked up Parravani’s most recent book, Loved and Wanted, and then interlibrary-loaned others. Swofford wrote Jarhead — the marine memoir that just about everyone was reading a number of years ago, and I never did.

Yesterday morning, my oldest daughter got up at three to make her flights to visit my parents in New Mexico. In those murky depths of the night, I got up at three, too. When she left, a cat and I lay on the couch, reading Hotels, Hospitals and Jails. Ending with a father and son RV journey, the book’s ending did that miraculous thing, spinning not just that book but how I look at literature in a wider, more powerful light.

Hotels ends with the beginning of the couple’s marriage. Parravani’s Loved and Wanted takes place years into marriage and baby-raising. That, perhaps, is about all I’ll say about that.

My papers and notebooks were scattered around the couch from the virtual select board meeting I attended the night before. Nearly four hours long, the Selectboard discussed darn near everything in town, from federal Covid money to the sheriff’s update regarding a shooting to whether the board should consider moving a road. While democracy may be struggling in much of the country, in rural Vermont, messy democracy still rules.

Autumn is nearly over

that person dressed in fine silk

has borrowed everything.

— Buson

#10 Pond, Calais, Vermont

Sweaty Jerseys. The Terrible Mystery.

I knock off work early on Friday afternoon and head west with a friend to our daughters’ soccer game. There’s only so many high school soccer games I’ll attend in my lifetime; I’ve missed plenty this year.

It’s October but feels weirdly like July, with 75 degree temps, sunlight on foliage that’s at peak color. As I drive towards Lake Champlain, the terrain flattens. At the game, where we meet another mother and sprawl on the grass, seagulls swoop low. Flocks of geese fly overhead, forming Vs. At the end, despite the loss, our girls are smiling, hugging us in their sweat-soaked jerseys.

As the sun slips below the horizon, I drive back along that same route, retracing our blue highway journey from flat farming land through the green mountains and along the winding Lamoille River. I keep on through the twilight. A crescent moon hangs to our right. We talk and talk, about the complexity of being teenage females in our world, and then beyond that, too, how the past steers our own lives, hammering through generations.

As I drive, my headlights cutting through the darkness, I keep thinking of Joseph Campbell, whose voluminous writings on myth shaped my thinking since I was a teenager. “Life is, in its very essence and character, a terrible mystery—this whole business of living by killing and eating. But it is a childish attitude to say no to life with all its pain, to say that this is something that should not have been.”

At my house, we stand for a moment beneath the starlight. In my house, our upstairs glass-in porch glows, where my older daughter is taking notes, her laptop streaming a class. My friend drives away, back to her house, but I stand there for a moment longer. I’ve long resisted what I’ve seen as the superficiality of Be Here Now, as though the past doesn’t matter. Suddenly I see I’ve looked at what time means all the wrong way. Be here now with the past — another koan.

I walk up the back steps and flick on the porch light for my youngest child.

….. A few last things. Here’s a New York Times piece on IG and teen girls. Rick Agran of Bon Mot, a show about poetry and the literary arts, on the local Goddard College radio, will broadcast my Galaxy Bookshop event this Sunday, October 10, at 5 p.m.

Last, the Children’s Literacy Foundation hosts a virtual Book Club for Grown-Ups I’ll host, next Friday, October 15, at 7 p.m. The Waterbury Roundabout has details. I have a particular soft spot for CLiF — an organization that gives free books to kids in rural New Hampshire and Vermont. How cool is that??

Being a Part of All This…

Late afternoon finds me running along the former railroad bed in a rare kind of October sunlight — a gift of warmth and honeyed autumn light. I stop where I always do, where the transformation from railroad bed to trail hasn’t happened yet. The rusting iron bridge is covered with boards, and I’m careful there.

Where a giant hole gapes with a view of the Lamoille River below, someone has spray painted You Die Here and an arrow pointing down, as if the passerby couldn’t put that hole and a potential demise together. I stand there and affirm, Sure, that would be a bad fall.

An otter runs along the riverbank, slips beneath the water, and surfaces again. Two ducks glide slowly. I crouch at that edge for a good long while, in no particular rush to head back on that trail.

In the end, of course, there’s nothing else to do but tighten my laces. My feet crunch through the fallen leaves that are piling high, releasing that inimitable scent of broken leaf and moist soil — the smell of a New England childhood.

Such happiness there is in being

a part of all this…

while I bend to one knee to press

my hand against a broken sidewalk,

feeling the heat of that same light

that the sparrow hops over,

and that warms the cricket as it carries

its song across town in its purse.”

— Ted Kooser
Hardwick, Vermont, back porch

A Few Crumbs of Manna

The Craftsbury Public Librarian invited me to host a book discussion for my book — full disclosure, I’ve known Susan since before I was a mother.

Because there’s a pandemic, we sat outside in the library’s tent. Because it’s Vermont and October, it was raining, but that not chilly. And October brings out the handknit-hat crowd.

For months, I’ve been worried about Unstitched joining the public ranks from my own teeny tiny little world. Unstitched is about opioid addiction and addiction writ large, but it’s also about my story, too. Besides sharing the stories of others, I share mine, too. As my youngest daughter would say, Did you have to take out the whole skeleton? Maybe just a bone or two would have done.

I took out (most of) the skeleton.

But yesterday’s afternoon made me realize, yes, this is why I wrote this book. To have it gnawed over by those I know and complete strangers. Chewed over. Shared. At the very end, a woman who hadn’t read the book asked if I had a copy to sell. I didn’t. But a woman across the tent jumped up and offered her copy. Seeing my book go hand in hand — that, my friends, is manna for the writer’s soul.

Be well, all.

Craftsbury, Vermont

Chocolate for Plants

The forsythia bush I planted four years ago as a forlorn stick with a few ratty leaves is taller than me now. I’m not a giant — I’m not even five feet tall — but this forsythia has leapt from bush to sapling.

We’re at the annual point in the year where I appraise our tiny homestead. The garden needs to be prepped for planting garlic, and there’s plenty, yet, to rip out there. The sunflowers are bending their stalks earthward. I’ll leave their fat heads for the birds to pluck seeds all winter. As for the forsythia, I wonder, Will you bloom next year? Each spring, this plant has given few gold blossoms, but I keep thinking its true radiance has yet to shine.

I offer this bush a fat layer of compost — chocolate for plants. Time will tell….

If you’re in my neck of the woods, I’ve been invited to a book discussion group at the Craftsbury Public Library, Sunday, October 3, at 4 p.m. The Craftsbury Library hosts outdoor events, so wear a good sweater.

listen,

you a wonder.

you a city of a woman.

you got a geography

of your own.”

— Lucille Clifton

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