Dinner Conversation

These Vermont days unfold one after one, exceptionally warm for this time of year. Mornings, I write on our back deck. By dinner time, the air has cooled, so we eat in our little dining room, while the dark descends around our house.

Over dumplings, my teen shares stories of high school, and we chew over the school’s new open campus policy. She talks and talks. Listening, I realize so much of the past year and a half was this strange virtual world. Her stories are mesmerizing with intrigue and merriment, but also laced through with all kinds of complicated things.

No parenting advice here. While I’m on the phone Friday morning in our glassed-in second story porch, pitching a story, I see a Subaru dash into my driveway. My daughter and her friend leap out, laughing. Before I finish my call, they’ve disappeared, deep in their own narratives. They’re serious students, with long thought-out lists of goals. How glad I am to see them together, cackling. Before I head back to work, I brew another pot of coffee and stand on the back porch, listening to the crickets.

Be well, I think. Be happy. Be very careful driving and keep your eyes open. And return and tell me, some at least, of your world.

…. I bought my friend the newest Mary Lawson novel, A Town Called Solace. She’s loaned it back to me.

He’d assumed that you went to school because you had to learn things, starting off with the easy stuff and moving on to the bigger issues, and once you’d learned them that was it, the way ahead opened up and thereafter life was simple and straightforward. What a joke. The older he got, the more complicated and obscure everything became. ” 

— Mary Lawson
Greensboro, Vermont

A House You Can See Through

On my way home from work last night, I stop by a house in town to drop off a borrowed survey (another long strange story…)

I’d never been to the end of that narrow one-lane road built on a ridge over a lake. The owner’s car is a Subaru the color of mine, but years older. As I walk towards the house, I realize I can see right through the house. The walls from driveway to lake are all nearly all windows.

A breeze moves through the trees. Down the hillside, the lake washes against the rocky shore. He invites me into the open house, where everything is wood and glass, not at all slick and polished, but clean and well-used. The house was built just after World War II by his family, and it’s been loved dearly. He’s on his way back to Europe, and I wish him safe travels.

When I leave, I keep thinking of this house where the sunlight washes right through. I can’t help but wonder if that’s perhaps why he’s so calm. Maybe it’s nothing more than coincidence. But living in a house of wood built by your grandfather, where the sunlight streams in all day, surely would round off anyone’s corners. It’s a good, bright spot — this quiet place.

Hardwick, Vermont

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.

In the Wee Hours

Pulling up dead cucumber vines in my September garden, I realize my main crop this year is a forest of sunflowers. In years past, I’ve verged at times into the maniacal side of gardening. This year, however…. this year, as we all know, has simply been this year.

My oldest wanders out to the garden, her head bent to one side, braiding her hair. She’s begun training on the local volunteer ambulance crew, and tonight is her first overnight shift. She tells me she’s going to stay up all night. Why would I sleep?

My garden soil is dry, hot from the sun beneath my bare feet. The fall greens — kale and Brussels sprouts — are interspersed with brown stalks of dill, seeds drying.

Hidden in my forest of flowers, I remember when I was eighteen and left home. One of the first things I did was stay up all night, wandering around outside in the dark with a friend until the sun came up. It was the first time I realized how long a single night can stretch.

She straightens, and I admire her braids. She’s all grown up, heading out into the world to do her own thing and make her own way. Still, I remember her at four in her pink overalls, determined not to sleep then, either. She hurries away, and I stand there, with my dirty hands, watching.

We need enormous pockets, pockets big enough for our families and our friends, and even the people who aren’t on our lists, people we’ve never met but still want to protect. We need pockets for boroughs and for cities, a pocket that could hold the universe.” 

— Jonathan Safran Foer

Two, Not-So-Random Visitors

A young AmeriCorps worker stops by looking for information about how small town Vermont government works and brings a crabapple pie he baked.

The pie is deep-dish, about the size of a dinner plate. He’s tall and cheerful and tells me about his dog named Mindy. Eventually, I give him a paper map and tell him to drive around town. I highlight one section of the map in yellow. Here, I tell him, is one especially beautiful stretch of dirt road, high above a lake. He’s driving his grandmother’s hand-me-down Toyota Corolla.

Good luck, I say as he leaves.

When he’s gone, a friend stops in, looking for town info, too. The sunlight comes through the windows. I offer her a piece of pie. We talk and talk. She finally says, I feel like I haven’t seen anyone in so long.

The strange thing is, I feel that way, too. We keep eating pie. The young baker has peeled the crabapples, one by one, to sweeten the pie. We eat the whole thing, and then I wash up the plates and forks.

There was earth inside them, and they dug.”

— Paul Celan
Hurray for autumn garden.

Taking Stock.

The little apple tree that someone planted at our house before I bought it boasts fist-sized apples this year, surprising me. The previous year, the tree produced just a handful of apples. The first year we lived here bore only a single fruit. But this year, one branch bends so low beneath the weight it threatens to break.

On an evening walk, I pick a single apple, its skin tart, the flesh mealy. Enough good for pie. That’s fine news for the day.

*

I’m honored to participate as an author in CLiF’s Book Club for Grown-Ups. The Children’s Literacy Foundation is an inspiring, give-books-to-kids organization. If you’re interested, you can participate, too. Link included for a free sign-up.

Last, a little Richard Brautigan from Tokyo-Montana Express on this autumn morning:

“There are not too many fables about man’s misuse of sunflower seeds.”