Soul’s Migration.

Lake Eligo, Vermont

At the end of the afternoon, I’m out with my skis, insufficiently dressed against the zero degree temps, hoping the movement will warm me even as I caution my youngest every day — bring enough clothes.

I warm.

I ski on the former railroad bed, behind a daycare. Earlier this winter, a new playground was built for the kids, of wood and ramps, and I wonder if some of the federal coronavirus money made its way here. The daycare itself is in the basement of an old building, and so the playground has a kind of bittersweetness, too, a bandaid of a much larger problem.

On the bridge over the river, I pause. Snowmobiles and a groomer have driven through here, and so the skiing is easy. Animal tracks mark the snow down the center of the frozen river. On the bank I ate wild grapes in the late fall. For now, it’s just me and the fresh snow and the sunlight while it lasts, the woodland creatures, the river flowing deep beneath that ice.

Birds migrate and caribou circle the cold top of the world. Perhaps we migrate between love and suffering, making our wounded-joyous cries: alone, then together, alone, then together. Oh praise the soul’s migration.

Mark Nepro

Getting With The Program…

A few days of snow and rain and slush and scattered sunlight — mid-January in Vermont when the snow-heavy woods are enchanting.

Again, drinking coffee in our Subaru while my youngest daughter drives. These mid-winter days are wound through with the mittens I’m knitting and the book about the Vikings I’m reading, the phone call I made to a friend — come walk with me in the cold rain — and she did.

For a while now I’ve been saying that the bar is low — it’s something that I can offer my daughter the chance to ski with a friend. The friend’s parents and I stand in the parking lot, talking, talking. But, more accurately, the bar has vanished, and I didn’t even realize it. The world we live in is changing. History is reshaping our world. This weekend, for whatever reason, I realized: get with the program.

And the program at our contains the tangibles of yarn, colored pencils, snow.

Sunday, Sun, Reassessing

After a terrible week, my daughter heads to ski with a friend. Because of the pandemic, she doesn’t catch a ride with the friend. Because my daughter is 15, I’m the designated adult — for what that’s worth — in the passenger seat while she drives.

Sunday morning in rural Vermont, the roads are nearly empty. North of St. Johnsbury, we pick up the interstate for a small stretch, then turn off and head along the Passumpsic River.

I lean toward the windshield and point out a bald eagle flying over the fields and then a second eagle.

Excited about those eagles? she asks me. From the corners of her eyes, she glances at me. She rounds bend and the eagles disappear from sight.

While she skis, I take a long walk into the snowy woods, and then work in our car. There’s nothing new here: I’ve been wandering through the woods and working in my car, waiting for my kids for years now.

And yet — while everything is the same, nothing is the same.

On our way home, she drives again, and stops at a church so I can get out and take a picture of the steeple and the blue sky.

Below is a page from Lauren Redniss’s Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout.

Friday Morning

February: the kids fluctuate between ecstasy with the plentiful snow, or downright surliness. The double doors onto our back porch are jammed with winter boots, melting snow, ski boots and more ski boots, ice skates.

We’re in the long haul of this season, which leads into the More Winter and Yet More Winter seasons, before the many varieties of mud season and spring.

Here’s the thing, though: in February the light pours back. At zero degrees this morning, when I dropped my daughter at school this morning, her principal grabbed her skis from the back of my car, and he remarked on the day’s beauty. My daughter, worried about a Spanish presentation this morning and anxious to ski in the afternoon, lifted her face in the cold air, the sun streaming over the long brick building. She nodded.

From William Clark’s 1804-1806 journal: “Great joy in camp. We are in view of the Ocian, this great Pacific Octian which we have been so long anxious to see….” The estimated distance the explorers had traveled from St.Louis to the ocean was 4,100 miles.

From Sacajawea by Howard P. Howard.

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Creative Mountains

Driving to Stowe this morning, my ten-year-old daughter pointed at Mt. Mansfield and said with utter joy, I’m going up in those mountains today.

She did. With her companion and the child’s mother, they skied higher than she ever had, returning at the day’s end with cheeks sweaty red, her braids tumbled. On the way home, as she told me about her day, I realized she had made a mental map of her journey, laying winter skiing over her summer hiking.

While she skied, I sat in a sun-filled room with strangers and climbed my own mystical creative mountain, traversing the terrain of novel writing through rock and streams, dusty back roads and the variated sky bent over a village. My villagers (like the people I know) sleep and dream, wake and eat, their hearts filled with desire and lust, with unhappiness and the unrequited past, with daily pleasures, like eating salad and enchiladas with a child and listening to her story.

How I admire this child and her fearless joy, her unalloyed pleasure in sun and snow, in steep mountains, and the wind over her face. As creative adults, shouldn’t we aim for that confidence in hard places, that dusting away of doubt that so frequently plagues us?

More to the heart, perhaps, like a child, we should savor unfettered happiness in our hours.

And then, of course, the novel-writing itself affects the novelist, because novel-writing is a transformative act.

Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel

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Photo by Molly S./Woodbury, Vermont