Money and Community — and More

As Woodbury’s town librarian (population 888), my wages are paid directly by the townspeoples’ property taxes, a few donations, and Woodbury Pie Breakfast. Now the main yearly event in town, nearly 300 people showed up at the town’s little elementary school, trudging up the stairs to the second floor gymnasium, to eat pie yesterday morning.

Friday evening — and this is my most beloved part of pie breakfast — people arrive with covered dishes, explaining this is pumpkin and maple or bacon and sausage with a little dill. 

Late last fall, Vermont’s State Board of Education mandated that Woodbury’s elementary school merge with two other local schools — one school much larger. After a winter of endless adult meetings about how to keep Woodbury’s school and library open, what pleasure — and relief — to fill the school with live music, the redolence of warming quiche, laughing kids — and adults in need of coffee.


Of all my photos, this is my favorite: the little girl waiting for pie to be served, while adults do adult things….

Children & Flies: Biosphere Companions

A rainy March day yielded existential questions regarding flies in my fifth-grade daughter’s day. At supper, she chatted about catching a fly in the minutes before the first class and another hidden in a friend’s desk all day, allegedly feasting on granola bars.

The Woodbury schoolhouse is 200-years-old, with filled with all kinds of corners and crannies, high ceilings and gorgeous windows: delightful habitat for flies. I asked if she thought the flies might be back tomorrow. She didn’t know. Tomorrow, she guessed, their companions could be wasps or ladybugs. In third grade, the children kept a keen eye on a mouse hole concealed behind the teacher’s desk. It’s not long until the birds begin nesting in the trees around the school, and the snapping turtles emerge from the wetland to bury their eggs in the ball field.

At the end, while I was laughing, my daughter said simply and matter-of-factly, “We are all in the biosphere.”

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes.

– Issa


Woodbury, Vermont/Photo by Molly S.

How To Write a Story….

Any writer knows a story can be told a myriad of ways. Today, visiting a school that once hovered near the brink of disintegration, I realized that school’s story could once have been told in numbers that reflected too much poverty, too little resources and not enough skills: too little – and too little again, and again, and maddeningly again – all the way around.

Instead, this is now a story of growing gardens and colorful classes – and thriving children. Who decides when a story needs to be rewritten? For a school? Or for yourself?

I remember Mary Oliver’s line posing the question about what to do with your one wild and precious life. Create at least one or two fine things, I thought. Leave one or two marks for better, and not for worse.

Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried across the sky by beautiful clouds.

– Ojibway proverb


Hardwick, Vermont

Town Meeting Day

Vermont Town Meeting Day, upstairs in the elementary school gymnasium, with the kids running riot downstairs in the darkest reaches of the basement, daring themselves to enter the unlit corner around the boiler.

By discussion and voice vote, the town’s yearly business was transacted today. Here’s what we discussed: fire truck lease payments, the school budget, derelict buildings, whether to pave the upper part of the Cabot Road. At times tedious, riveting, and funny, town meeting has an odd quality of mimicking life and is one of the perks of living in a Vermont town. Where else can you stand up and make an impassioned to plea to keep your small school and have neighbors clap? Where else can you also hear about cement culverts and drainage and which garbage bins in the cemetery need emptying? The people are generally civil, the coffee and homemade lunch unlimited, and you can bring your knitting. 

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.

– F.D. Roosevelt



Potato Digging at the Schoolhouse

At a meeting tonight about the future of my daughter’s little elementary school, a parent spoke about the importance of the schoolhouse, built a hundred years ago, by the town of Woodbury, Vermont. Until I went to a tiny college (also in Vermont), I never attended school in a building that had not only beauty in spades but also soul. The Woodbury schoolhouse has both.

This afternoon, a little thirdgrader showed me the dirt on her clothes from working in the garden. The children had been digging potatoes, and she showed me with her hands the size of the largest potatoes. Sometimes, she told me, my fingers got stuck around the potatoes and they were hard to pull out. She laughed, and I could see a sprinkling of dirt over her cheeks.

Too much of our world now is placeless – grab your i-phone and laptop and head out for new territory, but where we live and work matters; it matters who builds our homes and schools; it matters who opens the door to your child’s schoolhouse each morning. And on a sunny and windy October afternoon, it matters that someone shows a child to bury her hands to the wrists in black soil and extract an apple of the earth.

For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.

–– Viktor Frankl


This Child I Nursed

Sixteen summers ago, I was selling maple syrup and homemade ice cream at the little Hardwick Farmers Market. The market was so small then, sometime we had just a few vendors. One lovely Vermont July afternoon I sold a bowl of ice cream to a woman in her fifties who ate the ice cream while chatting with me. Just me and the baby had come in the old pickup, and when she began to fuss, I sat on a cooler and nursed her. The woman and I kept talking, and she finally said, I’m so glad you can do that. When I had babies, women had to hide away when we nursed.

I think back now on my scrappy self then, in cut-offs and a t-shirt faded from infinite washings, my absolutely gorgeous red-cheeked baby in my arms, so young I believed my youth would last forever, and I realize that was the first time I had seen my personal life as political.

Tonight, this girl all stretched out into her own lengthy self, dressed up in new black boots and dangling earrings she bought with baby-sitting money, drove my car to her first high school dance.

Where did all that go, I sometimes wonder, my le leche league fervor, my farmers market zest? But if anything, my energy has intensified and strengthened, as a stream running down a mountain gains force, momentum, might. The channel of my force has diverted – to writing a book, keeping a small school open, guiding my oldest toward adulthood. The shadow of that much younger woman is yet deep within me, and someday, when my girls have their own beloveds, I intend to offer my daughters a bowl of ice cream while they nurse.

the lost baby poem

the time i dropped your almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned

you would have been born into winter
in the year of the disconnected gas
and no car we would have made the thin
walk over genesee hill into the canada wind
to watch you slip like ice into strangers’ hands
you would have fallen naked as snow into winter
if you were here i could tell you these
and some other things

if i am ever less than a mountain
for your definite brothers and sisters
let the rivers pour over my head
let the sea take me for a spiller
of seas let black men call me stranger
always for your never named sake

–– Lucille Clifton