The Past, Rising, Falling.

The news here is that the peepers have returned. In the evening, I walk past the two ballfields where the little kids and then the big kids are playing baseball, and up the hill where pavement turns to dirt. Right at the edge of town, there’s a neighborhood where people are living rough. Along the roadside, I spy empty milk cartons and a clear plastic bag jammed with Christmas bows. There’s a swathe of hemlock and cedar, and then the fields and maples begin.

A few days before, I was writing in the local coffee shop when a woman I once knew fairly well stopped in. She sat down with her latte, and we talked for a little bit about the nursery school we once started and where our kids are now.

Then she turned the conversation and acknowledged that something lay between us. I closed my laptop and slid it in my backpack. We spoke about a fire, a burned construction site, a rekindling of the fire, and losses to both our families. It’s early morning yet. We’re in a corner by the window. The baristas are laughing at the counter, and no one can overhead our words. Quickly, we pair up our memories, and it’s shocking how our memories sync of that time. Until we diverge. We pause at the mention of the third family. I have about a 100 questions I want to ask. My shock appears mirrored in her eyes. She’s forgotten all about her coffee.

How do you ever understand the past? We’ve both divorced, moved houses and towns, raised children, created new working lives. And yet there it is, running like a subterranean stream, the past.

Her acquaintance walks in, and she stands up. I slip my notebook in my backpack, say goodbye, have a nice day to the barista, and walk down the sidewalk to the post office.

Small Citizen.

A few streets over, the neighbors are out with their little girl. She’s wearing a helmet and holds the handles of a pink bike that I’m nearly certain is new to her from the cautious way she thumbs the handgrips, as if still thinking through what this might mean. This alone is good news for this windy April day, a girl and her bike and an imagination sparking in her eyes. As I pass by, I wave, but the girl is in her world, and the adults are bickering about dog shit under the front yard’s single tree. I laugh because, well, what else? Been there, on both sides of that equation. When I return from the post office, the girl is making long slow circles in an empty street, the adults are leaning against a fence, sharing a cigarette, and the sun promises to shine all afternoon — cold, brisk, exactly what we expect in Vermont’s April.

And, for no reason at all, one of my favorite poems….

Citizen of Dark Times

by Kim Stafford

Agenda in a time of fear: Be not afraid.
When things go wrong, do right.
Set out by the half-light of the seeker.
For the well-lit problem begins to heal.

Learn tropism toward the difficult.
We have not arrived to explain, but to sing.
Young idealism ripens into an ethical life.
Prune back regret to let faith grow.

When you hit rock bottom, dig farther down.
Grief is the seed of singing, shame the seed of song.
Keep seeing what you are not saying.
Plunder your reticence.

Songbird guards a twig, its only weapon a song.


Checking out at the co-op, an acquaintance says she has a question for me. I follow her outside, and we stand in the falling snow, she with her bags full and me with the tomato and yogurt my youngest requested.

Through the snow, the mural across the street glows its brilliant rainbow of colors. Across Vermont, murals have appeared in the past few years, not just in the usual suspect cities — Burlington and Brattleboro — but in places where art seems least expected: a parking lot, or the roadside field in Jeffersonville where cement silos are beautifully painted with an old man sowing seeds, a red clover blossom. Half a decade ago, driving with four young teenagers, I pulled over and we walked around and into the empty cement tubes. Springtime, we splashed through standing water in the hayfield.

Now, snow swirls around us, my favorite kind of drifting snow, magical and full of possibilities. We talk for maybe ten minutes, while I hold that tomato and a paper bag of granola, shivering, while people trudge through the snow around us, buying baguettes and greens and bottles of wine. We’ll find no answers in our brief conversation that picks up those knots of privilege and power, of pretense and betrayal. This far along in our lives, there’s nothing textbook here. The questions shape our lives, the little world where we live.

I suggest a sliver of a solution, a tiny change, a minuscule movement, a small slice of good. By then, I’m shivering fiercely. The night’s falling down, and my small household will be hungry.

The painter’s vision is not a lens,

it trembles to caress the light.

— Robert Lowell, “Epilogue”

Light Turning.

Walking into town, I pass a house that has been abandoned for the five years I’ve lived here. Last winter, a vehicle skidded off the road and smashed through the front window. Since then, plywood has covered the front.

There’s a few houses like this in that neighborhood, the paint gray, the windows filthy, tiny yards gone over to weeds or dirt. In the pandemic’s craze, people moved back into a few of these, converting abandoned places into homes again. The driver of a fuel truck stood outside this house yesterday with a young couple, the three of them talking seriously, nodding heads. Sheets of foam insulation leaned against the house. On the side wall, someone had ripped off the dirty plastic and exposed a large square window, its top edge red and blue stained glass. Without stopping, I wondered what else was inside the house.

End of January — and suddenly the sunlight returned in full force. Today may be cloudy, tomorrow, too, maybe for days to come, but the earth is tilting. Slow as spring is, we’re leaning that way.

Don’t say my hut has nothing to offer:

come and I will share with you

the cool breeze that fills my window.

— Ryōkan (trans. John Stevens)

Fierce Ties.

Like darn near everyone else on the planet, the pandemic pushed me hard to evaluate how the pieces of human world fit together. In my life, the pandemic tumbled in on the heels of a brutal divorce when nearly every friendship I had cracked. It was a loss I had not anticipated. The pandemic made so many of us look at the world through a different and perhaps less clouded lens. What holds us together?

All this is a way back to the Galaxy Bookshop….. Saturday was a day jam-packed in the bookstore. All the writers Sean Prentiss and I had reached out to responded quickly and easily, happy to come. Gifts of donuts and local cheese, of sweets and olives, arrived. People flocked in, cheerful, and bought stacks of books.

The day reminded me of the events I organized when I was librarian: poets and novelists, speakers about bear habitat, moose in Vermont, the return of big cats, and a series about climate change I had just begun when the pandemic shut down that world. Those events were the times when the library was most vibrant, most alive. Community, togetherness, are age-old things, deep hungers, a joy to participate in.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

— Maya Angelou

Water. Ice. Rain. Cold. Mud.

The light is slowly returning; I repeat this to myself in defiance of the gray and brown. How bright a fresh sparkle of snow would feel.

Is it mud season? Sugaring season? Has winter barely begun? One thing that does seem evident is that cabin fever has set in extraordinarily early this year. At work, a stranger phones in and asks for info. I offer the facts, just the facts, and then the stranger remarks, What I’d really like is a small piece of good news to start the new year. I can’t resist; I laugh. I note his bar is pretty darn low. I tell him about seeing a flock of evening grosbeaks Christmas morning in the box elders behind our porch.

That’s something, he agrees. He asks me a few more questions, then remarks that he doesn’t even need to care about these questions, anyway. He could let this go. He says thank you, goodbye, and hangs up. In a strange circumstantial way, I realize I was his good news.

“Caring for each other is a form of radical survival that we don’t always take into account.” 

― Ada Limon