Roaming

Hard up for reading material, I get my 15-year-old to drive to Craftsbury, where I raid the free book pile on the porch.

In this village, we see no one, not a single human soul, only two geese flying overhead. It’s late Saturday afternoon, and she keeps driving on the dirt roads, heading by the Outdoor Center where I worked many years ago, and then by the summer camp where she spent happy summer weeks.

The road crests by the old farmhouse where our friends lived for years, and where we spent so many happy hours. She slows, and we look carefully. The house has been freshly painted and glows a pale yellow on that green hillside.

In one of those strange twists of fate, my former husband and I had also considered buying this house before our friends — who were not yet our friends — did. At that time, the farmhouse hadn’t been inhabited for a few years. A couple with two children had lived there, divorced, and the house had been snarled in the divorce.

In one bedroom, in place of a headboard, pillows had been stapled to the wall. I remember thinking, Who would ever think that’s a good idea?

I ask her to pull over on the side of the road. I get out for a moment and walk into the field where I stand looking at the ridge of mountains in the distance, the house on the hillside, and all that sky overhead.

A pickup pulls up beside my daughter, speaks to her, and drives off. I walk back to the car and asked what happened.

She says, He asked if I needed help. I told him it was just my mother.

She puts the car in gear, and we roll forward, picking up speed along the road. She glances at me sideways and says, I didn’t tell him you wanted to see how far along the tree buds are. That would just be weird.

 Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of ‘psst’ that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.

David Foster Wallace

Signpost

Earth Day gives us snow in Vermont, that poor man’s fertilizer.

In a lightly falling snow, I lean against a school building, talking on the phone to my brother while my daughter plays soccer. Snow drifts in flakes about the size of a nickel, some melting on the pavement, others accumulating on tree branches and the toe of my boot.

The phone connection is stunningly clear — a surprise in rural Vermont.

As the snow falls, we wonder at the happenstance of circumstances — how the fall of a family member might have gone disastrously awry. Our conversation wanders beyond that, to the Chauvin trial, and the bystanders on that terrible day who, by happenstance, were present, and the teenage girl who pulled out her phone and shared her witness’s eyes with the world.

We’re in no hurry to hang up, and my brother suggests that, if Washington D. C. achieves statehood, the flag’s tidy stars will be kicked out of kilter. Vermont should succeed, he says.

After I hang up, I lean against that wooden wall. A fat robin lands in the snow, seeking a worm. My daughter and two friends walk across the parking lot, laughing, their braided hair damp with melted snow, their cheeks and bare knees bright red. It’s spring.

Vermont Spring Palette

I leave work in the middle of the day, to take my daughter from here to there. A downpour has suddenly stopped, and sunlight sparkles over the wet world. We drive with the windows and sunroof open, the breeze blowing in. Although both girls have had Covid, and I’m vaccinated, we’re wearing masks. When won’t we be wearing masks?

The girls talk about classes, and I tune out, listening to their voices. We pass clumps of golden daffodils. On my way back to work, I drive through fields of green so brilliant I blink.

All around me, the human world feels fraught these days with chaos, both self-inflicted and not. Meanwhile, the earth pushes alive with spring. In the evening, walking up a dirt road, I look back at my daughters beneath an enormous maple, its branches still bare. Behind us, the mountains hold a deep blue. The peepers chorus, and the red-wing blackbirds sing sweetly.

It may yet snow again this week. Meanwhile, spring.

We walk up the road and down through the cedar forest, where the path is black earth. We linger so long that we walk home in the dark.

“Walking . . . is how the body measures itself against the earth.” 

— Rebecca Solnit

Somewhere in Snowy Spring….

Through a few inches of snow, I follow stone steps down to nearby Lake Caspian, winding around a cedar-shingled house, holding a railing someone has taken the care to build, baluster by baluster.

The homeowner wants to build a tiny boathouse by the shoreline. While I listen to his plans, I eye the lake visible beneath the bent that hang over the lake. Although I’m wearing my winter coat, I imagine wading in, sweeping my fingers in the cold water.

The few of us stand among white birches, sharing names and stories. Because this is Vermont, we talk about the weather, the need for precipitation, and how everyone’s wood pile is faring. We make our way back up the hill, still talking.

A robin, in a crazed songbird rush, swoops by, nearing clipping one woman’s ear. She laughs.

It’s Saturday. Later that afternoon, I’ll stand in my driveway, talking with my friend about the fat list of things that worry and stress us. But for this half hour or so, I visit with acquaintances and strangers, talking about the area’s barns, how these great structures were built with care. Some remain; some are simply memories.

For listening recommendations, my father passed along this link to This American Life‘s Three Miles.

Short Visit

A retired man shows up at my job, looking for a little info and then stays to talk, sitting in a chair while I lean against one of the cement posts that hold up the ceiling, and the building overhead.

A former landscaper, he’s survived numerous joint replacements, an overseas war as a young man, and he’s holding cancer at bay, for now. He’ll succumb to the cancer, he says, at some point. But for now, he tells me how much he savors that first slurp of hot tea every morning.

I have plenty to do, but for that time, I might as well, really, have nothing else to do. He tells me about a double blossom primrose flowering in his garden. Another spring, he says.

Snow expected today; that’s Vermont spring, too.

Mundane Moment

On a sunny spring Friday afternoon, I’m outside a St. Johnsbury car dealership, waiting for a recalled part to be replaced on my car.

A warm breeze blows up and drifts dust over my keyboard.

90 minutes later, I’m finished, and stop in the downtown. The doors of all the businesses are open. I wander into the bookstore, lift a book, and read — a casual gesture in a public space that I may not have done for a year, or more.

I open a book of poetry randomly and read:


You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
The ruby neon of the liquor store sign

Ellen Bass

I have the strangest rush through my body, a tingling all the way down to my fingers.

On my way home, I stop in at a store and buy mayonnaise and two avocados at my daughter’s request. I walk out holding these things, blinking in the hot sunlight.

In the parking lot, a woman driving a pickup rolls down her window and remarks about the lovely weather, saying how happy she will be to get home. I nod, and we talk for a moment.

When she’s left, I stand with those things in my hands, on this ordinary afternoon, doing this ordinary errand. Someday, not too far off, this daughter will be out sourcing her own mayonnaise.

Our quarantine with Covid has likely turned my hair irretrievably to gray. So be it. Our lives were never meant to stay burnished and unblemished. I stand there, suddenly amazed at my good fortune, and then I head home for BLTs.

Photo by Gabriela S./Barr Hill, Greensboro, VT