There’s few folks at the high school on a rainy late afternoon I appear. The November rain is soot-gray and cold as river stones. I haven’t been to a teacher conference in years now.
For a moment, I step into my life, six years ago, when my oldest daughter was in this same exact classroom, with this same teacher. He’s a parent now. I’m divorced, and I’ve published another book.
The majority of my daughter’s and her peers’ high school years have now been immersed in the pandemic. Her teacher reiterates, These kids are resilient.
I walk back out in an early twilight, removing my mask and breathing in the wet air. This is the strange, otherworldly time of year — twilight at four. There’s plenty of waking hours yet ahead of me — those games of Uno my daughter and I will play while she shares seagull-sized snippets of her day. We’ll cook bacon and eggs for dinner. In the dark, I’ll leave her to her homework, and I’ll drive to another town for a Development Review Board hearing. That night, I know it will be myself, alone, in that three-story former schoolhouse, fulfilling the state’s in-person requirement, while everyone else is in their living room. I know the meeting will be civil and pleasant and full of the open kindness I expect from these people. When we’re finished, I’ll fold up my laptop and stand for a moment outside again, beneath the door’s overhang, the rain pouring down, sparkling in that single outdoor light, small bits in the unbreakable darkness.
My own resilience is like a river stone, a worn-down, solid thing. Rain, darkness, the breeze from the lake hidden in the cedars. Kids, I think, kids. I carry that word kids home in my heart.
Postcard I received in the mail yesterday from Vermont Almanac — a second collection of Vermont writers due out shortly. How great is that?
In a light rain and pitch dark, my daughters and I arrive at Montpelier’s Hubbard Park for the annual Enchanted Forest. Masked, spread out, bundled up, I have the strange sensation that the three of us are alone, and yet not alone.
The forest path winds along lit jack o’lanterns and burning torches, and among live musicians and giant puppets. Near the crest of the hill glowing paper lanterns decorate a giant oak tree.
The climax of the walk is a creation story re-enactment of a very old woman. Her black dog unravels her weaving as she tends to the changing seasons. As the rain falls more steadily, I realize the story is the tale of my life, as a writer and a mother — the story of the tension between order and disorder and the human longing for order to reign. Yet total order, total perfection, is impossible in this earthly realm.
We walk back through the mud puddles. Before heading home, my oldest pulls into a convenience store. Under a well-lit overhang, I stand outside, watching a man pump gas into an enormous SUV. He’s with a woman wearing a coat that falls to her ankles, a pretty garment with leaves and vines. I’m too far to hear what they’re saying, but I see his hand reach out and slip the top button closed on her coat and smooth the collar over her clavicle.
Through the plate glass window, my daughters stand at the store’s counter, buying hot chocolate. They’re wearing masks, so I can’t see their mouths, but from the way they look at each other, I know they’re laughing.
November looms tomorrow. Our New England darkness. Tighten your coat collar.
Saturday afternoon, I’m walking with an acquaintance on the trails behind the high school, talking about public education. How is education changing? What’s happening?
Beneath a maple, we stop and talk for a little. I tell her about my youngest daughter, who’s 16 and at a place of reflection, asking, Who am I? Where is my life going? Writing made me realize how easily we drift into one life or another, drawn along by circumstances and the people surrounding us. How easily we fall into what seems like a good idea, a fad that might define us.
What seems like a hundred years ago when I was an undergraduate at Marlboro College, someone painted Know Thyself on the sidewalk beside the dining hall. Listening to my daughter as I go about doing my same old things — washing dishes or making dumplings or knitting a hat for a Christmas present — I realize I’m witnessing her small adolescent pack struggle with this same old question made completely brand-new for each of these young people. I’m riveted.
On the trail, a flock of geese flies so low I hear their wings flapping. On our way back to the school, I keep thinking about those geese.
One can claim that growing up… means abandoning magical thinking for rational thinking, yet one can also maintain that nothing should be abandoned, that what is true on one floor of the mind may not be true on another, but that one must live on every floor of the mind, from the cellar to the attic.”
I pause my afternoon run when a couple waves me down in a little memorial park in Hardwick. I’m guessing they’re looking for directions, maybe a suggestion where to eat an early dinner or the road to another town. Instead, they’re curious as heck about Hardwick.
What drove the economy in the 1800s and 1900s? When was the beautiful granite town office building constructed? Do I know the population?
Weirdly, I know the answers to all these questions, and ask a few of my own. Where are they from? Where are they headed?
They’re from the northern shore of Lake Champlain — St. Albans — a town where I once bought a sizable (and expensive, oh, was it expensive) piece of maple sugaring equipment.
We stand beneath a gold-leafed maple, talking about this and that, and I share my speculations about what living in Hardwick might have been like in the early 1900s. It’s all speculation, as my daughters would readily point out.
At the end, just before we part, they ask if I know someone who lives in town. He’s a high school teacher, and I met his family over twenty years ago. In fact, I live beside his mother-in-law.
We laugh. How little separates us. Then they get in their car, and I head off on my run.
We’re at the point in Vermont’s fall where our world makes me ask, What’s happening? but in the loveliest, most wonderful way. The fall colors are stunningly gorgeous — so much vibrant red, so many shades of gold — the trees silently going about their business. Our hillsides are amazing, but so is each tree an individual marvel.
We’d had rainy day upon rainy day, but the weather looks to be clearing, at least for a short stretch. In New England, heading into later fall, sunlight can be sparse. These handful of days are the time to soak up color and light.
When I stopped on Hardwick’s Main Street to snap this photo yesterday, a man walking by said, “Winter’s not far.”
True, but at the moment, autumn in all her radiance.
I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
Like a quilt, the fall’s early darkness abruptly pulls over us.
Late afternoon, I swing by the library, then pull off my wool sweater and go for a run. The rain falls so hard I appear to be running through clouds. I’m on a loop, so I keep on — there’s no easy turning back to get home. At home, I feed the hungry cats and light the first wood stove fire of the year, just a small one, with a few handfuls of kindling. There’s no turning back for fall, either.
After dinner, the daughters sprawl on the couch. The cats, who didn’t care much for summer, anyway, curl in a laundry basket, utterly satisfied.
Again, I realize I’m looking at this the wrong way: there’s never any turning back, just going on.