A Little Green.

An acquaintance stops into work. I’m jammed to the point of frazzled with a list of what needs to be done, but I quit for a bit and shoot the breeze, ask what’s up in his world, and how his very large (by Vermont standards) business is faring.

We’re Vermonters, so our conversation naturally bends towards the weather. We’re dry — not New Mexico dry, where my parents live — but so dry in Vermont wells are going dry. Listening, I think how much of the summer is yet to come. Then he heads off to his day, and I head back into mine.

In the evening, I’m in a meeting at the town offices when the rain begins. The town offices are in a 100-year-old schoolhouse. It’s a well-made building of wood and walls of pressed-tin over, now shabby in places and in need of TLC, but endearing with history and craft. By then, the day has stretched out quite long for me, but I’m happy to be in this building, with jovial people who are doing their community part.

When I step outside in the dark, cold has moved in with the rain. But the rain falls steadily, at least for some amount of time. The next morning, the hillsides are vibrant green in a way I haven’t seen for some time.

We’re dry, but not as dry as we were before.

In the Garden…

Walking early this morning in the garden, the dew chilly over my bare feet, the thrush sings. The lilacs are opening, blossom by blossom, the deepest violet still closed tightly, not yet ready to reveal.

This is good news I remind myself. I look back at my house where our cat sits in my daughter’s bedroom window. She’s sleeping yet, a whole day of sunlight and apple blossoms yet to come.

May. Spring in Vermont. The air this morning is sweet.

Where We Are

On a gorgeous Friday afternoon, my 15-year-old and I are outside the Vermont Department of Libraries, to pick up a sneeze guard and hand sanitizer for my library. The building’s locked (of course), but we’re allowed into the vestibule of this beautiful building that once was the town’s high school.

The Department’s employee who helps us is like all the state library’s employees — utterly helpful — and a bag of children’s books has been included, too, to add to my library collection or give away. I imagine on the employee job application is a box — Are you a decent person?

There’s been some snafus in the pickup, and I’ve been texting the woman who arranged for these free drop-offs around the state. By then, my daughter and I are at our next errand. She’s in the driver’s seat, and we’re in the parking lot of a wood stove store.

The woman apologies for the confusion, and I text back not to worry. She writes that elevator problems were not in the plan. Then, laughing, I text that 2020 and Covid were doubtlessly not in her plans, either.

Haha, she writes back, nor were distributing sneeze guards and hand sanitizer in my career plans, either.

While I’m laughing and texting, my daughter has cracked open one of the half-gallon bottles of sanitizer and says, Hey, this is the good stuff!

The July day is stunning beautiful — not too hot, but the perfect day for swimming. There’s plenty of good things I’m happy about this day: I’m employed. I’m (nearly) finished with another draft of my book and about to hand that in. My 15-year-old is ecstatic to have the car keys in her hand.

Here’s what’s also happening.

I’m in this parking lot because I’m looking to solve a chimney problem in my house and heat again with wood. In the early mornings, reading the news, like so many other people, I worry about the country descending into chaos. My 21-year-old reads the same news and asks me what it means. What’s happening?

Like everyone else, I don’t know. I’ve never lived through times like these. But I do know human history is filled with times of uncertainty and movement and hardship. I’m doing everything I can to get us through the winter, as best as possible.

Part of getting through the winter is loving these summer days now, knitting deeper the ties around me — and that includes these bits of texting with a woman I haven’t yet met. The levity doesn’t diminish what’s happening, but collectively lightens the load. My daughter, rubbing that great sanitizer into her palms, asks if I’m going to laugh and text all afternoon. I might.

You’re rocking the distribution of plexiglass, I write.

She answers me, Thank you!

Then I put on my mask and head into the store.

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#Porchlife

On the cusp of turning 15 — 15!— my daughter lounges, reading the newest installment in The Hunger Games. Across our short, dead-end street, the little boy digs in his sandy driveway with toy trucks, talking to himself, busy in his world. By the afternoon, his whole family splashes in the kiddie pool.

We are waiting for rain in our quiet corner of Vermont.

The cool breeze.
With all his strength
The cricket.

— Issa

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Travels into the Past

My daughter and I stop briefly in the New Hampshire town where I grew up, as part of a much longer day trip. Although Goffstown is three hours from where we live, my younger daughter had never been there. My parents have long ago moved back to New Mexico, my siblings spread out in their own adult lives.

The little village, where I haven’t been in years, is surprisingly unchanged. There’s some sprawl here and there, but not as much as I expected. A town ballfield has been converted to a cemetery, planted with saplings and marked, so far, with a single tombstone. Below that, the small pond where I learned to ice skate is still encroached by weeds and brambles, making for tricky skating but immensely interesting viewing for a child lying on the ice.

The snow has mostly melted here, and the earth is an amber-brown. Not a single shoot of spring green is visible yet. Walking around, I see the places that I loved: the gone-to-wild swathe behind our neighborhood houses — places a child could endlessly explore for years — the Ucancoonuc Mountains, the woods with huge glacial erratics surrounding the town. The library where I read out the children’s section and held my first job as a library page has been expanded. We walk through the library. Tom Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t ever go home. I can’t quibble with that wisdom, but walking through this library I loved so dearly, I step back into my childhood for a few minutes. Crammed with books, the library was both alive for me with the social chatter of the town but also ineffably fed my hungry imagination.

On this Wednesday morning, the library staff says hello and good morning to my daughter and me, and I feel, again, that same hum of life, endlessly unspooling, utterly fascinating. The shelves now stretch far up to the high ceilings, and this makes me so happy, to know the library is loved and funded.

Likewise, walking past my former house, I see a treehouse in the backyard and a tire swing from one of those enormous maples. Every summer, my father — and then his three children — painted the clapboards. Whoever lives there now does the same, I see.

I had expected to be sad, maybe nostalgic, about this town I never visit any longer. But walking around with my teenager, I see immediately that I’ve taken that town with me, that the child and teenager I was then carried that love of woods and wild, of imagination and dreaming, the same quirky family story and laughter with me.

At my parents’ former house, I see children play in that mixture of tended domesticity and the small patch of woods behind that old house. It doesn’t make me feel old; instead, I feel resilient. Driving, we listen to Coronavirus news, to the stock market careening, to the political uncertainty of this world. My daughter and I talk and talk and talk. Listening, I don’t second-guess myself, I don’t wonder what I’ve failed as a mother. I know, instead, I’ve given her a fertile, imaginative childhood, and I know it’s hers, to decide her own course, too.

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Stories From the Past and Present

At just a little over zero degrees — the sun shining beautifully — my daughter and I went ice skating at the town’s rink. Set behind the elementary school, in an out-of-the-way field where burdock grow in the summer, the rink is the vision of one woman, coupled with 2″x6″s and a plastic liner and a lot of help.

I slipped off my mittens to pour a cup of hot chocolate. My hands nearly froze.

Small town life is generally cozy. We see each other’s kids grow up. By and large, we look out for each other. But every now and then, the underside, the other, deeper side of small town life appears. That same day, two different people appeared in my life from a long-ago part of my life. One was a woman. She and I exchanged stories. The other was a man who stole from me and my daughters.

My daughter with her red cheeks and I were on our way home. A friend leaned close to me and asked who was the stranger. I whispered to her, and then we left.

Long ago, I crossed out of any Pollyanna view of New England village life and into the realm of Sherwood Anderson and Ray Carver. I’m nearly finished Ensouling Language — a book that unexpectedly arrived in my post office box. I’d never heard of the author, Stephen Harrod Buhner, although the book from its opening lines writes in my familiar world, particularly of Lorca’s duende, of traveling in the wilderness, of baptism with dark waters.

As a woman writer, particularly, I often find myself pushing back against this cultural insistence to “make nice” and pretty things up. We live in an enchanting world, but the world’s waters are often dark, too, populated by saints and by thieves.

My daughter and I took our skates home, hung them up, and ate dinner.

A thousand thanks and more for this book.

Love is nice… but writing is too hard for love alone. Love is crucial for many reasons but it is not enough to get through [writing] the book. And whether you call it hate, or rage, or anger, or irritation, it is all some form of the same thing. You must have this hate, this rage to be a writer for this is one of the hardest professions on the planet and without rage you will never survive it. You will always run out of steam about page 60.

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Photo by Molly S.