Somewhere in Vermont’s February…

Summers, the dawn is raucous with songbirds. In February, I stand outside in the dark, the cold swirling around my hands and head, hungry, hungry, it seems for my warmth. The icy snow makes the lightest tap against the kitchen window. We’re socked in by sleet and ice and snow in Vermont, the winter wrapping around us. When my daughters were little, how I chafed against those endless winter days. Now, I’m glad to be awake and working while the household sleeps. The cats have wandered downstairs for their breakfast, and curled up for their post-breakfast rest. Our house is warm; the daughters are well; the bills are paid; I have work.

Let the snow pile up. Among those many motherhood lessons is a solid carpe diem — and to log in a few more hours of work before the day drifts along….

Winter solitude—
In a world of one color
The sound of wind.

— Basho


Ode to Winter

Cleaning off my car windshield this morning, I had the impulse to remove my mitten and bury my hand in the fluffy, utterly white stuff. At zero degrees, with a stiff wind cutting my face, I didn’t.

Snow has finally really come to Vermont — and kept coming and coming. Winter’s a hassle — always — in the realm of driving, of keeping the house heated, the windows closed, of missing walking barefoot through the garden and woods.

But winter’s simply ineffably beautiful, too. Driving to work, a scarf wrapped around my neck, my heavy boots in the car, too, just in case I break down, I’m mesmerized beyond VPR’s impeachment news as I watch swirls of snow skitter over the pavement. Since I was a little girl and my parents drove me, I’ve watched snow and wind work their silent mystery over the highway. Winter.

Calligraphy of geese
against the sky-
the moon seals it.

— Buson


Calais, Vermont

Kid Project

Deciding she wants to improve her cursive handwriting, my daughter writes a careful sentence in her notebook and hands it to me. I’m sitting beside her on the couch, reading Volkswagen Blues. In my clumsy cursive, I pen an answer to her sentence and hand the notebook to her.

As we fill a page back and forth, a curious thing happens. My handwriting, never stellar anyway, unwinds into a nearly illegible scrawl while hers, tidy and careful, improves.

One little moment of her childhood, of my motherhood.

At five this morning, my teenager and I shovel out her car — so many inches of fine, perfect snow. When she leaves, I keep shoveling by the light of the living room window. Today, snow will fall all day, and maybe we’ll remember it as the day we baked blueberry pound cake and the trampoline frame disappeared in the snow.

Or not.

But for a few moments, sweating from shoveling, my hat pushed back, I stand listening to my breath and the far-off sound of a snowplow, in those millions of snowflakes, twirling their way to earth.

He wanted to know what kind of people had decided, in the early 1840s, to give up everything and travel across most of a continent simply because they had heard that the land was good and life was better on the shores of the Pacific. What sort of people had had the courage to do that?

“Ordinary people.”

— Jacques Poulin, Volkswagen Blues


Pre-storm photo, January 2019


Where We Are Now

Winter socked us in early this year, the old sheet I used for covering the remaining mesclun greens still draped over the garden fence, nailed down to the earth by snow.

Preparing to read Mary Azarian’s Snowflake Bentley book to the elementary kids, I request Bentley’s own book from interlibrary loan. As I open the cover of an old copy, I remember when my father first showed my siblings and I this book, so many years ago — the glossy pages and pages of winter’s crystalline beauty.

My older teen — in her high heel boots — complains of cold. Then, invited to sled at night, she packs her bulky winter clothes. Returning in the deep dark, her eyes glisten.

 … though the beauty of the snow is evanescent, like the beauties of the autumn, as of the evening sky, it fades but to come again.
Wilson A. Bentley


And A Little More Snow — What?

Talking to my mother on the phone yesterday afternoon, I noticed through the window the heavy rain had bits of white. Snow? The white disappeared.

This morning, three inches of white spread over the porch and garden, the neighbors’ roofs and the cemetery stones and — yes — those little blue wildflowers whose names we haven’t yet determined.

I was barefoot and sweating in the garden on Saturday: Vermont.

Years ago, when I first moved to a steep backroad, I had the snow tires removed mid-April — how I regretted that. A neighbor cautioned me, like some strange commandment, Never take off your snow tires before May. Subconsciously, her advice must have rooted deeply. Maybe I should be grateful for her advice, but maybe the snow will melt this morning, too.


White Stuff


Driving back from Burlington, the interstate is snow-and-slush-covered, and the green Montpelier exit sign is nearly concealed. The conditions are nearly white-out, and I know where I am mostly by the long bridge over the Winooski River. I know the train station at Montpelier Junction is below, and that my family has walked on the railroad trestle over a summer-slow river.

In Montpelier, passersby walk with their faces turned down from the wind and blowing snow.

Then it’s all backroads home for me, driving on unplowed roads over ice-rutted dirt. Where fields loom up, the edges of the road disappear, and I’m driving more by memory than anything else. It’s March, and my snow tires have been hard-used for three or four years now, and I’m fed up with hearing about people’s trips to places with palm trees or, heck, even open water. March is the eternal Vermont month.

In Woodbury, the village that doesn’t even have a store now, I pull into the library to work a little longer before I head back to my daughters. As I walk by the elementary school, I see the children have built an enormous snowman, so tall I imagine adults must have helped with this.

After all that driving, bent over the steering wheel, just me and VPR and that eternal list running through my head — and who will take care of my daughters if I spin off the road and disappear? — the snow falls silently. The flakes twirl slowly, sheltered here from the wind, graceful as the season’s first snowfall. It’s so lovely I can imagine making a day of it, if I would just keep walking.

Nirvana is not something that we should search for, because we are nirvana, just as the wave is already water. The wave does not have to search for water, because water is the very substance of the wave. Living deeply makes it possible to touch nirvana, our ultimate reality….

— Thich Nhat Hanh


Woodbury, Vermont