Cat Joy

When I returned from a school board meeting last night, so tired I might actually have been sleepwalking, the kids had taken the trusty yardstick, swept out the toy mice from under the couch, and the cats were ecstatic. Our house was reveling in utter joy.

I write this, because I admire those cats so much, epitomizing the be here now bliss of existence. But, bless them, these are cats.

After Vicki wrote in about the fires in Australia, my older daughter and I kept reading and reading about these fires. Our globe is literally in flames. Like just about everyone else on the planet, I’m lacking an answer, a real solution. I know just how privileged I am to live in what often seems like the Shire of Vermont, this particularly sweet spot.

When I was a young woman in the 1980s and 90s, the sentiment I was given was pretty much an all for yourself one. But for my kids, that’s not even an option. I didn’t think adults were particularly bright when I was young, but they were just adults, neither more nor less. Now, listening to my daughters and their friends, I know they’re thinking what a mess you’ve left us.

If only there was a yardstick solution to this…

Maybe learning how to be out in the big world isn’t the epic journey everyone thinks it is. Maybe that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is what’s right in front of you. The hard part is learning how to hold the title to your very existence, to own not only property, but also your life.

Meghan Daum

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The Mind of Winter

Poet Wallace Stevens wrote: One must have a mind of winter/To regard the frost and the boughs/Of the pine-trees crusted with snow.

In northern Vermont — thus far — the winter has been cold and dark and ice, scant on snow. When the sun is out, we lift our faces, as if our bare cheeks can gather the light like June’s strawberries in our hands.

The mind of winter is the Vermonter’s mind, for sure, for sure — slipping away in the swimming and gardening season, returning in late fall.

Each of us in my house is sunk into work and school in ways that seem particularly pleasant — at this time. Keep the house warm, the cats and kids fed, and walk under the stars at night.

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Barr Hill, Greensboro, Vermont

One Day, Otherwise

A few drops of rain graced the very end of our walk yesterday afternoon. Later, our kitchen redolent with baking pies, rain hammered on the roof.

I hope all my readers have many, many things to celebrate. Oddly enough, on this day I’m mostly grateful to be in a place where I can be grateful. My life has not always been that way — or, more accurately perhaps, I’ve been pressed at times where I could think only from here to there, and not have the luxury of gratefulness. I know I’m not alone in that. Gratitude, it seems to me, needs not material or financial space (although those things certainly help), but the spiritual space to be simply in the here, the now.

One of the very loveliest gratitude poems is Jane Kenyon’s Otherwise. Here’s a few lines on this holiday morning.

I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

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And, more happiness in a world with such dear creatures, my beloved hardworking cat.

Crisis of Faith

Exiting the interstate at midnight last night in rainy St. Johnsbury, it’s just me in my little silver car, the strange combination of lonely hearts’ radio and tinny country music, and that profound country Vermont darkness. That stretch of interstate rims the outer edge of utter nowhere.

Year ago, returning from a trip to my sister and her husband and their hospital-bound infant, my brother and I had trouble finding his snow-covered truck in the New Hampshire airport parking lot. Maybe it was midnight already, maybe not, but we certainly passed it, driving north on the interstate, where we stopped at a gas station and bought (and drank) terrible coffee. We were so tired we laughed until we were too tired to laugh, and then too tired to talk. Finally, at his house, his wife sat on the stairs and offered us take-out Indian food. I lay on the kitchen floor. Possibly, I even slept there, in a pile of boots and cat food bowls.

The next day, my friend and her 4-year-old drove over the White Mountains in a snowstorm to bring me home to my family — and my four-year-old. At the top of the Crawford pass, I got out of the pickup and brushed snow from the windshield and stood for a moment in all that white, not sure entirely where the unplowed road lay.

But I got back in. Her son waited patiently in his carseat between us. She kept driving. What else could we do? We couldn’t stay there. And, that, perhaps, is all I ever needed to learn about faith.

Miraculously, the snow lessened as we neared the Connecticut River, heading home.

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Rapture

Everyone was outside today. In all her golden beauty, Spring returned. I left my library door open, with a few patrons in charge, and walked down the dirt road to post a sign about state reps coming to visit the library in a few weeks.

The melodies of blackbirds followed me.

Rapture, as near as can be…. all afternoon, my nearly 14-year-old daughter and I were out, in a day so suddenly hot.  Yes, she’s a teen and wonders why I gnaw the edge of my thumb, there’s blue paint on the edge of my t-shirt, and is possible that I’ve shrunk? I say the word necklace with the wrong intonation of vowel. The knees of my jeans are stained, possibly with coffee.

And yet, on this particular day, I can see clearly how strange a creature I am in her eyes — who is this strange woman and how did she birth me? Likewise, I wonder, who is this miraculous not-girl and not-woman, and how did I birth her?

For the moment, though, there’s this afternoon, there’s just the two of us — as much rapture as I’ll likely ever deserve in this life.

We must risk delight….
We must admit there will be music despite
everything.

— Jack Gilbert, “A Brief for the Defense”

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The Lion, and The Lion Again

These days, I’m always writing about the weather and here’s why — with a vengeance, winter hurls at us.

In a select board meeting last night, someone paused and said, The wind. Soon afterward, the lights snapped out. In the utter dark, I stood talking, bodiless, about agenda. The town clerk appeared with two battery lanterns, her face flickering with shadows.

The 13-year-olds pulled me into the town vault where the clerk had shown them a book of vital records, each certificate in a plastic sleeve. The girls had gone wild about the death certificates, reading aloud cause of death: thrombosis, carcinoma, asphyxiation from car exhaust in a closed garage.

I read about a woman who had shot herself in the chest, in the 1950s, down the road from where I once lived. In my mind, I repeated her name and age.

The town clerk showed me handwritten ledgers from when the schoolhouse was built in 1914. Nails, $6.50.

At home, the power was out, too, and I finished knitting a baby sweater by candlelight. Before we went to bed, we looked out the second floor bedroom windows at the dark valley, a snowplow carrying its own light along Route 15. I reminded the girls of reading about wartime, in so many other times and places, when families shut off their lights, in fear of bombing. Three degrees. The wind shrieked around our house.

I lay on my daughter’s bed, listening to her day of babysitting and kid stuff. She knitted by her little lantern while I watched the shadows of her moving hands on the ceiling. A cat curled between us and slept.

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Artwork from the recent Taproot issue — appropriately titled Revive — where an essay of mine appears.