Sweetness

Rain.

This May has been exceptionally beautiful, with a profusion of blossoms and warmth. Living in a village now, we reap the benefits of lingering outdoors in the evenings, with no black flies gnawing our bare skin.

In this vaccinated world, a headiness rears, too. My daughters are suddenly gone, this way and that, one grown up, the other nearly so.

In the evening, I sit on the covered back porch, breathing in the scents of lilacs and rain.

The drama of spring unfolds around all of us, blessedly so, this year.

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.

Mighty Wildflowers

Blue squill reappears in our front yard and over the hill behind our house, in the thickets of wild raspberry canes — tiny flowers that sprinkle color in our landscape that is otherwise brown dirt and gray mountain.

In the rough patches of roadsides and rocky ditches, coltsfoot springs up. Along the brick school gymnasium, I discover blooming dandelions.

These tiny flowers, some no larger than my thumbnail, are mighty tough. There’s a lesson here, I know, as I crouch in that tangle of thorny vines, admiring a clump of starflowers. That lesson might be as simple as the determination of the world’s beauty. Who planted these flowers, I don’t know. But every spring I’m grateful for that gardener who lived here and who so loved these spring gems.

The first of a year’s abundance of dandelions

in this single kernel of bright yellow

dropped on our path by the sun, sensing

that we might need some marker to help us

find our way through life…

— Ted Kooser, “Dandelion”

April

The wind chimes on our back porch tingle and clang all day and all night long. Spring pushes in not just with purple and pearl and gold crocuses, but with birdsong. 5 a.m., when I step out with a bucket of hot stove ashes, the robins are at it already, mating and nesting, busy with robin family-life.

I lie awake thinking of that window of time when my daughter contracted Covid, imagining when she might have let her mask slip, rubbed an eye with her fingers, the slightest of gestures she’ll never recall. Then I imagine the hours when she was contagious, before this gorgeous healthy teen said, My back hurts. I’m tired, and I closed my laptop, looked at her carefully, and began to worry suddenly, in earnest.

With my own two negative tests, the virus has (at the moment) passed over my body.

Snow falls, all day, on April first. We sleep with the windows cracked open, and I smell the particular damp scent of snow in the night. I lie there, thinking of the practical, mundane things of my world (as a single parent, could I get with it and write a will?) and the visible and invisible mysteries of this world. How I’ve tarnished and sullied the prayer of my everyday life, distracted by things that mean very little, while all along our days are unfolding, one after another, in their finite number.

The cats insist on breakfast. I stand at the back door, drinking coffee, watching snowflakes drift in a gray dawn, listening to NPR and a courtroom in Minnesota.

It’s another month. Despite the snow, spring edges in.

You’d better get busy, though, buddy. The goddamn sands run out on you every time you turn around. I know what I’m talking about. You’re lucky if you get time to sneeze in this goddamn phenomenal world.

— J. D. Salinger

Thaw, Finally

Right at the equinox this year, spring cracks winter’s back in Vermont. The pavement buckles into frost heaves. The dirt roads mush and muddy. Sunday, I find the season’s first coltsfoot, the tiny gems of gold.

A Vermont spring is either a heartbeat — bang, done — or weeks of freeze and thaw, thaw and freeze. Although the days have hit 60 degrees, the nights are still cold, and our wood stove keeps our house warm.

Last evening, we walked by a sugarhouse, its cupola open and steam billowing. The air was tinged with the sweetness of maple, the slight rotting of thawing mud. Instinctively, my upper arms ached. Walking behind my daughters, listening to their chatter, my arms remembered those years when we sugared, and how my arms and gloved hands bent into the woodpile.

Spring is all those things: the radiance of the strengthening sun, the beauty of wildflowers, and how, when the earth thaws, our winter debris of ash pile and last year’s kale stalks emerge.

The bush warbler.
The rain wouldn’t let up.
The travel clothes.

— Mizuhara Shuoshi

Cardinals — crimson and soft brown

Two cardinals perch in our mock orange bush, a brilliant flash of feather and beak, meeting and mating, much to the joy of our cats, who want to eat these these little creatures.

Around our Vermont house is yet an oasis of snow and ice, not a single sign of grass yet apparent. In the front yard, the rhododendron emerges stubbornly. I’m here! I’m here!

On this early morning that promises warmth, lines from poet Marie Howe.


Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days…

We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you. 

— Marie Howe, from “What The Living Do”