Back about a hundred years ago when I started to read, my elementary school had these large books with colored pages. I read only on the right-hand pages, then flipped the book upside down, and read on the other side. The net effect was a perpetual mystery: I was reading forward, but there was always this tantalizing upside down text on the left-hand side. Could I dart my eyes there and jump ahead in the storyline?
The storyline had castles and princesses. I think of these books every spring, because Vermont spring colors are so darn brilliant — just like those colored pictures.
I’ve never seen those books again, although I searched for them for my own daughters.
May. Let’s never sugarcoat anything, never cheapen our world into an Instagram I’ve got more thanyou post. Snowflakes fell yesterday, even midday, swirling flakes. My daffodil petals were gnawed around the edges this morning. But it’s May. Spring alone: reason to live.
Midwinter, I was working in the coffeeshop a few minutes’ walk from our house when a woman I once knew fairly well came in. We had started a preschool together, been in and out of each other’s houses, seen each of the other through a pregnancy.
While waiting for her coffee, she sat beside me and said my name, Brett, and that she wanted to mend the falling out between us.
I folded my notebook closed. I had a few more minutes before I needed to leave, and I could see I wasn’t going to put my pen to paper again that morning. We compared notes about a house fire. Our memories lined up with surprising accuracy, all the way down to slight and little things. And then our memories diverged, abruptly. We’ve both divorced, both moved, and yet the ashes of that fire lay deeply in each of our lives.
Midday today, I hurried along one of my favorite walks around the lake. Me and the bright daffodils, the cheery trout lilies, the striking bloodroot. As I walked through the woods, the loons called around the lake. Once upon a time, I would have heard their language as decorative sound, sweet ambiance. Today, I stopped, alone in these woods where the leaves haven’t yet spread out for the season and the sunlight dropped on my face. I understood the loons as much as I understood my old acquaintance, maybe as much as I understand myself, as they sang across the water, their voices echoing against the mountains.
On the way to my oldest daughter’s apartment for dinner, cars stop in the highway. A woman waves frantically for us to slow, slow. A few years back, on a Monday morning, I had pulled over at nearly this precise place. A car was flipped upside down in a roadside ditch. A passing motorcyclist stopped, too, and we walked around the car, then up and down the road.
This afternoon, a man walks behind a snapping turtle, guarding it safely across the pavement.
I’ve been in Woodbury all afternoon, back at the school and the library where I once spent so many hours, so much of my life for a few years. Seeing the turtle, my daughter laughs. So much has happened to us in these past few weeks, these past few years. For now, though, this return to May and spring and turtles on the move. Merry month of May…
History says, Don’t hope On this side of the grave, But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme…
My father’s physical therapist tells him to keep moving. No matter what, keep moving to keep alive. My dad, thankfully, keeps moving.
My youngest and I are about to be on the move, too. We’ve left our cats and our house with competent and caring people, and are headed out for a spell. I’ll send a few photos along the way.
On the precipice of young womanhood, she’s game. And me — I’m somewhere in the Dante dark woods of what I hope will be a long life yet to come. It’s been a long pandemic, a long haul, for me, and certainly for you — for all of you reading my words.
Keep moving, keep alive in body and soul. I’ll be home to plant a bed of spring flowers.
Rainy afternoon. I wander through the neighborhood where I once considered buying a house. Someone else lives there now. With new paint and two rocking chairs on the front porch, I need a moment to recognize the house, to remember the kitchen door I went through, envisioning in those days how my life might bend.
These years, walking by, I’ve watched the vehicles’ license plates change from Maine to Vermont, a tricycle appear, a front step break, two hydrangeas expand in the front yard.
April: season of mud and rain, snow and patience. Some reasons are obvious. Snow vanishes first on south-facing slopes, but other patches around us aren’t so readily knowable. Why does snow cling to some fields and not others? Quickly running water beneath, perhaps, the softening of what our human eyes can’t see, the knowledge gained only by years of our wandering footsteps.
So it goes. April, thaw, brown to pea green.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun…
As the snow melts, the mud comes up. A friend says, But it’s so dirty. I think, Bring on the dirt.
On a sunny afternoon, I disappear early, head out to those secret places where I know the redwing blackbirds sing. There’s nothing I can hold in my hand, nothing I can pocket to bring home and leave on the kitchen table for my daughter, no sign of where I’ve been or what I’ve done, save for the mud that sheds from my boots on the door mat. That, too, is my affair. I sweep it up and empty the dustpan over the back deck.
“Advice from Rock Creek Park”
What will survive us has already begun
Oak galls Two termites’ curious self-perpetuating bodies
Letting the light through the gaps
They lay out their allegiances under the roots of an overturned tree
Almost always better to build than to wreck
You can build in a wreck
Under the roots of an overturned tree
Consider the martin that hefts herself over traffic cones
Consider her shadow misaligned over parking-lot cement Saran Wrap scrap in her beak