Keep Walking.

The summer people are still summering it up around the lake. In a few more weeks, these noontime walks will be me and the goldenrod. The kids will be back in school, the adults back in the adult world.

Walking, I can’t help but take stock of the summer. In a quiet way, this has been a summer of learning for me. Perhaps more than anything else, I’ve started to let go of how hard I hold onto time. I stop and talk to the gardener who often seems to be mowing under a wooden split rail fence. I see him just as he’s turned off the motor, and we talk for a while about phlox and coreopsis, milkweed and butterflies. He’s been gardening around this lake for over forty years, and he’s in no particular rush for anything.

The day has warmed since the cool of the early morning when I left my house. I’ve had plenty of coffee and there’s a long stretch of day ahead. With the toe of his boot, he brushes grass clippings from the mower. He asks how far I intend to walk.

Not far, I answer.

He says he’ll offer me a piece of advice: go further than my plan. Walk around the next curve in the path.

In his mirrored sunglasses I see myself, a small woman in a blue dress. I agree, All right.

He nods and starts the mower again.

Writing Dialogue

There’s this odd word gnomon in James Joyce’s story “The Sisters” which is used in the mathematical manner: it’s a way of knowing a physical void by what is visible. That returns to that notion of understanding ourselves as creatures of change: not full and certainly not complete.

A writer once pointed out to me the gnomon is a way of writing dialogue, too. Truest dialogue always reflects the sub-story of what we’re not saying. We live in worlds of stories we create: the spoken story we share, and then all those winding sub-stories beneath.

Isn’t that partly what makes us so infuriating to each other at times, and, conversely, also so intoxicatingly fascinating? Behold, then, the strawberries, the nasturtiums, sun rising through a scrim of fog, the Milky Way arching through the black of a moonless night – this exquisite world we inhabit – and us, with our endless stories…. essence of our humanity.

 If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.

–Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

FullSizeRender

first berries from our garden

Bookselling & Stories

December is the best month to be a bookseller, because it’s the month when people give stories to one another. All day, folks stamp in from the cold and ask for a book for their ancient aunt who enjoys knitting and local history, or a baby not yet born who has a whole world yet to love. My favorite today was the young uncle who bought Roald Dahl for overseas nephews, but went home to reread James and the Giant Peach before mailing the novel.

Today, with the ground finally covered in our familiar snow, the light returned in the solstice kind of way we New Englanders know and love. This evening, a half moon glows on our piece of the earth, the clouds scudding back and forth over its pristine illumination.

Like this light, stories came in all day at the bookstore, not simply flowing out in wrapping paper and bags. We heard stories of the babies on their way, of the old who were babies themselves in this town; one, two, three stories that made me want to weep, the story of a woman buying an auto repair business in the Northeast Kingdom, and many more simply funny and joyous. Taken together, this was a bouquet of stories, all across the human realm. Fitting in a place for literature.

You can speak as though your life is a thread, a narrative unspooling in time, and a story is a thread, but each of us is an island from which countless threads extend out into the world.

— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

IMG_4067

Photo by Molly S.

Stories

Driving the kids home from basketball practice tonight, I listened to their discussion about the beginning of humankind. Did people come from monkeys or from God? My daughter eventually brought up the Big Bang. That must have been the beginning, but how did the Big Bang fit into God and the monkeys?

Eventually, I suggested maybe all these ideas might be true. The kids’ answer was to ask for more snacks.

I kept thinking about that idea of how we tell stories of ourselves. And where does one story begin and another end? I’d just been with a group of teachers asking, Tell me the story of what is it you do. I listened for the hard bones, the unseen, that jointed their stories together.

Long ago, I believed stories remained in books, interesting but tepid things. Now I know story is the absolute heart of who we are, at times suffused with finesse and grace, at others – as in Baltimore – swollen with the tangles of history and present outrage.

There’s a phrase we use in our house: an ax can be both tool and weapon. Story, too, can be utilized as either, but further, I’d say, as tool, weapon, and journey.

We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment.

— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

FullSizeRender-2

Photo by Molly S.

 

My House

While the girls and I were taking down screens and putting up storms today, I noticed a pane of glass had fallen from one of the windows. I was alone on the that side of the house and the window is slightly above my head, in an odd place above a bed of chives. This old window had fallen into such disrepair, its glazing entirely decrepit, that the pane had merely slipped down the house. I lifted the glass, about sixteen square inches, between my hands. That window with its peeling teal paint I had intended to scrape and paint this fall, but I had found neither time nor inclination for any of the windows. I held the pane up to the sunlight as if it were a smudged tear from the house, then set it carefully behind the chives where it wouldn’t be broken. I imagined the house shedding that tear of glass in the night.

My house seems more alive to me than it ever has before, with its rooms of children’s artwork, yarn, books, cobwebs and mud crumbles and the crates of garden onions I’ve yet to carry to the basement. Our house sings with light and joy and color in places; other corners need care and paint and trim. Like everything else in our lives, this house has a story, too, one that began before we arrived with the sprawling clutter of our lives, and one that will continue when we are gone, too.

This afternoon, we attended a memorial service for a neighbor, this woman who had helped build so many houses for family and friends. What a good thing, I thought. What a gift that will last.

Storm Windows

People are putting up storm windows now,
Or were, this morning, until the heavy rain
Drove them indoors. So, coming home at noon,
I saw storm windows lying on the ground,
Frame-full of rain; through the water and glass
I saw the crushed grass, how it seemed to stream
Away in lines like seaweed on the tide
Or blades of wheat leaning under the wind.
The ripple and splash of rain on the blurred glass
Seemed that it briefly said, as I walked by,
Something that I should have liked to say to you,
Something . . .the dry grass bent under the pane
Brimful of bouncing water . . . something of
A swaying clarity which blindly echoes
This lonely afternoon of memories
And missed desires, while the wintry rain
Unspeakable the distance in the mind!)
Runs on the standing windows and away.

Howard Nemerov

IMG_0111

Shells, Sea Glass, and Stories

My daughters have no school for a few days, so they came to work with me today, around Mt Elmore, around Mt Mansfield, and along the beautiful Winooski River valley. Inevitably, the drive is longer than I think, after a hurried jumble to get out, we need to leave in the morning, then coffee drinking in the car while the girls either laugh or bicker. The clouds all the way along the interstate were shot through with dark gray and glimmering gold, as if the weather itself couldn’t decide whether to shine or cry.

At the very end of my drive, I arrive at a street’s crest and the city suddenly dips down, and there’s the lake, the great expanse of it, white-capped over cold slate, undulating upward as if twisting deep in its marrow.

My daughters walked off on their adventure, while I went into my windowless office and set my mind fiercely to work. Later, finished, my proofs for weekend work tucked into my bag, I stepped out of that building. The parking lot edges up to a railyard where train cars are stored on dead-end lengths of track, besides enormous piles of gravel, and seagulls swoop down over the lot, hungrily screaming. With my face up to October’s meager’s light and the wind gustily blowing, I thought of the college class with aspiring writers I sat in yesterday, where we talked about the story beneath the story. This odd lot was rife with stories, stretching on out to the mighty granite block building at the corner, where commence a hundred years ago must have once teemed at the lake.

My daughters returned from their exploration along the lake’s edge, where they discovered diminutive shells and sea glass, more bits of stories carried out of the lake and into their hands.

Everything that does not migrate
has fattened up, bedded down,
cocooned up, and seeded itself.
Life’s two principles–
reproduce; survive to reproduce again….
And by this process, even beyond
the evident hand of man, the world
slowly changes utterly.

– Leland Kinsey, Winter Ready

IMG_0140

Beside Lake Champlain, Vermont