Saturday. Stories.

In the classic scenario of Saturday plans waylaid, I end up driving here and there this morning, for errands that may or may not make any difference at all. That seems to be where we are these days — maybe, maybe not.

July has warmed, and I work on the back deck, in the shade of our table umbrella, drinking cold coffee.

An acquaintance I haven’t seen in a while stops by. We stand in the shade of my house, talking. He found my book in a yard shade and bought it. Then he tells me his own story of drinking and how he rose up against it. I’d known a few strands of this story, little bits, here and there, that he’d freely given me before. But his telling and my listening slips me back into that sacred space of stories. The telling. The listening. Nothing maybe about that at all.

“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

— Graham Greene

Travels through Time. Along the River.

Write a novel and, at some point, you’ll start henscratching or typing notes about when the protagonist moves from reaction to action. Why not think of your life as a novel you’re writing?

I drove down the long center of my Green Mountain State yesterday to return to Brattleboro, where I lived for years as a college student (so long ago). I bought my first car for $500 in Brattleboro.

For the drive, I had one rule: stay off the interstate. I began through the chain of towns I know, Montpelier and down through Northfield and Brookfield, along the Dog River. I headed up through a pass where the snow returned in clots along the road, and where trailers were surrounded by old cars and pickups, the kind of stuff that someday might be used. The forest flattened and gave way to fields where barns were built nearly in the fields. I drove through upscale Woodstock and the burned-out industrial buildings of Springfield.

Southern Vermont was like a magical dream — sunlight streamed over blooming daffodils, forsythia spread bright yellow, emerald green paired with black earth.

I met an old college friend who works at Everyone’s Books on Elliot Street. Thirty years ago, I lived right near that bookstore, and I spent a lot of time there. We exchanged thumbnail stories about our lives and kids and work and exhusbands and books of course. My book was in the front window of the bookstore, and she told me it “had been selling like hotcakes” — utterly gratifying.

In a park, I pulled out my laptop and wrote up a few notes. As I headed back to my Subaru, my friend Sean Prentiss walked towards me. He lives just a handful of minutes from me and was meeting his lovely family for a few days in Brattleboro.

I went to Brattleboro to meet friends from my past, and I met a friend from my present. Put that in as an interesting plot point.

On the way home, I listened to This American Life about babies switched at birth. I’m an TAL devotee, and this episode is especially fascinating.

Magic Trick

Like a great joke, a few more inches of snow arrived on April Fool’s Day. By afternoon, however, the day evolved to a breezy sunniness, brisk but radiant. I walked with writer Natalie Kinsey-Warnock to her car in the Woodbury School’s dirt parking lot. It’s Woodbury — the village built in a swamp — and, for that moment, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. In the treetops, blackbirds sang crazily. Why not? It’s Vermont spring.

Natalie shared stories with the school kids today, and at one point, I couldn’t figure out what she was headed — how did a 1865 steamboat catastrophe in the Mississippi River figure into rural Vermont?

Then, abruptly, like whisking an indigo rabbit from a top hat, the story shimmered. It’s as though Natalie unfurled one of her grandmother’s handstitched quilts, and the connections between the history’s enormity and this woman, and these children and their own place in history, lie visible as much as can anything can be seen in history’s rough beauty, the concealed pieces teasingly beckoning.

I’m the librarian, the hostess of this event, the timekeeper to move this along, make sure the kids have time to grab their coats and catch the school bus, but for these moments I’m merely me, surrounded by these rapt children, loving this particular story.

Oh, the long days of circling to sow and reap,
but, O, those few days on the river each year.

— Leland Kinsey, from “Northern Traverse”

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Hey? Where’d I Park the Honda?

Not far from our house, a few months ago the neighbors parked an old Honda, circa 1990s, right along the road beside their house, and after the last storm, the Honda completely disappeared in the snow. Between the roof shedding snow and the work of the town plows, only a massive snow bank remained.

This week, the upper edge of the car’s roof returned. I noticed a window in the backseat had been left unrolled, just an inch.

In a weird kind of way, I’m keeping my tabs on the Honda, just out of sheer curiosity or what my kids would call nosiness. I’m pretty darn sure I’m not the only one in the neighborhood who’s interested to see how this story evolves. What’s the plan?

This week, we’ve had a mighty snowfall, a full day of rain, freezing rain, miserable cold, t-shirt balminess. Yesterday morning, I worked at our sunny kitchen table all morning while the cats slept on chairs beside me; in the afternoon, snow squalls surrounded the kids walking home from school.

In our domestic life, we’ve tears, laughter, and rage.

Yesterday afternoon, while the 13-year-olds baked chocolate chip cookies, their snowy clothes hung up to dry, I walked in the blue-hued twilight. And there it was — millions of snowflakes falling, utterly silent, from an origin unknown, steadily going about the work and beauty of winter.

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And A High Today of -10º

We’re surrounded by cold. Two days of school this week. The air cuts.

The cats have wholly given themselves over to this season, indolently lying on blankets, nestled in cardboard boxes and the laundry basket, wrapped in each other, luxurious in their fur and the warm house.

At ease. Peaceful. Marvelously content, sweet little beings.

Meanwhile, I read Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions.

We need to stop telling the story about the woman who stayed home, passive and dependent, waiting for her man. She wasn’t sitting around waiting. She was busy. She still is.

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The Ties That Clinch

A few years ago, when my sister’s kids and my kids started spending more time together every summer – beyond a few days’ visit – we hit a point one summer when all three of younger kids were either mad or crying. We split them up into different cars, and then went hiking. By the end of the day, they were laughing again. And while no one favors kids crying, it was clear the cousins had hit a new level in their relationship. They  had spent enough time together to honestly disagree; simultaneously, they had spent enough time together to cherish each others’ company, and wholeheartedly make-up.

Like all families, we share the same stories exclusive to us. Remember when Yasu dumped ketchup on his head and laughed hysterically? Remember the summer Gigi and Kaz spent hours sorting tic-tacs? Remember the Summer of Gum, when Trident was the New Cool Thing? Remember when Aunt Brett…. well, I won’t incriminate myself.

Stories are too often trivialized as lightness, mere anecdote or amusement. But aren’t the stories of ourselves and our beloveds an integral way of knowing ourselves and our place in the world? Not to mention…. often entirely fun.

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Number 10 Pond, Calais, Vermont