History, Yellow Wallpaper, Gas Station.

On my way home, I stop to fuel my Subaru. A light snow falls, icy around the edges, barely sharp enough to tease my cheeks as I stand looking up. It’s after dark, and the people are coming and going in the convenience store with cups of coffee and bottles of wine and white paper cartons of fried food. The river curves behind the store and the attached garage, silently bending through town, water running beneath the frozen surface.

The evening before, my daughter asked me about The Yellow Wallpaper, the novella she’s reading for class. I remembered the free copy I picked up in high school, dirty and water-stained — a copy I probably snagged from my high school floor. This is the season of freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw, the long slow slog towards spring. In the late afternoons, skiing, the sunlight pushes through the forest. Some days, cold. Some days, warm. So it goes.

Life is a verb, not a noun.

— Charlotte Perkins Gilman


On a Wednesday washed out of color, this mid-January has the taste of February, wet, the wind wicking up wildly then dropping down again to the sodden snow. January is the season of work, of leaning in hard to a task at hand, for pleasure, for wage, for cleanliness, for the way work sweeps us out, makes something new. In its own way, winter’s short, pinwheeling along to spring, to the radiance of summer.

Here’s a perfect poem for today.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.

To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,

and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,

and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

— Wendell Berry

The Shape of Things.

In the early 1600s when Samuel de Champlain was bunking around the fire with people who lived on the shores of an enormous and beautiful lake, Champlain remarked in his journal how surprised he was that these strangers discussed their dreams every morning as if their dreams were as real as the waking world. I’ve been thinking about Champlain’s observance and how easily we can narrow our vision, completely discounting or ignoring pieces of our past and present.

A blog reader who sometimes mails me terrific books sent me Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative. As I’m finishing up a draft of my novel, the book has made me look harder at the novel’s structure. As a writer, I can’t help but look at my own tangled story — and those around me — and the way plot lines and patterns, how chance and opportunity, blend and shape our lives.

For Ray Carver fans (and who isn’t a fan, really? if not, you might want to be!), there’s a terrific essay on one of my favorite stories, “Where I’m Calling From.”

So often fictions that experiment formally do so at the expense of feeling. They toy on surfaces or are purely cerebral affairs, don’t explore human complexities. But the mostly unconventional narratives I’ve been discussing have dealt powerfully with core human matters.

— Jane Alison


This is: winter, not-winter, definitely-winter. Scattered, my thoughts fragmented, I wander down to the lake where the ice has set in now. The world is utterly still there save for a scattering of snowfall. The birds are silenced, and even the breeze has vanished. The profoundness of deep midwinter dwarfs the human world. I lean into it, letting the cold eat up my fury. On my way back, a squirrel runs across the road, calling back to me…

Sylvia Plath writes:

Winter is for women —

The woman still at her knitting,

At the cradle of Spanish walnut,

Her body a bulb in the cold and too dull to think…

Mapping, Metaphor, Motherhood.

I forget my map on my desk beside my eternal list (write thankyous, double check FAFSA submission, confirm E and J meeting….) and drive over the Canadian border shortly after sunrise. Luminous crimson stripes the clouds. Almost immediately, the land flattens from Vermont’s hard ridges to industrial ag fields, distantly studded with metal silos. Late December, and the terrain is more gray than white. I stop at a gas station and ask a woman who is emptying her car of fast food wrappers for directions. I don’t understand her accent, the slipperiness of French that eluded me all those high school French classes. She wants me to understand, repeating her directions, one hand waving a crumpled bag. I nod thank you, thank you, and turn back to my salt-crusted Subaru, miserable with my lack of agility with language. Aren’t I a writer?

At a crossroads, I have no idea which road to take, and the world opens up abruptly in dizzyingly wideness.

My intention is to drive to Montreal to meet my daughters. I hate driving the dullness of interstate and fear driving into cities, and I’ve made this infinitely worse by losing my map. For years with young children in carseats, I delivered maple syrup around Vermont, navigating by atlas and rivers, the sun and roadsigns, using my tools of snacks and a box of board books. I once pulled over and lifted a handful of pebbles from a roadside so my toddler could dump pebbles from one paper cup to another, satisfying her tired self.

Now: no map, no cell service, in a town whose name (ridiculously) I never learn, I pull a Streetcar Named Desire card ask strangers to point my way out. A teenager shrugs. An old man can’t hear me. Finally, an electrician in a truck gives me directions. We repeat his directions to each other three times, and then I roll out, my heart not full of faith, precisely, but enough warmth of optimism. May this new year bring out the generosity of strangers and of ourselves. Thank you all for your kindness and curiosity for reading.

You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is… unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far.

— Alice Neel


My oldest plays Noah Kahan as the soundtrack to her life, the young man who sings of loving Vermont in all its bareness and glory: I love Vermont, but it’s the season of the sticks

I pull over on the roadside. There’s no one around, not even a crow keeping me company. Solstice season, the precipice of one thing tipping into another, the darkest of the season tipping over into the real winter yet to begin. I am decades into my own love personal affair with Vermont.

Winter is the perfect season for a writer with its shocking beauty, the looming threat of frostbite, the profound metaphor of darkness and light, heat and cold, stillness and the edging-in resurrection of spring. On the deepest level, perhaps, winter reinforces the need for patience.

Noah Kahan sings: So I thought that if I piled something good on all my bad
That I could cancel out the darkness I inherited from dad…

How’s that for a variation of an Eugene O’Neill play?

Curious about this Kahan character? Check out Vermont Public Radio’s story.