First Star I See Tonight

Dislike of burning fossil fuels notwithstanding, I love driving through the White Mountains, this journey from my brother’s house to mine. Last night in the crepuscular light, my feet wet in sandals from kayaking, my 12-year-old daughter quiet beside me, we wound through the granite mountains as dusk fattened into dark.

Just before we left, my brother and I walked through his house, talking, feeding his dogs leftover bits of dinner. My brother remarked how much he remembered this one particular hike we took as kids on countless Saturdays: in black-fly spring, humid summer, autumn’s splendor. We saw a snowy owl, an opossum in a tree hanging by its tail, scads of wildflowers, a few other hikers.

Driving through that gorgeous sprawl of granite and forest, white-clapboard towns and curvaceous river, with the sky morphing from blue to onyx by our evening’s end, my daughter and I talked about little things, her hands around glass my brother had given her from his brewery. Playing music from her teenage sister, she asked if I knew a particular song she didn’t: AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. Sure, I knew that one.

Through all the other junk in my head, I realized about the time we saw the first single star poised over a St. Johnsbury steeple that the infinity of childhood hiking – through days laughingly glorious and those heartless ones when we bickered and were terribly out of sorts – braided in one long inseparable whole, as sacred as I’d ever get in this earthly realm.

Will my daughters, looking back on their childhoods filled with both love and grief – as we all come to, in some variation of measure or another – see the same? Perhaps that actually may not matter. Maybe the journey together will be sufficient.

that midsummer night…
the cold moon
fills my whiskey glass

– Chenou Liu


Sacco River, New Hampshire



The Adult Contingent

The summer I was 19, I worked in a nursing home in Brattleboro, swing shift from 3 to 11pm, arriving at the hot and busy part of the day and leaving in the generally cool and always quiet night. Being 19 and filled with endless energy, I often worked a double shift, and left at 7 am when just about everyone else in Brattleboro was heading to work.

A few young residents lived in that nursing home – a woman crippled with arthritis, a young man irreparably injured by a drunk driver – but the older residents were there either because they had dementia or suffered an illness, or were simply old and had nowhere else to go.

One evening, my favorite little old woman rang her bell. I remember she had a small bedside lamp and a handmade quilt. When I appeared, she was polite, but she said clearly, Honey, I want a grownup.

I hurried to get the charge nurse, even though it was my job and maybe I should have stayed. I was very young, and the woman was very old – a territory wholly unfamiliar to me.

Early last Sunday, in the last push of moving, I desperately wanted the adults to arrive. I love kids and teenagers dearly, but there’s a time for adults, too. The adults arrived in force, moved us and stayed, and put our house together again, too. They ferried us down the mountain and over the river and up a hill, and took the younger daughter swimming, too.

Eternal thanks.

A camellia
dropped down into
still waters
Of a deep dark well

– Buson