The afternoon takes me around two lakes in a kind of work I relish. One visit involves a visit with a contractor at a house he’s building. We muse how water seeks its own wise course. As I drive away, I keep thinking about the immense boulders a king-sized excavator unearthed from that mucky soil. The boulders are some of the most righteous beings I’ve met in weeks.
On my way home, I stop at the high school and take a brisk walk through the woods before an evening meeting. I see someone I know, and we talk about projects at the high school, what money is coming in, and what’s still needed. These days, I often find myself in terse conversations with acquaintances, as though we’re all gnawing a cigarette between our teeth, our backs against a proverbial wall, eyeing the horizon.
In a light rain and pitch dark, my daughters and I arrive at Montpelier’s Hubbard Park for the annual Enchanted Forest. Masked, spread out, bundled up, I have the strange sensation that the three of us are alone, and yet not alone.
The forest path winds along lit jack o’lanterns and burning torches, and among live musicians and giant puppets. Near the crest of the hill glowing paper lanterns decorate a giant oak tree.
The climax of the walk is a creation story re-enactment of a very old woman. Her black dog unravels her weaving as she tends to the changing seasons. As the rain falls more steadily, I realize the story is the tale of my life, as a writer and a mother — the story of the tension between order and disorder and the human longing for order to reign. Yet total order, total perfection, is impossible in this earthly realm.
We walk back through the mud puddles. Before heading home, my oldest pulls into a convenience store. Under a well-lit overhang, I stand outside, watching a man pump gas into an enormous SUV. He’s with a woman wearing a coat that falls to her ankles, a pretty garment with leaves and vines. I’m too far to hear what they’re saying, but I see his hand reach out and slip the top button closed on her coat and smooth the collar over her clavicle.
Through the plate glass window, my daughters stand at the store’s counter, buying hot chocolate. They’re wearing masks, so I can’t see their mouths, but from the way they look at each other, I know they’re laughing.
November looms tomorrow. Our New England darkness. Tighten your coat collar.
My daughter and I are standing on a street corner in Montpelier, Vermont, talking about some little thing — maybe the mighty silver maple on the library’s lawn and how those leaves are always the last to turn gold. How I remember this every year at the same annual mark, and then forget this for the rest of the year.
While we’re talking, I keep thinking of this lovely library, and how I took my daughters there as little girls. Later, I often worked all day in the upstairs reading rooms with views of the trees. Not so, anymore, in our pandemic world.
Across the street, a couple kicks fallen leaves at each other. I stop talking, thinking, Oh, no, what fresh hell is this? when the couple begins laughing. They’re each holding white paper cup, and he has a paper bag that might be full of sweet delicious things from a nearby bakery.
That moment — that tiny joyful moment — opens up our day. Sweet normalcy. Oh, yes. Bring that on.
One of my most favorite autumn poems:
on a withered branch sits a crow autumn nightfall —Basho
In a dream, my daughter drives along an interstate and rounds a curve. A semi spreads across the road, its back-end across our lane. In a fraction of a moment, I predict we’ll hit the truck. Before I can speak, my daughter steers to the right, and I have a sickening foreboding that she’ll hit the truck and I, on the right, will emerge unscathed. I’m not afraid really; it’s grief that nails me.
She steers us around the truck, over the grass, back onto the road, and keeps driving. My heart hammers.
In the dark, I lay awake. There’s a lesson here, I counsel myself.
On this rainy October morning, here’s a few lines about parenting from Anne Lamott and an excerpt of my book in The Fix.
…one of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one’s secret insanity and brokenness and rage.”
― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
I pause my afternoon run when a couple waves me down in a little memorial park in Hardwick. I’m guessing they’re looking for directions, maybe a suggestion where to eat an early dinner or the road to another town. Instead, they’re curious as heck about Hardwick.
What drove the economy in the 1800s and 1900s? When was the beautiful granite town office building constructed? Do I know the population?
Weirdly, I know the answers to all these questions, and ask a few of my own. Where are they from? Where are they headed?
They’re from the northern shore of Lake Champlain — St. Albans — a town where I once bought a sizable (and expensive, oh, was it expensive) piece of maple sugaring equipment.
We stand beneath a gold-leafed maple, talking about this and that, and I share my speculations about what living in Hardwick might have been like in the early 1900s. It’s all speculation, as my daughters would readily point out.
At the end, just before we part, they ask if I know someone who lives in town. He’s a high school teacher, and I met his family over twenty years ago. In fact, I live beside his mother-in-law.
We laugh. How little separates us. Then they get in their car, and I head off on my run.
Sunday afternoon, the board of the local food co-op hosted a meeting, posing the question: buy a building a few blocks down and encumber the co-op with a million-dollar debt, or stay in the tiny, owned-outright space? Philosophically and financially, the debate was heated.
I leaned against the pavilion’s post, listening, drinking my tea. Around us, fallen leaves rustled across the grass. My cheeks burned with windburn from that morning’s hike with my daughters. We climbed to a cliff and looked down at a glacial lake, the surface choppy with white caps. On our way home, we stopped at the beach of this enchanting lake, mountains rising steeply on either side. A bald eagle dove into the wind, its head and tail whiter than snow.
Before the meeting ended, I packed up my knitting and headed home, still thinking about that eagle.
From one of my childhood favorite reads — and from a paperback still on my shelf…
The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her … In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible.”