On the Road.

On a rainy Saturday, I pause on an empty road and snap a photo. I’d been listening to NPR’s coverage of the January 6 insurrection, one more plot point along the disintegration of the American Empire.

For June in Vermont, it’s darn cold. I’m wearing a winter hat, and the damp wind reminds me of the ocean, how the salt air cuts into you. Listening, I remembered August 1974 when Nixon resigned. My family was moving that day, and my father, fixated, insisted on setting up our tiny black-and-white television. My sister and I asked what the word resignation meant. My father, dealing with movers and three little children and a curious pack of new neighbors, paused to teach us the meaning of that word and gave a comedic impression of I am not a crook, and then explained what that meant, too.

Decades later, and a whole lot of crooked politics later, I still think of the open road as my family’s version of Huck Finn’s Mississippi River. Not long after we moved that August, my parents drove their three little kids in our green Jeep to the ocean. We had lived in the southwest and never seen the ocean — so much water, so much sky, the impossible proved possible. My father taught us how to fly a kite, its long tail fluttering in the wind.

...Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist...
— Hayden Carruth, "The Cows at Night"

Small, Good Things.

A friend and I drive to a nursery on a back road in Plainfield, VT, through fields that seem impossibly green. The trees have barely begun to bud. I buy a snowdrift crabapple tree there. The tree is so tall that my friend and I spend some time carefully nudging it into the back of my Subaru.

I’ve met the staff on my annual pilgrimage there. They all speak quietly, as if our words might disturb the rows of potted currents and grapes. I ask again for planting advice. As I listen, I suddenly realize I’ve gone at this tree planting and cultivating thing all wrong. Beneath my trees, I should create a forest garden of duff and broken up straw and that humus-y compost that plants must love like chocolate. Daffodils bloom in the gardens beneath their trees.

I expect the staff has told me this before, but for whatever I reason I didn’t listen, or their advice drifted the way of so many words.

All the way home and all afternoon, I keep thinking about these woodland gardens and about a Raymond Carver story, “A Small Good Thing.” Two years plus into the pandemic, in this jumbled world, a small good thing….

That night, my teenager comes home and suggests we get a creemee. Friday night, and there’s no one out. We stand under the moon, licking ice cream cones, the peeper screeching in the swamp behind the pizza joint. A small good thing.

Nameless Places.

My daughter discovered the foundation of an old mill near where she lives, a fieldstone structure built beside a rushing stream. A grist mill I speculate.

Sunday afternoon, and the day has warmed. The bugs haven’t risen yet. The spring ephemerals haven’t unfolded from the forest floor.

With one daughter grown, my youngest nearly so, my own parents well along in old age, I think about the things I wish I’d done as a parent. I wish we’d traveled more, seen the northern lights, gone to concerts. I wish my daughters’ father had stuck around. That trite phrase — glass half-empty or half-full — comes to mind. But maybe a truer comparison is this foundation, this well-crafted structure that has now morphed into a wilderness home, where birch trees set seeds and grew in improbable places.

We keep walking, and she shows me a small swamp in a hollow far off the road. The peepers are singing. The mud beneath my boots is black and rich. Water runs through it.

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.

The Long View.

I’ve reached the point in my life where suddenly my parents are old and my daughters are fleeing childhood. Technically, this is the Empty Nest realm, although I dislike that phrase. I’m not heading anywhere. Do the cats count for nothing?

A different woman might be plotting a sewing room. Instead, I’m plotting my own Huck Finn plans, and I’ll pack my knitting needles, thank you very much.

While my youngest is still here, and I’m still reveling in the teen world (which is, honestly, utterly fascinating), I sense more and more how I saddle two generations.

So I read poet Diana Whitney’s recent IG post about intergenerational trauma and female bodies with keen interest today. I followed by reading Whitney’s essay in Longreads. You should read it, too. We’d all be healthier, perhaps, if we spoke a little more about these hard things. And that, today, is as far as I’ll write about that.

Sun. Rain Moving In.

These April days, suddenly full with light rushing back. I’m up early, getting things done, putting order into the messiness of my life. Does it make a difference? Who knows? Still, we need to eat. We wash up. Teen does homework. The songbirds and turkey vultures return in force. Now, blue herons fly over my house every day, from the reservoir to the pond near my friend’s house. I think, what if a heron dropped a note or a homemade donut? How cool would that be? But the herons fly on, way cooler than our little human minds.

Here’s a cool poem, though:

Over the Weather – Naomi Shihab Nye, 

We forget about the spaciousness
above the clouds

but it’s up there.The sun’s up there too.

When words we hear don’t fit the day,
when we worry
what we did or didn’t do,
what if we close our eyes,
say any word we love
that makes us feel calm,
slip it into the atmosphere
and rise?

Creamy miles of quiet.
Giant swoop of blue.