Unfolding, Opening Up

Midday Friday, I’m driving and listening to the Governor’s Friday press conference. For maybe 14 months now, the Governor and his cabinet have answered questions from the press all over Vermont every Tuesday and Friday — with no time limit.

I’m listening so intently, I make a wrong turn, back around, and drive on a dirt road along a river, looking for a bridge and the chance to cross. It’s May, and the roadside are strewn with brilliantly gold marsh marigolds.

I cross, then pull over and clamber down a steep embankment to the river. I’m late, already, to where I’m headed, but this May midday is so green and warm, so filled with sunlight and the promise of spring, that I feel out-of-time, as if this moment might linger forever.

I crouch near the current, broken in place by rocks that have been worn down by the ages of water and ice. I remember, so long ago, in March 2020, listening to one of the Governor’s first press conferences about the pandemic, standing in my living room with my youngest. She was delighted to be out of school for a bit; I kept wondering, what is happening?

Now, so many months later, I’ve heard hours of: look at the facts, admit what you don’t know, be decent to others, and act as a member of a society. As a writer, I interpret this as context matters. We live in the context.

We’re somewhere in May now, the ice cream cone season in Vermont. Eventually, I take off my sandals and walk barefoot up that riverbank, the day drenched in beauty.

The cool breeze.

With all his strength

The cricket.

— Issa

Robin Songs

Certain Saturdays at my library the parents arrive with their babies, the little ones dressed up in their cutest outfits — fox prints, flowered rainbows, little ears on hoods.

The enthusiastic parents are as likely to talk about politics or soil chemistry as teething and sleep patterns.

They are all so new, parents and babies alike, that I’m a little awed, a bit overwhelmed at times, just by their sheer niceness.

My soul is not new, ragged and hardworn like the leather on my favorite pair of boots — been around. I mean this entirely without judgement, as I expect 19 years into parenting, these folks will be a bit ground down, too — although likely just as lovely.

And yet…. it’s spring. While the crocuses haven’t yet bloomed by our house, the avian life is bursting. Herons, turkey vultures, redwing blackbirds. Robins sing in a maple, a pure and unadulterated melody of beauty — no past, no future, simply there.

What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.

—Issa

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Photo by Molly S.

 

A Word About the Garden: Sign of Spring, Hardwick, VT, #10

Robins land in my garden — how close these songbirds swoop to my hands curiously digging in leaf mulch for the first green bits of garlic, the sage greening at a few unlikely ends.

The garden at our former house spread enormously, surrounded by buckwheat field and forest, the woods spreading unbroken over Woodbury Mountain, territory of moose and black bear, bobcat. The songbirds, leery, remained at a distance. Always, at that house, I sensed a tension between domesticity and the wild, my garden the sometimes porous buffer between human and animal life.

Here, on a sandy moraine with a view of the river, the sweetening bones of Hardwick’s passed souls lying six feet buried beyond the row of lilacs, cultivating this patch of earth will be a different variation of home and wild. We haven’t moved far, but cardinals nest here; at our former house, we had seen only a single, stray, lost red bird.

April showers have fallen for days, and I expect rain to fall for days more. The girls complain, but I think, Let it fall… Water our soil, the knotty clumps of root, deeply, well.

The leaves are fresh after the rain,
The air is cool and clear,
The sun is shining warm again,
The sparrows hopping in the lane
Are brisk and full of cheer…
It is a happy thing, I say,
To be alive on such a day.

— James Stephens, “April Showers”

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Elementary School Literature

On my wedding invitations, I printed a line from Robert Frost, and a guest, mistaking Carl Sandburg for crusty Frost, gave us a collection of Sandburg’s poems.

I woke this frosty morning thinking of a poem we read aloud in my fifth grade class, in the basement of a three-story brick building later converted to senior housing. Although I grew up in wooded New Hampshire, far from any harbor or city, the poem’s perfect for kids – short and muscled, primed to pounce, cat-like.

Here’s the past again materializing: I’ve long since forgotten that teacher’s name, or even anyone else in the class. Yet I distinctly recall sitting there as a quiet kid wearing orange tights, in a warm classroom where the basement windows opened to the back driveway, loving this poem.

Hard frost last night. Wearing winter coats, the 12-year-old and I walked last evening, the stars overhead, passing no one.

“Fog”
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
– Carl Sandburg

The Barbed Past

Hefting rotted stumps in fall clean-up today, I tripped on a surprising strand of rusted barbed wire and tore my pants. What crude past is this, surfacing near my well-trod woodpile path?

Whoever strung this barbed wire is no doubt long since passed from the living.

Here’s the past again  – tangible in my hand and elusive with its story – or so the cliché goes. But this last week, I received an email that explained a great deal of my life, all the way back to my very earliest childhood, that gloaming of early memory. Like a tangled wire that has been straightened and trued, I saw a clear thread of my own life shiningly clear.

And yet, time is a strange thing. Ten years ago, I might not have understand what an illumination these words are; I kept the letter to myself. Someday, perhaps, I’ll pass it along to my own children. In the meantime, I’m likely to snip away at that barbed wire, so no one else trips on that particular debris of the past.

There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbour, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady’s bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture – Find What the Sailor Has Hidden – that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.

– Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

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Traveling

These past few days I’ve been reading Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus, traveling through the rain in California, on an old bus named Sweetheart, with the desperate-hearted, the lovely and the profane, the young and the dying. The novel is classic Steinbeck, with an eye for the landscape, and characters so real you could pull up a chair and have a conversation. Near the end, when I began to think this wasn’t my favorite Steinbeck novel, I read a half page of dialogue that made the whole book rise and spin. Then I went with those two characters back to the bus, dug it out of a mud hole, and drove to San Juan.

 

We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil.

– Steinbeck, East of Eden

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Photo by Molly S.