Midday or so, I jam on my boots and head out for a walk down to the lake, leaving behind my desk with piles of hard questions. I’ve forgotten my mittens, so I walk with my hands in my pockets while the wind tears over the lake. The summer people are all long gone, houses boarded up against the elements and thieves. Ahead of me on the road, a stranger walks with a little dog who leaps in snowbanks.
The sunlight is clear, sparkling on the snow, the lake white-capped and simultaneously blue and gray and the green that copper turns after rain.
Last winter, the town began plowing the sidewalk that cuts through the old school’s green. A woman had snowshoed a labyrinth in the snowy lawn for years. The sidewalk divides that space. She protested. The plowing continued. I see she’s marked that labyrinth behind the church. Ahead of me, the little brown dog stops in the road that no one else but us is traveling, its head cocked to one side, staring at me. A gust of wind blinds me with snow for a moment, and then drops just as quickly.
As I walk up to the little dog, I bend down and say hello. The man explains that the dog has rules about people walking behind them — not allowed — and then the three of us walk together, the dog now happily flipping itself into snowbanks. “It’s a bit of an inconvenience,” the stranger tells me, “especially when I have work to do.” At the main paved road, traffic is sparse. A lone Subaru passes with salt-streaked windows.
We part ways. I walk along the short stretch of pavement and turn at the old maple tree that I begged the Selectboard not to cut last year, arguing that the breaking branches were falling only on the grass. “Give it one more year,” I asked, secretly hoping the tree-cutting plans would drift into forgotten things.
At the door, I stamp snow off my boots: a walk with a handful of immutable things.
An expert in New England’s ancient forests shares the story of taking a core sample from a pond not far from my library — easily within a few hours’ walk — and extracting 10,000-years-worth of planetary history. 10,000 years of pollen!
I’m standing in the dark in the back, while a few latecomers step in, carrying the cold on their coats, kicking snow from their boots. I’m also coincidentally near the hot tea, which I urge my guests to take.
10,000 years. His chart graphs the fluctuation of trees in this plot of Vermont — the persistence of beech, rise of rock maple. Exquisitely, I think of a larch not far from the library, how cool and welcoming that forest is in the summer, how brilliantly yellow its autumn needles. The extremely large view and the absolute specific.
Afterwards, finally home with my girls who are in an especially good humor, I think of the UVM museum my youngest and I just visited, chockfull of very ancient human artifacts, a variation of pollen — and in particular the arrowheads found along Lake Champlain. Whose hands made these?
Still socked in by winter… no pollen in the wild wind in the conceivable future…
Specific child, specific 5 degree day, Burlington, February, 2019.
I stepped outside the Montpelier Library today and stood for a moment with my face turned up to a shower of cherry tree blossom petals steadily raining down.
As a writer, I collect words I particularly love: myriad and succor, litany and exquisite, constellation and pinwheeling. For years now in my travels around Vermont, I’ve noted particular trees of exceptional grace, like Hardwick’s beauty mark of three silver maples on route 15.
Last weekend, stepping out the back door of my brother’s brewery, I nearly walked into an enormous apple tree covered in pearly blossoms and humming bees. What’s this? I asked.
Amazing tree, he answered.
What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.
Photo by Molly S.