Before I leave for the North Danville Library on Tuesday, I sit for a moment with my daughter at our kitchen table. She eats a quesadilla, and we talk about things that matter — who’s behaving in what way and why that might be. The rain has knocked off for a bit, and I drive the way I often knit, more by feel and memory than anything else.
At this time of year, the farm fields are their deepest green. Sunflowers appear in gardens and along houses, their yellow leaves weathered by cold nights. I passed the house where my former sister-in-law lived when her four children were little. In the backyard, we built a playhouse. Her oldest daughter slept in the upstairs bedroom, and milk trucks rumbled down the road in the very early mornings.
The Brainerd library is housed in a former schoolhouse. I parked and stood for a moment in the lot shared by the library and a church. Cows ambled in the field behind the parking lot. Across the street, children pushed each other in a swing hung in an enormous tree. I imagined these were a few after-dinner moments gleaned in the falling twilight before bedtime.
I had been generously invited to talk and read a little about my book Unstitched. Driving over, I remembered the two years I spent writing this book, much of these hours at my kitchen table. Writing a book can be such a long and lonely process. So these moments of connection and resonance, of meeting readers and other writers, are manna to my soul. The library was well-cared for and had a real sense of so much living that had happened in those walls.
Unstitched is about hard things — addiction and guilt, poverty and illness. But I left that night and drove back home along the roads that had no traffic with my heart full of happiness kindled by an evening of literature and discussion and homemade cookies in a beautiful library with kind people. At home, the stars sprinkled over the sky, and the night was still warm enough that I could pretend winter was not in the near offing. Inside, my daughter and I picked up our conversation where we had left off.
Rain begins falling yesterday evening and falls all night. Through the open windows, the wet scent of soil drifts into our house. The cats sit on the sills, a little confused apparently by the breeze and wet.
For whatever reason, I wake remembering a visit to the emergency room with one of my daughters a number of years ago. I had wait for my then-husband to pick me up, and my little girl and I sat in the empty waiting room. It was night by then. My daughter slept in my lap. The nurse on duty was a mother in a parenting group that we had both participated in a few years before. Her daughter was in school then, and she had long ago ceased having any weekday morning free. We spoke for a little while, and she gave me a bottle of cold water to drink. It was June and hot, and the water was delicious. Such a small thing, remembered so many years later. Doubtlessly, she’s forgotten it.
This rain has the same deliciousness — tinged with fall, yes, but watering my dry garden. Summer’s gone. We’re in the season of red maple leaves.
I love all films that start with rain:
By Don Paterson
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face…
A local radio station asks me to call in for a morning show this week. To cut down on the background birdsongs, I dial from my glassed-in front porch and stand looking out the windows at the hydrangeas which are particularly pink this year. My cat knocks over a glass of water. The water spills around my bare foot just as the announcer patches me on.
Radio’s particularly fun because the conversation moves quickly. The mystery of our conversation — the host and I talking about things that matter — travels invisibly into people’s living rooms and studios and cars and job sites. Meanwhile, my cat splashes water on my ankles. When I hang up, a friend phones me. As I tie my shoes to head to work, we talk quickly and make a plan to meet.
At the end of the week, I’m at a soccer game, watching the girls’ team, listening to the conversation behind me. Two men talk about roadside mowing along a stretch of back road I happen to know. I think I know this stretch really well, but listening to the men and how they describe the dips in the roads, the rocks in the ditches, the proximity of houses to the road, I realize there’s plenty I don’t know about this road at all. In the hot, late afternoon, I smell the sweetness of fresh sap mingled with two-cycle oil on their clothes.
Last night, my youngest and I were talking with my brother on the phone when my oldest called. My youngest patched her in. For a few moments, the four of spoke together — from two houses and a car mired in road construction. My oldest said, I’m calling to tell you the full moon is red. We each hung up and headed out to admire the night sky.
As season come
And seasons go
The moon will always glow
In the inky pre-dawn Next Mexico morning, my brother and I head back to the Santa Fe airport. He’s done this thing that somehow never hit my consciousness — rented a car like an Air BNB — which has been incredibly helpful. The sunrise spreads over the horizon, more golden than pink, while the three of us stand talking in the parking lot for just a moment. My brother hands over the keys, and then that’s done. The car’s owner leaves.
My brother and I have time. We can walk through the one-room Santa Fe airport in about three minutes — maybe six, including security. A half moon hangs above us. We kick around words for the phases of the moon, and he teases me, again, about what he claims is my overuse of the word gibbous in my first novel. As the wide Santa Fe sky morphs from black to blue, Orion fades.
On the short flight to Denver, my brother and I are separated by a few rows, each of us peering out the window at the Jemez mountains. We’re back in that enormous flow of airline travel, so many people going so many places, all that fuel and pollution eating up the planet. Not very long ago, people remained on the earth. But for these moments, suspended thousands of miles above the planet, I glimpse my brother and I as separate people but indelibly part of this great human stream, traveling to visit our old parents. Around us, everyone moves through their lives and stories.
The pilot ferries us above the mountains and through the clouds. As I walk into the airport, I say thank you, and I mean it.
Sunday, we drive across the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. There, the mountains are much taller and rugged than Vermont’s shorn down ridges. I grew up (mostly) in New Hampshire, and granite in boulders and quarried slabs is as familiar to me as my kitchen knives.
I sit in the backseat, knitting, and all the way there and all the way back, I have the strangest sensation of a sewing needle linking these two states and the pieces of my life — girlhood and young motherhood and the cusp I’m on again as my fledglings head off gleefully into the wild. In New Hamsphire, we meet my brother for lunch in a leisurely way, nothing serious, batting around trips and ideas, family stories. We sit outside in the shade. As we leave, he tips back his head and says, What perfect weather.
We return home with tiny cheesecakes in jars, a few groceries, a kind of sleepiness and fullness from the drive. We’re back in time to feed the hungry housecats their early dinner. In the garden, I pull up some gone-by marigolds and cucumber vines. Working, I think of all these little bits and pieces of our lives, how I often struggle to put these together. And yet, sometimes, how our lives are sewn together, as if miraculously. End of August. And now onto what I hope is a long sweet autumn.
Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.
The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air–these things will never change.
— Thomas Wolfe
On my way home from Bookstock — a terrific book festival in Woodstock, Vermont — I stop at a farmstand for strawberries. I’m a little dizzy with heat, with talking, with the sheer writingness of the day. No one’s around, and I admire the lake across the road.
The farm owner backs up his truck. End of the day, he’s pulling in what remains in the wooden stand. We talk for a little about the pontoon boats and how the lake is surprisingly deep at his shoreline across the road, a perfect temperature for swimming.
He tells me about the alarm that sounded in his greenhouse recently when the overnight temperature dipped near to forty. We’re standing in near-90 degree heat but Vermont weather is fickle. The farm owner was a patron in the library where I worked. I bought political books for him that maybe no one else but he and I read. Cold winter days, he’d sometimes appear and read silently for an afternoon and then leave with a stack of books.
This day I’ve driven on blue highways down the heart of Vermont, along rivers and through narrow valleys, past homesteads with fat gardens, through classic white clapboard villages and a town center dominated by a post office and a rusting flag pole. On one farm, TRUMP is painted on a metal storage box beside the farmhouse where the roof is bitten out in pieces. Lilac bushes cover the first floor windows. An RV in the side yard appears to be the occupied space.
I buy two pints of strawberries. The farmer loads up his truck. I stand at dusty roadside in the hot breeze. Bring it on, I think. Summer. The strawberries are the sweetest I’ve tasted in years. Nourishment from the goddesses.