Days like this — or even hours or moments like this (see dandelions above) — remind me that the human world is poor shakes compared to the universe around us. All these things that nag and nip and plague me — from inspecting a car to wondering if my daughters are happy — fall into some kind of place on a sunny May afternoon in Vermont. These things are important; not for a moment am I trying to belittle our human days.
But this is, too. As I crouched in the field to take a photo, a woman bicycling by called out to me. “What gold! It’s cheeseburgers for bees!”
She got off her bike, and we stood talking to each other across the field. I suggested she look at the marsh marigold behind the grange. She mentioned the spring beauties in the woods.
Overhead, the clouds morphed and shifted. Come January, the field might be passable only by snowshoes. But for now, she and I called back and forth, the wind lifting and tugging our words.
“No creature is fully itself till it is, like the dandelion, opened in the bloom of pure relationship to the sun, the entire living cosmos.”
Sunday morning, a light rain falls. The rain is a gardener’s dream, a light but steady enough drizzle, interspersed with sunlight. Our world grows. I stayed up late the night before, reading The Year of the Horses, and maybe it’s nothing but exhaustion — and who isn’t exhausted these days, anyway, but the kids — but I keep wandering around, in and out of the house. To the garden to move this or that. Then back inside to wash a window or sweep away some winter cobwebs.
Washed by rain, the colors in my garden are vibrant. I have this strange feeling that I’m inhabiting the Middle Ages, the realm of chivalry and honor, a time when art is justly valued.
All day long, I work at this, back and forth, making some kind of order in my raggedly life. Before too long, I know, the weeds and the black flies will swarm me. I might be overwhelmed with the messiness of gardening. But for now… just this potential. Just this moment. A single tulip, blooming.
My daughter and I drive around in the evenings. It’s a teen/parent compromise I suppose — a walk in the town forest where I gush over blooming trout lilies and spring beauties and trilliums as if ephemerals have never done this amazing show before. My daughter is cool and tough, utterly on that rugged cusp of childhood and womanhood. It makes my heart ache. It makes my heart swell.
We drive around in what might appear to anyone else as aimless nothingness, checking out geese and listening to the peepers. In our driveway again, I slip off my sandals and lean back in the carseat. Goddamn, I could sleep in her car, that the slip of moon would rise over us, and then we’d just begin again in the morning. Maybe we’d drive to Nebraska. Maybe to her high school. Maybe we’d just keep sitting here, talking, or not.
Meanwhile — spring goes on. Leaves unfurl.
My wrists and eyes and heart are baggy with wrinkles. That is how old I am. Meanwhile, I keep thinking of a line about doubt by Søren Kierkegaard. As a young woman, I thought this doubt thing was for the weak and the foolish. I believed in striking out, holding firm, sucking up the consequences of my actions. Now, it’s a koan that keeps rattling around in my late night, my early morning, my stray driving thoughts: “Doubt is conquered by faith….” I think, take heart from from that. Then, when I look up the line, I realize I’d forgotten the second half: “… just as it is faith which has brought doubt into the world.”
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.
I’ve been a patient at numerous Planned Parenthoods, in three different states, since I was a young woman. These days, I keep remembering a nurse practitioner I met in Bellingham’s Planned Parenthood. I had waited a long time. It was a very hot afternoon. Dust blew in through the open window. She apologized as she washed her hands and simply said it had been a busy day.
I was in my early twenties, had brought a book to read, and I didn’t care.
The staff at Planned Parenthood gave me information I needed when no one else did. This was information and advice that shaped my entire adult life. I was never turned away — even when I had nothing to offer as payment — never denigrated, never treated coldly. My oldest daughter is now the age I was that afternoon. In those young optimistic days, I believed inherently in progression. I didn’t see then that history repeats itself, turns back and bites the same wounds.
In this sunny, hopeful month of May — daffodils. Maybe I’ll think of this as a verb, not a noun: daffodilling.
The May I was pregnant with my second child, rain fell every day. I remember this keenly because my husband wasn’t working that month. I was about to have a baby, and I wanted very much to be finished with pregnancy. I had been so ill for eight months, and I just wanted to move on.
As it turned out, a gorgeous healthy baby girl was born on May 31. The summer was long and hot, just perfect weather in Vermont.
This year, I didn’t realize until today that we had passed over into the month of May. I’m writing this, as I’ve been in the same kind of dissatisfied funk that I was seventeen years ago. It seems silly to admit this — at the time, perhaps, I was in a funk only because of my own dissatisfied soul. I had — and have — plenty. I was talking to new acquaintance yesterday about the general dissatisfaction and irritability that blossoms up everywhere these days. It’s complicated — it’s always complicated — and by no means do I want to diminish that. I don’t want to diminish where I was in those days, either. Now, I can look back at those days and marvel, at least a little, that I did manage to survive intact, more or less.
That summer, though, I knew it would be the last summer I would ever have an infant. Almost right away, I was lucky enough to know that. I remember thinking, let the laundry go unwashed if need be.
This afternoon, walking around my house in a gently falling cold rain, I remembered those days. My daughter has one year of childhood left. Already I’ve begun to recriminate myself for what I should have done, how, given another shot, I’d be such a better mother. In the rain I came back to that same thinking I reminded myself of years ago, Be here now. Remember: drink joy, too.