Pastimes

I wake before dawn thinking of shuffleboard and listen to the rain pattering.

It’s Wednesday, and my high school daughter is home today. With high school in session two days a week, she’s patched together a strange schedule. Yesterday, she walked to school around ten (skipping the idiocy of study hall in the gym), had algebra and driver’s ed, and spent the afternoon playing soccer.

I lie in the dark, grateful beyond grateful for soccer.

When her father and I divorced, I kept thinking, my god, we need to do better for this girl. So it goes with school this year. Really? I keep thinking. Is this the best I can do?

I remind myself, again, that I’m part of the problem. At 15, she’s stepped into a kind of college schedule, coming and going, utterly responsible for her own work, burrowed on the couch with her school-issued Chrome book, determined.

The truth is, the best has long since slipped out of vision. Hence, perhaps, the appeal of a shipboard game, hours of leisurely chat, surrounded by the glittering sea.

I’m not about to get that shuffleboard option. I rise and feed the hungry cats, brew coffee and open my laptop.

Rain falls steadily — a welcome sound. The chaos of the world is clamoring loudly. Meanwhile, my daughter leans into her work. I brew more coffee. Day by day — the only way to parent.

Crushed Leaves

A colleague tells me her brother contracted Covid in January. A professional chef, he opened an oven and wondered what was wrong with the meatloaf — it had no smell. He survived after an intense illness.

So this week, I know I’m alive as Vermont autumn is all scent. The after school kids ask me to step into their fort. I lean over the wall built of leaf and vine and breathe in, and I’m eight-years-old again, with my siblings and the neighbor kids, building houses of fallen leaves.

Wood smoke and skunk and the soil I’ve turned over in the garden.

As the daylight shrinks noticeably and we turn more and more indoors, inevitably I look for sources of strength — geese flying low over our back porch, their wings rushing, the rising cream-colored moon, our neighbors’ laughing boys — and my youngest daughter on the cusp of young adulthood, sharing bits of her world in snippets, puzzling over this great big world.

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,

      This autumn morning!

— Robert Browning

Calais, Vermont

Friday Poem

I picked up two chairs in a free pile along a backroad yesterday.

No! my daughters said.

In the evening, playing Yahtzee, our cat Acer begins to gnaw on the chair’s loose strands, which makes the girls laugh hysterically.

Something for everyone in the free pile. That’s where we are in the pandemic world.

I pull out the gray hairs,

And under my pillow,

There is a cricket.

— Basho

Butterflies and Crickets

On a balmy afternoon, I’m on Nature Conservancy Property in Greensboro, Vermont — Barr Hill — the first place my daughters hiked. Nearby lies the glassy blue gem of Lake Caspian.

On my short drive there, I’d been listening to the governor’s twice weekly press conference. By now, like so many people in the state, I’m familiar with Scott’s voice, his cabinet members, and the press. Scott allows the press to ask question after question; these sessions have an interesting kind of intimacy, a we’re going to get through this kind of attitude.

On my way along Barr Hill, I pass rusting old farm equipment in fields where cows are grazing. Here, the past is both near and hidden.

In a field, I paused and admired the view of the mountains and the line of lake. The sky these days is slightly overcast with smoke from the west coast wildfires. Around me, butterflies flew over the blooming goldenrod, and crickets leaped in the dusty path around my feet.

I had such a sense of living in an historic time — the Covid pandemic — and yet I just soaked up that all that sunlight, those tiny flickering wings.

Mid-September?

Three years ago, I sold our house on a back road and moved into the village, for a few reasons, for mostly so my daughter could walk to school. By then, I was a single parent, hustling a livelihood, and I needed my youngest to be able to get herself around. Rural Vermont, for those not in our world, depends on the car or pickup to get yourself around.

In the pandemic world, where I often find myself ticking off what I’m grateful for, as an antidote to the long list of what I’m decidedly not grateful for, that 15-minute walk ranks pretty high up my list.

These days, I’m wondering how this pandemic will shape my daughter’s generation.

A year ago, she was a freshman in high school, with a regular slate of classes and fall soccer games. As a sophomore, she’s more like a college student, grabbing in-person classes instead of online classes, insisting I’m not to interfere; she’s worked out her own schedule.

Study hall on Monday afternoon? I’ve given her permission to walk home with her friends.

So, while she’s hoping her year will be filled with chemistry, anatomy and physiology, trigonometry, Spanish, and French, I see a different kind of education this year. When her father and I divorced, her childhood had a hard line — a Before and an After. Now, across her whole generation, I see a Before and an After.

I’m incredibly curious to see how that unfolds.

The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Hardwick, Vermont

Butterscotch Lifesavers

In the evening, as dusk settles in, my daughter and I walk downtown to the corner store.

I’m looking for Lifesavers, a rare treat in our house. She asked if I would mind buying her Lifesavers on my way home from work. I’d forgotten her request in my hurry home.

At the corner store, we realize she’s forgotten her mask, so I go in alone and stand there, pondering the three Lifesaver options that store offers. What the heck, I think, aren’t there like a thousand flavors of Lifesavers?

Outside, I find her leaning against the store’s cement block wall, talking on her phone to her uncle, who’s called to find out how school’s going and what’s up in the realm of pandemic adolescence. She’s talking and smiling, glad to hear from him, spilling her happiness with her math class and driver’s ed, the two bright spots in what otherwise appears to a whole lot of chaos.

These days, my head feels jammed with a snarly chaos, with a stream of work and winter prep, a marathon-length school board meeting, and our first frost. As my daughter talks, I wander along the river, its bank piled with old tires. Oak trees spread over the water, their leaves still summer green. What a story, I think, this will be one day, for these kids who grew up in the pandemic’s shadow.

I slide the packs of Lifesavers into her jacket pocket, my small offering.