Need Chickens?

In this glossy month of May, a black pile of manure in the tilled-up garden surrounded by emerald-green grass, my 12-year-old suggests we need chickens. With previous owners, chickens lived in our barn for decades, so a home for chickens exists with nesting boxes. My daughter’s friends, many of whom have chickens themselves, say, Of course you need chickens.

Maybe it’s just May, season of sunlight and long days, of wildflowers blooming rampantly, of my soil-dirtied hands and dinner outside, maybe my memories of ice and dark winter are already slipping, since I say good idea, and like that, chickens arrive.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

— William Carlos Williams

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Kid and Her Cat

Whether the sun will ever appear in the Northeast Kingdom appears a matter of faith. I know the sun will return, likely soon, likely tomorrow, that long days of warmth will quickly melt the snow in the rose bed and bring those tiny grape hyacinths to blossom, but in the meantime….

And then: how could a girl making egg rolls with her cat cutely observing not renew my faith?

Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.

— Madeline L’Engle, Walking On Water

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Still Here, Hardwick, Vermont

I’m reading Ruth Stone in bed when my daughter comes up the stairs in her jacket and says I must go with her to look at the moon. It’s nearly eleven. We leave the younger sister sleeping with the cats, cross over the snow above my sleeping garlic, and leap the fence into the cemetery.

The moon shines like an enormous drop of cream, nearly round but not quite, waning. The two of us stand in the granite stones, over the sleeping dead, gazing up at the constellations sprawled over the dark sky, and the village below us, cupped in night-black mountains.

While my daughter sits on the ground with her camera, we talk about the landscape around us, and our family landscape. She’s so grownup now, so fully a young woman, that the terrain between us — always intimate, close — has opened like this starry sky.

On our way back, I’m tired, it’s true, and I carelessly place my Sorel boot sole on the jagged wire cresting the fence and not on the smooth bar. Carelessly, my eyes blinded with night, I ignore my own cautious worries about breaking a wrist and jeopardizing our slender livelihood. The wire snags my sole, and I fall to the cold ground at my daughter’s feet, my bare fingers in the snow. For a brief moment, the world turns upside-down, and I lie there in the beloved, beautiful moonlight, completely still.

And then life goes on. Isn’t that lesson enough? Life goes on.

Now snow falls again in ragged, loose flakes, and spring won’t hurry with my exhortations, but arrive when it will.

You have to take comfort where you can — in the nuthatches coming to the feeder, in the warmth of the wood stove, in the voices of your lovely grandchildren. You have to allow yourself to take joy.

— Ruth Stone

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Cold Spring

A lover I had for a very brief time complained I wasn’t good at accepting gifts. Pride, he noted. About that, he was right.

And yet a life without pride in yourself and your actions? Lack pride and you become a muddied doormat. So here’s the theme that surfaces over and over in all our lives — where to find the sweet spot of balance.

Hard things have a way of bending you, and that bending can go either way, I tell my daughters. In this long cold spring, that sentiment runs deeply.

cherry blossom petals
blown by the spring breeze against
the undried wall

— Masaoka Shiki

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Marvelous March Madness

Spring may be fêted with pastel bunnies and pale eggs in the Hallmark and Nestle worlds, but Vermont’s spring must be brutally strong to break winter’s back.

Thaw, and the ice pounds back. Melt, and freeze steals into the night.

The hardest I’ve ever worked in my life is sugaring season. When my younger daughter was two, I remember lying with her under the skylight over our bed, completely spent, reading Louse Gluck’s poem in The New Yorker. I had little time for reading in that season, and this poem always reminds me of this season’s pithiness, the stubborn desire to press on through mud and ice, toward the blossom season.

The sea doesn’t change as the earth changes; it doesn’t lie. You ask the sea, what can you promise me and it speaks the truth; it says erasure

Nothing can be forced to live.The earth is like a drug now, like a voice from far away, a lover or master. In the end, you do what the voice tells you. It says forget, you forget. It says begin again, you begin again.

From March by Louise Gluck

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The Ole Golly Space

When I was about seven or so, my older sister read me Harriet the Spy, a book she liked so much she wanted to share with me, who couldn’t yet read that length of novel.

Early in the book, we hit a plot point of great excitement, when Harriet takes the journey to visit Ole Golly’s mother – her nanny’s mother. Oddly enough, I can still remember the rented townhouse living room where we read, with the glass doors leading out to a balcony suspended over a scrubby backyard.

It’s the ‘Ole Golly’ space I find in reading – and in my own life – forty years later. Open up that door. Introduce me to someone who will make think differently about this life. Clearly, I am no longer seven, my sister and I gnawing on the ends of our braids, but don’t we live the same things in our lives, over and over, and yet all the time changing?

Well, you must realize, Harriet, knowing everything won’t do you a bit of good unless you use it to put beauty in this world. True or false?

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Hardwick, Vermont