18th Birthday.

Here’s the thing: 18 years is a whole lot of parenting. 18 years is hardly a heartbeat.

My youngest was born by caesarian at 8:13 a.m. Leaving the hospital a few days later, corn nubs had emerged through the soil. As we drove by farm fields, I admired the new corn, marveling at its beauty. I had seen corn growing my whole life. And yet….

Perhaps that and yet sums up parenting. As a little girl, my youngest wore a green fairy tutu from her grandmother for about two years straight. These days, we are past the days of tiny teacups and Go, Dog, Go. Our family dynamics are now getting down to the hard questions: what does it mean to be a woman? what shall I do with my life? and how many times does sunscreen really need to be applied on a senior skip day at the beach? The questions go on….

blessing the boats

                                    (at St. Mary’s)

may the tide

that is entering even now

the lip of our understanding

carry you out

beyond the face of fear

may you kiss

the wind then turn from it

certain that it will

love your back     may you

open your eyes to water

water waving forever

and may you in your innocence

sail through this to that

— Lucille Clifton

Vermont’s Foundation: Freedom and Bread

A possum circles in the highway, no doubt startled by my headlights. It’s past midnight, and no soul’s around. I drift into the other lane and let the possum do what it wants to do.

I’m listening to the radio playing the Rolling Stones and thinking of a David Budbill poem I read that afternoon, about Vermont’s colonists and centuries of following folks, seeking freedom and bread. The possum is definitely seeking her or his own version of possum bread, but freedom…? The question looms large. I haven’t far to drive this night, but the words stick with me — bread and freedom — surely two of the main drivers in my life, likely in yours, too.

The peepers are lusty along the Lamoille. The air reeks of wet mud, of that sweet fecundity of spring.

At home again, we lie down with the windows open. I hear the teenagers talking and laughing before they slip into the thickness of young sleep. To ward off the night’s gloom and cold, I’d started a small fire in the wood stove. Through the open window now drifts smoke. In these May days — both hot and chilly — I’ve moved my wood piles, again, as I tend to do, raking the bark and broken bits to dry in the sun. Foolish, perhaps, to keep a fire smoldering while the bedroom windows are open. Or maybe simply a kind of freedom.

What Is June Anyway?

After three weeks of hot weather and drought,

           we’ve had a week of cold and rain,

just the way it ought to be here in the north,

            in June, a fire going in the woodstove

all day long, so you can go outside in the cold

            and rain anytime and smell

the wood smoke in the air.

This is the way I love it. This is why

           I came here almost

fifty years ago. What is June anyway

          without cold and rain

and a fire going in the stove all day?

— David Budbill

May, Fire, Frost.

May, and I’m kicking a few pieces of firewood in my wood stove, pleasing the cats on the red rug, luxuriating in keeping the door to our glassed-in porch open, the heat pushing into this three-season (but really one-season) tiny room.

We are in the days of lengthening light, spring exuberance. The sun rises crimson. A young woodchuck grazes on the lawn, then wanders into our fire pit, curious perhaps about us humans, or simply searching.

I am a gardener; we are outright foes. But this morning, my cat Acer and I watch the woodchuck through the window beside my desk, the morning’s cool pushing in through the screen. Acer steps on my keyboard, rubs his head against my elbow, reminds me that I left him for a few weeks.

I’m still thinking of that window in the apartment where we stayed in Florence. On the tile floor, the tall window open, I watched dawn flow over the red roof tiles, the pigeons sweeping over the roofs. I live in the world of the hermit thrush, mewling catbirds, carmine cardinals. A friend tells me she plans to cover her apple tree with a bedsheet tonight, to ward off the frost. Huh, I think. May.

Consider your origin.

— Dante

Last Moments.

4 a.m., I’m drinking espresso on a balcony in Rome. Our tickets home have been cancelled. (Hello, strikers.) After a scramble, I’m hoping my patch-up fix will hold.

The morning is cool with a promise of sultry heat. Birds serenade in treetops and fly among ruins from an ancient world.

At the metro, my daughter and I are separated on opposite sides of a turnstile. I throw her my wallet over the gate. Her ticket won’t work, nor the second. A man appears, opens the gate on my end, and speaks to me in Italian. My daughter hurries through. I say thank you, thank you, thank you, to the stranger disappearing into the crowd.

The Past, Rising, Falling.

The news here is that the peepers have returned. In the evening, I walk past the two ballfields where the little kids and then the big kids are playing baseball, and up the hill where pavement turns to dirt. Right at the edge of town, there’s a neighborhood where people are living rough. Along the roadside, I spy empty milk cartons and a clear plastic bag jammed with Christmas bows. There’s a swathe of hemlock and cedar, and then the fields and maples begin.

A few days before, I was writing in the local coffee shop when a woman I once knew fairly well stopped in. She sat down with her latte, and we talked for a little bit about the nursery school we once started and where our kids are now.

Then she turned the conversation and acknowledged that something lay between us. I closed my laptop and slid it in my backpack. We spoke about a fire, a burned construction site, a rekindling of the fire, and losses to both our families. It’s early morning yet. We’re in a corner by the window. The baristas are laughing at the counter, and no one can overhead our words. Quickly, we pair up our memories, and it’s shocking how our memories sync of that time. Until we diverge. We pause at the mention of the third family. I have about a 100 questions I want to ask. My shock appears mirrored in her eyes. She’s forgotten all about her coffee.

How do you ever understand the past? We’ve both divorced, moved houses and towns, raised children, created new working lives. And yet there it is, running like a subterranean stream, the past.

Her acquaintance walks in, and she stands up. I slip my notebook in my backpack, say goodbye, have a nice day to the barista, and walk down the sidewalk to the post office.

Small Things.

Early April, hot midday sun, I spy a Mourning Cloak butterfly darting over frozen Caspian Lake. The water has thawed blue holes in sporadic places around the shore, but the snow still crumbles into my boots as I follow the butterfly. The butterfly darts into a stand of cedars and disappears. On this afternoon, how lovely the lake lies, just me and the boarded-up summer cottages, the rusting can used for worms or smokes emerging from its wintering over beside a porch post. The ice spreads out in varying ribbons of pale blue and pearl.

On my back through town, my boot avoids the first of miniature grape hyacinths, tiny buds and furled leaves emerging from gravel.

This spring day, Van Gogh is on my mind, his immense talent, troubled mind, these words: “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together. And great things are not something accidental, but must certainly be willed.”