Visitor, An Ask

On a sleety day in rural Woodbury, the bright spot in my afternoon is the woman who walks to the library — a mile or so on slushy backroads because she and her partner have no vehicle. The truck died.

She checks out books, we talk about men and raising kids, the cost of living in Vermont. I’ve been working in rural libraries and schools long enough now that I quickly know who’s hard up versus who’s driving that old Subaru because an old Subaru might make them look a little less affluent. In the sogginess of March, my library visitor is sharp and funny, with an amusing eye for details. Sitting there, in the warm library, after a few hours of relative quiet to catch up on work, I winch, thinking of how carless-ness, unemployment, and rural Vermont can crowd up against a person.

When I leave, I drive her down the road to Hardwick, the two of us, talking, talking. It’s after 5, and while dusk isn’t far off, the day still holds light. She’s pragmatic about her chances for a ride back up the road. I never know. Then, just before she gets out, she asks for two dollars, for him, the boyfriend.

… understanding, and action proceeding from understanding and guided by it, is the one weapon against the world’s bombardment, the one medicine, the one instrument by which liberty, health, and joy may be shaped or shaped towards, in the individual, and in the race.

James Agee

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Unexpected Gold

A naturalist did a program at my small library last night, appearing with a red-tailed hawk, a rabbit, a wood turtle, a frog, a snake, and a curved-beak raven. As the room was packed, I stood by the door, watching when he offered to let my daughters touch that gorgeous snake. Wincing – but polite – both declined.

The library is one of those essential places in our society, where everyone is welcome to drink a cup of hot tea in an evening after it has rained – hard, all day – browse the books, listen. Simply come out of our rural Vermont homes and realize the rest of the town is sodden with spring rain, too.

Closing up, I stepped outside, and the clouds had cleared. The sky was pink at the horizon, and an enormous rainbow bent over the library, the small building constructed with volunteer labor, years before I arrived at the scene. My daughter remarked about a pot of gold somewhere, maybe down by the school’s garden. The air was swept clean, already warming, promising sunnier skies. Robins sang.

My daughters walked across the field, oohing and ahhing, my older daughter with her camera, while along the path an older man moved step by step, making his steady way under those clearing skies, going from here to there.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.

– James Baldwin

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