At the northern end of the reservoir, we kayak north, where the water flows into the Black River, crossing the Canadian border on its meandering way to the Atlantic.
Surrounded by cattails, we stop at a beaver dam, listening to the spilling water. The late afternoon is sticky, the water’s too mucky and weedy for swimming, the girls who have been up early either for soccer practice or work are out-of-sorts, irritable.
What’s on the other side of that beaver dam? I edge near, curious, but there’s no way I’m getting around.
Back on the wide reservoir, we spread out. At the far end, a loon calls, which fails to impress either daughter. The teenager says, I’ve heard that before.
And yet, hungry and tired as both daughters are, neither seems in any rush to leave. Clouds jostle against Buffalo Mountain in the distance, promising rain, but not too quickly. The girls’ paddles lie across their kayaks as we drift.
Later that evening, as I lie on the couch, reading, rain begins to patter down. The older daughter goes out for a run. The younger daughter and I pull on raincoats and cut through the thorny blackberries, silently, our faces wet.
I look out the upstairs window where I’m working and see my teen and her friend busily digging a hole where young lilacs are growing along the cemetery fence.
They’re planting a half-gallon mason jar — their time capsule — carefully filled with things like a map of our camping trips and lists of their favorite things to eat. I watch them talking, and then they tie a pink scrap of fabric on the chain link fence, as if that marker will weather through the years.
Right there, I think, is childhood in a nutshell: a world that intersects with my grownup days, and yet lives busily — in fun and in seriousness — in their own. I haven’t seen what they stashed in that capsule, but I expect to see what emerges, whenever that may be….
A person isn’t who they are during the last conversation you had with them — they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship.
In my email in-box, these lines from Toni Morrison’s Paris Review interview appear:
I have an ideal writing routine that I’ve never experienced, which is to have, say, nine uninterrupted days when I wouldn’t have to leave the house or take phone calls. And to have the space—a space where I have huge tables. I end up with this much space [she indicates a small square spot on her desk] everywhere I am, and I can’t beat my way out of it. I am reminded of that tiny desk that Emily Dickinson wrote on and I chuckle when I think, Sweet thing, there she was. But that is all any of us have: just this small space and no matter what the filing system or how often you clear it out—life, documents, letters, requests, invitations, invoices just keep going back in.
For a single mother who often works at home, clutter is a major issue — and I don’t mean the Marie Kondo kind of clutter with too many piles of perfectly fine clothes or an overstocked kitchen.
I simply mean the clutter of living. On our kitchen table when I came home from work yesterday were bowls of just picked blueberries and green beans, a full coffee thermos I had forgotten, opened mail including a jury summons and a pay stub, a tube of hand lotion, an unopened packet of spinach seeds I intended to plant that evening, a $5 bill, a list I wrote for the 14-year-old (mostly checked off), what appeared to me as a random assortment of dates on a scrap piece of paper, a wildflower identification book, a half-eaten cucumber surrounded by a sprinkling of salt. And a fingernail clippers.
My daughters were cooking dinner, and the dining room table was set and (mostly) cleared of clutter. Life without clutter would be sterility, boredom, an emptied-out house. Or so I tell myself.
Three boys loop in circles on their bikes, eating popsicles and talking. Walking by, I note one boy rides an old banana-seat bike, not unlike my brother’s when he was a kid.
Monday evening, the neighborhood I walk through is unusually busy with people — a woman yanking yellowing pea vines from her garden, a young man powerwashing his deck, two women deep in conversation walking tiny dogs.
I pause at a woodshed where friends have built a tiny house to raffle for the local library addition project. The raffle’s this weekend, and we speculate about who might win. Kids, we hope. Not simply a cute toolshed.
We’ve hit mid-August when the cricket songs have shifted to a longer, slower sizzle, that gradual unwinding of their energy until the singing simply dwindles away in the fall. August is the season of gardens gone rogue — this year my enthusiastic nasturtiums have nearly eclipsed my peppers. The mornings are dim now; the mist moves back into the valley for the cool night hours.
In the rose bed, whose flowers have long fallen, a single trumpet lily blossoms, and I wonder whose hands planted this beauty? Walking by, its fragrance pulls not only the pollinators but myself.
I’m picking up the pace on a wool sweater I’m knitting — a roundabout way of realizing the patches of red on some maples (and no longer just the sick or stressed) mean I actually will be wanting to wear those knitted strands before too long.
Still, summer folks fill my library these days. They all have houses along Woodbury’s lakes, or visit people who have houses along lakes. They’re full of good will, polite, curious about our winters, ready to swap tales of their winters. One family had twins last October. The parents plop the babies on the library floor, and take a deep and exhausted breath.
Driving home, just before the swamp separating Woodbury from Hardwick, the sun hits the goldenrod just so, with scrubby pink clover along the roadside. Rags of mist amble along the swamp, around the bend in the mountains.
For a moment, it’s just me and the road, the gold and the emerald and transient strands of cloud. August, at this very moment. At home, the girls have made blueberry pie, and that’s equally fleeting.
All the way I have come
all the way I am going
here in the summer field
My daughters carry the kayaks through a cluster of serious party-goers — then we’re off, into the kind of pristine wildness so easy to find in Vermont.
At one end of the pond, we drift. The youngest jumps from her kayak and swims off. I leave my kayak on a rock and float on my back, staring up into the clouds. A loon calls.
It’s taken me just about forever to reach this place of parenting, a family life with a kind of togetherness where the girls load up the kayaks while I chat with a young mother about the fish hook she found on the beach.
This sentiment is pure August — like these mornings where the mist lies in the valley again, a harbinger of winter fooling no one.
We are everything, every experience we’ve ever had, and in some of us, a lot of it translates and makes patterns, poems. But, my God, we don’t even began to touch upon it. There’s an enormous amount, but we can touch such a little.