Howling

Coyotes howled along the brook by the log yard last night as I walked home in the dark, hurrying in the cold that gnawed my face.

Ten below zero this morning. In the deep cold, smoke curls up from our neighbors’ chimney. My long love affair with Vermont strangely deepens in these days as friends fly out for school break to other places: warm Caribbean waters or hot Florida sands.

Inexorably, the days lengthen on either end, the palest of blue in the mornings, shades of violet and rose in the evenings. At dinner, we think of those tulip and crocus bulbs buried deep in the earth, secreted beneath snow, patient, patient, even as the earth spins its slow way toward March.

I thought that there was only ever a thing and its opposite, and nothing in between. In writing this book I have come to believe in this far less than I did when I started. Unraveling and unlearning this split logic is crucial to justice, I think, and it is crucial to love — loving a person, community, or most of all perhaps, a place, which may turn out to be the same thing.

— Emma Copely Eisenberg, The Third Rainbow Girl

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Photo by Molly S.

Stories

My favorite opening line from a Ray Carver short story reads, “I’ve seen some things.” Winter weary, in mid-February: I’ve heard some things.

A colleague shares a nearly-unbelievable story of her marriage breakup, and I think, madness, madness. The story is so unreal, it’s plausible to me. Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Every morning, every evening, the light lingers just a little longer, reminds us that spring is buried deep but not impossibly buried, that forwards is always the thrust of life.  Smartphones and the internet notwithstanding, the human story in many ways repeats its endless variations of the same simple story, over and over. We’re sentient beings on a changing planet. Snow trickles into tulips. Spring light inevitably emerges.

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Kid Tracks

Tuesday, I’m at the Vermont Department of Libraries for an all-day workshop in the enormous, former high school — the loveliest of buildings in Barre. Built on a hill with a view of the town, every time I walk through the doors I wonder when we thought it was wiser to educate kids in ugly brick and nearly-windowless buildings instead of spacious and high-ceilinged rooms, with a sweeping staircase and polished woodwork.

How the world changes. The building is largely quiet now.

Midday, I walk on slushy sidewalks around a nearby park, a perfect square fronted by enormous ornate Victorian houses. On a snowbank, I see where a child’s mittened hand pressed ripples into the fresh white. The waves are low, and so I imagine a small child walking along in a snowsuit, thinking of not much at all but the pleasure of pressing fingertips into snow. The bank ends, and there’s no more sign of the child.

Here’s one more poem from Buhner’s book…..

People possess four things
that are no good at sea:
rudder, anchor, oars
and the fear of going down.

— Machado

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Photo by Gabriela. Hazen trails, Hardwick.

Painting the Kitchen the Color of Cake Batter

In the sub-zero cold, my daughter’s car cranks over after a long hesitation. Start, or not? Oh, February. So much effort.

The girls are gone skiing while I’m painting the kitchen. The cats move around from stepladder to drop cloth. Meanwhile, I listen to Dolly Parton’s America podcast. I had no idea Nelson Mandela was a fan of Parton.

The girls return with their cheeks bright red, cold and hungry.

Here’s a poem from Ensouling Language.

It is good knowing that glasses
are to drink from;
the bad thing
is not to know what thirst is for.

— Antonio Machado

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Stories From the Past and Present

At just a little over zero degrees — the sun shining beautifully — my daughter and I went ice skating at the town’s rink. Set behind the elementary school, in an out-of-the-way field where burdock grow in the summer, the rink is the vision of one woman, coupled with 2″x6″s and a plastic liner and a lot of help.

I slipped off my mittens to pour a cup of hot chocolate. My hands nearly froze.

Small town life is generally cozy. We see each other’s kids grow up. By and large, we look out for each other. But every now and then, the underside, the other, deeper side of small town life appears. That same day, two different people appeared in my life from a long-ago part of my life. One was a woman. She and I exchanged stories. The other was a man who stole from me and my daughters.

My daughter with her red cheeks and I were on our way home. A friend leaned close to me and asked who was the stranger. I whispered to her, and then we left.

Long ago, I crossed out of any Pollyanna view of New England village life and into the realm of Sherwood Anderson and Ray Carver. I’m nearly finished Ensouling Language — a book that unexpectedly arrived in my post office box. I’d never heard of the author, Stephen Harrod Buhner, although the book from its opening lines writes in my familiar world, particularly of Lorca’s duende, of traveling in the wilderness, of baptism with dark waters.

As a woman writer, particularly, I often find myself pushing back against this cultural insistence to “make nice” and pretty things up. We live in an enchanting world, but the world’s waters are often dark, too, populated by saints and by thieves.

My daughter and I took our skates home, hung them up, and ate dinner.

A thousand thanks and more for this book.

Love is nice… but writing is too hard for love alone. Love is crucial for many reasons but it is not enough to get through [writing] the book. And whether you call it hate, or rage, or anger, or irritation, it is all some form of the same thing. You must have this hate, this rage to be a writer for this is one of the hardest professions on the planet and without rage you will never survive it. You will always run out of steam about page 60.

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Photo by Molly S.

Somewhere in Vermont’s February…

Summers, the dawn is raucous with songbirds. In February, I stand outside in the dark, the cold swirling around my hands and head, hungry, hungry, it seems for my warmth. The icy snow makes the lightest tap against the kitchen window. We’re socked in by sleet and ice and snow in Vermont, the winter wrapping around us. When my daughters were little, how I chafed against those endless winter days. Now, I’m glad to be awake and working while the household sleeps. The cats have wandered downstairs for their breakfast, and curled up for their post-breakfast rest. Our house is warm; the daughters are well; the bills are paid; I have work.

Let the snow pile up. Among those many motherhood lessons is a solid carpe diem — and to log in a few more hours of work before the day drifts along….

Winter solitude—
In a world of one color
The sound of wind.

— Basho

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