Thaw, Finally

Right at the equinox this year, spring cracks winter’s back in Vermont. The pavement buckles into frost heaves. The dirt roads mush and muddy. Sunday, I find the season’s first coltsfoot, the tiny gems of gold.

A Vermont spring is either a heartbeat — bang, done — or weeks of freeze and thaw, thaw and freeze. Although the days have hit 60 degrees, the nights are still cold, and our wood stove keeps our house warm.

Last evening, we walked by a sugarhouse, its cupola open and steam billowing. The air was tinged with the sweetness of maple, the slight rotting of thawing mud. Instinctively, my upper arms ached. Walking behind my daughters, listening to their chatter, my arms remembered those years when we sugared, and how my arms and gloved hands bent into the woodpile.

Spring is all those things: the radiance of the strengthening sun, the beauty of wildflowers, and how, when the earth thaws, our winter debris of ash pile and last year’s kale stalks emerge.

The bush warbler.
The rain wouldn’t let up.
The travel clothes.

— Mizuhara Shuoshi

Cardinals — crimson and soft brown

Two cardinals perch in our mock orange bush, a brilliant flash of feather and beak, meeting and mating, much to the joy of our cats, who want to eat these these little creatures.

Around our Vermont house is yet an oasis of snow and ice, not a single sign of grass yet apparent. In the front yard, the rhododendron emerges stubbornly. I’m here! I’m here!

On this early morning that promises warmth, lines from poet Marie Howe.


Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days…

We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you. 

— Marie Howe, from “What The Living Do”

Phone Chat

To save some cash, I switch cell phone companies, and I realize,  while I’m on the phone with the representative, that she’s working at home when she talks to her dog.

Knowing this opens up our conversation, and I learn her husband likes to turn down the heat, they’ve been living in Phoenix for two years, and she sought out this job because she likes the company so much. I’m amazed, because I never considered working for a phone company an interesting career option. She insists the people are all just so darn nice. It’s a great job.

While she types in my info, she hums faintly. I hear a screen door squeak open, and her husband’s voice. We chat about the coronavirus, and what it’s like to work only from home, for week after week.

When she’s finished setting up my phones, she wishes me good luck and welcomes me to the company family. I feel weirdly delighted. I don’t even know this woman’s name.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve more or less resigned myself to a kind of lone wolf existence — raising kids and gleaning work hours — and much of the work I do requires solitude. But this coronavirus existence has made me realize how valuable are our slenderest connections.

When I hang up, I step over my daughters who are sprawled on the rug doing a workout in preparation for bikini season. The cat wanders between them, clearly confused, likely wondering, What now? I step out on the back porch. Snowflakes are twirling down. Summer? Hello? I wonder.

Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors… disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected… One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.

Rebecca Solnit

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Succor

When I was twenty-eight and living in a hunting camp with my husband, I read Ernie Hebert’s The Dogs of March. The building was heated — well, we attempted heating — with a barrel stove designed for coal. The little insulation in the walls had been gnawed to just about nothing by mice. But this isn’t a story about how young I was then, how naively starry-eyed for so very long, but my first introduction to that word. I was so innocent then I thought the word was out-of-place in that novel.

Much later, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher suggested families acquire the habit of repeating the same family walk, no matter the weather. We had already established this, and likely because my husband and I had walked all through our childhoods. Even now, in a different house, one of the first things the girls and I did — and unconsciously — was try different walks. Where’s a better view? A running creek?

Today, I realized one of our walks has been downtown Montpelier and around the state house — again, in every kind of weather — and in the enormous crowds at the 2017 women’s march.

Walking is succor, a lifting up and an assistance. A widening from the narrowness of ourselves, a reminder of sky above, the eternal steadiness of the earth beneath our feet. The robins nesting in the maples on the state house lawn. Nearly 13 summers ago, on hot July and August days, I nursed my baby beneath those maples while the 6-year-old ate cookies and ran barefoot on the grass.

One repeated the same old mistakes. Each of us has a blind spot in his thinking that defeats him time and again against all teaching and experience and pain.

— Ernest Hebert, The Dogs of March

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Montpelier, VT, April 15

A Starlit Night

Last night, my daughters and I walked the neighbor’s child home in the dark. We had been outside for a while, playing a variation of tag with flashlights and laughter, resulting in the older daughter slipping on ice and lying elbows-down in mud. With the flashlights off, we walked along the muddy road beneath the starlight. The night was balmy for mid-March, suffused with the scent of thawing earth: a rich odor so pervasive it was a constant companion. The moon, a white curve, shone a pure, yellow-white light.

On the way home, we saw our house through the bare hardwoods, the strings of little lights the girls nailed along the eaves twinkling. We passed just one house along our road where a single light shone; they must have been gone. It was just the girls and the star-and-moonlight and the mud and I. The peepers are not stirring yet, and none of the woodland creatures called. Beneath our boots, the earth shifted, softening, giving up its winter frost. My older daughter said, I could walk forever, on a night like this.

This morning, watching a single robin tugging at our lawn, I thought of my older daughter, and how, before long, this girl will be on her womanly journey, walking different patches of earth – in boots, or sandals, or heels – beneath this same exquisitely beautiful sky. I opened the window and listened for birdsong, relishing the season we’re in.

What a strange thing! to be alive beneath cherry blossoms.

– Issa

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Vermont, Mach 2016

May the Road Glaze Up to Meet Us….

No school today, due not so much to snow but to ice. While I was gone most of the day, literally sliding on Barre’s sidewalks, the kids were home. With great gusto, the teenager plowed the driveway, while the ten-year-old teamed up with the neighbor boy. In the afternoon, the boy’s mother and I went walking. I’m reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking right now, and I realize my deepest conversations with this woman have been along our mutual dirt road.

Our relationship began before either of us had kids, meeting for the first time along the road when it had washed out in a summer storm. We have now stretched through births, illness, carpooling, innumerable passing back and forth of cake pans and eggs.

And yet it is always the road where we return. Today, with the road’s center sheer ice, she walked on one gravelly edge, I on the other, and we spoke across this narrow road. Back at my house, in the rain, the children had built a couch of snow complete with footrests. I watched the two children later from the kitchen windows, sitting on their mitten-made couch in their bright hats and snowsuits, chatting.

This constellation called walking has a history, the history trod out by all those poets and philosophers and insurrectionaries, by jaywalkers, pilgrims, tourists, hikers, mountaineers, but whether it has a future depends on whether those connecting paths are travelled still.

–– Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: a History of Walking

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February, Elmore, Vermont