Empty House

The afternoon’s end finds me on a remote road, looking at an abandoned house. No one’s lived here in a long time, save for intermittent squatters.

It’s the first day of school for my high school sophomore. Although I’m at this property for work, I keep thinking of my daughter.

Behind this house are two immense white pines. I stand there, listening to the breeze rising off Lake Eligo, imagining what it was like a hundred years ago to farm here. What will it be like a hundred years from now? The question looms impossibly.

I bend down and peer through a missing pane of glass in the door.

In Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom, I read a line from Thoreau: “Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

In so many ways, that sums up my experience. But that lostness I know now, is hardly a brief experience. The thing about the pandemic is that it’s exposed all the weaknesses in our society, and in ourselves, too. In my own world, I see acutely how pandemic has highlighted the near impossibility of single parenting, as I find myself these days unmoored, the thinness of my life exposed.

These days, in my work, I’m able to listen to people’s stories about how they’re experiencing the pandemic. These stories are often so much about loss — particularly about families separated — and worry about an uncertain future. Surely, I think, if there’s a time stories connect us, it’s now.

So on this first day of school, with the sweet scent of Vermont’s fall, with so much uncertain, I walk around this abandoned house, thinking of how time flows on. Near the step, I find a tiny plastic pig. Using the hem of my shirt, I rub dirt from the creature, then leave the toy on the broken step, hoping a child will chance upon it.

Wilderness

On a humid Sunday, we walk into Peacham Bog. When I suggest this, my youngest clarifies, A bog? That’s your idea of fun?

It’s Class I wetlands, I answer — as if this is even the remotest tease of fun.

What does lure her is the car keys. Driving there, I mention, Hey, you should always check the gas gauge before you leave home.

What’s the point? she answers. I always drive with you.

We’re driving over a particularly lousy piece of pavement then, and she carefully avoids a pothole — diligent learner.

I answer, But you won’t always drive with me. Isn’t this the whole point here? Because before long you’ll be driving on your own?

She takes that in — thinking over what’s obvious but of course isn’t — that she won’t be a child forever, that even as we’re talking she’s hurtling toward adulthood — a glacial pace for her, a rocket pace for me.

All that hike into the bog and back — exquisitely beautiful, bordering ethereal with its wildness — she carries those keys in her backpack. I can imagine she’s thinking, and I won’t be driving to any flipping Class I wetlands, but she humors me.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.

— Hayden Carruth, The Cows at Night

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Photo by Molly S.

Sweet Summer

July is the apex of Vermont summer. In these long days, the maple trees stretch over the road as I drive to work — our world bursts with lush growth. In the garden, I pick the first sun gold tomatoes, then drift to sweet red currents.

I pack as much as I can into these days, beginning with the rosy-fingered dawn — take on a little more work, send one more email, swim before making dinner. But a coolness begins to lace through the evenings and earliest mornings; winter is never far in the offing in Vermont.

After dinner, while my youngest mows the lawn, I read under the apple tree, then fold up my glasses and close my book. Across our dead-end street, our neighbors are playing a make-believe game before their three little boys’ bedtime, running on the grass as the sunlight comes through the maple leaves. From where I sit, I can’t see the little boys, but I hear them laughing and laughing.

The robins dart into my garden.

None of this changes the world around us — the constant subtext beneath anyone’s How’s it going? — but July and its endless cucumbers and the sweetness of fresh-cut grass and a world of little children are our world, too.

A young groundhog appears from under the neighbors’ woodpile and stands on its hind legs, appraising me, sunk in its groundhog schemes.

believer in silence and elegance
believer in ferns
believer in patience
believer in the rain

W.S. Merwin

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Photo by Gabriela S.

 

Spectator

At a baseball game at the high school, my friends and I talk about the shape of the evening clouds. The high school has a view of Buffalo Mountain. Behind it, the sun goes down.

I’m late to the game, finishing a book I’m reviewing and answering a handful of emails. When I arrive, I stand back for a bit, watching my younger daughter and her friends who are sitting by the side, apart but not that much apart, their hair piled on their heads, talking and laughing. There’s nothing new here — talking is the lifeblood of teen girls — but that world seems so rare in our world these days. — Go be a kid, swap stories, figure out your place in the world — the pulse of adolescence.

As the sun lowers and I keep talking with my friends, I keep glancing at these girls, their eyes full of sparks and joy, for this evening, these hours, this very moment.

Like wars and depressions, a pandemic offers an X-ray of society, allowing us to see all the broken places. It was possible Americans would do noting about the fissures exposed by the pandemic: the racial inequalities, the poisonous partisanship, the governmental incompetence, the disrespect for science, the loss of standing among nations, the fraying of community bonds. Then again, when people confront their failures, they have the opportunity to mend them.

— Lawrence Wright, “Crossroads”

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A Little Less Domesticity

I was reading last night when my daughter opened my door and asked what’s happening. Through the opened windows, a fox was screaming — a chilling sound — as if a child was in distress. The fox wandered in the woods and ravine behind our house, coming and going, calling.

Eventually, I turned off my light and lay in the darkness. Our cat sat on the windowsill, pressed up against the screen, listening to the wild world. What a relief — simply the natural world, hungering.

The power of dissent is a rich part of who we are.

— Sameer Pandya, Members Only

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Members Only

Sunday afternoon, rain showers fall intermittently. In between, the sunlight sprinkles the garden — the most delicious weather for the garden. I read on the front porch couch, the cats wandering between me and my daughter.

I bought this novel to add to the library’s collection — Members Only, by Sameer Panda — after listening to the author on NPR. It’s clever, sharply written, utterly relevant, and its plot hinges on what seems to be a single slip up by the protagonist, but gradually a whole story of circumstances and choice is revealed.

This July, like my garden, I’m soaking up sunlight and rain showers — as if my daughters and I can store these lovely days in our DNA for the long winter yet to come. Why talk about my daughter’s sophomore year? Who knows what will happen in American schools this fall and winter? Like just about everyone else I know, I’ve accepted we’re not headed anywhere, anytime soon or not soon. The ubiquitousness of the disease is a strange kind of leveling field — there’s no longer the wealthier kids my daughter knows who are headed on extended vacations while I suggest to my daughter that she repaint the north side of the house.

While it’s day by day here, as the parent I’m always eyeing that future, and that, perhaps, more than anything else, brings me back to day to day, in this sweet July.

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