I step out in the morning dark to get kindling from the barn. I’m grateful for many things, but a hot hearth is high on my gratitude list. The sprawling cats concur.
In the night, snow has fallen, a cold wind blows, and winter has spread out her garments. She’s here to stay.
At Thanksgiving, my daughters asked why I didn’t stay in the Pacific Northwest, where I went to graduate school. One reason was that I missed the drama of New England’s seasons. On this late November morning, I remind myself of this love for Vermont, that the need for winter’s stillness and beauty is driven as deeply into my body and soul as May’s blue squill around my house.
Here’s a link to a radio show at WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont, I did with my former US Attorney Christina Nolan, who appears in Unstitched— a woman I greatly admire.
… what that story [of Jesus parting the Sea of Galilee] is trying to tell us is simply that in times of storm, we mustn’t allow the storm to enter ourselves; rather, we have to find peace inside ourselves and breathe it out.”
I would add to this — do this through cooking or writing or knitting or painting the living room wall. Hands, hearts, and minds.
There’s few folks at the high school on a rainy late afternoon I appear. The November rain is soot-gray and cold as river stones. I haven’t been to a teacher conference in years now.
For a moment, I step into my life, six years ago, when my oldest daughter was in this same exact classroom, with this same teacher. He’s a parent now. I’m divorced, and I’ve published another book.
The majority of my daughter’s and her peers’ high school years have now been immersed in the pandemic. Her teacher reiterates, These kids are resilient.
I walk back out in an early twilight, removing my mask and breathing in the wet air. This is the strange, otherworldly time of year — twilight at four. There’s plenty of waking hours yet ahead of me — those games of Uno my daughter and I will play while she shares seagull-sized snippets of her day. We’ll cook bacon and eggs for dinner. In the dark, I’ll leave her to her homework, and I’ll drive to another town for a Development Review Board hearing. That night, I know it will be myself, alone, in that three-story former schoolhouse, fulfilling the state’s in-person requirement, while everyone else is in their living room. I know the meeting will be civil and pleasant and full of the open kindness I expect from these people. When we’re finished, I’ll fold up my laptop and stand for a moment outside again, beneath the door’s overhang, the rain pouring down, sparkling in that single outdoor light, small bits in the unbreakable darkness.
My own resilience is like a river stone, a worn-down, solid thing. Rain, darkness, the breeze from the lake hidden in the cedars. Kids, I think, kids. I carry that word kids home in my heart.
Postcard I received in the mail yesterday from Vermont Almanac — a second collection of Vermont writers due out shortly. How great is that?
Sunday morning, I took my broken sink drain pieces to the hardware, laid them on the floor, and asked for help. At some point, I realized I’d need to be an active brainstorming participant, although, let’s face it, in the scheme of things, this isn’t exactly brain surgery.
I paid my twenty bucks and headed home.
Here’s the thing — when I began screwing these puzzle pieces together, I realized I’d have to go off script again. The floor drain was epoxied together, and then spraypainted white, as added glue.
I reached in my kitchen drawer and pulled out the super glue. Will it hold? Who knows.
But here’s the more important thing, the water’s flowing. Our kitchen is humming with cooking and cleaning again.
In these dim November days, I often find myself thinking back on my life, wondering what would have happened had I gone this way, or that way. Foolish, maybe, and definitely nonproductive. And yet, like a wound, I can’t help touching that.
In a light rain and pitch dark, my daughters and I arrive at Montpelier’s Hubbard Park for the annual Enchanted Forest. Masked, spread out, bundled up, I have the strange sensation that the three of us are alone, and yet not alone.
The forest path winds along lit jack o’lanterns and burning torches, and among live musicians and giant puppets. Near the crest of the hill glowing paper lanterns decorate a giant oak tree.
The climax of the walk is a creation story re-enactment of a very old woman. Her black dog unravels her weaving as she tends to the changing seasons. As the rain falls more steadily, I realize the story is the tale of my life, as a writer and a mother — the story of the tension between order and disorder and the human longing for order to reign. Yet total order, total perfection, is impossible in this earthly realm.
We walk back through the mud puddles. Before heading home, my oldest pulls into a convenience store. Under a well-lit overhang, I stand outside, watching a man pump gas into an enormous SUV. He’s with a woman wearing a coat that falls to her ankles, a pretty garment with leaves and vines. I’m too far to hear what they’re saying, but I see his hand reach out and slip the top button closed on her coat and smooth the collar over her clavicle.
Through the plate glass window, my daughters stand at the store’s counter, buying hot chocolate. They’re wearing masks, so I can’t see their mouths, but from the way they look at each other, I know they’re laughing.
November looms tomorrow. Our New England darkness. Tighten your coat collar.
My daughter and I are standing on a street corner in Montpelier, Vermont, talking about some little thing — maybe the mighty silver maple on the library’s lawn and how those leaves are always the last to turn gold. How I remember this every year at the same annual mark, and then forget this for the rest of the year.
While we’re talking, I keep thinking of this lovely library, and how I took my daughters there as little girls. Later, I often worked all day in the upstairs reading rooms with views of the trees. Not so, anymore, in our pandemic world.
Across the street, a couple kicks fallen leaves at each other. I stop talking, thinking, Oh, no, what fresh hell is this? when the couple begins laughing. They’re each holding white paper cup, and he has a paper bag that might be full of sweet delicious things from a nearby bakery.
That moment — that tiny joyful moment — opens up our day. Sweet normalcy. Oh, yes. Bring that on.
One of my most favorite autumn poems:
on a withered branch sits a crow autumn nightfall —Basho