Why the World Never Ends.

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.

Hardwick, Vermont

Kicking Up Leaves.

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

Fall.

The moon is a perfect circle of cream.

In the dark, we walk downtown and leave letters in the mailbox. Through the valley’s mist, house and streetlights glow. November looms. Poet Thomas Hood described November: “No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.”

The news around us is of two, unrelated homicides, neither far from our house, in our rural state with scant violent crime. In the dark, I bring in an armful of wood and pause for a moment. Across the valley, I see a pair of headlights crest a dark hillside and begin a descent, slow to my eyes through the mist.

Through the house windows, I see my daughters before the wood stove, our walls painted butter-yellow. The crickets are gone. Late fall pushes in. Every year, the darkness enfolds us again, inescapable and mysterious.

Over my shoulder there’s that moon.

Hardwick, Vermont

Not Going Broke.

Sunday afternoon, the board of the local food co-op hosted a meeting, posing the question: buy a building a few blocks down and encumber the co-op with a million-dollar debt, or stay in the tiny, owned-outright space? Philosophically and financially, the debate was heated.

I leaned against the pavilion’s post, listening, drinking my tea. Around us, fallen leaves rustled across the grass. My cheeks burned with windburn from that morning’s hike with my daughters. We climbed to a cliff and looked down at a glacial lake, the surface choppy with white caps. On our way home, we stopped at the beach of this enchanting lake, mountains rising steeply on either side. A bald eagle dove into the wind, its head and tail whiter than snow.

Before the meeting ended, I packed up my knitting and headed home, still thinking about that eagle.

From one of my childhood favorite reads — and from a paperback still on my shelf…

The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her … In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible.”

— Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Lake Willoughby, Vermont

Sweaty Jerseys. The Terrible Mystery.

I knock off work early on Friday afternoon and head west with a friend to our daughters’ soccer game. There’s only so many high school soccer games I’ll attend in my lifetime; I’ve missed plenty this year.

It’s October but feels weirdly like July, with 75 degree temps, sunlight on foliage that’s at peak color. As I drive towards Lake Champlain, the terrain flattens. At the game, where we meet another mother and sprawl on the grass, seagulls swoop low. Flocks of geese fly overhead, forming Vs. At the end, despite the loss, our girls are smiling, hugging us in their sweat-soaked jerseys.

As the sun slips below the horizon, I drive back along that same route, retracing our blue highway journey from flat farming land through the green mountains and along the winding Lamoille River. I keep on through the twilight. A crescent moon hangs to our right. We talk and talk, about the complexity of being teenage females in our world, and then beyond that, too, how the past steers our own lives, hammering through generations.

As I drive, my headlights cutting through the darkness, I keep thinking of Joseph Campbell, whose voluminous writings on myth shaped my thinking since I was a teenager. “Life is, in its very essence and character, a terrible mystery—this whole business of living by killing and eating. But it is a childish attitude to say no to life with all its pain, to say that this is something that should not have been.”

At my house, we stand for a moment beneath the starlight. In my house, our upstairs glass-in porch glows, where my older daughter is taking notes, her laptop streaming a class. My friend drives away, back to her house, but I stand there for a moment longer. I’ve long resisted what I’ve seen as the superficiality of Be Here Now, as though the past doesn’t matter. Suddenly I see I’ve looked at what time means all the wrong way. Be here now with the past — another koan.

I walk up the back steps and flick on the porch light for my youngest child.

….. A few last things. Here’s a New York Times piece on IG and teen girls. Rick Agran of Bon Mot, a show about poetry and the literary arts, on the local Goddard College radio, will broadcast my Galaxy Bookshop event this Sunday, October 10, at 5 p.m.

Last, the Children’s Literacy Foundation hosts a virtual Book Club for Grown-Ups I’ll host, next Friday, October 15, at 7 p.m. The Waterbury Roundabout has details. I have a particular soft spot for CLiF — an organization that gives free books to kids in rural New Hampshire and Vermont. How cool is that??

Being a Part of All This…

Late afternoon finds me running along the former railroad bed in a rare kind of October sunlight — a gift of warmth and honeyed autumn light. I stop where I always do, where the transformation from railroad bed to trail hasn’t happened yet. The rusting iron bridge is covered with boards, and I’m careful there.

Where a giant hole gapes with a view of the Lamoille River below, someone has spray painted You Die Here and an arrow pointing down, as if the passerby couldn’t put that hole and a potential demise together. I stand there and affirm, Sure, that would be a bad fall.

An otter runs along the riverbank, slips beneath the water, and surfaces again. Two ducks glide slowly. I crouch at that edge for a good long while, in no particular rush to head back on that trail.

In the end, of course, there’s nothing else to do but tighten my laces. My feet crunch through the fallen leaves that are piling high, releasing that inimitable scent of broken leaf and moist soil — the smell of a New England childhood.

Such happiness there is in being

a part of all this…

while I bend to one knee to press

my hand against a broken sidewalk,

feeling the heat of that same light

that the sparrow hops over,

and that warms the cricket as it carries

its song across town in its purse.”

— Ted Kooser
Hardwick, Vermont, back porch