Rain, Cats, Kids, Home

It was raining this morning when I carried out a pail of hot ashes. For a moment, I stood in the cold rain, looking at the village below, its few lights blurry through the mist that creeps in on these early winter mornings.

Like just about everyone I know, we’re home — the three of us — for this holiday, with not much more planned than cooking and walking and hanging out in our warm house, with the walls I painted the color of daffodils.

It’s the strangest time, for sure. Decades into my life, I know this, too, will pass. My daughters — ages 21 and 15 — will someday decades hence look back at this time. I imagine they’ll remember this holiday as a time when so many relinquished their own desires for the health of the whole.

So much in 2020 was not as usual, so it’s fitting, I think, that the holiday season starts this way, too. In past years, we’ve had a huge Thanksgiving table, or we’ve traveled, or sometimes it’s simply been our family. But this year, perhaps, draws out the quieter, deeper meaning of this holiday.

So, of all the many things I’m grateful for, I’m grateful that we can endure the pandemic together, the three of us. Around us, I know, as my daughters know, there’s so many eating alone today, separate, but lending their energy toward better community health, even in a cold rain.

I thank thee God, that I have lived
In this great world and known its many joys:
The songs of birds, the strongest sweet scent of hay,
And cooling breezes in the secret dusk

— Elizabeth Craven

White Rags or Gulls?

Across the road, I chat with my neighbor in mid-afternoon about the general weirdness of this time.

She says it’s like the country has no president now, and in a weird way that seems true, as though in Vermont we’re in our own sovereign world, under our earnest governor and his team. Of course, we’re not, as she knows and we all know. Among the endless lessons the pandemic has taught us is how our planet is connected. The governor pleads, Stay home for the holidays. Think of not just your wants, but the needs of others around you.

Pre-holiday, we’re again waiting: what way will our collective behavior push us? Will the virus surge again, or will the bulk of us concede and stay home?

My neighbor and I linger, talking. Her little boy pretends to be his younger brother, giggling under our conversation. He shouts with happiness when I call him by his brother’s name, ecstatic that I’ve fallen for his role change.

The pandemic has opened our eyes, too, to see what was always there. The Hardwick dam recently lowered the Black River to a trickle. On Saturday afternoon, we walked through the muddy bed.

Gulls flew overhead, pure white in a November landscape of gray and black, steadily flying into the wind.

“Throughout history, women have too often been seen as subjects of art, rather than artists… As a woman painter, one needs to work out a strategy.”

— Celia Paul, Self-Portrait

Pandemic Pause

When I was a young newlywed, I read Green Mountain Farm by Elliot Merrick — a nonfiction account of a Quaker family. At the very end, Merrick ends with a short section saying that World War II changed their lives, as it changed so many lives.

Last evening, after supper and dishes, I was outside, moving stacks of library books from one car to another, waiting for my daughters. Although it wasn’t late, the stars were already spread across the sky. I was waiting for my daughters to come out and join me for a walk.

Finished, I leaned against my car, waiting, remembering how I had walked around this house before I bought it. I had wanted to see how bright the stars were, and if the property had a good view of the moonrise.

My daughters came out. Lit by the porch light, I saw they were both wearing black jackets and scarves. Watching them, I realized my oldest daughter was all grown up. And my youngest? Rapidly heading there.

Tuesday

… one can either choose to live, or not. We have to tell ourselves a story that makes living possible.

— Katherine E. Standefer, Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life

And so we go on, telling our stories. My daughter returns from her one high school class on Monday morning, and tells me so many teachers were out.

I head to work, leaving her in front of the wood stove with her chrome book, the cats sprawled on either side of her.

At the library, a teen comes in and tells me he thinks the school will close soon. The teen lives on a back road and can’t drive yet. He’s a voracious reader. In the spring, he told me, he read everything in the house, then everything again and again, and finally resorted to Netflix. I tell him to take as many books as he wants. He fills a bag. When he leaves, I wonder when I’ll see him again. Maybe Wednesday. Maybe not.

And so we go on. I name our little wood stove Jenny.

Okay, my daughter says. She is part of our family.

Stay well.

Once in a Blue Moon

Saturday, we were at a jack o’ lantern walk at the elementary school where my youngest graduated a few years ago.

Because it’s rural Vermont, it was dark, and everyone was spread out. I slipped away from the few kids and walked further along the woods path. I know this path well, and it veers down to the wetlands. There, I leaned against a white pine. The moon was nearly full, and the silvery light skipped over the rippled water.

For the longest time, I stood there, knowing my daughter was happily wandering around in the dark with her friends. In the darkness, I remembered the countless times I had admired this lovely lady moon — over fresh snow and icy backroads, in the muggy heat of summer.

At the beginning of this election week, I woke thinking of our beautiful moon, silently orbiting the globe.

The old man of the temple,
Splitting wood
In the winter moonlight.

— Buson

August flowers

Half Moon

I step around the barn in the twilight and see the half moon shimmering above the barn’s back corner, like a surprise.

I empty the ash bucket and set it on the cement step, waiting for my daughters and our twilight walk, as the dusk shakes down.

A year ago, my oldest was in New Mexico, visiting my parents and hanging out with my brother and his girlfriend. After a wild wind and rain storm, the power went out, and my youngest and I ate take-out by candlelight. Always, at this time of year, as the days perceptibly shorter, I realize how profoundly cold and dark has wound into my life, spread physically and metaphorically into the life I’ve shaped as a woman and a mother.

What’s different this year is the collective darkness of disease as the rates of Covid increase around our little world, of the unraveling political world relentlessly marching along.

And yet — there’s that ancient silent moon.

My daughters are laughing as they walk towards me.

What? I ask.

They look at each other again, and my oldest says, Nothing, Mom, and then they laugh again.

“I am more convinced than ever that we are shards of others.”

— Jenn Shapland, My Autobiography of Carson McCullers

Photo by Molly S.