Travels and Home Again.

Portland, Maine

In the bit of time my brother and I drove through Portland recently, we talked about a few things — where to find a good cup of coffee and that my family grew up in the pandemic. Like that — and somehow, not like that. The next morning, with real regret, I sweep up the few things we’ve left around the apartment I’ve rented for a few days, gathering cherries from the refrigerator and sandy towels from the entryway.

At home later that evening, I wander through my garden. The hydrangeas and blueberry bushes I planted five years ago have now begun to thrive — or some of them. With my fingers, I slip off Japanese beetles.

July in Vermont is the season of utter growth, the one shot to rocket forward to the sun. Each day dawns with possibility — swim or don’t swim. Work long hours with an aim of working less on sunnier days. This is summer’s calculus. Slow down, slow down.

“To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” 

— Galway Kinnell

The Wild.

Barr Hill, Greensboro, Vermont

I take a hurried walk on Nature Conservancy land in a slot of time between working hours and a planning commission meeting. I duck beneath the electric fence and wander up an old farm road and discover the most enchanting sight I’ve seen in a long time.

Bright blue forget-me-nots sprinkle the unmown road. Heifers graze in pasture on the other side of enormous sugar maples. The pasture glows amber in the late afternoon, humid light. It’s cool enough this afternoon that I’ve pulled on jeans beneath my dress, and my sandals have been switched for hiking boots. The woods are deep and lush.

This is Wallace Stegner land. He loved this Vermont town and lies buried in a town cemetery on the other side of the lake. As I walk, I’m reminded of his famous lines.

“We simply need that wild country available to us…. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”

~ Wallace Stegner


This space of wildness wraps all around where I live, winding in and around these Vermont towns. Mighty — these trees and fields — but just as dear are these tiny blossoms, sprinkled all through the forest, far up in the woods where they disappear from sight.

Acquaintance. Full Moon.

In an evening walk, I meet a woman I haven’t seen in years. We stop and talk for a few moments. She’s hardly been anywhere for the past two years, and we talk about how that feels. In the balmy evening, little bits of tree pollen float through the sunlight.

Never tall, she’s about my height now, and I’m really short, and I’ve gotten shorter in the past two years. But here we are, talking about lupines, happy to be alive. We exchange a hug — something that seemed forbidden, utterly scary, not that long ago.

Later, as I close up the house for the night, I walk across the dark lawn to my garden. The round moon, like a perfect drop of cream, rises. Frogs chirp.

Here’s one thing: the pandemic has made me think of each day as each day. A whole day — filled sometimes with hard things, or dull things, sweetness, or all kinds of things. But what does a day mean? A night? Nothing more, perhaps, than this: full and frogs and a moment to revel in this.

Small Kindness.

I buy a battery at the auto parts on my way home from work. The young man there asks if I want him to install the battery. Heck, yes, I do.

The afternoon is sunny and breezy, not too cold, not overly hot at all, just about perfect weather. An acquaintance follows me outside, asking about work. A few years back when I asked for a used trampoline on our neighborhood virtual bulletin board, he sent me links for a few, and I found one. His grandsons were some of my favorite readers in the library where I worked. The boys have grown and moved on, too.

The three of us talk about land and taxes, whether rain will fall tomorrow, and how everyone seems short of help these days. Eventually, as often happens these days, the conversation winds around to the price of land in Vermont and what that means for our future.

The young man pulls out my old, nearly given-up-the-ghost battery. He tightens in the new battery and has me start the car. I’m in the kind of rush I’m in too often these days — running from here to there — the kind of hustle I do between work and parenting. The engine starts easily. I thank him profusely for this small gesture of kindness. He gives me a thumbs up. I wish him good luck with his project, and that’s it. We’re each off to our ways.

“Writing is work. Anyone can do this, anyone can learn to do this. It’s not rocket science; it’s habits of mind and habits of work.” 

— Alexander Chee

Self Portrait.

My daughter turns 17. On our way home from dinner in Montpelier, she drives my car with her friend in the passenger seat. The girls have known each other since they were eight-years-old and their legs dangled from chairs. The girls take the long way home, passing an estate on a dirt road with a stunning view of the mountains and sky. Cows graze in the fields. One girl plans to be a lawyer, the other a doctor, and they scheme to buy a house like this. In their pretty sundresses, the girls are laughing.

At dinner, the server spilled a Shirley Temple on my daughter, splashing her with cranberry juice and ice. Both girls have stickiness up and down their bare legs. Someday, years away maybe, they’ll still laugh about that birthday drink and splash. Meanwhile, I keep looking through windows, seeking stories, seeing pieces of myself.

Here’s a review of Unstitched that made my heart sing.

Brief Interlude.

17 years ago, I was at the end of my second pregnancy. The apple blossoms hadn’t bloomed yet. The month of May had been especially rainy and cold.

My second child was born via caesarian. The morning she was born, I walked down to our sugarhouse and closed the front doors we had left open the night before. My oldest daughter who was six was eating breakfast at the house with her father. She was wild with excitement. Baby sister? Baby brother? What was going to happen?

Rain had fallen the night before, and the path to the sugarhouse was slick. I was huge, an unwieldy ball of a woman who was so ready to finish this pregnancy and meet this baby. I had waited years to have this second child. It was early in the morning, and friends were already on their way to meet us at the hospital. I lingered in the open front doors, breathing in the scent of mud and that particular sweetness of new leaves. We’re always leaving and arriving, aren’t we, in this transient life. This year, the lilacs have already faded, the earliest I remember.

I stood there just a few moments before I locked the door and took the longer path back to the house. My six-year-old was in the driveway looking for me. Ready.