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.

May, Sometime

In our corner of the world, in generally law-abiding Vermont, the state is gradually cracking open, but slowly, slowly. Gradually, I’m realizing that so many things I once took for granted — walking into a public library, for instance, something I’ve done my entire life — seem so far away these days

In contrast, spring flourishes — the woods are sprinkled with the loveliest little gems of wildflowers — trout lilies and spring beauties and Dutchman’s breeches. All afternoon, I work on the porch, taking breaks by watering seedlings in the garden. Spring! Spring! In the midst of so much uncertainty — what will Vermont’s downtowns look like this summer? this fall? — spring busily moves along, as utterly enchanting as always.

As my daughter’s 15th birthday approaches, we scramble for some kind of plans. How to mark this passage from one year to the next in a time of utter and absolute uncertainty? Our days contract into that Zen question — how to be utterly present and in the now, but without the kind of madness that denies the future? Robins and sparrows sing sweetly of the moment — while these little winged creatures build their nests, lay their eggs, plan their futures in their own bird ways.

It’s the question I keep returning to, over and over — make do with what we have but keep a wary eye on the future.

Hope all is steady enough in your worlds….

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Tiny Treasure

A little boy, maybe six, came into the library yesterday with his hand cupped around some precious thing. I had propped the door open to let in the warm September sunlight and a few stray flies. His short hair sweat-soaked, he wore a t-shirt so large it nearly covered his knees.

He laid a crumpled bird shell near my laptop and asked me to keep it safe. I found it, he said by explanation.

The boy was supposed to be somewhere else, and we heard an adult outside calling his name. On his way out, his hand hovered over an apple on my desk, a yellow-skinned fruit with a few dark blemishes I had picked from a wild tree that afternoon, walking to the post office.

I told him it wasn’t sweet, as I lifted the apple and handed it to him.

September’s such a quiet month, with the cricket songs slowly spinning quieter. Wordlessly, he considered, and then he took the apple and disappeared into the sunlight again.

I wondered if the boy would return for his treasure. He did.

Soon the child’s clear eye is clouded over by ideas and opinions, preconceptions, and abstractions…. Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn. The sun glints through the pines and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise. After that day, we become seekers.

– Peter Matthiessen

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Nichols Ledge, Woodbury, Vermont

Fleeting Beauty

I’m still burning wood into June, in this long damp spring. Usually, my daughter’s birthday at the end of May marks the beginning of the swimming season, and many birthday parties have ended with an adult or two walking the little girls across the road in Elmore to the lake.

This year, while the children disappeared in the greenery, laughing, four adults stood around a fire, talking about everything from SBACs to dementia, while the damp wore into us. With an exhale, we could see the clouds of our breath.

Earlier that day, I had taken some children to a theater opening, and watched a magician blow bubble creations: a spinning carousel, a caterpillar, rainbow-hued bubbles-within-a-bubble. He told a story of keeping a bubble in a sealed glass container, checking it every morning as it changed hue, absorbing the air molecule by molecule, until one day it popped and disappeared.

Edging nearer the fire yesterday, I thought of this magician, waking up each morning, curious about the evolving state of his bubble, improbably spun from the simplicity of liquid and air, radiantly beautiful. The boy beside me had murmured, That is the coolest thing.

Zen pretty much comes down to three things — everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.

– Jane Hirshfield

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Teenagers

As a mother of a teenager, I do actually listen to her music, and I’ve noticed it’s pretty much the same old American story: the good times are on their way. Be a little more daring, and the guy will come your way; work harder and happiness will rain down; vote for Trump, and the country will be great again.

AKA: that theme I remember from high school history of Manifest Destiny, sailing in.

Could anything be less Zen? What is it with this linear thinking, the view that happiness is a plateau that might be scaled, somewhere off across a desert?

Sip your soda, girl; be here now. I might as well throw that advice back at myself: enjoy parenting the teenager, unique as this may be.

It’s only when caterpillarness is done that one becomes a butterfly. That again is part of this paradox. You cannot rip away caterpillarness. The whole trip occurs in an unfolding process of which we have no control.

– Ram Dass

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West Woodbury, Vermont

How To Write a Story….

Any writer knows a story can be told a myriad of ways. Today, visiting a school that once hovered near the brink of disintegration, I realized that school’s story could once have been told in numbers that reflected too much poverty, too little resources and not enough skills: too little – and too little again, and again, and maddeningly again – all the way around.

Instead, this is now a story of growing gardens and colorful classes – and thriving children. Who decides when a story needs to be rewritten? For a school? Or for yourself?

I remember Mary Oliver’s line posing the question about what to do with your one wild and precious life. Create at least one or two fine things, I thought. Leave one or two marks for better, and not for worse.

Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried across the sky by beautiful clouds.

– Ojibway proverb

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Hardwick, Vermont