Friday, August 31, 2012


Mornin. Fall is in the air here: my mother back to driving the bus, the melons ripe on the vine, the early hours hat-and-sweater-cool. As much as I’m enjoying these long days of hanging with my two children (in the photo above they are donning “sailor caps”), I'm also counting the days until Avah goes back to school. Four mornings a week of preschool, during which time I imagine taking walks, cleaning the house and (gasp!) writing. I have two stories coming out in publications this fall/winter: one in Shenandoah and one in The Alaska Quarterly. Those future publications are little jewels in these long, humid, drawn-out, love-soaked mothering days, reminding me of my other work. They keep me standing upright in my weakest hours. They also make me happy for my children; I wrote those stories while Avah was very young. I hope to write (and finish) many more while Owen Cricket is young.  Stories are my way of turning the raw fabric of this life over and under and making sense of it. They are my way of revisiting the past and imagining the future. They are my way of living all the other lives I have not lived. And so, ten days from now, when I have four hours a morning, during which Owen Cricket will (cross-my-fingers) take a long nap? This mother plans to sprout a couple of weak, filmy, and determined long-lost wings. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


A year ago today Hurricane Irene hit the banks of North Carolina. By early the next morning it was hitting the Vermont/New Hampshire border where we live. We stayed quiet that day, watching the trees outside our windows bend and sway, waiting for the big winds. But the big winds never came. Instead, it rained, hard. We stayed indoors for the morning watching it rain and checking the weather and feeling grateful that trees weren’t falling on our roof. Around mid-morning we decided to go out for a walk, as the storm seemed relatively calm. We put on our raincoats and rain boots and walked down the road where we discovered my parents, soaking wet, looking harried and thrilled at once, carrying shovels and rakes. They told us the bottom of our road was completely washed out; that a large bridge downstream of us had just been destroyed, that the small, tricking brook we live on, the Whetstone, had turned into a raging river. They said we should go down and look, but that we should stay on a high bank, and be prepared to run uphill, fast.

It was true; the bottom half of our road had been washed out. Only not just washed out; it was gone. There was a two-hundred-foot-long, ten-foot-deep gully where our road had been. The river was like I’d never seen it. The rains picked up and we walked back home and started checking Facebook. I sat there at the table swearing out loud as I watched near-live video footage of houses being destroyed, covered bridges going under, trucks floating down the main streets of our town. People in the videos were yelling “fuck!” and crying. The weather channel said the eye of the storm was now directly above us; outside the sky cleared and the winds stopped completely. There was an eerie calm. Then the winds picked up again, the rain started falling again, and the power went out.

It was five days until electricity came back. The next day we discovered that all the roads between us and everywhere else were completely gone. Route 9 was washed out in over ten places. People lost houses, businesses, livestock, fields of produce, livelihoods. The damage spread through half the state, and has taken nearly a year to repair.

Which is why, when I wake up in the night to the sound of rain on the roof, it stills me. It reminds me of the subtle, quiet way that harm came. Of the way things can creep up on us. Of that blue-skied, eerily still eye of the storm.

But this morning, here, the rain has let up. Avah has forgotten about downed bridges. Cricket doesn’t know he was conceived in those five days of still, grounded quiet. Our laundry is soaked, but that’s the only damage. Instead the fields are happy, and the wells. The woods emanate the heady, sweet scents of wet hemlock and pine. And my children are safe and sound downstairs under this roof we built them. Which seems, today, like a church of sorts, inside of which I am filled with a deep and tender awe. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

the thing with feathers

Good morning, dears. It’s a still morning—the sun dampened with clouds, the hillside quiet. I was awoken many times in the night by a restless, leg-kicking Cricket who, first thing, bathed me in smiles. That is motherhood. It is also the great divide between what we hope to accomplish (with grace, with ease), and what we actually will. So here is a morning list:

Things I wish to do today:

Vacuum the multitudinous spider webs out of my house
Take my children for a long walk up the brook
Read some Rachel Carson
Scrub the toilet
Lay down in the sun in the yard
Tackle the multiple loads of laundry

Things I will most likely accomplish:

Feed my children
Feed myself
Stamp and send the town newsletter because I get paid to do so
Wash and hang the truly stinking diapers
Take out the truly stinking trash
Keep my eyes open while reading to Avah in the mid-afternoon even though I will really, really want to close them

Can you hear the tonal divide between these lists? In the space between these lives the friction and the hope (which yes, is the thing with feathers). Perhaps I will at least find me some Rachel Carson. If I remember right, my great-grandparents were friends of hers, lefty ecologists of the 40s and 50s well before their time. My great-grandmother, Olive, loved folksongs, birdsongs, and weaving. She  experimented with all sorts of natural plant dyes culled from these Vermont woodlands. She also taught biology at Marlboro College. These women I’m from! They astound me.

If you, too, are looking for some Rachel Carson inspiration, I can’t recommend enough the essay, “The Fracking of Rachel Carson” in the current issue of Orion. It’s red hot and bone true.

Happy feathered morning to you, too. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

when the workers come

Good morning. I've been quiet for a few days because here, in our household, we've been busy making this happen:

Or, I should say, “the workers” have been busy making this happen, as Avah endearingly calls them. Which is funny to us all because “the workers” consist of her grandpa, her uncle, her dad, and two close friends. And because we're sure they've all been condescendingly referred to as “the workers” plenty in their lives, we love the way Avah is co-opting the term and filling it with her love and admiration.

And love and admiration there is, from all parties. Having built the other sections of our house entirely ourselves, I am filled with nothing but gratitude when the workers show up and do their thing. And because I have been the daughter of a house-building worker my entire life, and am now married to one, I’ll share with you some secrets of the trade:

The work that workers do is extremely hard work. If you don’t know that, tell them to take a day off and try doing the work yourself. It’s very hard.

Workers do better work if you are grateful for the work they do, and if you express your gratitude, often.  

Your house will be a nicer, more pleasant house to be in if the workers were happy (and felt appreciated) while building it. This is no small thing.

The workers will be happier (and feel more appreciated) if you occasionally make them coffee and sweet things while they are working very hard on your house.

Mistakes give houses character.

Houses are important, but much less important than most other matters of the world. 

Now I'm off to sit on that new deck in the sunshine and dream about the room to be. And feel grateful. Happy (late) morning to you!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

a room of my own

Mornin'. I have tea. The sun is shining. And today is my day to decide on windows for the small addition we're building onto our small house. A year ago I wrote this essay, "Porous, Or, Why my Tiny, Not-Finished House is Just Fine." In it I proclaimed I like living in small spaces because it forces us to make the outdoors an extension of our home. Which is something I still believe. But I'm also a hypocrite: thus the small addition to our small house following the small (Cricket-sized) addition to our household. Because as much as I believe in small, economical spaces, I also desperately want a room of my own. And in this new house design? I get one! It's about four by six feet, or 24 square feet, with a slanting attic roof under which I get to have a desk, a bookshelf, and a place of my own to write and drink tea for about, oh, ten minutes a day. And doesn't that sound delightful? 

Happy dreamin' to you too.

V. Woolf, of course

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

my mother the farmer

Good morning. It's cool and clear here, the air filled with fall's blush. I'm on the porch, lazily drinking my tea, thinking of my mother, the farmer, who is in her fields gleaning the goods she's spent all summer tending. She wakes at four to do so: drinking her cup of black coffee, then heading down the hill to harvest her lettuce and arugula and carrots and beets and kale and tomatoes and other good fruits of the world. Then she washes them and carries them up the road to her farm stand, so that others may also eat the good clean fruits of the world. When that work is done she heads back to her fields to weed and water and plant some more.

Meanwhile her daughter, the writer, sits on her porch in the sunshine, drinking tea. This is the perennial story of our lives together, my mother and I. And because I honor and revere the quiet and diligent and important good work she does, here is a Mary Ruefle poem about farming on this perfect mid-August morning.

Jean-Fracois Millet, "Las Espigadoras." 1857

My Life as a Farmer
by James Dean 
(by Mary Ruefle)

Being a farmer is the loneliest thing in the world.
The field is like a religion you dedicate yourself
to, and when there's a cloudburst you can't be 
elsewhere. Hopefulness and a worrisome nature
are among the attributes of a basically farming man. 
You're all alone with your seeds and your concentration. 
You don't have time to see friends and it's not for them
to understand. You don't have anybody, only a pig
and some chickens, and you have to think for them. 
You're all alone with their feed and your concentration
and that's all you have. You're a farmer. 

Monday, August 20, 2012


5 am and I finally succumb to lights on with wide-awake, smiling Cricket. He coos and kicks and grins and I coo and kick and grin back and then we slip downstairs and make tea, and carry the cup back upstairs and by then Cricket's ready to go back to sleep, and does, and so here I am~ with tea, with you.

One of the advantages of being awoken many times in the night is that you remember your dreams. Last night: my grandmother came back from the dead to record another album. She wore outrageous vintage floral dresses and her arms were covered in vining rose tattoos. The roof of the barn where we recorded was full of holes and water was pouring through. Margaret picked Avah up, also wearing vintage floral dresses, also covered in tattoos, and they danced under that dripping water. I looked at them, my grandmother's white hair cut just like my daughter's blond, both of them laughing, and thought, See, they do like just like one another! Just exactly the same. And then I thought, I'm so glad she came back from the dead so she could dance with Avah. So they could at last know each other, these dancing, singing, whirling dervish twins.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

early, creeley

I think I must have been awoken ten times last night, by one child or another. Crickets raucous, rain heavy on the metal roof, and my brain pleasantly humming with this interview by Robert Creeley in The Paris Review. My favorite question and answer (about place, of course):

You speak a great deal about the poet's locale, his place, in your work. Is this a geographic term, or are you thinking of an inner sense of being?
I'm really speaking of my own sense of place. Where “the heart finds rest,” as Robert Duncan would say. I mean that place where one is open, where a sense of defensiveness or insecurity and all the other complexes of response to place can be finally dropped. Where one feels an intimate association with the ground underfoot. Now that's obviously an idealization—or at least to hope for such a place may well be an idealization—but there are some places where one feels the possibility more intensely than others. I, for example, feel much more comfortable in a small town. I've always felt so, I think, because I grew up in one in New England. I like that spill of life all around, like the spring you get in New England with that crazy water, the trickles of water everyplace, the moisture, the shyness, and the particularity of things like blue jays. I like the rhythms of seasons, and I like the rhythms of a kind of relation to ground that's evident in, say, farmers; and I like time's accumulations of persons. I loved aspects of Spain in that way, and I frankly have the same sense of where I now am living in New Mexico. I can look out the window up into hills seven miles from where the Sandia Cave is located, perhaps the oldest evidence of man's occupation of this hemisphere. I think it dates back to either 15,000 or 20,000 BC. and it's still there. And again I'm offered a scale, with mountains to the southeast, the Rio Grande coming through below us to the west, and then that wild range of mesa off to the west. This is a very basic place to live. The dimensions are of such size and of such curious eternity that they embarrass any assumption that man is the totality of all that is significant in life. The area offers a measure of persons that I find very relieving and much more securing to my nature than would be, let's say, the accumulations of men's intentions and exertions in New York City. So locale is both a geographic term and the inner sense of being.

And there's my 10-minute morning for you. That line about shyness and the particularity of blue jays stills me. May your day (and night) also be filled with things that make you hum.


Friday, August 17, 2012

them mornings

I've been wondering, of late, what this "dream trailer in park nowhere" (i.e. woodbird) should be/become/house. I'm now thinking its future will have to do with mornings: photographs, quick lines and quotes that in some way capture the mesh of my days as a mother of two, a writer, a reader, a musician, and a devoted inhabitant of this particular place. It's a way for me to steal (yes, steal) ten minutes each morning. Which is all I really crave these days: ten minutes. Here. In the morning. With tea.

So, dear reader, I hope you'll occasionally come join me. This porch is so lovely in the AM.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Today's Menu

Today's Menu: The Optimist's Daughter, by Eudora Welty

Drinking: Typhoo tea

Thinking: I couldn't help but slip in here for a moment to share what a gorgeous piece of work this novel is, pocked with  sensual, vivid and heart-stopping sentences like these:

Under Mr. Pitt's awning Laurel could smell the fieriness of flowers restored to the open air and the rawness of the clay in the opened grave.

In the wake of their footsteps, the birds settled again. Down on the ground, they were starlings, all on the waddle, pushing with the yellow bills of spring.

I hope you all someday read it.