The Last Snow(s)

The Last Snow(s)

MARCH

I had to give it to it. It sure was pretty.

And still, I would have left town if I wasn’t leading a retreat that night–guiding women (and let’s face it–myself) from the turning point of Autumn, sparse & bare, the darkness unending, to the certainty of Spring, not on the calendar but on the land–and upon waking somewhere south of these mountains, I would have missed the beauty, the soft, soothing motion, the outline of branch and stone and fencepost.

I want to reach back in time and offer this to Virginia Woolf, who filled her pockets with stones and headed toward the river.

No decision should be finalized in March.

~

APRIL

An April snow. Mild to moderate despair. And one more day for the more introverted among us to retreat before the joy & productivity of SpRinG forces us, like a bulb, to open into the world, giddy, with delight.

~

APRIL, again

Turkeys kept being on sale after the holidays, and so each month I was forced to buy another to offset the cost of that original local, organic splurge which I justified on account of my mother’s Christmas birthday.

In the New Year, we roasted a second turkey and ate it every day for an entire week. Turkey stew. Turkey curry. Turkey pot pie. Turkey soup with rice. Turkey sandwiches and salad. In February, another for my sister and her family when they were visiting from the shore. In March, one last twenty-five pounder with my son and his girlfriend. Twice, this winter we sent them back to Burlington with leftovers.

And still, the freezer grew crowded with tubs of broth and bags of meat, until we said, despite the sale continuing into April: No more!

But today, while looking out at another April snow, I defrosted ingredients for soup, and once the pot was warming over the stove, the aroma overtook me, like a time machine, standing beside my mother as she dropped egg noodles into the broth.

Maybe I’ll set out an extra bowl.

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First Storm

First Storm

We lost the ”Grandfather” tree soon after we built the house which was quite a blow to all of us, but the “Grandmother” Pine, so named for being almost as tall as the seed tree just beyond her, is still with us, a dozen years later, though we fear not for long.

Still, this morning when trees fell across this mountain town–upon houses and roadways and cars–She, Ever-Wise, sacrificed an upper branch which in its tumbling cleared the lower branches of their burden of heavy snow so that she remains, sturdy, high above the canopy, facing West.

I can’t help thinking this some kind of Wisdom Teaching—about aging and letting go and most of all provision—but I’ll wait to ponder that until I’ve had supper and a shower, hoping electricity & running water will be restored soon.

(November 2018)

Chrysalides

Chrysalides

I look past the needles that line my belly, the lowest just above the rise of my pelvis, an inch deep, and further still past the needles at my ankle to the plant circling the room where the walls meet the ceiling, the same ivy-like, heart-shaped-leaf that I have in my house, a plant which was once among several left on a small round kitchen table with the words: “Free,” which despite the absence of a green thumb I brought home after a yoga class or was it a birthing class, both brand new endeavors  after leaving the mid-Atlantic for the Green Mountains in 1993 where I discovered at my first staff meeting at Deerfield Valley Elementary that everyone ate something that I’d I mistakenly pronounced as another word for soil.

A Long Slow Color is Green.

These are the words that were carved into thick medallion of wood that hung above the entrance to a place smack in the middle of Main Street, beside a classic Vermont Inn. The oddly named: Klara Simpla housed the bookstore which is what brought me inside the strange smelling shop filled with something called herbs and homeopathics and tinctures, not to mention the yoga and birthing classes (among other offerings) on the second and third floors. There were also two huge chests filled with household and clothing items that were giveaways. 25 years later, I’m still the plaid blanket that I found in that pile is a family classic when we picnic beside pond and I still wear the black, water resistant wind pants when I snow shoe.

A long slow color is green.

Those words from the wooden medallion which hung above Klara Simpla were spoken out loud to me once by the founder herself, the woman who offered her plants to women like me just beginning to find our way on the path to wholeness.

“There is so much to know. How do I begin?” I asked Faye, at the end of an interview she’d surprisingly granted me when I’d first began writing for the Cracker Barrel.

But what really brought my attention to the plant circling the ceiling in the acupuncturist’s office, beyond the fact that the old period building with its hissing radiators reminded me of my husband’s grandmother’s place in the nearby Berkshires (which is how we ended up leaving the southern New Jersey for New England), and beyond the surprise that my surname was all over the building because in addition to housing the acupuncturist’s office, it housed an organization called the Salasin Center (so named for a distant relative that I found on Facebook) was that its dead leaves were left hanging among its healthy ones, and if not a shouting sign of neglect then some kind of statement which I had plenty of time to ponder as I lay on the table week after week for an hour at a time–from sandals to long pants to scarves to wool socks and hats.

With nothing to do but remain still so that the needles in my belly (or eye socket) wouldn’t move, the story–my story–about the neglected ivy-like plant–began to shift, somewhere beneath my personal anxiety around neglect.

When the acupuncturist returned to the room to remove the needles of which there were a total of 8 on this particular visit–including one at the top of my skull, and one at each of my temples, as well as one between my toes and another placed between my bottom two ribs, I finally said aloud what I’d been thinking for so many weeks in a row (hoping to silence it in my head):

“Has anyone ever said that those–(I pointed toward a particularly long line of decaying leaves)–look like a chrysalis?” (I wish I knew then the plural.)

Surprisingly Dan said, “No,” and nothing more.

But my therapist picked up the thread, the very same week, which is something I try to avoid–more than one appointment in the same week–but which has been unavoidable during this health crisis that has so depleted me (while serving as a boot-camp for letting go.)

“This is a very inward time for you, more so than ever,” Carolyn said, as I sat across from her in a room perched above the Connecticut River in downtown Brattleboro; something I had been doing about once a month or so ever since my mother’s death, a span of time easily measured by the age of my youngest son, 18.

“It’s time to retreat, to be unseen, to rest under the covers,” she said, “To let your work deepen inside like the spinning of a cocoon.”

My mind immediately protested with all that had to be done in that particular month–December!–not to mention the day trip I’d imagined to the sea the very next day–on the occasion of my 55th birthday. (I had arrived in Vermont at 29.)

“Does this resonate for you?” Carolyn asked, seeing past the veneer of my capacity, into the grievous depletion of chi.

I nodded begrudgingly.

There was one last appointment scheduled that same day, which is something I never do, but it was the only opening my friend had to trade massage for the work I’d done on her website.

The afternoon though brightly lit, was bitter cold, and I arrived at her house chilled, and even so, I removed each and every layer, until I stood in my underwear and slid, belly up, under the single sheet on her table.

“Are you cold?” she asked, turning up the temperature on the heating pads beneath me.

Elaina dangled the pendulum over the center line of my body sensing the ongoing obstruction of the second chakra–digestion, letting go, family, finances, overextension.

“How is mothering going?” she asked, knowing that my youngest left the nest this very August, a day upon which this sweeping illness presented itself in absurdly symbolic fashion.

“There is a burden on your left shoulder,” she added. “A responsibility that you’re carrying, that is not yours, which means it’s stuck there because it has nowhere to go.”

I told her about the Ritual of Resignation that I had concocted just before Thanksgiving. My therapist had suggested the ritual as an accompaniment to the potent antibiotics to which I planned to surrender, something I hadn’t needed since I moved to Vermont and began using herbs. I filled the prescription bottle with tiny pieces of paper upon which I wrote all the ways I was ready to let go, particularly with regard to my family of origin who I’d begun to carry as a girl.

“So many of your joints are blocked,” Elaina said, as she massaged my shoulders and elbows and wrists, my hips and knees and ankles.

As I write this morning, on the day after my birthday, my hands take turns leaving the keyboard to touch my shoulder tips again and again. The skin there is so strikingly soft, like a baby’s flesh (or what I vaguely recall of a baby), the result of a salt scrub I offered my joints yesterday morning while the sun rose brightly through the trees on another bitterly cold day, on the anniversary of my birth.

So too was my time on the table with Elaina sensual, accompanied as it was by her cat, black, like my own Licorice from long ago with whom I shared a soul connection as a girl in Rockies as my mother disappeared in the bottle. Licorice would drag her paws down my face, and once when recalling this in my therapist’s chair on a guided journey forty years later, I was certain I smelled Licorice’s milky breath.

As Elaina worked on my neck, “Kiki” brushed her whiskers against my left cheek, purring in my ear, and then she pranced across my belly, tenderizing the second chakra, while on the Elaina’s small cd player, a classical version of “Danny Boy” softly played, a song which once eulogized my mother who named her only son Daniel.

After the sunny birthday morning shower with the salt scrub around each joint, my husband drove me to the sea, where I watched from the passenger’s seat, light, moving across frozen lakes and rivers and marshlands and fields, even as my head ached from yet another migraine (a fourth since Thanksgiving week; since the antibiotic?) until I arrived, at the hour of my birth, sensing into the pain of separation–skull crushed by pubic bones–at the open, endless, embrace of Return, understanding in that moment, that the title of my book would be something much larger than I had conceived, could conceive, of the story I’d been spinning several years around a tragedy.

When instead of turning south, we continued along the coastal road deeper into Maine, we passed a tiny pond beside the woods upon which a single skater glided skillfully in tighter and tighter circles.

“He must be professional hockey player,” I said to my husband.

“Such a small pond he’s on,” my husband replied.

“Such elegance,” I said.

And now I recall the moment when I’d fully surrendered to Elaina’s touch on the table, and she asked me to turn over onto my belly, layering heating pads and blankets atop my back, until I grew so hot that I imagined melting, after which she removed the layers, which had grown sticky, peeling them one by one, until I found myself unburdened and light, nascent and raw, like the first unfurling of new life.

The moral consequence of acceptance

The moral consequence of acceptance

Uncertain of our place, but standing with my sister and husband nonetheless, shoulder to shoulder, for others. Brattleboro Rally for Trans Justice. 2018.


I don’t feel safe to be a part of any community 
outside my own.

Of all the words spoken at last month’s Rally for Trans Justice | Brattleboro, these are the ones that most pierced my oblivion.

How affronting my hubris. How careless. How dangerous even. To dismiss another simply because he/she doesn’t look the way I expect she/he to look.

Acceptance is protection, declared one of the rally signs. I nodded my head in sobriety.

I have a responsibility here.

Hate is a choice. Trans is not, expressed another.

I felt that inside.

“Do better,” the speaker offered to those of us who identified as the sex to which we were born. “Talk to each other. Educate yourselves.”

I am and was so grateful to all those who were courageous enough and vulnerable enough to gather with people like me who want to be allies, but who have so much to learn.

I hope there are more and more spaces where people who identify as Trans feel safe and accepted and most of all feel that they—belong.

At one time I felt awkward around “them,” and then confused, and over time curious, and finally accepting, but now my heart is made glad when I see the woman at the register who kinda looks like a man but who is clearly a woman inside.

She’s always been warm and funny with me even when I accidently use the pronoun, He.

A budget is a moral document.

A budget is a moral document.

I guess it’s been said before but it landed in me for the first time when I heard it spoken last month at the Rally for Trans Justice | Brattleboro.

I jotted those words down in a tiny notebook that I keep in my purse:

A budget is a moral document.

Over the weekend, my husband and I revisited our budget which has long been neglected. Years ago, as my hormones began to change, I turned it all over to him; and as our kids came of age, I looked at it less and less.

We began budgeting when we became parents. I didn’t want to do it, but it was 1995, and it was the first time that I didn’t earn a substantial income. I was home with a child, which is where I discovered I had to remain, but I couldn’t figure out how to avoid credit card debt with my husband’s salary as a new teacher at $20,000 which didn’t include health coverage for the new baby or me.

A budget is a moral document.

I felt so ashamed when I reported to the State Office to arrange for supplemental food and medical care for our son. “I’m not taking this from others am I?” I asked. “I’m a teacher. This is a choice for me. I know it’s not for others.”

A budget is a moral document.

I learned to track every penny then so that we might afford to provide our children with a parent at home, and unpoisoned food, and health care and education that was integrative and whole.

Fuel assistance and the Reformer Christmas Stocking (providing winter wear for the kids each year) helped us get by.

A budget is a moral document.

It was a long haul. There were no true vacations. No dinners out. Not so much as a coffee at a cafe. Our clothes were second-hand. Our gifts were re-gifted. Even the presents under the tree were recycled from the previous year as long as our kids were too young to notice.

“Why don’t you ski?” my father asked, when he came with his doctor friends to ski in Vermont. “You live here. Why don’t you have skis?”

Years later, after my husband’s income climbed, we built our first home, and then he went two years without a teaching salary.

A budget can shrink and expand. We didn’t accrue any debt. I’m so proud of that time. We pulled together as a couple and as a family. The kids gave up their allowances.  The community supported my husband with side jobs. We got by with the unemployment provided by the state.

A budget is a moral document.

Last week I read that the United States is second among developed nations with credit card debt. Close to half of us carry that weight, while in say France or Germany or Australia, less than ten percent do.

With more and more education, and more and more experience, and with the opportunity that comes from that, my husband’s income grew exponentially and we neglected our budget more and more; while simultaneously my opportunities exponentially shrunk, as did my willingness to do just about anything for a buck so that my life could remain shaped around the home.

Instead I’ve began shaping my life around writing.

Is a budget immoral if it provides for an aging woman?
No one wants to sell the house.

Not only did our first-born put himself through college, but he makes more in a summer than I can scrape by in a year.

He called last night from a rally in Burlington–Bernie, Christine, Zuckerman. He was coordinating volunteers. I put him on speaker phone.

“Dad and I are working on the budget,” I said, a phrase which no doubt is a trigger for him given the financial struggles of our family’s early years.

He told us about the inspirational speeches and the enthusiasm, and then he had to go to the next event.

Turning back toward the budget, my husband and I were reminded about what’s at stake. How we provide. What we prioritize. And how spending time with the budget allows us to question this.

A budget is a moral document.

I’ll never forget the cartoon I saw when I was a young teacher. It made me question what was always taken for granted–that money was meant for “things” while “lives” went wasted.

Understanding TRANS

Understanding TRANS


I was alarmingly reluctant to find out more about VT’s Democratic candidate for Governor Christine Hallquist, simply because I was uncomfortable with her appearance.

After she won the primary, I made a mental note to lean in, but my discomfort persisted. When I heard that she would be in town, I put the event on my calendar. I’ve learned that seeing a candidate in person is the best gauge of whether I would trust them with my vote (which held true for Bernie and Obama.)

When I heard that the Trump administration wanted to remove ‘gender’ from United Nations Human Rights documents, my attention sharpened.

Simultaneously someone who I cared about shared their unfolding transgender journey.

This was the last push I needed to realize my response-ability to be engaged more fully; because I know first-hand what it is to be marginalized, degraded and physically threatened.

On Thursday night, my husband Casey Deane and I participated in the Rally for Trans Justice | Brattleboro (for which I shyly made my very first rally signs, imagining what I might want to feel/see if I was trans: SAFETY. BELONGING. DIGNITY. ALLY.)

Students from Brattleboro Union High School appreciated seeing my husband there, as did the manager of the Latchis Hotel; while I delighted in seeing one of our favorite grocery store clerks from the Brattleboro Food Co-op with her family.

Trans people and allies from all walks joined together, including a 5th grader who identified as non-binary and a grandmother who came with her family to support her grandchild.

Where had all these people been hiding, I wondered. Why hadn’t I seen them before? Why hadn’t I wondered more about the fullness of their humanity?

This morning, my husband and I did something we rarely do. We skipped our Saturday morning yoga date with Scott Willis at Hits The Spot Yoga so that we could attend Coffee with Christine and Danica Roem along with our son who was home for the weekend from Vermont Tech.

When our son would typically be sleeping in, we headed out the door in the icy snow, just ahead of an accident, and we arrived at The Works Bakery & Cafe to 3 seats open in a row at the reserved table.

But then I realized that these seats were right beside Christine D Hallquist, which seemed inappropriate for me to claim, given everything, but also inappropriate not to claim, given everything, so I sat right down next to her and she took a pause from her bagel to introduce herself, and I, in turn, introduced her to my son and husband when they sat down with their bagels.

What brought me to this particular event (instead of the others around town where Hallquist was speaking) was the presence of Danica Roem – Virginia Delegate who I heard speak on a YouTube clip after her victory. If she could come from Virginia, I thought, I could come down from the mountain.

She was just as compelling this morning. Clear thinking. Enthusiastic. Matter of fact.

Hallquist was equally so. I began to write down some of what she said:

I AM BULLISH ABOUT VERMONT.

CLOSING RURAL SCHOOLS IS THE WORST THING TO DO.

GROWING VT’S RURAL COMMUNITIES WILL PUT PEOPLE BACK IN THOSE SCHOOLS.

WE’RE GONNA SOLVE CLIMATE CHANGE BECAUSE WE CAN.

~

I don’t need to “like” a candidate, but I do want to respect them.

Right away I liked Hallquist. Her can-do attitude. Her forward thinking. Her humor. Her authenticity. Her clear sense of being a learner. Of visiting the prison and the Brattleboro Retreat. The Canadian delegation on climate change. The former Governor of Colorado–who has joined 19 states together–around climate. Hallquist’s vision to do the same with health care. She also shared her focus on broadband internet across the state.

“I don’t accept NO as an answer,” she said. “I don’t make excuses. We CAN solve problems BECAUSE we are small.”

This she offered in defense of Vermont, after sharing how she transformed Vermont Electric Coop by bringing people together.

Before we left this morning’s gathering, we made new acquaintances and another modest second donation to the campaign (the first after the news about the UN documents.)

We left with a bumper sticker and a lawn sign and a commitment to do more to get the word out: This candidate is worthy of your vote.

“She’s been on a marathon,” Senator Becca Balint, Vermont Senate Majority leader said of Hallquist’s campaign, “And now’s she’s in a sprint,” encouraging us to encourage others to make donations to help bolster the campaign in these last weeks.

“Here’s what I’d like to say to my grandchildren one day,” said Hallquist in her closing:

2018 WAS THE YEAR WE MADE HISTORY.

ps. i love her logo.

pps. Both my husband and I–to our son’s constant dismay–mistakenly referred to Christine as “he” even as I wrote this piece.

“I don’t understand,” my son said, “Why do you keep doing it?!

“Our brains aren’t as flexible as yours,” I explained. “We’ll need more practice.”

Cleo & Ollie, Raspberries for Breakfast

Cleo & Ollie, Raspberries for Breakfast

Late July~

They were barely toddlers when we heard them on the rock outcropping off the back door.

That early June dawn offered a rare sighting of an entire family–both parents and their pups—6 in all!

Later, like last summer, it was just the pups who would come out all hours of the day, and they would let us join them outside, while lounging or nestling or playing, and we’d speak softly as we approached, and sometimes take a series of photos, like parents of little ones do, noticing, over time, how their fur thickened and their coloration and markings deepened.

Eventually, only Ollie and occasionally Cleo would stay when we came near, but soon, even Ollie dashed back into the den upon our arrival. (The other two never stayed long enough for us to get to know them.)

And then that July day came, and the day after that, and then a week, and then another, where we had to resign ourselves that they had grown too old for humans or had perished in the woods while learning to hunt with their parents.

And even still, I look and listen, every day, just in case, jumping up at any sound to see… Nothing.

This is how it goes. The wondrous gift of life and then the absence of the gift. The vacancy. The ache.

Our Aidan will do the same disappearing act this summer, has already done so, is always doing so, transforming from that chubby-cheeked, toasted-marshmallow fleshed, apple-berry-loving baby into an adult—all of an unfathomable 18 years this August.

One afternoon in the heat of early July, he and I were embroiled in a dispute of some kind, hollering at each other across the kitchen, and then simmering with hostility in our respective corners of the house.

Moments later, we heard the squeals, and then we rushed together toward the back door and stood there in silent adoration, our skin touching, our breaths slowed, our moods completely transformed in the holy presence of new life.

Once last summer, when I was working at my desk, I went to the door, in deep despair over our nation, and there were the babes who in an instant lifted me from rhythms of man.

Just the thought of that day is a teacher, a balm, a homecoming.

I slept poorly last night, even after stripping out of my nightgown and stepping onto the porch and into the rain, too soft for the good soaking I craved.

It may have been the moon. It may have been the strong coffee I had an hour too late in the afternoon. It may have been the news I took in before bed, a personal taboo that I’ve broken again and again since #45; so necessary is attention, so addictive is urgency.

Once asleep, I woke often, even in the wee hours of this morning, but it wasn’t until I heard the sound of squeals, not quite birdlike, just before 6 am, that I came to my feet and stepped quickly to the balcony doors, and saw with a mixture of joy and disappointment, three ten-year-olds scampering up the stone path to the outdoor tub.

“They’re so grown,” said Aidan, when he stepped in beside me, wiping his eyes. “Only three?”

“Do you think that’s Ollie?” I asked, as the other two disappeared in the woods across the lawn.

We watched the young fox alone there on the hill, until he too realized his solitude, and dashed off in search of the others, whimpering into the woods and venturing in just a bit, before reappearing, loping back across the lawn, and up the rock outcropping, to the cry of a parent’s reply from inside the den.

“Not Ollie,” we said, and then Aidan turned and went back to bed.

Once the sun rose a bit more over the hill, I went outside to bathe, and as the sole of my feet felt the heat of the stones beneath me, I thought of their paws there just an hour earlier, of how we shared the same path; and not just the foxes that morning, but the deer, and the chipmunks, the moose, the turkey, the groundhog, the fisher cat, the black bear and all manner of creatures with whom we share this land, seen and unseen, sometimes seasons, sometimes years, between sightings.

Once inside the confines of the tub, I closed my eyes and tilted my head back and floated upon the water listening to the my breath, each inhale and exhale amplified by the porcelin, and hearing even the beating of my heart, echoing like a drum, as the world around me disappeared.

When I opened my eyes again, it was the lush green foliage of the canopy that I saw overhead, and I felt much like a scuba diver, but in the jungle, deep in the center of me.

Early August~

I was returning from my morning walk, and she was just heading out.

We spotted each other as I crested the driveway.

My first thought was:

“Oh, there’s our cat, I mean, our dog.”

I almost called her toward me, but then remembered that I didn’t have a pet, haven’t had one since I was a kid.

This freed up my brain to produce: “Wild animal,”
And then: “Fox,”
And then: “Baby fox,”
And then: “Hi Cleo!” the smaller of the two babes that I got to know when the four of them frequented the rock outcropping off my studio.

Surprised to see each other head-on, we stared for some time, and then to fill in the space between us and to keep her from dashing and to lessen any anxiety I may have felt about her further approach toward me, I sang the lullaby that I had sung when she was just a kit.

Eventually, she decided against continuing down the driveway, and turned toward the path into the woods, so that I could continue up, moving from the shade to the sun.

With two cars between us, we stared some more. Yet it wasn’t so much staring we were doing, but “stilling,” taking in the presence of each other, acknowledging our shared and distinct lives, as if to say: “Hello, there, nice to see you again.”

Then she turned to trot down the grassy path, and I stepped up onto the porch; two neighbors getting on with our day.

Ollie on the Rocks

Mid-August

It occurs to me now that as the fox kits have aged, they like to see me a couple times a month, in quick bursts, while I like to see them at least every few days, in leisurely companionship.

The same seems to be true of my sons.