She commits to writing a blog entry on the first suggestion that comes her way

. . . and the first suggestion that comes her way is “what love is.”

In keeping with the spirit of the thing, she closes her eyes, blindly points the cursor in her photo file, and clicks, in the belief that whatever photo presents itself will have an intrinsic connection to the theme.

Take a look at that photo. That there is a wooded hill in southeastern Vermont.  A wooded Vermont hill captured in pixels almost six years ago, as it happens, a photo she hasn’t looked at since.

Note the rudimentary driveway with the rutted tracks, the small evergreens dotting the hillside, the tall oaks and maples and white pines to the right and also farther up the hill. The car in the lower left belongs, she thinks, to her friend Meredith, who took the photo.

Six years ago, she (she being me, not Meredith), signed a series of legal documents faxed to her home in Minneapolis. The legal documents meant that this land was now hers. Despite the fact that she knew this particular part of Vermont well, she hadn’t ever seen this particular hill in real life.

She studied the series of photos that her friend sent to her, and she imagined herself walking through these woods. She wondered what the view was like from the very top of the hill. She wondered if there was a flat patch of dirt where you could pitch a tent, maybe build a one-room hut.

There’s an outhouse in the woods, her friend informed her. An outhouse was a one-room hut of sorts, wasn’t it? Indeed it was. What do you know, there was already a house of sorts on the land.

She went to walk the land only after it was hers, driving down the dirt roads that are 70% of all Vermont roads, searching for the unmarked entrance to the rudimentary driveway. What had she gotten herself into? She lived in Minneapolis, for God’s sake.

You always wanted to live in Vermont, she reminded herself. But it makes no sense, she scolded herself, You live in Minneapolis. She had no rebuttal to that one; it was true, this didn’t make any sense.

But she went ahead anyway.

Once there, she couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Those giant trees. That one white pine, my God, she had never seen a white pine so tall, so huge. From the very top of the land she looked east, to New Hampshire, and there it was: Mt. Monadnock.

A year later, she and her friends put together a tiny one-room cabin from a kit bought off eBay. Another friend cut down some of the little evergreens that were overtaking the slope. Someone else drilled a well, and someone else spread gravel on the driveway.

One friend lived in the tiny one-room cabin for six months and used the earth itself to build things. Wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load filled with large flat Vermont slate dug up out of the creek beds: a walled perennial bed. Saplings felled with an axe, stripped with a draw knife, notched with a hatchet: a tool shed and a bench and a picnic table and a ladder. A firepit lined with rocks.

A hammock now hangs from straps encircling two white pines. A clothesline stretches between two trees. A pipeless old sink is propped between two other trees, a water bag with a spout suspended on a hook above it. The old outhouse in the woods has proved extremely useful.

She sits on a couch in Minneapolis, typing away on this entry. Below her is the sound of the water pump; a tall boy is taking a shower. Above her comes the sound of a ukelele; a girl is strumming it. And in another room, another house, in another part of the city, another girl is babysitting.

Once, the boy and the girls did not exist. They were dreams in the mind of a young woman. All her life she wanted them, imagining the things they might do together. The books she would read to them. The places they would go. She imagined sitting them on the kitchen counter so they could help bake cookies. She determined that she would take them traveling as soon as they were born, that they would grow up to be adventurers.

In dark moments, she imagined all the awful things that could happen to them, these invisible non-existent children. She imagined the horror of watching them hurt, suffer.

It doesn’t make sense to have children, she told herself. Those things could happen. The world is full of hurt.

But she went ahead anyway.

From something that was not real and that didn’t exist comes something real. Something you can touch. The top of a tall hill, from which you can see a far horizon. A boy, girls, human beings conjured up out of flesh and blood and dreams.

And so it goes.

Things don’t make sense, but you do them anyway. What exists at first only in your heart turns, over years, into something real.

Love is risk. Love is faith. Love is action.

Christmas, 1963

I’m sitting on the couch looking at a Fraser Fir, strung with small white and colored lights, branches bowed with ornaments old and not-old.

Did you know that if, at some point in your life and due to circumstances beyond your control, you find yourself no longer in possession of the ornaments you cherished and gathered over many years, it is possible to restock your ornament box from thrift stores and flea markets and garage sales?

And that you might find that you are capable of loving these new-old ornaments, most of which belonged to other people, people you don’t know, and which were originally hung in other living rooms, living rooms you never saw and which may or may not exist now?

I am here to tell you that it is possible. Many things are possible.  There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

It’s a quiet day here, made quieter by the three vertical feet of whiteness that has fallen in the past three weeks. Everything is hushed. The sky is as white as the snow, and everything is turning blue now, at dusk.

In the spirit of the season, here are a few offerings, all by others or gleaned from others.

A lovely Christmas poem can be found here.

One of my favorite blogs offers a thanks and, if you scroll down, a delightful tiny video that makes me happy whenever I click on it.

Another always-thoughtful blog offers small treasures in image and words.

For those of you who love snow, skiing and dogs, or maybe just dogs, click here for fifteen seconds of joy.

And finally, below, one of my favorite poems. Enjoy.

Christmas 1963
– Joseph Enzweiler

Because we wanted much that year
and had little. Because the winter phone
for days stayed silent that would call
our father back to work, and he
kept silent too with our mother,
fearfully proud before us.

Because I was young that morning
in gray light untouched on the rug
and our gifts were so few, propped
along the furniture, for a second
my heart fell, then saw how large
they made the spaces between them

to take the place of less. Because
the curtained sun rose brightly
on our discarded paper and the things
themselves, these forty years,
have grown too small to see, the emptiness
measured out remains the gift,

fills the whole room now, that whole year
out across the snowy lawn. Because
a drop of shame burned quietly
in the province of love. Because
we had little that year
and were given much.

Hello, Miss Wang. Greetings, Mr. Li.

chinese-english-dictionaryHello, Miss Wang.

Hello, Mr. Li.

How are you today, Miss Wang?

I’m well. And you?

I too am well.

That makes three of us, then, who are all well, thanks, Mr. Li, thanks Miss Wang, here in this small car on a Friday morning in late September, heading west.

You have a 500-mile round trip overnight ahead of you, and in preparation you went to the library –first having combed through your children’s rooms in search of their library cards, hoping that one of theirs, unlike yours, would be “clean,” clean defined as having less than a $10 fine attached to it– to borrow some books on cd, the better to educate and entertain yourself as you drive.

You made it to your underground neighborhood library five minutes before closing –how typical– and the very kind librarian let you scurry over to the books on cd section anyway, where you chose:

Breakfast for Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut (you know you read this in high school, but you don’t remember a word of it, and what with all the Vonnegut talk these days you figure it’s time to re-up your acquaintance).

The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, because it’s a cool idea –a virus wipes out the humans and then what happens?– and it sounds as if it might leave you a bit more knowledgeable, always a good thing.

Fierce Pajamas, a collection of New Yorker humor writing from long ago right up through now. Funny! You love funny.

Beginning Mandarin, Level One. (Or Two. Or Three. Could it possibly have been Four, even?) You spot this quiet little unassuming book-on-cd and scoop it up, for reasons that are not clear. You already know Mandarin at a Level One/Two/Three/Four, so what’s the point?

And off you go, books on cd scattered on the passenger seat next to you, bright and early on Friday, the better to give yourself plenty of time to mosey about on your way west.

Time enough to stop in a diner on the way and partake of a giant diner breakfast, time enough to stop and cash in your winning South Dakota powerball ticket ($3!) that you bought last August.

Time enough to get to the conference you’re speaking at with hours to spare before your lecture begins. Imagine that, hours to spare. What a new and exciting experience that would be for you.

(That plan is dashed to pieces 200 miles into the journey, when you realize that the conference is taking place in Sioux Falls, as opposed to Brookings. How ever did you manage to screw up so badly? This fact is discovered over a big greasy diner breakfast somewhere between Minneapolis and Brookings, necessitating an immediate and panicky departure from said diner in order to find a gas station, buy a map, and reconfigure your journey so that you have a prayer of arriving there on time for your lecture, which people are paying you good money for, a fact which only increases your anxiety.)

Breakfast of Champions: you listen to the whole thing, hoping that at some point something in you will click into gear and you will like it. That does not happen. Did you, in fact, read this book in high school? If so, did you like it back then? Moot and unanswerable questions.

You move on to Fierce Pajamas. You lean back in your seat as you speed along, endless prairie undulating as far as you can see, ready to laugh. Ready to dispel your how-could-you-screw-up-the-city-where-you’re-supposed-to-be-giving-the-lecture-so-badly self-recriminations. HA!

But the selections in Fierce Pajamas seem only mildly funny. At best. Have you lost your sense of humor entirely? First Vonnegut, now Fierce Pajamas. Two strike-outs in a row. You are a loser.

Perhaps it’s time for a little self-edification. Your hand hovers over The World Without Us. Should you? No. You are too worried, too angry at yourself (once again: what in the world made you think this conference was in Brookings? Did you not receive the conference materials months ago? Can you not read?), too focused on glancing in the rearview mirror to see if any cops have caught wind of the tiny wild car hurtling itself toward Sioux Falls. As opposed to Brookings.

And that –this combination of worry and distraction and loser-ness– is how you end up listening to the young Chinese couple as they attempt, over and over and over, to make plans for the evening.

Hello, Miss Wang.

Greetings, Mr. Li.

Ah. . . here we go. This is just the ticket. Mr. Li has such a peaceful, deep voice. Miss Wang is serious, well-spoken yet not at all ponderous.

Do you have any free time tonight, Miss Wang?

Yes, I do, Mr. Li.

How nice. What might Mr. Li have in mind? A movie, perhaps? Maybe a stroll in the park, followed by a bite to eat? Judging from the innocent bubble that seems to comprise his and Miss Wang’s world, there will surely not be anything more than that.

Would you like to get something to eat tonight, Miss Wang?

Maybe, Mr. Li. What time were you thinking?

Aha. Exactly as you had assumed. Mr. Li and Miss Wang will be dining together tonight. How happy this makes you. They seem like such nice people, and look how polite they are to each other, carefully considering the other’s schedule, hoping for a date but making no assumptions.

How about 9 o’clock, Miss Wang?

I’m sorry, Mr. Li. That’s a little too late for me.

You’re sorry to hear this. But how can you blame Miss Wang? You yourself wouldn’t want to sit down to a meal at 9 p.m. You’d have to drag your food-filled belly to bed only a few hours later, and you prefer to go to bed empty-stomached. Well, maybe a little Jim Beam. But a big dinner that late? No. Sorry.

Do you have free time tomorrow, Miss Wang?

Perfect! Kudos to you, Mr. Li. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. But please do re-think that 9 p.m. dinner time.

I might have some free time tomorrow, Mr. Li. How about you?

Oh, Mr. Li, this is your lucky day. How about 7? That’s a more reasonable dinner time.

The miles roll by. The minutes tick away and the time of your lecture draws ever closer, but where is Sioux Falls? The tiny car speeds ever faster, and the rearview mirror gets a visual workout.

Do you have some free time at 7 p.m. to get something to eat, Miss Wang?

Yay! You drum your hands on the steering wheel in happiness and relief.

This, the knowledge that Mr. Li and Miss Wang are both willing to work together to make this date happen, is the only thing keeping you sane right now.

Think about it. Mr. Li was turned down for dinner tonight –and rightly so, given the lateness of the hour– but Miss Wang is willing to give him a second chance. And who in this life doesn’t want a second chance? Here in this tinny little car, on the last 100 miles of this hellbent drive, there is hope for the future. If Miss Wang and Mr. Li can do it, so, perhaps, can you.

Sioux Falls is somewhere out there, somewhere on the horizon. Onward.

The People Who Learned to Hide

snowmageddon-3Minneapolis has just lived through the fifth biggest blizzard of all time. “Lived through” is something of a misnomer; many streets still haven’t been plowed, and once we’d finally unburied the garage (a two-day endeavor), the car got stuck thirty feet down the alley, requiring the assistance of five Good Samaritans to become unstuck.

But they were there, those Good Samaritans, and later in the day we returned the favor to three more cars. That’s what happens, at least sometimes, when a bunch of human beings are facing something bigger than any one of us, or any all of us.

This blog entry made me think of all those in my city, my country, my own block, who feel themselves alone. Every entry on this blog –Your Man for Fun in Rapidan– is a keeper, but once in a while he hits one out of the park.

And now I’m going to call my 86-year-old neighbor, who has been snowed in for the past four days, to see if she might like a bit of toffee, delivered to her back door.

Bless the feet

feet-on-bedBless the feet, for they are the weary warriors of the body, blistered, bandaged, and unsung.

Bless the toes, the arches, the heels, for they are the neglected servant hands of the legs and spine.

Bless the tendons and sinew and blood and bone of the carpals and metacarpals, for they are the rivers and tributaries of the peninsulas of the body.

Bless the abacus toes, for they are what we count on when we do not know we are counting.

Bless the long strong feet, tree roots pulling sustenance from the earth.

Bless these feet, steel springs of the body, pale and hidden soles of our souls.

Long Time Passing

toddler-doug-in-doorwayHere is what you remember from the 60’s:

1. Some of the high schoolers, who were huge and terrifying to the elementary- school you, wore black armbands.
2. At the yearly high school talent show, something you lived for because you idolized those huge and terrifying high schoolers, a girl with long dark hair and a muslin granny dress sat in the center of the stage with a spotlight shining down on her head and played a guitar and sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
3. At night the news had a running count of how many soldiers had died in the Vietnam War. Note: you think you remember this, but it’s possible that you don’t – it’s possible that you read about that somewhere and turned it into a semi-memory, which seems to be the case with much of what you think you remember.
4. Drawing peace signs and writing LOVE and LUV in big squishy letters in your notebooks. Note: This might actually have happened in the 70’s. You just can’t be sure.
5. An organic farm commune a few miles away from your home, named “Earthdance.” You and your family had your own giant, mostly-organic vegetable garden, but you sometimes went to Earthdance to buy homemade bread. This was in the days before Sister #2 set out on her quest to become the New York State Bread Baking Champion and began filling the house with homemade bread.

Here is what you do not remember about the 60’s:
1. The day that JFK was shot.
2. Peace marches.
3. A sense of anger on the part of youth against their elders.
It all went right over your head, pretty much, the entire decade of the 60’s. And then one day the 60’s were over, and it was the 70’s, and you were in middle school. You were growing wildly, so fast that your bones literally hurt. You lay curled in bed at night, holding your thighs and knees, which sparked with pain. You lost weight because you were growing so fast.

Here is what you remember from the 70’s:

The 60’s were just past. It was the bare beginning of the 70’s. But you knew that you had missed out, and you wanted what you had missed. It was your goal to be a hippie. You decoupaged Desiderata and hung it in your room. You tie-dyed some clothes, including a yellow hat which your sisters scoffed at mercilessly. You tried to teach yourself how to play the recorder, the better to sit in a field of daisies playing  “Blowin’ In the Wind” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
Hippies sat in fields of daisies, living in the moment and playing the recorder, didn’t they? They did. Surely they did. And they wore tie-dye yellow hats.

Sister #1: Where are you going in that yellow tie-dye hat?
You: For a walk.
Sister #1: In that yellow tie-dye hat?
You: Yes.
Sister #1: What’s that under your arm?
You: Nothing.
Sister #1: Oh my God. Is that your recorder?
You: (no response)
Sister #1: Oh my God. Are you going out in back of the barn to sit in the field and play that thing?
You: (no response)
Sister #1: Oh my God. Sister #2! She’s heading out into the field again to play that recorder!
Sister #2 (from kitchen, where she is kneading bread): Is she wearing the yellow tie-dye hat?
Sister #1: Mais oui!
Sister #2: Oh my God.

So it went, that summer. Something about a recorder, something about a field of daisies, something about a yellow tie-dye hat. Sister #2 went on to become the New York State Bread Baking Champion that year. To the best of your memory she never baked another loaf, once the trophy was hers. Sister #1 made a granny dress out of checked orange and white cotton. And in the face of steadfast opposition, you kept wearing your yellow tie-dye hat.

Mayhap you, too, wish to reinvigorate certain words of your acquaintance?

hubbard-squashThat there to the left is a Hubbard squash. Have you ever seen one? They’re bluish, lumpy, and extremely large. They belong in the prehistoric section of the farmer’s market, along with certain heirloom tomatoes, turtles, and blue, green and purple potatoes.

Did you notice I slipped “turtles” in there? I did, because turtles have always struck me as prehistoric, and certainly deserving of their own section in a farmer’s market.

Neither Hubbard squash nor turtles have anything to do with the topic of today’s post, though. Neither does the title, although I would like to take this opportunity to urge you all to devote some time and energy to bringing back a good word, a word to your personal liking, a word that may even as we speak be lying in a dusty attic, forgotten, ignored.

A word that hasn’t been asked to dance in a long time. A word that even now is leaning back against the wall and mayhap thinking something along the lines of I knew I shouldn’t have worn this dress and Why would anyone ask me to dance? I wouldn’t even ask me to dance, were I someone other than myself. I am the sort of word wanted by no one, desired by no one, not even for the tiniest of flings.

Take a word like mayhap. Mayhap is a fine, fine word, in my estimation. Mayhap you agree? Mayhap you too shall decide to strike a blow for justice, and begin using mayhap in your everyday speech.

Mayhap you will find yourself pleasantly surprised by how subtly enriched your life becomes, once you branch out beyond the everyday.

Where was I going with this? Originally, nowhere. All I wanted to do was use  “mayhap” in a sentence, if only to remind myself of my vow to restore it to common parlance. And yet now I have used it in many a sentence, mayhap too many, if you’ve managed to read this far.

And what of the Hubbard squash, you ask? Expecteth thou a recipe? I hope not, because thou shalt not be getting one, at least in this blog, at least not of the Hubbard squash variety. Nay, sir, I think not. Should you require a recipe for Mister H I urge you to consult a blog more food-ish than mine.

While I do not wish to disappoint any Hubbard-ites out there, the sole reason this particular photo appears to the upper left of this entry is because I was searching through my files and came upon Lord Hubbard, above, and decided to include him on the off-chance that he, too, was lonely. That he, too, had spent too much time propped amongst the spiderwebs and old trunks. That he, too, had suffered the long indignity of a dance during which he stood next to the refreshment table, drink in hand, smiling brightly as the couples spun past.

And now the hour grows late, the fire burns to ashes, the raven is tap-tapping at the window, and the Victorian speech mannerisms are beginning to bug even me.

Forsooth! It is too late to think of writing the post that I opened up this page with every intention of writing.

Mayhap I’ll write it on the morrow.