We’ve had a few weeks of frigid temperatures and, after a few years of almost no snow – a return to a normal Vermont winter. This morning greeted me with perfect pink skies that can only come from the promise of a perfect sunny day. Even though I should know better, I couldn’t help thinking it’s almost spring, and as I navigated the mud pit that is our road, I starting humming something from ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. Pretty sappy, right?
It gets sappier. I’d gotten up early, escaping to our favorite diner for uninterrupted writing before the Big Guy and Thing1 and Thing2 woke up. The guys met me for breakfast a few hours later. Thing1 and Thing2 argued over who’s turn it was to sit with Mom, and, still euphoric from hours of typing, I basked in the glow of being with my guys. But it was going to get even sappier.
The Big Guy took the little guys to find a part for vacuum, and I headed back towards our neck of the woods in my car. On my way back, I noticed a few pickup trucks parked up on a hill. There was a group of men – some young, some old – congregated around a blue cistern next to a tree. Still feeling sappy, I thought didn’t notice the blue tube connecting the tank to the tree and thought, instead, how nice it was to see teenagers not too embarrassed to spend time with their fathers.
It wasn’t until I turned onto the last paved road on the way to our house that I had the sappiest moment of the day. Then, there he was. An older man standing in the bed of his pickup sorting a pile of tin buckets with tent shaped lids on them. I drove on and noticed he had already driven in the taps for at least a dozen trees.
I turned onto our road feeling extremely sappy and sentimental (and suddenly craving something maple). Even the mud didn’t bother me on my way back up our hill because even though there’s still a good eight inches of snow in our yard today and single digits forecast for a few nights next week, I know spring is here. I saw it on the way home from the Diner, clear as day.
I planted the other morning. It was stiflingly humid out, but I knew storms were coming to water my garden in the afternoon, and there was still one big bed to dig sow.
An hour later I sat down at my computer, soaked in sweat and spring steam. The earth that shelters two-thirds of our house was serving its purpose by keeping the room cool, but I wanted something more. There wasn’t time to shower, and I had more garden time planned after work, but little dots of dirt sliding down a sweaty arm can feel more like the creepy crawlies. When the rain arrived, I was strongly tempted to hit BRB (be right back) in the work chat room and head out for an au natural shower.
The Big Guy set the precedent for this last summer when he attempted to save water with a risqué hose down during a down pour. For a while, the only way to get my two boys clean (at the same time) was to wait for a swimming party, a rainy day or, preferably, both at the same time. Pond jumping is especially purifying in the rain, and only the din of thunder and misdirected parents ordering everyone inside can muddy the sensation.
Outside, the wind intensified, whipping the spindly white birches until their highest branches seemed as if they would sweep the forest floor. I abandoned any ideas about dancing the dirt away in the rain. I knew I’d need to venture out later to mulch anyway, spurring the need for another, if more conventional, conventional shower.
But getting the dust off wasn’t really the point. I knew what I really wanted. It was a cleansing I craved; it was a communion with the elements. But summer is young and I’ve just begun to tend my garden.
Just about a year ago, I began drawing again.
Once upon a time I drew all the time. I thought I would draw for my life at one point. But, like so many adolescent fantasies, it surrendered to reality.
Last year I joined a writing group at Hubbard Hall, a local community theatre and art center in Cambridge, NY and woke up to a different reality. Initially intending to focus on writers in rural areas, the group has evolved into a search for authenticity in our work and our lives. For me that meant making the choice to follow more earnestly my lifelong dream of being a writer and, simultaneously, to revive a dream that made art a part of my life again. It’s been life changing in many ways, some of which I’m still discovering.
Thanks to my primary inspiration – my family – I’ve found my own drawing groove over the last year. Perspective and landscapes were never my strong suits, but when the small towns are covered with snow or the hills are drenched in green, Vermont kickstarts my creativity, and I get more adventurous. Learning to draw them has taught me the need to truly see them, but it’s also taught me to look.
Trying to capture the snow-covered mountains meant studying them first thing in the morning when the powder dusted the evergreens, but it also forced me to consider the naked maple trees, thrown into relief against a dusky pink winter sky when the wind had swept their limbs clean. I got comfortable scribbling craggy branches in my sketchbook and began seeking out the silhouettes during the often fiery sunsets. I even learned to find beauty in the overcast grey that colors most of our winters. Now, as spring coaxes tiny green buds from tree branches and the longer days turn thatch-colored fields into green and yellow meadows, I’m trying out a new set of skills with my pencils. And I’m learning, yet again, not just to see the details in the everyday inspirations. I’m also learning to find inspiration in everyday places and moments.
The willow trees near the main road are sending out shoots of yellow green, and it’s clear the mountains are about to explode in a myriad of greens. For now, though, the daffodils and the tiny sunlit green dots on the trees cast a glow over our small town.
The Dairy Bar is open now, and people are stopping in for ice cream after Little League or for a sunny batter-dipped dinner after work. The air is thick with the smell of manure-plowed fields and fruit blossoms. At the market, the pansies are being replaced by petunias as the days grow longer, and bales of straw are being stacked for gardeners emerging from their hibernation.
I’m watching a story that’s being told again in small towns across the country. I’ve seen it unfold over ten times now, and it’s a tale that never gets old.
It’s always an event when we’re not late getting out the door to school. I can count on one hand the times Thing1 has been about to rush out the door without a backpack or Thing2 had to go back to their room to grab one more action figure for show-and-tell. So when we got out the door this morning with both backpacks fully packed, homework finished, and two boys breakfasted and brushed (Mom eats after the chaos), it was nothing short of a minor miracle.
We bundled ourselves into the car and headed out the driveway. We go the same way everyday, and most days I slow a bit as we approach the little horse farm at the bottom of our dirt road. Today, I stopped.
Over the last week, Mother Nature had put away the pinky-browns and blues she’d been using during mud season and pulled out her spring palette. As we descended, the morning sun bathed the hill in gold, and we all noticed how the grass had suddenly become green. A few daffodils were poking through the leaves by the fence that runs along the road, reminding us that, whatever else is happening in the world, it’s still April. I exhaled again and snapped a quick pic before rebooting the morning school run.
There are more mornings than not that I have to stop and snap a few photos of this hill and the tiny horse farm framed by the rounded mountains. Part of me is always surprised that, after over ten years living on this road, the scenery still takes my breath away. It’s the answer to a question I started as a teenager while visiting southern Bavaria with friends of the family.
Our friends had a vacation home in one of the centuries-old towns that dots that mountainous regions. We were there in the summer, and the crystal blue lakes and then-snowcapped Alps in the back ground constantly took my breath away. I always wondered, though, if living with that beauty everyday would minimize its impact. Today, as I’m snapping pictures and smiling on my way to school, I’m thinking once again about how the answer to that question is still one my favorite daily miracles.