Wasn’t it swell?






You start as a ping in pond. A pebble pulsing out perfect ripple after ripple after diminishing ripple.

Moments later your ripple meets another, and, if you’re lucky, it meets another two or three gliding out in sympathetic pulses to the edge of the unknown world. You dance ringlets around each other for a few years, colliding in tears or laughs, sliding away, colliding again.

Later the pond turns to splash, spit, dive. Showoffs, pushing and shouting. Horseplay and running.

Years pass and the surface is a mess with whitecaps. It’s stormy but you’ve learned to ride it out. Good days and weeks, you tuck yourself under a curl and surf with grace. Even better days you toss with the swells and it doesn’t bother you.

One night you pause, and you see the pattern for what it is: hundreds of wavelets, criss-crossing each other in every direction, inscribing a singular pattern: your life, your family, their lives, the saxophone player’s life, the horse’s life, the bartender’s life. The next minute, the next beat, the next and the next.

And then you all get up to dance.



Upstream from us just a couple miles is the Elizabeth Mine, a now closed copper mine that produced some 8,500,000 pounds of copper in the 150 years or so that it was open.

Downstream from the mine is the western branch of the Ompompanoosuc river, the river that runs through the valley below our house and that feeds the waterfall we hear from our open summer windows. And through that river ran, for all those years and since, the rain and groundwater runoff that trickled through the mine’s tailings piles, picking up sulfuric acid and dissolved metals on its way.

21 years ago, nothing of any size lived in the west branch. The insects were killed by the contamination; nothing larger that ate the insects could survive. People were the life in the river. We swam it, we waded it, we hiked it, we did everything but drink it.

Somewhere back a couple decades ago, people started getting serious about cleaning up this mess. Years after that, serious work began on capping the tailings piles so that they were no longer exposed to rain, weather, and erosion.

At some point, we started to see tiny inch-long fish in the river, and crayfish, and lots of insects. We’ve had two generations of dogs whose hobby it’s been to stand in a shallow part of the river watching those little fish and wag their tails in greeting.

Late last week, the dog and I took our customary walk along the river. We’ve had a dry spell and the river’s running low for the first time all summer. The dog decided to go in for a wade and I followed. I was in up to my ankles less than a minute when I saw a flash of silver alongside a half-submerged rock.

A brown trout, nearly 8 inches long, lay on its side, pinned to the rock by the force of the current. It hadn’t been dead long. I was delighted and dismayed. A fish that size is unheard of in our river, and yet there it was: a miracle, a treasure—and dead.

I turned it over in the water to examine it. It was perfect. I don’t know what killed it, but its scales, fins, eyes, all were just as if it had been skimming below the surface of the water minutes before.

I took a picture to prove I hadn’t dreamt it up, and then left it as it was to feed some other creature.

On the walk back, I thought about abundance. How things appear where you least expect them. How a leaf-littered trail gives up a woodpecker’s feather. How a hay field is a wildflower garden. How a small tree branch can hide seven crows. How a single minute in a walk can contain an entire mystery: the ripple, the fish, the sun sparking a golden streak across the water’s surface, the dog’s tail wagging, the human leaning low over the fish, the life of a river returning hour by hour.

The Sunday buzz


Every visit to the hive is a bit like opening a gift that I’m a little wary of. Not because I’m afraid of the bees, but because I’m afraid for them. After last year’s disappointments, we’re just never sure what we’re going to see.

Each time, we approach the hive with quiet excitement tinged with a dab of worry: what if they’ve swarmed? What if we see no eggs? What if they’re all just… gone?

We smoke the entrance, happy to see commuters coming and going. The incoming foragers weighed down with bright orange luggage is a good sign.

And then we lift the hive lid optimistically…

And there they are, nearly oblivious to us, making a great buzz, tending their community, raising their young, filling their cupboards with precious orange and yellow pollen, and putting up the white-capped honey for winter.

Because today is August, full, hot and droopy with summer, but they know what the ragweed bloom tells them, what the sun’s angle tells them, what the night-time crickets tell them.

Still right now in this heat, sweat dripping off our brows, gloves, camera and all sticky with propolis, the thick buzzing all around us, summer is not going anywhere, not for the moment.


Hours later, I’m writing this. A Sunday night and the dark is coming on. A wise friend recently said that August is the Sunday night of summer. It’s okay. There’s still a little bit of time to stash away some honey. And the earlier dusk? Well, then, we’ll just have to go out and watch the stars until we get sleepy.


Honey and brood

Pollen sacs filled

Winter stores

Getting them on record

Sweet as honeydew

The Decemberists stage

Not entirely by plan, but this summer became our summer of concerts: The Weepies, Idina Menzel, Neil Young, and The Decemberists, the last of which found us at the end of July on a lush green lawn on the grounds of Shelburne Museum.

There’s something thrilling about hearing live music outdoors on a summer evening. The acoustics of open air. The sad whine of the harmonica. The reverberating beat of the drum. The rhythmic jangle of the guitars. And the heat of the day and glare of the sun, at first nearly unbearable and then, as the evening draws on, imperceptibly dissolved into the atmosphere.

There’s something about it that can fix the moment so fiercely in your memory that you can nearly feel the heat of the summer evening and the sway of the songs years later in the remembering.

All the attached memories are there, too. Or will be. The funny guys waiting in line in front of the gate, talking about shows they’ve been to, and how to pronounce “biro” and “gyro”. The friendly couple behind us who, it turns out, had been to many of the same shows we had. Watching the crew prepare the stage. The opening act’s sound check. The gate opening and the crowd fanning out to claim the best spots on the lawn.

And then there’s the daughter, nearly 16, who finds her place to stand right at the foot of the stage, next to that friendly couple, while her old parents set up the chairs, beach towels, and a picnic.

During the opening act, the crowd by the stage is manageable. We can still see that 16-year-old’s head of gorgeous hair. By the time The Decemberists have appeared, the standing crowd has reached our blanket like the incoming tide arriving at our sand castle. I join the crowd while M stands his ground, preserving our tiny acreage.

The band is playing. They have a catalog of soft, sad, folkish tunes, but tonight is for rock’n’roll and it’s loud and we’re all dancing and singing La de da de da, de di de da de da until our voices are cracking with exhaustion.


I can’t see H. I can’t see M. But I know we’re all singing, nodding our heads, reaching arms into the air. I can feel the rumble of the bass and the driving beat of the drums through the ground, through my feet, up into my chest. We’re out of eyesight, but I feel bound to them by the music.

In just a couple years, that girl will be on her way, further from us than that July summer stage. That girl who would cling to us in tears at daycare drop-off, who wouldn’t willingly go to a birthday party or “play date” on her own. That girl is in the front row, making friends with people we don’t know, and having the best night.

At the end of the show, the audience scattered, but she hung out by the stage, hoping for a souvenir. She lucked into a used Colin Meloy guitar pick, but then felt compassion for the woman next to her who desperately wanted it, and gave it to her, and then immediately felt sad for giving away such a prize. To the rescue, her father, who convinced a stage hand to give her Colin’s set list, and then spotted one more pick lying on the stage. He’s tall and with a determined jump-reach he snagged it and put it in her hands. Parents are sometimes still needed.

Colin's set list

I think we would have happily listened for hours, but it was over and with so many songs we still wanted to hear. How greedy we are.

We have everything, absolutely everything, and still we want more.

Did I mention her smile? Did I mention how I danced in a crowd of strangers? Did I mention how, even now, I’m feeling a catch in my throat, thinking about the distance between that night two weeks ago and today and whatever comes next? Did I mention the moon? The huge moon, nearly full and rising behind us after the sun set behind the stage?

Reading Challenge month 7 ~ A book based entirely on its cover


Maybe it was the title. Maybe it was the background colors. Maybe it was the way the title appeared in a doubled, hurried font. I can’t explain it, but I kept seeing this book’s cover and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

It’s strange, isn’t it? The artwork, such as it is, is mostly just words. Lettering. There’s the suggestion of landscape—a darkening blue sky, a blurr of trees, a dark mass of land, and perhaps at the bottom, train tracks—but that’s all smeared behind the book’s title. What could be so compelling?

Maybe it was the hint of the train ride (you know how I am about trains)? The view through the window as we speed by an unfamiliar landscape. Maybe it gave me an impression of summer adventure where all you have is the pack on your back and a train ticket in your hand.

It niggled at me. I’d see it on a bookshop shelf or in an article about current books, or on a website and I’d wonder about it. I didn’t know anything about the story or its author. I felt somewhat annoyed by its insistence, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.

Eventually, I succumbed to its come-hither whispers and went looking for it at our local bookshop. I couldn’t remember the author, so I scanned the shelves in the fiction section knowing it would make itself known. But it didn’t.

I turned to my right, my eyes flew across the “Mystery” shelves and there it was, smirking at me.

A mystery. Why was I surprised?

I bought it knowing nothing more about it than its cover, its title, and its price. I took it home, set it on the counter, and let it simmer there for a bit. It was no less beguiling in my own home.

I read a few pages to get a taste, and I rapidly fell into its charms: a summer page-turner with enough spine-tingly mystery to make you want to stay up late to find out what happens next.

I immediately distrusted the narrator. I knew exactly what sort of ride I was in for, and I couldn’t put it down.

It’s a story narrated by multiple, perhaps unreliable characters. It’s about knowing versus imagining. Fiction and non-fiction. It’s about glimpses and what you know and what you don’t know and what happens when you observe the world from the speed of a train. Or what happens when the speed of your own life insects the speed of another’s.

The Girl on the Train is not my usual type of book, and I doubt I would have picked it up if not for the cover, but I’m glad I read it, and I give full credit to the cover’s designer, who knows about the seductive power of a speeding train, the glimpse of a blurry landscape through a window, and a book in your hand as the train gallops down the tracks.

Our books for month 6:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:


We’ll see you back here on September 11!

This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 11th of each month.



This past week I was acting tour guide for a new found poetry group called Found Poetry Frontiers, a spin-off group from the PoMoSco project devised by fellow Found Poet (and Vermonter) Susan Powers Bourne.

Each week, the designated guide explores his or her local area and then creates found poems about it to share with the group. Meanwhile, other participating poets can share poems they create about the same area.

This week, I wrote seven poems about Thetford, Vermont, ranging in topics from its history to its topography to its politics to its poets. You can see the ones I wrote here. You can see the full Thetford collection here (including those of other participating poets).

While I enjoyed the process of mining my town and its history for found poetry, I think I enjoyed reading what others created even more, seeing my “hometown” through others’ eyes. Here’s one of my favorites.

On Monday, we’re headed to Mumbai, India. Are you interesting in joining as poet, reader, or both? You can read the details here.

Reading Challenge month 6 ~ A book your mom loves


Stumped, I tell you. I was stumped.

Mom loved to read. We all did. That was plain as day. My growing up houses had overflowing bookshelves and stacks of reading material on kitchen counter tops, desks, and bed side tables. Mom always had a half-devoured book by her chair and a to-be-read shelf in the bedroom. We exchanged books through the mail in regular shipments between Florida and Vermont. “This one’s worth reading,” she’d say. “Have you read the latest Khaled Hosseini?”

But one she particularly loved? A treasured book? A favorite book?

I skrinched my brain hard to think of one and felt so deeply sad that I didn’t know. Isn’t that something you should know about your own mother?

I could make an educated guess. She had favorite authors: Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Carl Hiassen. As a kid she loved dog and horse books: The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, Lad a Dog.

Then I remembered Paddle-to-the-Sea, a book she had given Hyla years ago. I mean, she gave Hyla books all the time, but those were ones she found in her travels that she thought would appeal to Hyla’s interests. This one was one she’d also had as a child.

A loved book.

Paddle-to-the-Sea is the story of a little wooden canoe carved by a boy in the Canadian wilderness, just northwest of Lake Superior. He sets the canoe (and its carved paddler) onto a snow-covered hill near his home and waits for spring. When the melt begins, Paddle slides down the hill into a river that feeds the lake, and so begins his journey through the great lakes and out to the sea.

He follows the river, the waves, the currents, the storms, the waterfalls, the locks. We follow along.

Paddle doesn’t speak. He doesn’t have thoughts that we’re aware of. It’s always clear that he’s a something—not a someone—and yet I developed such a fondness for Paddle. I was rooting for him all the way. I worried for him when he was temporarily trapped in a beaver pond, or approaching the blade of a river-side saw mill.

It’s a short book. I read it in half-an-hour in a dwindling afternoon in July. I read it with a voice in my head. A voice something like my own, reading her child a story on some long gone July afternoon.

A story is a current. A story is a voice. A story is a wave, a journey, a seeking. A story is a memory and a thread. A story is the way someone’s love is joined to someone else.

I’ve got a cat on my shoulder as I type this. And my own girl on the porch swing. She’s deep in her own book on a perfect summer afternoon. What’s her favorite book?

I’ll go ask.


Our books for month 6:

We’d love to know what you read this month. Please leave a comment telling us about it!

The category for the coming month is:


We’ll see you back here on August 11!

This post is part of our multi-year reading challenge. We’d love to have you join us for the whole challenge or any portion. Take a look at the checklist to see the current category (in green). We’ll announce the next category on the 9th of each month.