And nothing but


The truth is, for lunch today I had a leftover biscuit from an order of Kentucky Fried Chicken we had last night.

The truth is, the last time we had a bucket of chicken was 10 years ago February, when we were moving our worldly goods from a frozen shipping container back into the house, during a snow storm, while I had a cold, during a very bad month. A  neighbor, taking pity on us, delivered the seasoned, greasy sustenance and we were grateful.

Did I tell you that story then? Likely not. Which is weird because, through all the mess and hurry and cold and worry and excitement of the day, it’s the one detail I remember strongly: frozen, weary hands shoveling warm, salty bits of chicken and fried potatoes into hungry mouths.

I’ve been thinking about things like this recently. Not fried chicken (well, some of that), but about these little online windows we open to each other. How we tell each other some things and not other things. How we cultivate a view, the person we want to be, showing what we believe to be our best sides. Not necessarily intentionally to deceive, but, really, who wants to post a picture of the (yet again) clogged toilet?

The popular term for this picking and choosing is curation, a term I like because it makes me think of museums, store rooms full of long-hidden masterpieces, wooden crates of artifacts, a candy store of beauty, age, and mystery just waiting to be picked through, selected, displayed.


Every single thing that I tell you here is the truth, at least the truth as I see or understand it. But I don’t tell you the whole truth.

Sometimes the truth is not mine to tell. Earlier this spring, for instance, a thing happened. It’s a thing that stopped me writing here because it was a very big thing, a difficult thing, and it took my full attention and sapped my energy. This thing was medical, and it happened to my darling M. And he’s better now. We came through it and things are going to be okay.

But I stopped writing here because, really, what was I going to say? It wasn’t my story to tell. I couldn’t write about the biggest thing happening in my life, but I couldn’t blithely go on writing about goats or dinner or spring turning on her green light.

The truth is, I lost the desire to write, and I kept our truth close to us and cared for it like a small, tender thing.

The truth is, I wanted to be invisible, to have the world disappear for a time, and still I missed being here, sharing stories and thoughts, because this is often the place where I figure things out, make connections between ideas and the world and you lovely people who read and comment, or just read and think.

The truth is, while I was not here, life spun on. The toilet did, indeed, get clogged. Those darling baby goats were born. We filled the refrigerator, emptied it, then filled it again. The dog and I rambled the valley. The car’s check engine light came on, went off, came back on.  No one can figure out why. The lawn mower died mid-mow, but M brought it back to life with a $1.50 spring. The bees made honey and baby bees. The cherry blossoms bloomed, then faded. I started some new projects. I learned to knit (poorly). The school year ended and H became a senior facing her last high school summer.

People wrote beautiful songs. Geese came home. Ambulances arrived at accident scenes. Rain drenched roots. Politicians squabbled. Seeds germinated. Chickens were slaughtered, sold, and fried. We forgot things we were sure we’d always remember. Norma Desmond came down her glorious staircase, ready for her closeup. Stains blossomed. The earth turned. Voices carved songs.

Writers took up their pens and wrote the truth, as they understood it.

Shackleton Found

Poet at work

By December 1911, the South pole was just another notch on Roald Amundsen’s belt. Robert F. Scott, as we know, reached that awful place a month later, and then perished on the return.

If you were a south polar explorer in 1914, all the good stuff had been claimed already. But Ernest Shackleton couldn’t bear to stay home, so he came up with a bold idea and he gave it a grand name: The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. His aim, in short, was to be the first human to walk across the Antarctic continent.

Shackleton, no stranger to Antarctic expeditions (having been part of Scott’s 1901-1904 Discovery expedition, and claimed the Farthest South prize in 1909) was full of grand plans and schemes and the story of his expedition is riveting, replete with danger, disaster, impossible odds, extreme bravery, and all you’d expect of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. His ship, the Endurance, was beset and then crushed in the pack ice off the coast of Antarctica and there he was with the rest of his crew, the sled dogs, three lifeboats, and anything else they could drag from the doomed ship before it sunk below the ice.

Stranded on the ice with no one who would even notice they were missing for at least a year.

Dark odds.

But there’s a difference in this story: he came out of it alive, and so did every single member of the expedition. This was no small feat in a place that has no respect for human life, where even today, in the age of synthetic fabrics, specialized diets for athletes, and satellite phones, brave explorers perish just miles from safety.

So here I am, armchair polar explorer who detests the cold and is so low on the bravery scale that I’ve repeatedly refused to walk across the frozen Connecticut River in deep mid-winter even though M really really really wants to.

Here I am, 100 years from the end of that story, exploring the only way I know how: by rereading the words of the true explorers and charting my own kind of expedition across the ice.

Beginning April 11, each day for 30 days, I’m writing a found poem from Shackleton’s book South, beginning from the port of London and stopping at each significant milestone along his journey, to the final rescue. I’ll be posting the poems along the way.

Will I make it to my goal? I have a lot of granola, chocolate, good tea, highlighters, pens, pencils, and a faithful dog. What could go wrong?

Now, hand me that harness and hook me up to the sledge of words. Onward!

Bears unwelcome

10 of these

Do all towns have email lists these days? I suppose so. Our town’s list announces church suppers and firewood for sale; requests proposals for mowing the town green; advertises sporting equipment, cars, pianos, and livestock for sale or barter; and invites us to school plays, concerts, farmers markets. Around elections, they bustle with political opinions. And at the hinge of each season, they announce signs of change.

Children returning to school. Geese leaving town. First snowflakes and dicey roads. First robin sighted.

A couple weeks ago, a message on our town email list warned that a bear had been seen on a nearby deck, checking out the empty bird feeders. It’s a bit early for bears to wake up, but the mild winter and the quick snow melt have us on high alert. Bears waking up right now are looking for food, and nothing’s growing yet.

We’ve nothing at all against bears. They belong on the land more than we do. But we don’t really want them to eat our bees, especially since we’ve managed to somehow keep them alive through the winter.*

Every morning since that email posting, we woke up nervously, stopping to peer out the bedroom window even while still half asleep to make sure the hives were still standing.

Once bitten, twice shy.

Of course, we now have the hives protected by electric fence, but last year’s bear knows there were bees here last year and may come sniffing.

So we decided to add one more level of protection by building an “unwelcome mat,” which is essentially a bed of nails. You place the mat on the approach to the hives and hope that any bear who steps on it will be unpleasantly surprised and turn right around (the nails protrude enough to feel uncomfortable, but not enough to permanently hurt the bear).

We built two mats to extend along the length of the eastern side of the bee yard fencing, which we figure is the direction the bear is most likely to come from (the north and south fences are more protected because of the goat pasture and pen, and the west side is protected by the extra gate, our presence, and the road).

When I say “we” I mean that M pounded all those nails (two nails, every two inches, on 10 boards, 12 feet long). He’s the one who set up the clever jig on the deck railing. But I did help him assemble the mats and I used a power tool without harming myself or the mats, so there’s that.

We still check the hives from the bedroom window every morning, but with a little less anxiety. They’ve got their fondant, their fence, and their unwelcome mat. I think we’ve done all we can, and now we just need to wait for spring to bloom.

* Let’s face it: they kept themselves alive through the winter. The only thing we did was not get in their way.

Prepping the railing

The jig


Two mats


Reading Challenge month 14 ~ A book by a female author


If you’d been here yesterday, you would have read a different post. We would have been listening to Burt Bacharach tunes and I’d have bored you with dim memories of my early childhood, listening to my parents play songs like “Wishin’ and Hopin’” and “Walk On By” in a Pennsylvania living room. Also the snow was falling and it was getting dark.

But those words vanished into the ether just as I pressed “Preview” and so today we start over and you get The Guess Who singing “These Eyes” and H munching potato chips and the dog and cat fighting over the dog bed in front of the fire.

I’m trying hard to think about how to tell you about this book, because I’m still not sure I understand all that I felt when I read it, except that it was one of those too-rare cases of my parceling out the final chapters very slowly in an effort to stave off coming to the end.

A brief summary: Lucy Barton is in the hospital for a number of weeks, suffering an unexplained infection after a routine appendectomy. She has a husband and two children, but they only briefly, shyly, distantly appear in the story. Her mother, from whom she’s been estranged ever since Lucy left home, suddenly appears in the hospital and stays for five days, barely sleeping, sometimes barely talking and sometimes telling stories of the people from Lucy’s childhood. And then, suddenly, her mother leaves.

Most of the time, we’re in Lucy’s mind. It’s not exactly stream of consciousness, but you do get the sense that you’re riding the wave of Lucy’s thoughts without any way to know which shore you’ll land on. You learn she’s lonely and always has been. That she came from “nothing” and she’ll never be able to shake that. That she falls in love with nearly anyone who shows her kindness (her doctor, for instance). That’s she’s a writer (this book we’re reading, in fact, is her first book).

Lucy is sick. Then Lucy gets well. Lucy’s mother arrives, then leaves. Nothing happens, but there’s a growing sense of something maybe about to happen (I always think of it as the “The Remains of the Day Feeling,” where everyone in the story is so buttoned up that you hardly know they’re breathing, but underneath hearts are beating oh so very quickly), not so much a storm approaching, but a gentle rain on the verge of misting down over everyone. Lucy will begin to live her life, to write, to tell her one story.

My story is nothing like Lucy’s, but I felt a kinship with her. Her wondering, her questioning, her self-doubt, her need to be close but often feeling far from people around her. The way she loves her family. The way she loves words. The way life keeps on surprising and even delighting her even in that hospital room.

My Name is Lucy Barton is a delicate thing. I’m aware it’s not for everyone. It’s a fragile egg and I feel that if I try too hard to open it up to you I’ll fracture it beyond recognition. You’ll have to hold it, warm and perfect, in your own hands.

I’ll give you the last words of her story. They don’t give anything away, but, in a way, they tell it all.

“At times these days I think of the way the sun would set on the farmland around our small house in the autumn. A view of the horizon, the whole entire circle of it, if you turned, the sun setting behind you, the sky in front becoming pink and soft, then slightly blue again, as though it could not stop going on in its beauty, then the land closest to the setting sun would get dark, almost black against the orange line of horizon, but if you turn around, the land is still available to the eye with such softness, the few trees, the quiet fields of cover crops already turned, and the sky lingering, lingering, then finally dark. As though the soul can be quiet for those moments.

All life amazes me.”

Our books for this month:

Did you read something wonderful this month? Tell us please!

The category for the coming month is:


We’ll reveal the next category somewhere around the middle of April.

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 in the middle of next month.

On beeing

Their winter door

So, Sunday was moderate and sunny, snow still in patches and piles on the lawn, but the sharp of winter was noticeably dulled and there was no more delaying the obvious: it was time to see if the bees had survived the winter.

We suited up and entered the bee yard and saw no obvious signs of life, but, as with so many of the very best secrets, sometimes the obvious is the noisy camouflage of the quietly wonderful.

I rapped twice on the south hive and put an ear to the hive’s side: gentle humming and then a single scout flew out to see who was disturbing her afternoon nap.

I did the same on the north hive: gentle humming and then one loud buzz practically next to my ear.

We lifted the outer covers for each hive just to confirm with our eyes what our ears knew without disturbing or chilling them. When we lifted the covers, we saw the plexiglass covered hole in each inner cover packed full of lively bees. We quickly put the covers on, and did our own little waggle dance right there in front of the hives and the confused goats.

Huzzah! Life!

Then we scampered back to the house to report the news to H and to study up on what happens next.

The next is what we did today, the warmest day by far of 2016. We returned to the hives for a more in-depth examination. The bees tolerated us so very well, placidly going about their business. In each hive we saw a good-sized, healthy colony. They had eaten much of their honey, but there is still plenty  left to see them through the next month until spring begins to blossom in our part of the world.

Even better, we saw eggs, larvae, and capped brood in each. Two busy queens (still, as always) hidden from us, doing their work in the late winter darkness.

Yesterday, in anticipation of finding little or no honey, I cooked up a batch of “bee candy” (also known as fondant): a sugar syrup cooked to soft ball stage, then whipped into a moldable, rollable dough that we can place in the hive, just on top of the frames. They appear to have enough honey stores to see them through, but we gave the fondant to them just in case. They seemed appreciative of a new menu option.

The goats watched while they chewed their cuds. Ephraim’s never seen us in our bee get ups; he seemed unfazed. By the end, Wellesley, Darcy (looking pregnant, I really do believe), and Ephraim were lying in the yard like goat loaves, baking in the warmth of an early March day.

The hives are all closed up again. We’ve still another month to go until we can remove the insulation and really welcome spring. In between, there’s the threat of bears, and swarming. Nothing is certain, but it sure is wonderful when your heart is happily surprised by things not going wrong every now and again.

Now my hair is smokey and my hands smell like goats. Spring, with your baby bees and baby goats, I can hear you calling gently and calmly. The ice is clearing.




Snack time

March flight


29 February


Leap day

Always waiting

This fragile silk of a day, shed snake skin in the woodpile, folded
delicately between layers of tissue, stowed in the attic until nearly
forgotten. This February-smeared-with-March day is crow wing, ice crystal,
moss tendril, shivering beech leaf, pink cloud, frozen mud, sublimation,
revelation. This come-on-I’m-waiting-for-you-everything’s-waiting-for-
you day stares across a locked gate, wagging an impatient tail. This
alluring-stranger-on-a-subway day with stealthy glimpses, a shiver of
don’t-I-know-you? This hard-heart-cracked-open day. This ragged fissure
that holds a secret wish, a pinpoint, a map that unfolds to show you
exactly where you live.

10 years later

10 years later

Today is everywhere rain, and the snow is lifting fog up into the sky like hands thrown up in frustration or submission: I give up trying to be winter.

I felt the rain all day like some sort of permission. Let’s not do. Let’s stay put. This is the generosity of bad weather on a day off (if you’re lucky enough to have a choice in the matter): permission to read a book, stare out the window, make mental lists without lifting a flesh-and-blood finger, let your mind wander into the foggy past.

Ten years ago today there was a blizzard. I remember this because it was during that blizzard, the first of the winter, in fact, that we were shuttling all of our worldly goods from the shipping containers on the driveway back into this house. This house that we slid down the hill.

Ten years ago this house was like an old friend who’d had minor plastic surgery. Familiar and yet… something not quite familiar.

Ten years ago, this house felt lightly perched on its new foundation. Old bones tentative about its new seat. Untethered somehow.

Ten years later, we are emphatically settled. The house has given up its polite perch on the edge of the chair and settled, groaning slightly, into a comfortable slouch. Us, too, I suppose. We’re as stuck here as I’ve ever been anywhere before. Rooted.

I have plans to see friends tonight, but everything in me is crying to stay put and listen to the rain, watch the dog’s paws twitch in his dreams, dig my roots in even further.

But it doesn’t matter how much we dig in, does it? The world spins on. These posts and beams have been this house’s bones for more than 200 years, and standing as trees for at least a hundred more. It’s watched all of Vermont history pass by. Nothing stays.

Ten years from now? H will be out in the world. I suppose we’ll be here, thinking back thirty years to the day we first peered in the windows of this endearing old wreck of a place and said, “Yes, this is home.”

What’s that you say?


<parental crowing begins>

H is Thetford Academy’s Student of the Month for February 2016?

You bet she is!

And oh! Her teachers wrote the kindest, most spot-on things about her. But I don’t mean to gloat. That’s H’s responsibility (though she never ever would, which is another amazing thing about her). I’ll just sit here and glow on her behalf.

But wait, that’s not all you get…

If you act now, you can also read her new poem, “Simple Anonymity,” published yesterday at GirlSense & NonSense.

Dang, she’s cool. (Am I allowed to say/write that? Oh yeah, it’s MY blog.)

</parental crowing ends>

Simple Anonymity

There are a hundred thousand things I don’t experience every day
   and there are a hundred thousand things that I do.
There are a hundred thousand things my mother and my father think about every day
   and there are a hundred thousand things that my mother and my father don’t.
My mother says her mind is scattering, scattering like light
   and she has a hundred thousand lists and calendars to keep the scatter contained.
My father’s brain is an encyclopedia of facts and notes that sometimes all come spilling out at once
   and sometimes don’t come out at all.
My mind is a video camera, one of the old ones, with crackling film and focusless images
   and it records a hundred thousand things a day.
If I could, I would plant her a tree to hang her hundred thousand thoughts on
   and I would give him an infinite page to record his hundred thousand facts on.
But I am no gardener
   and I am no paper-maker

I am a camera
   and I can watch
      and I can listen
         and I can appreciate the hundred thousand things a day that they think of
            and the hundred thousand things a day that they don’t.
The connection between a movie we watched together ten years before
   and the book he was reading this afternoon.
The rapidity of the weekend
   and the slow drag of the week.
The friendly anonymity of people whose dogs meet on the trail between here
   and there.

–Hyla Maddalena




Area Woman Has Cold Hands

This was now

Teen Demolishes Mother in Battle of Musical Earworms

In a entirely expected triumph, clever Teen (16) overcame predictable Mom (50) in a battle of the earworms early this morning. Mom came out strong in the first hours of the morning with the Carpenters’ “Close to You,” but she was easily bested by Teen’s “You’ll be Back,” from Broadway’s “Hamilton.” In a final effort to take control of the field, Mom countered with “That 60s Russian La La La” song, but it was too little too late. A rematch is scheduled for this afternoon at school pickup.

Couple Mourns Faithful, Old Friend

“We bought that washing machine the year before H was born,” the couple lamented. “We thought we’d always have it.” Perhaps precipitated by a recent basement clean out and reorganization that included moving a table that the machine leaned against, the 17-year-old Frigidaire Gallery front loader clanked loudly and then spun its last spun two weeks ago. Emergency personal were dispatched, and the machine was pronounced too expensive to fix a short while later. In related news, the couple is happy to announce the adoption of a new machine at this weekend’s Presidents’ Day Appliance Adoption Event.

Gravity Waves and Sings

Scientists working at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced yesterday that they have detected the ripples of gravitational waves pulsing through the fabric of space-time, as predicted 100 years ago by Albert Einstein. The waves, generated by the collision and coalescence of two black holes a billion years ago, reached LIGO last September, waving at the waiting scientists, and singing a chirp of hello. This kind of makes all other reportable news trivial.

Local Guernsey Buck Finally Has Name

Ephraim. It’s Ephraim. Don’t you just love it?

Shy Poet/Photographer Reluctant to Announce New Projects

Our diligent reporter has discovered that Shy Poet/Photographer has been busier than she appears if you use this blog’s output as evidence. Starting late last year, she began contributing a poem a month to the Visual Verse project, where writers respond with poems and short fiction to the website’s monthly image. Her most recent contribution is a terse little verse on the topic of long marriage. Not to be restricted to words, On January 1, 2016, she quietly started a new black-and-white, photo-a-day project called “the composed now.” Shy Poet/Photographer could not be reached for comment.

Area Woman Has Cold Hands (Cover Story)

After an unusually temperate Vermont winter, Mother Nature showed her ornery side this morning,  with temperatures “way the heck too far below zero.” Area Woman whined audibly, while watching the tiny birds at the feeder, seemingly so cold they could barely spare the energy to land on the feeder’s perch. Said Area Woman to Area Man, “Please take the dog for the day so I can go someplace warm.” Area Woman was subsequently spotted at the laundromat (see related story, “Couple Mourns Faithful, Old Friend”) and later at her favorite cafe, where she posed as a writer sipping jasmine tea and thinking deep thoughts while writing this post.