This little light of ours

Brave Little State Says No to Hate

We held an election on November fourth. We held an inauguration on January 20. We held a march on January 21.

I’ve had months, weeks, and days to get my little duckling thoughts in a row and I find myself still bewildered. But here’s a try.

Eight years ago this week, we took the week off work and school and drove the familiar 750 miles to Michigan to be with family when Barack Obama took the Presidential Oath of Office.

It felt important to observe this in a way that we’d never before observed such an event, important enough to drive through two days of winter, to take nine-year-old H out of school to make sure she would have this memory to hold on to, a memory of the moment when politics seemed somehow even momentarily washed clean of cynicism. We were told we could hope, and we did. Yes we did.

I have a scattering of water colored memories from those few days, faded color slides: a nearly shut down hotel with no heat or toilet paper; an unheated swimming pool where a pack of little birthday party girls had released a tiny school of goldfish (rescued by M); the warm, inviting living room in M’s parents’ home, with the glowing television in the corner; the upright, earnest young president at the podium; H coming down with a fever that day and sleeping on the sofa through the entire inauguration ceremony; the sense in our hearts that there was much more work to do, but that a door had at last been unlocked and opened just a crack.

I remember another day, many years earlier, when I said to friends that I thought that it didn’t even matter who the president was. That a single person couldn’t have that much power and effect, considering our government’s systems of checks and balances. I’m cringing now at what I said.

I’m certainly older now, and less innocent, and maybe a smidgen wiser.

On Saturday we went to Montpelier to be part of the Women’s March. It was an electric, moving experience to be there, we three smalls bird joining a flock of starlings, a murmuration of feet, hearts, voices. The march itself was short, a mere half mile from the high school to the state house, but there were 15,000 of us (or more) and we lit up the grey day with smiles and songs and purpose. And we were small beans compared with what was going on in DC, New York, London, the world.

My older, less innocent self knows that this was an important first step, but a first step only. And it’s meaningless unless we continue to metaphorically march, every day, together, all of us. I know that we have a lot of hard work to do to make sure that everyone is included, to make sure that everyone is heard, to listen, learn, and let go of prejudices we don’t even know we have. I know that one march, regardless of size, isn’t a solution in and of itself. But I still feel a blossoming hope that was gone only last Friday.

Maybe this weekend was a small movement in the face of the big obstacles ahead of us, the tiniest sway that can build, the way little legs pumping at the air on a playground swing take the swing into the sky. The way single voices make a chorus. The way one candle lights another and another and another.

We Are Each Other's Harvest

Climate Change Does Not STOP by Deleting a Website

99.9% Sure I'm a Miyazaki Heroine

Wow Guys

Black Lives Matter in Vermont, too!


Girls and Women Are Good

Arriving at the State House

The crowd

No to Hate. Yes to Pancakes



Where I come from

Bird ball

[Ed note: Today’s post is written by Hyla, another favorite guest blogger.]

Vermont is such a beautiful place, and it’s small enough that I feel comfortable, but big enough and unpopulated enough that I can feel uncramped. My family only owns two acres of land, but we live in a 200-year-old house with ancient beams and a renovated kitchen and orange and red walls, and there are four bird feeders hanging from the windows, and my room’s floor is so uneven that one side of my bed is on six-inch shims. We have modern lights hanging from century-old ceilings, and beehives in the garden, and goats in the yard, and cats under our feet, and a dog at our heels. The snow comes up to the windows in the winter, and in the summer we can sit out by the firepit listening to blasting music from inside and we live so far away from any city that we can see every single star. There’s an ancient maple tree in the middle of the yard that I have seen nearly every day of my life for almost sixteen years, with an old swing hanging from it and our pets who’ve passed away buried under it. There’s a ring of mountains around my house on a hill protecting it, and a valley underneath, and a forest behind, with a path I’ve walked a thousand times that can take me all the way to the waterfall if I go right, or the big green bridge with the yellow gate and the perfect swimming hole if I go left. As I’m writing this, the huge wind (that yesterday blew so hard the snow was falling up) is making the big bell on the apple tree clang. At night in bed, I can hear the waterfall and the coyotes, and as soon as dawn comes I can see the sun rising through my windows. Where I come from is empty and godless and heathen and uneven and filthy and cold and hot and, sometimes, plain miserable. But I’d never, ever want to live anywhere else.

Here be dragons

1552 Comet Illustration

(Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch, Folio 28, c. 1552)

The drive from Toronto to this patch of land in Vermont takes about nine hours when you follow the “northern route,” which skirts the northern shore of Lake Ontario, follows the St. Lawrence River east, and then bangs a right at Montreal, south to the US border.

At least half of the drive is on a single road, officially called the Macdonald-Cartier freeway, but which we grew up knowing as Highway 401 (“the four-oh-one”). You don’t need a GPS or even a map to get from Toronto to Montreal. And, really, you can make it all the way to Vermont by just following the road signs (even if they are all stubbornly in French only once you enter the gravitational pull of Montreal).

We turned the GPS (affectionately named “Garmina”) on as we approached the border between Ontario and Quebec. Just in case. We followed the signs that said “Vermont.” Garmina concurred and ticked off the kilometers and kept steady watch of our estimated arrival time.

And this is how we passed the day, singing along to E.L.O. and The Eagles, until we came to a fresh highway, a highway that neither we nor Garmina knew, a highway with no signs (not even speed limit signs) and no exits. It was freshly paved, clear and empty, bordered by shivery shorn November farm fields. Not a tractor or cow in sight.

Garmina’s screen cleared. It showed the lonely icon that represented our car, and nothing else. She patiently recalculated and recalculated as we traveled, her internal maps older than the terra incognita we traveled through. Her compass read South. The sun, hazy behind thick clouds, was to our right. We were reasonably sure we were headed in the right direction.

And yet, even with all that evidence, we were nervously giggly with uncertainty. Where were we? Where would we end up? We were lost in clouded daylight on the only road that could possibly have been right. And then, maybe 20 miles later, signs appeared pointing the way to the border crossing and the highway home.

It doesn’t take much to be lost. Or found. You can be driving down a seemingly unknown street in your own city, turn a corner, and then suddenly the whole scene resolves, snaps into place and you know exactly where you are, the map in your mind completed in a new way.

This morning, the lander Philae undocked from the Rosetta spacecraft and touched down on comet 67P (Churyumov–Gerasimenko). Rosetta traveled 10 years to rendezvous with that comet.

She wandered her way through space, following the mathematical road map she’d been programmed to follow, somewhere, but nowhere, for years, while we rose in the mornings, ate our breakfasts, commuted to jobs, met friends for lunch, watched our children grow up, attended funerals and weddings, cried through long nights, watched the fire until it was just embers, forgot our keys, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, showed up just when we were needed, made plans for uncertain futures.

Ten years and now we know where we are. For at least this split second. And then we move on.

No more running

Fall ritual

Vermont summers are fierce and semi-tropical. Not in temperature or humidity, but in explosive plant growth. The growing season is short. Everything that grows here is intent on getting as big as it can as quickly as it can. The fields and forests burst with green. Grape vines climb the maple trees. Morning glories slither their way into the wisteria branches. Honeysuckle and raspberry bushes grow thick and impenetrable. Corn grows eight feet high.

It’s beautiful, but in a somewhat claustrophobic way.

We’ve always laughed at the scene near the end of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Castle in the Sky, where the villain, Muska, pursues the heroine, Sheeta, and her magic crystal into the throne room of the eponymous castle. The castle is a ruin, inhabited only by a robot and centuries of plant growth. Muska, on entering the room, chasing Sheeta, desperately needing to get his hands on that crystal, pauses, looks around the the room in disgust and says something like, “Ugh. These PLANTS!”

I’ve heard M think that same thought on many a July day as he looks across the yard and see the vines strangling the apple trees and the lawn he just mowed visibly growing.

It’s enough to make you wish for a flame thrower.


You have to admire the peace of a day like today. We’re at the top of the roller coaster’s hill, at the far end of a pendulum’s swing. Everything is clean, shorn, stacked, coiled, compact, tucked in for the winter. If anything’s growing, it’s growing inward, downward.

This morning I pulled the grass from around the bases of the blueberry bushes and spread fresh pine mulch around them. I sat in the dry grass and pushed the mulch around while the dog sniffed around for leftover blueberries (wishful thinking, oh silly dog). I had this song in my head the whole time. I felt short and small, like a plant rooted to the land, ready to be steady, firm, and quiet.

Tucked in for the winter

52 Photos ~ Street Art

Hand prints

19 years this summer. That’s how long we’ve lived in this house. Three times as long as I’ve ever lived anywhere else.

Some days it feels like I never have lived anywhere else. Until I take a new turn off a familiar street and discover a road in my own town that I’ve never seen before.

That’s interesting. Maybe they just put that road in?

Well, it’s nice that this old place can still surprise me.

I gripe about the unimportant things that annoy me about living here, but my list is pretty short: the cold winters, the dearth of decent restaurants, the frost heaves in the road that sort of never go away, the bicyclists who can’t seem to ride single file, the lack of places to shop for basic housewares, like sheets and pillows.

But, really, my only significant complaint is that we can’t get a pizza delivered to our house.

Mostly, I love living here, in the house of my childhood fantasies, posts and beams and creaky floorboards and all. The comforting hills, the foggy morning river valleys, the piercing peeper chorus, the star-strewn nights.

I love that I drove all over Vermont today, on my way to pick up a used mini refrigerator where we can store milk for making cheese, and I looked hard for some graffiti that I could photograph, and you know what I found?

Not much. Sets of initials on bridges, summed together with heart operators. A sketch of a funny face on a highway overpass. The word “Respect” on the side of a building. And a mural entitled “Community,” painted on the side of a rough, cement wall that buttresses a railroad bridge. At the bottom of the mural, the river is painted wide, bright blue, the foundation of everything else. Above it are the mountains, a pair of hot-air balloons, a rainbow, a sun rising above puffy clouds, a leafy tree with a little owl in its branches, and hand prints, in all colors and sizes, some perched on branches like birds, some taking flight on a perpetual summer day.

It’s an idyllic image of a place that doesn’t really exist. Except when it does, briefly, out of the corner of your eye, when you can’t feel the difference between your body’s temperature and the air’s temperature, and you and the day are one perfect thing.

This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

52 Weeks ~ Symmetry (46/52)

RSiegel_Week46 - Symmetry

I’ve been staring at this picture for a week, and I find I don’t have anything to say about symmetry.

Symmetry is complete unto itself, beautiful, self-explanatory, and nothing I can say would add clarity.

Bridges, too, are beautiful, and perhaps I have more to say about those, but didn’t I once before? (Not that I’m opposed to repeating myself here, as you’ve seen.)

But when I look at that picture, I think, “railroad bridge”, which naturally takes me to “trains”.

Which I love.

There are piles of things to write about trains—their hypnotizing clickety-clackety rhythm; their openable windows (at least in Europe); their elegant lean around curves; the glimpses of new towns; the rush through empty stations; the ability to get up and stretch your legs on a long journey; the lonesome whistle—but here’s one that became obvious to me this week: there are approximately a gazillion train songs.

Really. Stop for just a moment and you’ll easily come up with a dozen that mention trains before you even start to really think.

Off the top of our heads, in just a few minutes, we listed Gentle on My Mind, 500 Miles, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, 3.10 to Yuma, Steel Rail Blues, Betting on Trains, Rainy Night in Georgia, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Take the ‘A’ Train, The Last Train to Clarksville, City of New Orleans, Wabash Cannonball, The Locomotion, Paradise (Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train), Midnight Special, Runaway Train (Roseanne Cash), Runaway Train (Soul Asylum), Hello Hopeville, If Love Was a Train, The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore, Slow Train Coming, This Train is Bound for Glory, plus about seven others that I can’t remember right now.

Go ahead and try it. You know a long list, too, right? When the first rush of titles slows, you can always check out this list of train songs.

This morning, I’m writing in a dark motel room. Everyone else is asleep. And every 20 minutes or so, I hear a distant train whistle. Lonely companionship, regular and reliable as time.

Christmas eve morning. Sun rising. A song or two on my mind.

52 Weeks ~ Reflection (27/52)

RSiegel_Week27 - Five Islands, Maine

Our engagement began near the ocean. We married in a coastal city, in a round room, by the harbor. 20 years on, where else to celebrate but the ocean?

So we took ourselves to Maine this summer, stayed in a deliciously tacky motel by the harbor’s edge, in the middle of what turned out to be the Windjammer weekend celebration. Schooners sailed into the harbor. A parade went down the street, practically next to our road-side room. Lobsters heard us coming and scuttled into deeper, colder water for safety.

But no such luck for them. We went to our favorite lobster spot (from whose dock you can see that view up at the top of this post). Repeatedly. And ate the giant, fresh-off-the-fishing boat shedders with our bare hands—no nut crackers required—our chins and elbows dripping with sea water.

We drove up and down the coast, talking, as we often do, about someday moving to the ocean. We kept saying, “the goats would love it here”, when we really meant, “we would love it here”.

But I know that’s just vacation-brain talking. Of course we love it there. What’s not to love? Beautiful landscapes, great food, the reliable repetition of the waves’ pulse on the shore. No work. No bills. No responsibilities.

I remember when we first moved from a city that never felt like home to Vermont. It felt like we had moved to permanent vacation. When I went out to the mailbox, the air smelled like camping. The pine needles on our trail to the river felt soft and smelled of mornings waking in a remote camp site. The wood smoke from our first wood stove was intoxicatingly relaxing. The country drive to work revealed mountains, trees, farms, distant hovering clouds. I thought, I’ll never stop noticing all of this.

But, unfortunately, I do. At least for a bit, when I’m in a rush for the week, running errands, meeting deadlines, making appointments, worrying about people.

Then I remind myself to slow down. Look around. Observe.

Look where I am? And look who I’m with?

No matter where we live, if we’re together, it’s home.