I’m on wheelbarrow load number 10 or 12 full of dirt and fieldstone, Vermont’s unofficial state crop. I’m trying to level out an area where we’re about to put a deck or, rather, where the nice young man who lives at the bottom of the hill is going to build a deck for us.
It’s been hot and sunny all morning, but the clouds are rushing in faster than was predicted this morning. I’m trying to get a few more loads done before rain moves in.
I’m ridiculously out of shape, my belly resembling the shape of the more bulging clouds. I want to get the earth cleared so he can start after the rain, so I keep shoveling and rolling. As I’m pushing load number 14 to the edge of the woods, though, I push pause.
I step outside time and lie down on a pallet of lumber in the middle of the yard. I’m supine on the pallet, and the pregnant purple clouds seem to tumble through the top branches of the trees that border the yard to my bed. I could touch the sky, if I just reach out.
Wind starts to whip across the yard and the first gentle sheets of rain brush my skin, the smell of the rain infusing my brain with spring. The rain cools my sweat, restarting the world of work and to-do’s, but long after the clouds move on, it will still be spring.
Thing1’s impending graduation has prompted a bit of cleaning inside and, since snow no longer covers the mess we call a yard, the outside too.
I used to have gardening problem, but recovering from a broken foot made digging uneven ground a tough hobby for a few years. I’m back to digging this year, huffing and puffing and trying to remind myself I ran a 12k a few short years ago. It also reminds me that my coveted, brawny gardening physique, and not a bikini body that won’t get used in Vermont anyway, is what I should have been more disciplined about chasing on the treadmill all winter.
Fortunately, a shovel and a patch of dirt still make a cheap gym.
The home internet isn’t great, but, in truth, it’s been worse. Still, at 8:55 AM, I pack my up my laptop and head for the country store five minutes away.
I know I’m really after something more than WiFi.
Saturday morning is sunny, the cool air a reminder of a vicious storm the night before. Our south-facing, earth-sheltered house escapes the effects of even the worst winds. If not for last night’s pink lightning and intensifying winds following me and Thing1 home from the Tux shop, seemingly targeting us for annihilation, I would only note a few left-over rain drops minimizing the late spring fire hazard that threatens after the snow melts and the trees are still naked.
I hit the radio button but promptly turn down the volume as I head out our long, rocky driveway. A grouse family now lives at the top of the driveway. The territorial ‘dad’ often tries to flutter inside or attack the car, so I listened for him instead of for news .
The county store is quiet when I arrive. The first round of coffee-klatchers has already been by, sharing farming and turkey hunting gossip before abandoning the gingham oilcloth covered roundtable behind the register. I grab a seat by the deli so I can enjoy the smells of frying and baking and enjoy a view of the giant antique roll top desk and the window.
“I’m operating on four hours of sleep.” The store’s matriarch sits at the desk going through bills. She stops to prop her elbow on the desk and her head with its crown of silver-white hair on her hand. I rarely see her sit, let alone sit without moving. Normally she’s brightly chatting with coffee-breakers while answering questions about where the restroom is and if she carries a certain kind of ammo as she manages the paperwork.
“Tommy has a tree on his house, so I switched with him today,” she says.
It’s my first news of the day. Coming from the Midwest where tornado warnings regularly accompany summer storms, I’d rushed to get us home Friday night. The storm moved over our mountain and river so quickly that I’d laughed at my fears. Last night fears were realized for other people, however.
Another store regular strides past the register and round table to the hunting license counter to use the phone.
“Are you out, Margie?” the owner asks.
“We are and so’s the Pipers.” The new arrival’s sweatshirt is wet down the front, her hair is wild. “Mark had to chainsaw a tree across the drive so I could get out. Have you seen any power trucks yet?”
“A few went by, but I think they were headed up into Sandgate,” the owner answers. She looks at me. “Are you out on your road?”
“No,” I answered. “I thought the town had power.”
“The east side does apparently, but everything’s out above the notch,” she says. “Cambridge is even worse.” Cambridge, NY, the next town over from Arlington, VT is where Tommy lives.
Margie dials the power company and reports outages for herself and for neighbors she’s already checked in on before driving down her mountain. The store owner asks if they need any other help, but Margie smiled and shook her head no.
She heads out the door as the red-headed son of our plow guy saunters in. Not too long out of high school, he already has his own landscaping business. He also asks Margie if anyone on her road needs any chainsawing, and I think how unfairly the popular culture maligns kids of his generation.
Margie left. The young man grabs a coffee and a chair, telling us which neighbors have power or trees down on houses or cars. A store employee, a student at the local community college, comes from behind the deli to sit and nervously tell us about a tree on her grandfather’s car. The young man offers his help and leaves.
A few customers from Cambridge filter in. They tell us they think they were hit by a tornado, rapidly recounting moments spent huddling in mobile home bathrooms and later chainsawing trees to get out front doorways. Their voices pitch higher as they remember the panic, illustrating the magnitude of the storm more fully than any news reel.
Over the next hours, more regulars file in and out, making their calls to power and phone companies. The store owner always asks do they need help. They regularly answer with inquiries about her house. Other self-employed landscaping guys stop by for coffee breaks.
This morning customers are simply friends and neighbors who need to be safe. Later in the day, my Facebook feed features photos from friends and of New York’s governor stopping by to survey damage and make what are hopefully not empty promises.
The visit and a confirmation that at least one microburst caused the extensive damage may make the local news. What likely won’t make the news are the reports of people sending pizza to homeowners and power crews working to clear trees from a local street. I doubt I’ll hear on the radio about our plow guy helping someone out of a house or the countless offers of help and favors done — big and small — made by the country store employees.
But that’s the way it was this afternoon, and that news was just what I’d gone looking for, even if I didn’t know it.
It was a sunny six degrees by the time I got Thing2 to the school door, and, after a weekend of sub- sub-zero temps, the sky was so gloriously blue that I had to stop myself from blurted out how much it felt like spring. Knowing the mention of the five-letter S word would scare it off like showing a rodent its shadow in February, I silently ran my errands, making mental paintings of the trees and the shadows on the still-crisp snow.
Even a text from Thing1 reminding me he needed to practice driving stick (in mom’s car of course) couldn’t dim the feeling that it was as close to a perfect day as anyone could ask for. I’m not religious, but whenever Mother Nature is putting on a show like that, the greeting from Psalms that opened services at my parents’ old church runs through my head:
“This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Whether you think a beautiful day was made or just happened, there’s something to be said for the missive to rejoice and be glad for it.
I admit to being a bit of a worrier. I worry about Thing1’s healthcare prospects as he’s starting to leave the nest. I worry about ever being able to retire. I worry about the growing number of displaced people around the world or if we’re moving closer to blowing up the human race with every single day.
I’ve been guilty of not rejoicing for days on end and even contemplating throwing away the rest of my personal collection of days.
My failure to rejoice in the moment — even for just a moment each day — is being rectified. Over the last few months I decided to make a change in my life and go back to school so that, in the long run, I would have more time to work on art and to feel like my life work will make a contribution. I’ve enjoyed school as an adult but as soon as I was immersed in study, I felt as if a fog was clearing.
The world started opening up, and I suddenly started to see the possibilities as well as the dangers. Despite a new mountain of work and all the same worries, I had more energy everyday. Without even realizing it, I was rejoicing.
Even if yesterday had been the last day, not rejoicing in the beauty of sun on the snow would not minimize any current troubles. Acknowledging the gift of that day, however is a recognition that there is always beauty, and worry cannot diminish it, even if it tries to obstruct it sometimes.