Like a tree in which there are three blackbirds

Thursday, May 7th

“Turn out the light?”

Buffalo girls won’t you come out tonight

“Turn out the light?”

And dance by the night of the moon

“Turn out the light!”

The light is the sun. Perry wants it out at night, so he can sleep. I’m constantly explaining my own powerlessness. I can’t fix the engine. Can’t find the screwdriver. Can’t turn off the sun. 

I can spot the tadpoles. I can spot the frogs lying atop one another on the sedge. The bluebirds and the blackbirds. The turkeys with their fantails splayed to heaven. 

(Anyone can.) 

It’s hunting season. Anyone over 15 who’s got a permit can bag a turkey — and everyone tries. 

Kids mill around the entrance to Stewart’s in full camo, no masks. They walk by our house at 6:30, giving a soft greeting. 

It’s spring for real. The four wheelers are out. The motorcycles. A vintage ford 150, baby blue with fins. A mustang full of teenagers in metal tees and durags. The compressed timeline gives everyone juice, pandemic be damned.

Sunday, May 10th

I said we were done with the snow but Saturday, we had another foot. Shaggy wonderland snow that gave the woods a cathedral aspect, especially as the sun caught the bows with their pale green buds. I padded through them to the quarry, the same one (I think) where old Bunny meets his maker. It was still apart from the occasional crack of a branch. On the one hand, snow over a week into May ought to be a crime; on the other, it was beautiful. Take me to church.

Take me to church, but clean up the dregs, which lingered all through yesterday’s bluster. I ran a full five miles for the first time since…possibly since well before Irv was born. Past the mule on Mt. Anthony with her eighties crimped fringe, past the pale blue A-frame perched at the top of Fowler’s Way. That house might have the best view in a town full of them, though the riding ring and power lines mar it a little. Riding ring aside, views come cheap up here. You might live in a single-wide or a shack so weathered it’s impossible to make out the original color, and lay claim to a sweep of hill-and-dale with a river running through it. Many do.

The red winged blackbirds are here, and the rose-breasted grosbeaks. These are reds the way an August peach is a peach.

Saturday, May 16th

I guess I am a person of strong convictions, loosely held. I could only ever live in another city, I said. A real, walking city, the kind where you didn’t have to squint to see the charm, hunt to find the culture. After a month in Vermont: I could only live in the city or way out in the country, with endless amounts of romping land. With a constant sense of expansiveness, of abundant natural wonder. It’s the suburbs I couldn’t do, I said. I needed there to be one non-option. 

Yesterday, we looked at houses in my hometown. A suburb by any definition. I was aware that it ought to feel lame, or at the very least pedestrian. Normal. But instead I felt mostly quiet thrills at the prospect of showing my children the places and spaces dear to my own childhood. The town has changed little; there’s still one of some things — one pizza place, one nice(ish) restaurant, one inn, one ice cream shop, one gas station, one elementary school, one library — and none of others (no bar, no grocery store, no drygoods). The old apothecary’s been replaced by a Walgreens; there’s a spin studio and a little wine and cheese shop and a new 55+ development, and back behind the Peace Abbey that sheltered Emily the cow there’s a spate of luxury townhouses. There’s a little more ethnic diversity, though nothing like New York. But what is?

I think of our apartment, our first truly grown-up apartment with its big bay window and its view of a humming stretch of Dekalb Avenue: the perennially packed basketball courts, the exuberant, dressed-to-the-nines crowd waiting to get a table at the two-story Caribbean bistro, the shouts of children at the playgrounds, the jewelbox Italian below us — we’re just trying to survive, the manager had said, a few days into the shutdown. The line still a suckerpunch. What rats we are, to leave this ship. Would a real New Yorker leave? Fuhgeddaboudit. But our New York life and livelihoods were made possible by childcare; we could not conceive of muddling through without it. Not in an apartment. Not without Fort Greene Park or the playgrounds. Not without the person on kid-shift, as we call it, being able to spend the bulk of the shift outdoors.

And so: the suburbs. Lawns and stone walls and dusty feet dangling off a picnic table bench outside of C&L Frosty’s, plowing through clam strips raspberry lime rickeys and anticipating the fizzy brain freeze of a rootbeer float, which you started ordering to be different and wound up liking. The thrum of a thousand lawn mowers and the almost liquid feeling of moss against a sun-blazed forehead and frilly pink-white blossoms smoothing out the witchy fingers of the apple trees. 

You can’t go home again, my father tells me. But we’re just trying to go home. 

Sunday, May 17th

Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

A birthday party last night. Discounting the baby, we were just shy of the maximum, enough to fill the biggest of the outdoor tables. The lawn and fields had bounced back and then some from last week’s snowfall; they had that real gold-licked look about them that I associate with Memorial Day. Snow last weekend and the start of summer next — but we did get snatches of spring in between, don’t let me forget it. The cows meandered down to the low pasture that, for a brief stretch six Augusts ago housed our wedding tent and a big fire pit and a vertical rotisserie that looked like it had come straight from the Spanish Inquisition. The cows old enough to remember still resent that encroachment. 

There are some truly glorious pinks around these days. A magnolia outside one of the houses we pass on our blue tractor walk has erupted in the most astonishing shade of magenta, and a copse of cherry trees have transformed a stretch of 346 that is utterly desolate in winter. What I wrote about the views coming cheap up here applies to the blossoms too. 

Perry’s a winter baby, but he never wants to come inside. He moves dirt from the mound meant to berm up a slope behind the barn to the wheelbarrow, from the wheelbarrow to his designated mulch pile, from the mulch pile to his bucket. He uses a trowel, a wooden spoon, his hands. Back to the dirt, he snaps, when I have the temerity to suggest a lemonade. “He can’t make much of a dent in it,” my stepmother assures me, but I know otherwise. He will not rest until the entire mound, all metric ton of it, is dispersed. The berm’s odds slip by the minute. There’s a lesson in that, if I had the acuity to pinpoint it.

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