On Sodom Pond

Postcards from rural Vermont


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The way has been prepared

For you to enter through another door inside the house of your life. The house where nothing ever fades or goes away. Where everything is there with you and nothing is lost. Where there are rooms with light that the cat likes to stretch in. Rooms where equipment to heat or clean is stored. Rooms of such frequent use they are invisible to you now. Others that are dim and cold, waiting for a warmer season. Rooms of pleasure. Rooms of hard work and labor. Rooms with nowhere to rest. A new room is readied. You’re about to walk through. You can smell fresh pine board on the floor, or fluffy carpet. There are windows and light, or just walls. A haven where nothing has yet been said. It has all been prepared. The way is laid. There’s nothing you need do but turn the handle, push gently, and enter in.

” All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” said Julian of Norwich.

Believe it.

Happy 2104.

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After

IMG_20131225_110932_147The preparing, the wondering, the listing, the secreting, the hoping, the wrapping, the what-if’ing.

Driving home from Christmas dinner, there’s a sense of release. As if someone expected to the tea party has finally arrived and I can settle a little deeper into the sofa cushions and continue the conversation with the guest on my left.

As a kid I was all, Mom can I have a…? Will Santa bring me….? I wanted and wanted. Then there was the guessing, the feeling of packages, the sizing up, the daring to hope. Then: elation or disappointment. Everything rose and fell on getting the white angora beret. The Pendleton wool skirt. The light-up beauty mirror. Skates.

The one thing I wanted I never asked for because it was always there. As I scooted up 787 tonight in the cold dark toward the Vermont state line, I heard that wish uttered for the first time:

Mom, will you stay with me forever?

Maybe I really asked this when I was a kid. If I did, I can hear her response, “Well, oh, sweetie, I can’t do that, we all have to go sometime…”

I wonder if Santa Claus is a first step toward teaching children that the universe is benevolent, and  that someone will provide for them beyond their parents. A kind of goodwill faith in the universe, via the North Pole, elves of the shelf, and the gentle bearded man who comes down the chimney. Look what Santa brought you.

And why the illusion falls so hard when kids learn there is no Santa. There is just mom and dad. And they won’t be here forever.

“Frosty the snowman. Knew the sun was hot that day…”

Mom, will you stay with me forever?

My one wish, for all my precious ones to be with me always, is the wish of every child, who counts them as he goes to bed at night. It’s an impossible wish. Maybe just wanting it is the point.

Christmas night. Everything is over and it is just begun.


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Birthday Blessing

May you bear with ease the separation necessary in order to be yourself.

May you always have lots of listeners.

May you have one person who hears everything you don’t say, too.

May you have something to toil at and love to shreds for all your livelong days.

May you stride long and happily everywhere you go.

May you know what your stride is, its shape, length, difficulty, oddness.

May you hunger and thirst, because that is how you will know where to go next.

May death be near so that you can live.

May life be long so that you can serve.

May your strength hold out, and courage, too.

May the wind knock your sails and wake you up once in a while to change direction.

May you see your fingers and toes every day and marvel at your own body.

May you think about things and have people to talk to and argue with about the heart of the matter.

May you, when meeting riddles and strangers, say, Come by the fire, we can puzzle this out.

May people call to say hello from great distances, geographic and psychic and of the heart.

May you call people to say hello from great distances, geographic and psychic and of the heart.

May you know your own truth, even if no one else does.

May you hold onto it.

May you cling to generosity.

May you fear so that you know its taste, its smell, its texture on your tongue.

May you have the freedom to fail often so that you may succeed.

May you avoid safe miseries.

May you discover your own particular brand of devoutness.

May you bless every success you meet today, especially the ones you want most for yourself.

May you know when it’s time to rest.

May you always have good shoes and towels, a way to make a good cup of coffee in the morning and

something to stimulate your mind.

May you make love your highest aspiration, especially in the places where it’s not already there.

May you learn to cry deeply, and publicly, without shame.

May you know you are guilty of nothing.

May you know that whatever you need is always close at hand.

May you know that you are the most important thing in the universe, and you are dust.

May you know that life is long. You’re just getting started.


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The real

IMG_20131216_102546_350The only thing more beautiful than a brand new snowfall is waking up the next day to sunshine and blue.

I live in a dream. But it’s real.

A friend of mine up here defined ‘real’ the other day:

it doesn’t stop, it keeps going.

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OK, there is something more beautiful:

a full moon that night.

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The sunrise today wasn’t so bad, either.

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Pure as the driven

IMG_20131215_092702_851I tried. I really did. At 8:45 a.m. was headed to my car with copies of “Silent Night” and “Behold That Star.” Waded through the 8 inches of powder under flakes still misting. Even opened the car door. Then I thought: wait. I have a full free day ahead of me, with no plans, no obligations, all this new snow and a pair of brand new snow shoes in the shed…..

Be holy or selfish?

The occasional Adamant choir would have to do without an alto.

I ran back, grabbed my camera and dove onto the trails behind the cottage. Trails with no walker yet. Trails like powdered sugar. Trails that went out into clearings and in under boughs. Trails where I could swear I was the only person on the planet. Every so often a puff came down the from the pines, looking like the breath of some benevolent pine giant, IMG_20131215_092431_049 or perhaps a genie come to grant me three wishes. It was quiet and there were trees shaped like bananas and the backs of dragons and rainbows, arched and reaching. It was quiet and there was my breath and cold on my cheeks and thoughts of Joy on her guitar in the choir and Joan playing the piano.

Snow, friendship, a little money in the bank.

You can’t tell me that wasn’t a prayer.

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7:35 a.m.

IMG_20131212_072841_728Four degrees in East Montpelier at 7:35 this morning,

with a half-read New Yorker on the seat next to me, headed to a day of hard good work.

I left the house early. It’s unlike me. I didn’t know why until

I saw the dawn.

Then I knew.

What else might I discover if I make time to

inhabit my own life?


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Ikebana Christmas

cropped-img_20131208_092202_261.jpgThis is going to be my Christmas tree this year. Call it a Xmas “arrangement.” I’ve got several through the house–holly and balsam and white pine and rose–to stand in for the one big thing I don’t have. Like a  Japanese flower arrangement, it’s not so much about the flowers that are there but what they evoke of what’s not there, the feeling it gives.

The Sunday morning chores:

wash the sheets

start the fire

stack wood

empty the compost

feed the birds

sweep the floor

fill water jugs around the house

water the carrots (in sawdust by the back door)

Why should I be happy as a clam doing these things? Things I never would’ve thought I’d like doing? Looking through a box of photos recently, I caught myself in dozens–in silk kimono jacket, with evening bag, pixie haircut, eye liner, dresses. It scared me a little. Have I gone off the beam? Am I nuts? A hermit in the woods, communing with my wood stove in the dark, not able to think of a thing to do, or reason to do it?

The tasks remind me of Japan. Living in Tokyo–supercity home of the fastest trains on earth and the slowest theater form on the planet–was, I used to think, like camping. Laundry was done nearly daily and hung out to dry. Hot water tanks heated baths and dish water. Futons were aired weekly, and rolled out at night and stored every morning. Something about me loved that, I couldn’t say why. It wasn’t busy-ness. It was taking time for the tasks of life. A slowing down that was essential because once you left the house you were swept into a sea of 15 million, praying you didn’t have to take the Hanzomon express train at rush hour or cross the sidewalk in Shibuya on a Sunday in rainy season with all those umbrellas! “Mass humanity,” my father kept saying in a daze when he visited.

My cabin is maybe something like Basho’s (indeed I found a faded copy of his haiku classic, Narrow Road to the Deep North in the old outhouse, which now houses my summer tires.) This space is huge for Japan, small for America. Being in a small space forces you to deal with your stuff. Cleaning is very important in Japan. I think it has to do with the self. Going through my tasks, I go over everything I havekeeping me away from the realm of my head, ie: the “worry about everything I don’t have” place. Maintenance builds pride. Floors, sheets, wood, tea. Life is doable. Chores are a moving meditation. I inhabit my life. This is my pillow. Yes, it’s time for the rose duvet. Stacking high the woodpile for this week. How high can I go, how far, how wide, toward filling myself with my own two hands?

Maybe haiku are tiny because, well, there’s not much to say. Words can muddy it up. There is experience, and that’s most of the time. Then there’s words, which we should allow to do their thing to evoke the experience–not control it or kill it or explain it. Words can only do so much and yet they’re so powerful. They can call up experience. But they can never replace it.

So live today.

Live as fully as you can.

Living comes first.

It always will.