Day 15 of Isolation


Unbelievably, my husband and I are getting used to staying home sequestered inside, and the fear is slowly subsiding.

Though we have a new evolving schedule and rhythm, and a lot is different, some things stay the same, like walking Daisy the dog around the block in the morning, and taking short hikes with her in the afternoon. These are the same, except that we have to step out and away from the path to keep the 6-foot distance when someone comes the other way. Of course there aren’t too many other people walking on our routes – our neighborhood, the conservations lands, the lake paths. Thank goodness for fresh air, lake, woods, and quiet time.

What’s different now:

  • obsessing over the news every morning, a bad habit I am trying to break. How about reading a lovely hopeful poem or writing one? I say to self.
  • Exercise class on youtube instead of at the Y
  • Ordering groceries to be delivered instead of going to the store
  • Seeing our kids and grandkids on Zoom instead of in person
  • Seeing friends and other groups on Zoom – some of these, like the writing group, is working well. We can see each person’s face, and it feels almost more interactive than sitting around the table together.

Another difference is our greetings to neighbors. We’re still here! We’re still okay! How are you? we say, more heartfelt now even with people we don’t know. This morning we encountered a neighbor around the corner, a woman we haven’t seen in a while. She usually stands outside her apartment in the morning, a small weathered-looking gal, smoking her cigarette. She’s probably younger than I but she looks older, with her coarse face and gruff smoker’s voice. But she always has a nice hello and a kind greeting for the dog. Today we lingered a little more, checking that we each were okay. And she wasn’t smoking…

March weather in Vermont is a challenge. There’s elation in seeing the crocus, tulip and daffodil tops coming up, but dejection when the cold invades again. A late March snowstorm last night was a bummer but pretty, and I thought maybe I’d get in a last cross country ski run, but alas, the snow is soggy and melting. The good thing is that the snow will soon be gone and the emerging flowers watered, and soon it will be warm again.

Another thing to be thankful for is that this disaster didn’t happen in November when cold and gray are increasing instead of receding.

Favorite quote of the day:

“This is survivable. We will survive. This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.” –David Kessler, writing on grief as an aspect of what we’re experiencing now:

Grieving our normal life.



Nourshing the soul in a time of social isolation


How to cope? or even, how to thrive in this atmosphere of uncertainty and fear? Here’s are some ideas (aside from hand washing, etc):

  1. Meditation: I have found a lovely guided meditation from Sonic Meditation: Heart Chakra Tibetan Singing Bowls. If anything right now, I need an open heart, and the bowl sounds help me come back into the present moment and let go of the fear.
  2. Exercise: can’t go to my usual class at the Y, and I’ve found some good classes for seniors on You Tube.  Keep moving!
  3. Outside walking: Our dog has to do it, so we are too. Going to our usual paths in the conservation land and along the river or the lake.  Fresh air, walking, yay!
  4. Social Interaction:  Wow, can’t see people in person, but it’s amazing how connected we can be on videoconferencing. Using Zoom and Skype to be with kids and grandkids and my groups: writing group, ukulele ladies. I’ve had some wonderful, soul-nourishing sessions with writing groups on Zoom. Am moving into organizing friend group chats on Zoom.  Let’s have an online dinner party!
  5. Writing: writing about the situation and my already-started writing projects. Keep at it, every day, I tell myself. As Flannery O’Connor said, I write to discover what I know. When I get into the writing, I am there and happy. 
  6. Making it regular: putting all of these things into a regular schedule.
  7. Focus on the garden! Bulbs are just popping up here in Vermont, but spring is coming. I look at the pictures of my garden in April, May and June, and remember that whatever is happening in our world, the flowers will come!

It’s Halloween week, the time for witches and goblins and ghosts.

It’s Halloween week, the time for witches and goblins and ghosts. But do you know about real “witches”? I put that in quotation marks because in the 17th century it was their persecutors who gave them that name.  These  were Cunning Women (or men) who mostly meant no harm. My upcoming novel, BITTER MAGIC, is based on the true story of a 17th century woman in the Highlands of Scotland, Isobel Gowdie, who was captured and condemned as a witch. Isobel was a Cunning Woman, healer, psychic, visionary, and perhaps a shaman.  (and when it came to her persecutors, she did mean harm!)

hare painting

Isobel could “go into a hare.” (quote from her confession.)

Here is an excerpt from the novel:

Isobel and the Green Man

I called the cows, “ooheeee,” in my clear high tone like a keening or a chant, and one by one they turned and followed as I walked. I swung my distaff, twirling it round and round, pulling the flax from the ball of lint, spinning it into linen thread with one arm.

Sunlight reflected off the waters of the firth to the white clouds above and back to the land where the flax waved its pale flowers, a soft swelling of blue. The fairies were busy today, dancing and skittering in the sun.

Mistress Gowdie, came a voice, a singing voice like wind on the sea or rustle of grass. Good Tidings!

Tidings? I asked without speaking. What tidings?

And now I saw, the Queen of Fairy, radiant in white and lemon.

I could see beyond sight and hear beneath hearing. Others would have wished for this gift. Others were envious. But this was my power, mine alone.

What tidings? I asked again.

But the queen had vanished. Like they did, the fairies, so unpredictable, so capricious.

I shrugged and sang to myself, in rhythm with the walking and the swinging, the hearing and the waves on the distant side of the dune, and my voice was low like the rhythm of earth, the undertone of the day:

“Come, Brendan, from the ocean,

Come, Ternan, most potent of men,

Come, Michael valiant down

Bring favor to my cows.”

The cows were treasure and sustenance, constant companions and the substance of all life in this land that bordered the sea. A land of darkness in winter and light in summer, and now in the spring, a place of radiant skies over open plains.

I stopped and gazed past the cows. What did the Queen of Fairy mean?

The cattle followed me across the machair, this open grassland where they grazed. Calves jumped and ran back and forth beside them as the cows lowed and moaned. They were thin, like so many in this land, animals and people both.

There was the tree. The rowan tree. Wider than tall, with a thick trunk and spreading branches full of leaves, the tree bore clusters of orange berries that burst like fiery suns upon it. The rowan was the threshold between the worlds, the numinous place where life met life, the place I came to sit and spin while the cows settled and fed.

My voice went down to earth and belly, and my song lifted into the song of Thomas:

“True Thomas lay over yon grassy bank and beheld a lady gay, 

a lady that was brisk and bold, riding over the fernie brae,”

I swung my distaff, swaying and humming, the wind frolicked and whistled, and a man appeared.

I stopped. Where a moment ago was just a tree, now was a man before the tree. A man in green, from cap to waistcoat to pantaloons. Over six feet tall, with yellow hair and yellow beard, wild and tangled, and a merry smile. He was humming too. He smiled and sang out the next line in a hefty bass:

Her skirt was of the grass-green silk, her mantle of velvet fine,

 and at each tuft of her horse’s mane hung silver bells, fifty and nine.”

He paused his song, bowed, and reached out his hand. “Come here, my lady,” like a gentleman or a king, and like I really was a lady, not the rough and barefoot wife who sat on the dirt in her hut.

I straightened and beamed. A promise of goodness and abundance in his face and every move. Good tidings.

Yes, I was a Lady, full of sunshine and good food, plump, and dressed in velvet and gold. I took a step, for I would go to him. Who would not?

But sudden-like I halted. I lowered my head and glared at him through my lashes. Was this a trick? Some English soldier come to attack me? Like in the battle time, the man who sprang from behind the hedgerow. Dressed all in red and a wicked smile and the sweat running down his face, the man reached out, in his open hand a beautiful pastry topped with a sugar violet. I took it, of course. To my everlasting regret.

I looked back at the skinny cows, but when I turned again, the green man was gone.


October at Lake Champlain


morning with Andrea and the dogs on Little Eagle Bay

Summer has ended. We thought it was forever, just the way it is, we took it for granted. And then the air changed. An opening in the atmosphere, a clearing out of the old breath, the hot eternal breath of August, a clearing of the lake, a brighter sharper quality to the sunshine, a sharpness that signaled the coming of cold.

In September, with trees still green, the fields faded into hay, lightly waving in the sunshine. October brings a piquancy, wet and cool, trees bending and leaves rustling in the brightness, the lake water quiet, the smells that bring you present into this earth and yourself, freshness in the turning, a time to savor.


The “Black Feather tavern” someone’s creation on a deserted beach



Read an excerpt from WILD MOUNTAIN

collapse bridge


Mona held the door for the dairy truck driver, who was wheeling in a dolly filled with milk and cream, and then closed it against the rain. Leo, Heather, and Eli were huddled over the counter. Bodies at the hearth. People who belong to you, your friends, your customers. At the center of the tableau Heather’s pale hair lit up the scene, while her son Eli, with his adolescent sense of dignity, peered silently around from behind her, at the laptop on the counter.

“It’s coming down river,” said Heather.

Mona started. “What’s coming down river?”

“Ice! “ shouted Eli.

“But the whole river is ice.”

“They’re talking about an ice jam,” Heather said, voice hushed. “Saying it could hit the bridge.”

“The bridge?” She choked. The old covered bridge was as much a part of her landscape, of her life, as the river. She reached across Heather and turned on the scanner.

Heather and Eli argued about driving home while the scanner crackled with static. Mona stood at the window watching the river and twisting her finger around the end of her braid.

She had learned to drive a tractor when she was ten, and more times than not she’d be out in the barn with her dad, milking and mucking the stalls when her brothers were still in bed. She’d much rather be outside than in. Let her brothers stay in with her mother, Mona couldn’t stand the kitchen. She could build fences and fix engines, and Dad relied on her as he never did with the boys. It was tough, yes it was, but it sure did come in handy when she got the store. Not that she thought store-keeping would be all that easy, but sometimes it felt a lot tougher than all the farm work combined. It would have been nice to have a break once in a while.

Not that she would ever go back to the high and mighty Johnny O. Duval. Maybe her dad had been just an uneducated farmer, and maybe he’d been what they now called abusive, but nothing like Johnny O. And for him to think afterward that he could just saunter into her life and upset the apple cart whenever he had a whim…those phone calls…Whoa, Mona, she thought, that was the past, and you don’t need to go there.

“I won’t subject you to violence,” Heather was declaring in her thin but authoritative voice, “and right now the weather is violent. We’re staying here.” Eli skulked off to the back of the store as Heather pursed her lips.

Mona turned back to the window. Heather was so overprotective. If it were her kid, she’d have been home an hour ago.

A loud crackle and the voice of Mary Louise, the dispatcher, bleeped from the scanner. “Edson, come in.” Edson Perry was head of the FAST Squad, The First Aid Stabilization Team, first responders, they had been a fixture in Vermont towns for years.

“Man on river, man on river,” Mary Louise called, in that official-sounding monotone, as if a man on the river were an everyday occurrence.

Heather’s mouth dropped open and she looked at Mona. Mona turned up the volume. “Edson, do you hear me?” crackled Mary Louise, still in that monotone. Edson didn’t answer.

Mona picked up the receiver. “Mona here. Where’s the guy?” She was on the FAST Squad too.

“Wild Mountain Road, quarter mile above the bridge, according to motorist with cell phone.”

“Okay, let’s go, “she said, pulling on her boots and grabbing her parka from the hook. “Heather, can you cover for me?” she yelled as she banged out the door, leaving Heather nodding mutely at the counter.

She climbed into her vehicle, a silver four by four Ford, and Leo appeared with an armful of coiled rope. He threw it into the truck bed and scrambled into the passenger seat beside her.

When they reached the parked car, a gust of rain dumped out of the sky and then just as suddenly stopped. Edson’s red Chevy pickup was on the other side of the road, Edson standing on the bank, facing the river.

“Fucking imbecile!” Edson shouted.

While Leo hefted the coiled rope out of the truck bed, Mona peered through the fog. “Who is it?”

“Fucking Admiral Perry.” Edson pointed. She saw a dark shape, almost on the other side of the river. He was surrounded by water, standing on what did look like an iceberg. The little blue BMW parked beside them looked familiar. Oh yes, she’d seen it earlier today at the store. Could it be Frank MacFarland out there?

A siren wailed through the fog, and the Wild Mountain fire truck, lights flashing, pulled around the bend and came to a stop.

Cappy Gold, the fire chief, a small and hefty man in his forties, stepped down from the cab. He looked out at the river and back at them with quiet dark eyes, and in a soft voice started to give orders. Cappy and Edson fussed and fumed and finally agreed to extend the ladder out horizontally to where the man was stranded. They managed to release it and tilt it down, guiding its tip toward the river.

“I’ll go,” Mona volunteered. She was the lightest and nimblest person on the team. Cappy nodded. She strapped on a life vest, and then, taking one end of the rope, stepped onto the ice. She moved tentatively, slipped and caught herself, sprays of water splashing onto her head and parka as the river crashed into a massive hunk of ice beside her.

She searched the river with her eyes and now she could see him. “Oh, God,” she cried, “It isFrank. Frank MacFarland!” Not that anyone could hear her. She felt like screaming, and maybe like screaming at him. What an idiot. She didn’t know what she felt, but she was here, and now she had to go on. She stepped onto the ladder beside her and began to crawl toward Frank.

Frank, in a yellow slicker, marooned on his iceberg, waved his arms and pointed downriver. The water between them was roaring so loud, she couldn’t hear. Something about a moose?

“Okay, Frank, hold tight,” she shouted and waved to Cappy to steer the ladder to the right. The tip of it came to rest on the ice floe where Frank was standing, and when he started to come toward the ladder, he was limping and struggling to walk.

“Crawl, Frank! “she yelled.

Frank sank to his hands and knees on the ladder and started to inch toward her. “Good, Frank,” she shouted, “that’s it. You got it,” and tried to throw him one end of the rope, but it missed the mark and fell into the water. Well, maybe they didn’t need the rope. It was just an extra precaution.

By the time they made it back to the bank, Frank was red-faced and panting. He had a big goose egg of a bump on the side of his head. She gave him a hug, and his breath reeked of beer. He was saying something about a moose, but she wasn’t listening, because by this time the ambulance had arrived, and two paramedics were placing a stretcher on the crusty snow and situating him on it. Frank mounted a half-hearted protest but was obviously too beat to sustain much resistance. As the team fastened the straps on the stretcher, she called out, “Head injury, ankle injury.”

Frank sighed. “I hope he made it.”

The West Paris fire truck was parked behind the Wild Mountain truck, and now there were at least six other people standing around. As he disappeared into the ambulance, Frank gave her a sad-eyed smile. “Hey, Mona, I got you into an adventure after all.”

“Yeah, Frank, I guess you did.”  She patted his hand. Idiot.

The rain had stopped, and as she walked back to the truck, she shrugged off her parka hood and shook out her braid. With his hair sticking up in mats and a monster of a purple contusion, his pants soaked and torn, Frank looked like some feral maniac, or like Gus, her old friend who a few years ago chucked his normal life and went up on the mountain to live like a hermit. But Frank, she thought, struggling to be more compassionate, was trying to rescue an animal, so he must have a good heart. And he did look kind of cute in the store.

Whoa, Mona, she thought, straightening her shoulders and lifting her eyes heavenwards, let’s not go there either. “Just my canoe and my fishing pole,” she declared, shouting into the rain.

The fog had rolled away now, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw something moving. On the other side of the river, scampering along the bank and leaping back into the trees – a baby moose.

A Manual for Cleaning Women


I am always writing down book titles that people recommend, but by the time I get them I tend to forget who recommended it. But whoever steered me to A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, many thanks! A fantastic collection of short stories, simple writing with descriptions of relationships and ordinary people met on the street or at the laundromat. A unique voice but reminding me of Grace Paley in the way she almost offhandedly reaches in and touches your heart. A Manual for Cleaning Women

The Secret


Gay Head Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard

A poem by Denise Levertov whom I had the privilege to study with in college. It came like a reply to my last blog post. (and were the two girls in that class at Vassar?)

The Secret
Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me
(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even
what line it was.  No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,
the line, the name of
the poem.  I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,
and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that
a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
in other
happenings.  And for
wanting to know it,
assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.
~ Denise Levertov ~
(Selected Poems)