Here's what happened in my world in the final days of September. What happened in yours?
The Green Mountains are aflame, and everyone agrees: Fall 2020 is as beautiful as it gets. They say it’s because the summer has been dry and the trees are stressed. Behold the parched land’s ephemeral glory. On Sunday, Vermonters ride bicycles and horses through the leaves.
On the West Coast, the air is brown, the forests smolder. The smoke drifts eastward, to Boston, Iceland, France.
At the Tunbridge Fairgrounds, a friend writes a text message to her husband and then tosses her cell phone high up into the air, hoping to make contact with a signal. The phone sails into the blue sky of a perfect day, then turns and falls down, down, into her outstretched hands. She checks the screen. “Message sent.”
In Braintree, a boy with golden curls stands on a kitchen stool stirring batter with a long-handled spoon. Is there anything more delicious than a pancake made by a six-year-old?
On a hill in Bethel, an anthomanic gardener hastens to get her 1,365 “Covid madness” bulbs into the ground. The bulbs were ordered in a burst of online shopping when the pandemic was still new.
In West Braintree, a citizen of the Koas Abenaki Nation harvests the last of the onions, dries them, braids them into bunches and delivers them to some of the Koasek elders. She writes that the hummingbirds have gone south and she misses them.
On Monday, in northern France, I pick up the phone and call a friend who lives five thousand miles away. “Are you up?” I ask. It is early morning in Los Lunas, New Mexico, but my friend has horses. “Yes,” she says. “I’m up.
On School Street in Randolph Village, Tuesday begins with the soft patter of rain on green leaves and ends with the chirping of crickets.
I read an article about how societies collapse. The writer is a Sri Lankan who knows first-hand what he’s talking about. He addresses his message to the American people. If you are waiting for a definitive sign that your democracy has failed, he says, then stop. The signs are all around you. It doesn’t happen in the way you think. Instead of one sign, there are many. While you await the Big Event—the coup d’etat, the crowning of an emperor, the rounding up of political rivals—your rights as a citizen are being whittled away. You are turned away at the polls. You are tear-gassed. You are denied health care, clean water, clean air, an education. You are shot by police in your own home.
Meanwhile, people get married, have babies, shop for food, watch movies on Netflix. Normal things continue to happen. The vote is suppressed, and we celebrate Thanksgiving. A disgraced and unpopular president appoints a Supreme Court justice, against the will of the people, and we plant bulbs in anticipation of a glorious spring, we button up for winter and await the return of the hummingbirds.
Life goes on.
On Wednesday, I awaken at 2:30 a.m. and lie in the darkness, thinking “I could just go back to sleep,” but an hour later I am sitting in the living room, eyes wide, mouth open, watching a reality TV show about the collapse of American democracy. This episode: the September 29 presidential debate.
For the rest of the day, I feel traumatized. It helps to wash the kitchen floor and take a long walk in the forest.
On Wednesday evening, I read a new chapter in a story written by the friend who lives in Los Lunas. The story takes place in the desert. She writes about a boojum tree, coyotes, and a colony of rabbits. The story, I think, is about mortality and acceptance—one of the characters is a Buddhist—but I am still at the beginning, so I can’t be sure.
On Thursday morning, I read a story about a mother and her son, who is preparing to leave home and go to college. It is a story about letting go.
I begin to feel better.
Life goes on.
With thanks to Theresa Bryant, Valerie Daniel, Nancy Gage, Shirly Hook, Myra Howe Hudson, Mindy Jackson-Jeffreys, Antoinette Mongelli, Margaret Osha, Letitia Rydjeski, and Sarah Silbert. Above: A path through the meadow below our house in France.