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Faith in Vermont: Some Gifts of Spring

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Posted on April 21, 2015 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



We are starting to move outward now. The turning point came a few days before Easter, when I looked outside one morning and saw that there was more bare ground than snow visible through the window.

Later that morning, I took my two youngest daughters and several friends to the playground in East Middlebury for the first time in about six months. The playground was hopping with caregivers and their young charges. As is always the case on those first warm days of spring, I saw people whom I hadn't laid eyes on since the fall, people I'd nearly forgotten during our long hibernation.

We ate both snack and lunch outside that day. Then, while my daughters napped, I pulled the gardening book down from its shelf with some trepidation. Much to my relief, it told me that since I live in a cold climate, I can safely leave most of the gardening work until May. I left the book on the kitchen counter to refer to in another month, when the ground is thawed and dry and the chance of snow is almost zero.

As if to justify my leisure, the temperature dropped 30 degrees and it snowed the next day, and the day after that.

***

We woke to snow on Easter, but the sun was shining brightly by late morning. It blazed down on us through the stained glass windows in church as we sang the final hymn. "God made the sun come out!" my 4-year-old daughter whispered loudly.

That afternoon -- while my children were napping, again (if I ever write an autobiography, it will be called While They Were Napping) -- I took the dog for a walk. This was another thing I hadn't done in almost six months. We have an electric fence around our backyard, so when the snow is high, the temperatures low, and dark falls by afternoon, it's easier to let the dog out on her own.

But now we are back in dog-walking season. As my legs stretched out and my feet hit the bare pavement, walking felt like that old adage about riding a bicycle: something my body recalled automatically, despite not having done it for a while.

It was a hard winter -- not just on those who were shut up inside for months, but on the natural world. As we walked, I passed large piles of greying snow still holding strong in the shady places. Fallen branches and entire trees lay beside the road and back in the woods, brought down by heavy snow, ice, and winds.

With so many branches down and no leaves yet on the trees, I noticed an old rock wall running parallel to Schoolhouse Hill Road, about 15 yards into the woods. I wondered about this wall, which I assume once marked off somebody's pasture. The pasture is no longer there, having been reclaimed by forest. There used to be a schoolhouse on Schoolhouse Hill Road, but it's gone, too. I made a mental note to ask my sources about these things.

***

I heard mourning doves on my walk. The call of the mourning dove is one of my favorites. I associate the sound of mourning doves with the sunny afternoons of my childhood: it would be early fall, still warm, school was still new and exciting, and I'd survived another day to return home and eat my snack. Mourning doves always seemed to call after snack, when the whole golden afternoon stretched out ahead of me: I could read, climb the crabapple tree, play with my toys, draw a picture. Hours until dinner.

Now when I hear the cry of a mourning dove, it recalls the suburban coziness and ennui of my youth, but I feel something else on top of that -- something closer, perhaps, to the mourning dove's intent. I feel a commingling of joy and loss. Life is so much richer than I ever dreamed back when I was a child in that crabapple tree, but also: Where did all those years go?

***

The day before Easter, we drove 90 minutes south to Billings Farm in Woodstock. It was our first visit to Billings, which is both a working dairy farm and a museum of farm life. The reason for our visit was that my husband had seen a notice advertising "Baby Animal Day."

"Oh boy," said my seven-year-old, rolling her eyes with preadolescent ennui, "Like we've never seen baby animals before."

And she was right: The cages of newly-hatched chicks, the two lambs, and the Jersey calf were nothing that my daughters hadn't seen before. They've hatched their own chicks. They've milked cows. One of their best friend's sheep birthed twin lambs the very next day. We didn't need to drive 90 minutes for baby animals.

What excited them was the museum, because it's rare that they get to see museum exhibits -- especially ones with pre-recorded narration. They were also interested in the fact that Billings Farm raises only Jersey cows, because most cows in our area are Holsteins. (The undisputed highlight was when one of the Jersey milking cows peed so profusely right in front of us that it splattered out of the gutter.)

For the thousandth time, I felt grateful that we get to live in Vermont. I felt grateful that we can give our daughters the kind of childhood in which they are ho-hum about baby animals.

On that blissfully warm day before Easter, my daughters spent the afternoon outside playing in the mud. They gradually shed their jackets and boots to squelch around barefoot in the thawing earth. They used sticks to fill buckets for mud pies. They grabbed handfuls of mud and rubbed it over their legs.

I have a friend in California who is starting a camp program that gets children to connect with nature. Families will pay to send their children out into the woods to climb trees, wade through streams, play in the mud. My friend has encountered some challenges while trying to find a location for her camp; the local parks, it seems, have regulations against going off-trail.

And I get to send my children out the front door: What a gift. 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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