Holed Up

Here we are at home. Like everyone else. Holed up. We stocked up before most people–on food and basic household supplies. I am working from home. My kids are doing school online. We have a great house. We live in a beautiful place. We all get along. Still, this is a bit of a drag.

We are trying to be safe. Every day, the news gets worse–more cases of COVID-19, more deaths, more misinformation from the White House. Vermont is locked down as much as is feasible. Yesterday at 5:00 pm a stay-at-home directive began for the state. People can still go out, for necessities and necessary work, but in general we are all staying put.

Just now the governor announced that schools, which closed last week, will stay closed for the rest of the school year. My son is in his first year of high school. The principal called with a supportive message, really impressive, telling students it is OK to feel all kinds of emotions, offering some of his own emotion for seniors especially. For teenagers, this is devastating. Three months before school ends they know there will be no prom, no spring track or baseball or ultimate, no graduation, no AP tests or SAT, no wood shop. And no time with friends face to face. My daughter attends a different high school; they have not closed yet. I am afraid that is just a matter of time.

The dogs still wake up too early. We go out and walk them. The sun rises. Two days ago we got ten inches of snow. Most of that has melted now. The woodcocks, after the snow came and went, starting calling again in the field tonight. Robins are singing their lilting songs. Goldfinches are turning yellow. This afternoon I heard the first wood frog of the spring.

We can’t eat out or get a drink from Starbucks or even go to most stores. Even the hardware store is bringing things outside to customers. Life is not what it was. But the total number of cases in Vermont doubled today to over 120. New York City had more 911 calls then they did on September 11, 2001. This thing is deadly. We are inconvenienced, but we are here.

The sun is higher now. The light shines through the bare woods. The world is bigger this time of year–more light, more sound, more beauty every day. That beauty is a counter to the challenges we face now, and the tragedy that is sure to come. As this virus affects all of us more and more, the world spins into spring. We need to pay attention to both.

No snow day. Snow day. Snow.

We knew weather was on the way. We changed some plans, moved some things around. We did things differently to account for possible interruption to our normal schedules. We were going to get snow, and freezing rain, and sleet, and wind. It would come at the optimum time for a snow day. Maybe, if the weather gods graced us with good fortune, we would have two snow days. In a row. We went to bed Wednesday night ready for an early morning call.

The call came at the usual time, but the online list had not included our regional schools. Maybe they hadn’t updated the list? The recorded call was to let us know that school would be held, but the hills would be closed. When the roads get slick, they close the hills to school buses. So anyone who lives on the several steep roads in town has to find another way to school. The call also said that inexperienced drivers should get a ride with someone more experienced, or take the bus. I was confused. School will be held, despite road conditions bad enough that school buses will not go up and down the hills, so take the bus if you can, unless you live where the roads are the worst, then we want you to drive.

Anyway, we all got to school and to work and we drove and rode the bus and it all worked out. There was only a little complaining around here. It snowed on and off all day. Several inches accumulated, along with sleet and freezing rain. And that night we got the call that school would be closed the next day. So we got our snow day after all.

It was a good call. One can often argue that we should have had a snow day, or that we should not have had a snow day, but this was not one of those days. We definitely were glad to be staying off the roads. I mean, we walked on some of those roads and the snow was deep. Plus, there was ice from the freezing rain and sleet beneath that deep snow. It was slick and sloppy.

And it snowed all day. It fell and fell and piled up. After dark, ready to head to bed, I reached my hand out the window to see if snow was still falling. After two days of precipitation it had finally stopped. The storm was awesome, in both the historic and contemporary meanings of that word. By Saturday, we were up to our knees in snow. The high school parking lot had literal mountains of snow once they cleared it and piled it up. Snow banks were tall, making it hard to see in places. It was a big old dump of snow.

And then the sun came out to make it all look pretty. Winter wonderland and all that. Saturday has turned out to be what they call a bluebird day. Blue skies and bright white snow. Bust out the sunglasses. We need to enjoy it. These days, it just doesn’t last. I am sure it will rain at some point and cause flooding, as is the pattern. But that is in the future. Today, let’s go make some snow angels.

No Snow Day Today

Everyone was excited for the storm. Several inches of snow might fall. Up to a foot! And the timing would be just right. The heaviest snow would come down just in time for the morning commute. It was going to be a snow day for sure. Until it wasn’t.

The forecast changed last night–less snow, the timing not quite right. By dark it was barely snowing yet. I suggested to my children that it was unlikely school would be canceled. They were not happy with me for suggesting such blasphemy. How insensitive of me.

It was snowing steadily at first light. Light fluffy stuff covered the bird feeders outside my bedroom window. Three inches or so had fallen. It was lovely. But school was on. It was a bit of a grumpy morning.

My kids got to school. I made it to work. Our road was not plowed when I steered the car out of the driveway. But the roads became more navigable as I headed to town. I traveled more slowly than usual but I got there.

And it was beautiful. The snow started out wet enough that it stuck to everything. Trees were painted white. Everything was painted white. I tried to tell my daughter, as I drove her to school, to be aware of that beauty. She was having none of it. “It’s not worth it,” she claimed, upset to the end that the snow day fizzled.

Still, I had to try. If I can least show her what it means to look at the world with a positive outlook, she may adopt that stance one day. We can focus on what we do not have, or we can ogle the snowflakes coating the fire hydrant. I guess it’s up to her in the end. But I’m hoping she chooses the latter.

Loving Late Summer

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Could the weather be more fine than it is here in Vermont these past few days? I left the house early this morning at under 50 degrees. The temperature rose to about 70 by afternoon. Cool, sunny, a light breeze. Lovely, that’s what it is.

I didn’t do any house staining yesterday. It was just too dang nice. It was a perfect day to stain the house but I went birding and to the dump. I cut all the Purple Loosestrife growing in the ditch and at the edge of the field. I read a book.

Today I planned to stain, despite the temptation to laze. I got suited up, pulled out the ladder, even cut a couple of low branches growing too close to the house. Then I grabbed the paint can and the easy hefting made me remember that I am almost out of stain. So much for that. I could have gotten more stain today, but I plan to go right by the paint store tomorrow, so it can wait a day.

Shore birds are migrating. I saw sandpipers at the lake this morning, pecking along the shore. I passed a flock of geese in a field. I guess they are on the move as well. The orchard where we like to pick apples is picking peaches now. We may need to grab a few of those. Peach jam? Peach ice cream? Can’t go wrong there.

School starts this week. I am back to work full time. Summer, as far as the easy schedule, is coming to a close for all of us. But we have some solid days of summer yet. We will get in some swimming, and some paddle boarding. And some outdoor tasks. I scheduled a chimney sweep appointment. The firewood is stacked. Getting ready for winter, I guess.

My son is not ready for school. I mean, he is ready, in a physical sense, but that kid hates it when summer ends. I can’t blame him there. The Monarch Caterpillars are chewing on milkweed now but soon they will flutter their way south as butterflies. Summer isn’t really over, but it is time to start heading forward to new things. Off we go.

 

Your Typical Middle School Concert

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A couple of nights ago I had the pleasure to hear my local elementary/middle school band play. Two back-to-back concerts were performed: the beginner band and the intermediate band. It was a fine show.

The beginner band performed first. They did a good job, typical of a beginner band, with clarinet squeaks and off-beat percussion and blaring brass overshadowing the flutes, followed by the older and more experienced musicians who, as expected, had honed their craft a bit more. It was not a concert to be attended by the critics, or by anyone who is looking to get their ears massaged. It was like so many similar performances that happen every year all across the United States. The place was packed with proud (and tired and spaced out and other varieties of) parents, and a passel of school kids did their best and had fun.

I was struck by the timelessness and the typicallness of it. We were assembled in the gymnasium, seated in folding chairs in rows. Students played on risers as well as on the stage at the side of the room. They played under the basketball hoops. There was a state flag and a national flag on the wall. Four students started us off with the national anthem. Gym mats were folded in the corner. How many people have witnessed this same scene?

This was exactly what I did in elementary and middle school. Lots of kids played instruments and we managed to honk out some tunes as a band. Some or these young musicians will stick with it, but most will leave their instruments behind and some day say that they once played the saxophone or the bass drum, just like in my generation. I imagine many of those parents and grandparents attending this time were in that boat. This pageant has been repeated many times in many places. It is a shared experience.

What if we could tap into that shared experience? If we all could know how many others have felt pride at hitting the right notes, or embarrassment at missing them, wouldn’t we be in a better place? I certainly felt pride in my own child for performing, and I am confident I was not alone. Math may not be taught the same way as when these students’ parents went to school, and Chromebooks were not available to the previous generation. Schools and public education have changed in many ways, but band is similar. The clarinets and french horns and cymbals sound the same and work the same way. I think there is something to be celebrated in that.

Music (and other art) programs get cut at many schools. They are not valued as much as things that are typically measured on standardized tests. I think that is a mistake. There is much to be learned by playing music. If you have had any experience playing music, even as an elementary school band member, you know what I mean. And the continuity of it is powerful as well. There are few things that really are the same about school from the last generations to this one. I think we should hang on to some of them.

First Day of Summer Vacation

School bus ready to make the last drop-off of the year

School bus ready to make the last drop-off of the year

Last Friday was the last day of school around here. That means summer, for those young enough to attend school, began today. It was a stunner of a day–warm but not hot, sunny but not too sunny. My son went off to a baseball “school” (don’t tell him that they call it that) for the morning and I spent time with my daughter while my wife went to work. I read a book to her (Lost Children of the Far Islands by Emily Raabe–really fun to read together) for a while, ate a good breakfast and had some coffee. I had already gone birding early this morning. The day started well.

And you know what? It was a great day, straight up. I read a little, ran some errands, took the kids for ice cream. My trip to the hardware store wasn’t much of a success but there is tomorrow to try again. I had a huge salad for lunch, thanks to all the goods from our farm share. How can you beat a fresh salad in the summer? Can’t.

I will get a repeat of the day tomorrow, with a few more things to take care of. These are the kinds of days I like. I have a chunk of work I need to get done at some point in the next two days, but I will get it done. I hope. I’d rather just hang out on the hammock. I will do that at some point, but the hammock will have to wait for now.

I mean, just look at how beautiful a day this is. Damn.

I mean, just look at how beautiful a day this is. Damn.

And Now a Few Words from Dr. Dean

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Look, it’s the former governor as seen through a smart phone camera from the back row

OK this is just not a great photo, but I wasn’t prepared to take photos. There I was visiting Milton High School today to help out some students and I hear on the morning announcements that juniors and seniors should come to the auditorium for the visiting politician, who blah blah blah really important whatever I can’t really hear I have things to do Vermont big wig such and such and his name is Howard Dean. Howard Dean? Right here today? I started listening but had already missed the details.

After I met with one student he asked if I was going to see Howard Dean. I had a hole in my schedule so I followed him into the auditorium. We were a little late. I sat in the back. He spoke for a while and answered some questions. He talked about how their generation has a different world to take care of and different tools to use to do that. Some key ideas, paraphrased:

When he was young, he and his peers could organize a protest but it took lots of coordination and months to organize. Today anyone can go to change.org and set up a petition to make big companies or Congress take notice, with hundreds of signatures in a couple of days. He told the story of the young woman who got five dollars tacked to her bank statement each month to allow her to use her debit card. She organized a petition and, very quickly, got 300,000 people to say they would switch banks unless the fee was dropped. The fee was dropped.

He asked the group how many of them had at least one international connection, including through social media. The majority of hands went up. He said that when he was in high school there was no social media so only about three hands might have gone up; ok maybe four since “we had some exchange students.”

He was asked a question about the cost of college and noted that college is expensive but there are ways to do it cheaper. He noted the expansion of students at community colleges and that one can transfer into a larger school to get a degree from a different institution. He said that anyone can get a good education at just about any not-for-profit institution if one works hard enough.

He was asked about the number of students who go to college outside Vermont and said “I think that is a great thing.” If you grow up in Vermont and go to college in Vermont and stay in Vermont to work, how are you going to get any experience with the world outside Vermont? Half of what you learn in college is from professors. The other half is from students who go to school with you. So go somewhere to college where you can be around people who are different from you. He likes the idea of students from other places coming to Vermont to go to college. It means that Vermonters who stay here get to be around different types of people and that will make their education better.

If you think you are going to work your way up through the system and become president and then change the world, that isn’t going to happen. To become president you have to work your way through the system you need to change. Change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. Today there are more tools to organize people to make change than ever before in history, and more people are doing it despite a dysfunctional political system.

The Iraq war was “the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States.” Patrick Leahy is “my favorite senator.”

He said some other things, as well, of course–things that got me thinking. I especially got thinking about the idea that 50% of what one learns in college is from peers. Somehow that phrasing set right with me. His thoughts on the college experience were directly relevant to the conversation I was having with the student I had been meeting with. I asked the student about that later. He said it was weird that the college topics came up and then said this:

“It made me think differently about how awesome Vermont is.” Yes, Dr. Dean, your words still are inspiring, ten years after you changed the face of political organizing and fundraising, both for me and for the students you met with today. Keep that up.