Things I celebrated this spring

Moments of beauty and care in a neighborhood and a town adapting to a new normal

BRATTLEBORO — We bought our home after half a lifetime of passing through on our way to other Vermont destinations. We've lived here for almost 17 years.

We thought we knew this place - our neighborhood, the people, the town - but the last month has exposed to us how little we actually knew about our neighbors, our place in the Green Mountains, even ourselves.

One of my first attempts at COVID-19 humor was to ask a neighbor who stopped in our driveway to chat about how she was dealing with cabin fever, “Oh, is this your first pandemic?” I was attempting to give her the space to realize that this is the new reality.

Putting aside the pandemic and a financial free-fall for a few moments, here are just a few of the things I celebrate this particular spring.

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During every one of the past 30 days, I've had a moment of beauty sent to me unbidden, but welcomed. They are quotidian: noticing the open red buds of maples trees, fallen trees that make impromptu balancing acts in the forest, mushrooms and vines grounding weak or older trees, pileated woodpecker's latest sculptures, birdsong before dawn, my neighbor walking her horse in circles in the meadow between us.

Cars have become an afterthought as our neighborhood has been returned to the people: walkers, runners, strollers, and neighbors who've become new friends.

Many fewer cars create less pollution, less stress, more connection. Is that too much of a silver lining?

My wife, Erin Maile, walked and biked the entire neighborhood over the course of three afternoons, knocking on doors of strangers to ask if anyone needed anything and delivering the good news of the newly-hatched Brattleboro Area Mutual Aid (BAMA).

No money (made or spent), more meditation, more anxiety and uncertainty, more phone calls to truly check in. Asking people, even strangers, how they are and really meaning it. Not since 9/11 when we lived in New York City have we felt that level of care.

The smell just after a rain storm when the ground seemed to unlock itself from its winter freeze and exhale earthy breath for the first time in five months. Salamanders crossing in the rain protected from cars and overseen by a gaggle of interested kids and adults.

There are a thousand ways to bow to the glory of nature, even as she shakes off her fevered human tormentors.

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