Postcard from Hardwick: Stepping into Autumn
In the early mornings, drinking coffee and writing, I sometimes hear a loon’s giddy call. Built on a ridge, our house in Hardwick borders no water although a wedge of the reservoir lies visible where the folds of the mountains meet — blue water in summers, pale ice in winter.
My 14-year-old, who sleeps deeply as the dawn opens the day, insists I’m wrong. We’re not in loon territory. Her older sister — often dressing in scrubs and heading to work at that early hour — confirms the loon is real.
Loon language ranks on my list with the laughter of babies as sounds not to miss in this lifetime. The calls of these sleek, ebony-headed birds echo in a rare kind of beauty, an enchanting melody of a world beyond our own. Their songs remind me of camping with the girls when they were little, lying sleepless on the rocky ground in our tent and listening to the loons on Ricker Pond in Grafton. Now, the 14-year-old spends weeks every summer on a lake in Craftsbury, where the loons live, too. One evening, her older sister returns from a night kayak, exclaiming about the loons singing around her and her friends on a still lake beneath a luminescent quarter moon.
If the loons trill the sound of summer, wild blackberries hold the taste, sweet and tangy, varying by the year. This year, the plump berries are smaller but particularly sweet, their gems tucked among the thorns. I eat a handful of these, Friday morning, as I walk to Buffalo Mountain Co-op, where I do my few working-member minutes every week, setting glass bottles of milk and cream on the shelves, in the dim walk-in cooler. In the mornings before the co-op opens, often it’s just me and a staff member or two, the lights off and the door open to the dusty street, the day yet sleepy and wordless. Later, the co-op’s narrow aisles clog with hungry people seeking fresh mozzarella, paper bags of rice or cartons of sun gold cherry tomatoes. A friend who visited described the co-op as stepping back in the 1970s, but bell bottoms have yielded to tattoos. The co-op embodies jostling democracy, chockfull of passion and humor.
Further along Main Street, my daughters favor the doughnuts at Front Seat Coffee — fat, yeast-dough beauties, sugary with a hint of salt, best described as mighty doughnuts. The coffee shop’s windows look out on the town’s single intersection (and the unanswered question why a single blinking yellow light confuses so many motorists). Just below, the Lamoille River winds along, at times tremendous and life-threatening, sometimes an inviting trickle for waders over its river-smooth stones.
Evenings, as if feeling the days already shorten, the neighborhoods sprawl with kids hurrying to important and undisclosed places on their bikes, heads bent low over handlebars. The warm air, always softer in the evenings, spreads around us like a magical picnic blanket, inviting.
Across the cemetery from my house and garden, my path takes me by the backyard of a three-story house converted into apartments. Holding a cigarette in her teeth, one woman sprinkles her garden with a watering can, beneath seven enormous, blooming sunflowers.
The fragrance of the newly mown grass follows me into the woods, where it mingles with the scent of soil, wet with last night’s rainfall, heady and loamy. There, the branches of one of Vermont’s ubiquitous wild apple trees bend low with heavy fruit, the sweet scent of ripening apple wafting over ferns that break beneath my feet.
The chorus of late summer — wild blackberries and chirping crickets — lead my way home. But first, I fill my cupped palm with warm berries, slightly sticky juice staining my skin the purple-heading-toward-black color of the night sky.