I sing into walls.
I sing through window panes, hoping the trees can hear me.
I call birds and cats and dogs.
I talk to spiders.
I dance in my kitchen and speak into pots of boiling water.
I am a witch.
And I am an introvert— mostly.
According to the notorious Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs, I am an INFJ or Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging. As an INFJ, I am also an Advocate.
“I tend to approach life with deep thoughtfulness and imagination. I can speak with great passion and conviction, especially when standing up for my ideals. At other times, however, I may choose to be soft-spoken and understated, preferring to keep the peace rather than challenge others. I value deep, authentic relationships with others. I try to take great care with other people’s feelings.
I need to prioritize reconnecting with myself, take some time alone to decompress, recharge and process my thoughts and feelings.”
Benjamin has never taken a personality test, but I know he’s an introvert, most likely an INTJ as he leans toward thinking a lot before he expresses his feelings. After a year (going on 1 ½ years), of self-isolation and deep focus on work, (lots of work) we needed a break, so we took our fully vaccinated (but still cautious) selves to spend 10 days in Vermont.
We stayed in the Green Mountains in a lovely cabin. The back deck had a view of a wild flower field and a mountain thick with trees. As a prairie and flat savanna woman, I called it a mountain, but my raised-in-the-Rockies husband said it was a hill. This is just one of our many charming differences.
Each morning the clouds interacted with the trees. Sometimes there would be little ghosts rising between the pines and maples. Other mornings, the trees, the entire mountain was not visible, as a thick cloud blanket covered all.
Afternoons into twilight, we sat watching hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. On cloudy days, we listened to the rain. On clear days, we heard the wind making the cottonwoods flutter. Dogs barked in the distance, and I wondered what they looked like. The horses on the bordering farm whinnied and snorted. We also smelled them, no getting around the wafts of manure, but as someone who spent her childhood around hog and dairy farms, this was both familiar and comforting.
We heard humans too- men and their motors (it was usually men)- lawn mowers, (but not a single leaf blower- thank you, Vermont) farm equipment, small planes from the local airport, motorcycles, dirt bikes, cars and trucks. We listened to women giving riding lessons and little girls giggling.
The country night sky treated us to fire flies, lightning and thunder, a full moon, Venus appearing just above and then sliding behind the mountain. All the stars felt closer, Ursa Major shined right above our heads, reminding us how North we were, how separated from the bright, cluttered city.
In Vermont, we slept with the windows open, listening to crickets and tree frogs. We needed this break, fresh air as a muse to re-set, trees to clean our brains.
I look to nature to teach me things. I may anthropomorphize or see too much symbolism in my every day, but this is how I walk through life, how I learn. And when I list what I’m about to list, dear reader, you can judge for yourself if Vermont was trying to communicate something fabulist. Benjamin and I sure felt like we were in a fairy tale. Oh, and I will capitalize certain nouns here, for reverence, and because I’m of German heritage.
First, there were Birds.
Hummingbirds flew close as we sat on the deck. True, we were sitting under a bright umbrella that they may have mistaken for a giant flower, but they hovered when the umbrella was closed, and this behavior also happened on our porch in New York. They always hover right in front of Benjamin, and it is an absolute gift to see the delight in his eyes when they do. He saw a lot of Hummingbirds as a kid in Colorado. He thanked them for the joy and for possibly sending luck or a message from the spirit world.
Hawks, one of our favorite birds, circled above, riding the thermals of Otter Creek. From my limited research, hawks don’t get a fair shake in folk stories. Yes, they are hunters, and their kill method is not exactly merciful, but like all predators, they hold a vital place in our ecological balance. I revere them. For me, hawks symbolize passion, focus, strength, transformation and healing, because one showed up and hung out as I recovered from hip surgery. I will never forget her.
We saw small falcons that we later learned were Merlins (yes, as in the wizard). First, Benjamin noticed them on power lines, and then we saw them in flight. To learn more, we consulted The Cornell Lab. Here’s part of an overview: “Merlins are small, fierce falcons that use surprise attacks to bring down small songbirds and shorebirds. Merlin populations have largely recovered from twentieth-century declines, thanks to a ban on the pesticide DDT (thank you, Rachel) and their ability to adapt to life around towns and cities.”
On a short hike in a dark, cool woods a Barred Owl flew to a branch right in front of us. We stopped, then stepped a little closer, as she spun her head around and looked us over. We asked permission to take her picture and she let us. I don’t speak Owl (and damn I wish I did), so she could have been calm or annoyed, maybe waiting for us to move on so she could hunt. I don’t know, but we’ve never been that close to this bird. We thanked her for reminding us to be wise, willing to shape shift and face transformations.
On the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail (which was recently renovated to welcome folks in wheelchairs, thank you, Vermont) a White Throated Sparrow sang his heart out. I called to him and he (I think) answered back. We excitedly took a field recoding of this moment to honor and remember him. Sparrows symbolize many things–creativity, community, simplicity, and empowerment and my favorite, “the sacred bird of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, true love and spiritual connection—not just lust (contrary to this, sparrows are often regarded as one of the most lustful and sexually active birds in the wild).”
Next came the Amphibians.
On both the Island Line and the Robert Frost Trails, Benjamin saw frogs. He joked, saying that they appeared because he is my prince. I looked at him dubiously and said, “Sure.” Benjamin and I don’t believe in princesses turning frogs into princes. We prefer the stories of “Frog and Toad” by author and illustrator, Arnold Lobel, and we were more interested in learning about frogs through science.
We discovered that the first amphibian was a Green Frog. My favorite fact was: “The Green Frog’s call is often described as a ‘gulp’ or the plucking of a loose banjo string.” Fitting. My Benjo’s banjo.
The tiny frog was most likely a Spring Peeper. This lovely beauty is another fitting charm for Benjamin as the Spring Peeper is a chorus bird. All music for my love.
Then there were Cats.
Our Air B&B host, Jeff, said we might get a visit from a farm cat. We had plural. First, there was the short haired, black and white ‘tuxedo’ kitty who hunted, poised with paw lifted, waiting for small birds or rodents to move in the tall grass. He only twitched his ears at me, and I knew to leave him alone. Next came the little butterscotch, scaredy fellow who sniffed near our bedroom window and then bolted home when I tried to call him.
I thought this was what Jeff meant, that we would see scrappy cats who really couldn’t be bothered with humans. But then… on our last night in the cabin, when I was feeling sad, when I wasn’t ready to return to noisy New York village life, a cuddler arrived. I was standing in the cabin, facing the screen door and looking at the mountain as I chatted with my brother. I call my brothers sometimes when I’m sad. It doesn’t matter what we talk about, I hear the timbre of their voices, and I feel better. So there I was, talking my troubles, when a large Maine Coon rubbed against the screen and then sat straight up purring. She had black markings like a mask around her eyes and white paws like opera gloves. She was elegant, headed to a party, and I fell in love. I went outside and she jumped into my lap kneading and purring.
Given that I am a witch, of course cats are my familiars. They are clever, sacred beings. They know when to arrive and what to do.
As we walked the D&H and Island Line Rail Trails, the wild flowers were so lush, we could hear the bees humming, and Lake Champlain was so clear we could see the Iberville shale. Both walks were made lovelier as dogs graced our days.
First came Finn, the Golden Retriever. He walked unleashed next to a woman whom I’m sure was a kindred witch. My first and only pup was a Golden named Duke. I still think of him and will love him forever. Whenever I see a Golden, I unabashedly beckon them with my eyes. Finn had been in the creek, and he let me touch his wet head before his witch called him back to walk beside her. Thank you, Finn.
Two Rottweilers, a full grown and a little puppy, decided they were in love with Benjamin. The big guy leaned against his leg, as the little one nestled between his feet. It was a hot day, and I think both pups wanted my husband to shade them. This was just fine with Benjamin.
And we met a Scottish Toller named Lily. Her human was wearing a Rails to Trails Conservancy T-shirt, and he told me that Tollers were the “smallest of the retrieving dogs.” This was fun to learn but even more interesting to me was how beautiful Lily’s eyes were. Thank you, sweet girl.
And finally, an Arachnid.
After a trip to the Middlebury Co-op (one of the best places in the US to grocery shop), I was excited to get back to the cabin and sample Vermont’s farm fresh food. I sat at the table, eating my cheese curds, when a spider dropped from the ceiling and landed next to me. Heh heh…
Need I say more?
This is Volume 12 of Methods & Muses. I’ve managed to keep this prose jam session going for a year, so to celebrate, here is a list of thanks.
Thank you, Friends, for saying things like: “Take your time. Allow for a transitional period. Allow time for your cortisol levels to come down. Take breaks between social activities. Be prepared. It’s weird out there.” All of your voices were in my head as we ventured back among the humans.
In Vermont we learned that humans dance differently now. I thought about sharing the strange and sad interactions with our species on our first trip out, but these are too fresh to write clearly. I’m still processing. I may or may not include them in Volume 13, For now, I’ll tip the scale toward the optimistic and share our best human experience.
We decided to have lunch at our favorite Burlington cider house. Not only did Citizen Cider offer outdoor seating, but their doors and windows were open wide, all the tables inside and out were 6’ apart. I tried my first poutine -mushroom sage gravy and fresh cheese curds over fries- thank you, Canada-and I swear, food cooked for me never tasted so good. The Citizen crew were friendly and sweet. The host liked my Ouija T-shirt, and the waiter gave us free cider donuts for dessert. As I sipped my cider flight, I tried not to embarrass myself by tearing up with gratitude for these simple, kind gestures from strangers.
Thank you, Cousin Jyl ‘Love Cat,’ for saying, “You can do hard things.” And thank you childhood friend, Alicia, for listening to my worries and saying, “Yes, but then there’s the practical.” Both of you gave me the strength to face hours in the car, when my anxiety/claustrophobia peak.
Thank you, Poets in my now 2D community, for sharing your work and conversation. You’ve made me feel the profound power of community. You’ve cultivated peace of mind.
Thank you, Jeff and cabin and trees and mountains and all things nature in Vermont.
Thank you, Vermont.
You beckoned me first to attend the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, where I met incredible writers like Michael Mlekoday. Please check out their work here, and if you’re interested in receiving a weekly bundle of curated poems from Michael, reach out and sign up for Dredge. I highly recommend reading Dredge. Michael knows how to choose poetry that stays in your brain.
Vermont, we returned to you in 2019 to spend a week in October for our anniversary, and we chose you for a third, most important visit this year.
Green Mountain State, stay safe. I love you.