Out of the Dungeon

     Springtime in Vermont is like being let out of a dungeon.
     Not that I mind 30 below zero. It’s the howling wind, the gray sky, the absolute lack of color beyond black and white, and the darkness at 4 in the afternoon.
     Everything about Vermont is reasonable except the weather.
     A week ago it was 9 degrees in the morning. Three days later it got up to 89. Three days after that it was 19. Now we’ve settled into nights in the 20s and afternoons in the 50s. Football weather. Just warm enough to saddle up my bike and pedal out to see my friends.
     The kingfisher is back on his perch by the little beaver pond, waiting for fish to come up or frogs to hop down and take a look around – their last look around.
     Canada geese have returned to the big pond, skimming low over the water, necks stretched out, honking like the 20th Century Limited pulling in to Chicago.
     On the far side of the hill into Massachusetts, Big Boss Beaver has reinforced his dam and turned a good 20 acres into swamp. It looks like Iceland, or something from the Paleozoic. The farmer could drain it all by yanking a few strategic sticks out of the dam. But he hasn’t done it in the 5 years I’ve been watching.
     Crocuses are the first sign of spring, but they don’t count. A crocus will stick its head out through a snowbank. The colors are a sweet promise, but you know how it is with sweet promises …
     Then come the bloodroot, and the daffodils and forsythia, announcing the resurrection of yellow. Moss on stones and fallen tree trunks is already thick dark green, mushrooms growing in it. The creeks are full, cascading down granite waterfalls on the hillsides as the last hidden snow melts. On east- and south-facing hillsides, willows sprout yellow-green leaves, showing the sycamores how it’s done. The splendor of a pink magnolia.
     Baby cows at the Franklin Farm. Sheep back in the pastures. And two llamas, goofy-looking animals that look like someone threw in an extra piece somewhere.
     Long time ago I spent six years on an Indian reservation, teaching and coaching track. One night driving the team home I asked if the moon empties out and fills in from right to left or from left to right. The team laughed. No one would tell me.
     Come on, I said, where I grew up you don’t have to know stuff like this.
     “What’s the matter, Kahn,” my ace miler Jimmie said, “don’t they have a moon where you come from?”
     They do, but it’s not important.
     A hundred meters past the Boss Beaver’s dam is the turnoff to Frizzell Hill, a mile-long killer straight up the side of a mountain. I climb it because it’s the only way I can turn off my brain. You can’t climb that baby and think at the same time.
     After I left the reservation I went to work in immigration prisons, doing legal work, trying to get refugees out. In the Laredo prison – the first U.S. immigration prison built specifically to imprison children and babies – a little Central American kid told me, in Spanish, “I don’t want to be in these United States. I want to be in some other United States.”
     That’s the way I feel these days.
     I keep up with the news. I have to. I’m a news editor. I see what’s happening in this country.
     I remember watching TV when I was 3½ years old. Some people in a big room were arguing. It looked like they were mad at a man up front. Then the people in the chairs started filing out of the big room, and the man in front kept talking, but no one paid him attention anymore. That man was Joe McCarthy. The people filing out of the room were U.S. senators. I didn’t know what it meant, but it was striking enough that it’s stayed in my mind for more than 50 years.
     “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?”
     Seasons come and they go. Into the dungeon and out of it.
     On the way home I saw four painted turtles sunning themselves on a log in the big pond. Each turtle had its neck stretched out, resting its head on the turtle in front.

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