Column: So much to remember, so much to miss

  • Mary Otto. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 9/26/2020 10:20:04 PM
Modified: 9/26/2020 10:20:02 PM

Last fall, my husband and I decided on a move from our house in Norwich to a small cottage in a retirement community in Shelburne. It would happen in May.

Then, the late winter start of the pandemic called a halt; real estate markets fell idle and our new community closed to nonresidents.

In truth, we savored those icy, isolated months. The wood stove offered comfort and warmth. Our routines were familiar, the store was nearby, I cooked wonderful food and we visited with neighbors on daily walks. As the weather warmed, however, reality broke through and we set to work carrying out this crazy plan we had committed to back in October. I needed my pen and my notebook to help me see it through.

The move happened fast, with the sale of the house, the availability of a do-able moving date, and a family team of packers who helped us accomplish it. I am relieved: pleased to have de-accessioned, re-assigned and edited my material possessions.

What a welcome respite, after the weeks of packing and the demanding days of moving, to retreat to our log cabin in Maine for a bit more of summer. At the cabin, where I am the most settled, I sat with the enormous change we had set in motion. The tides ebbed and flowed, dawn and dusk contained the day, and I wrote and wrote.

One morning at my writing table, I observed the weather: the late summer sun listing to the south, the cooler air. I had awakened during the previous night to the sound of a strong wind out of the northeast. Pulling on an extra blanket, I lay in bed quietly as my mind took me on a slow walk back through my newly empty house in Vermont. Nobody was in my husband’s office, no bread baking in the kitchen. My workroom was dark — it always was in the afternoon on that corner of the house. The dining room table was elsewhere. I sighed, feeling bereft. There is so much to miss!

In another dream visit to the old house, it was as it had always been. The sun-drenched red bricks called me back. To pull a few weeds in the late summer garden, where catnip, lavender, pink coneflowers and black-eyed Susans thrived, along with herbs ready for drying. To hang up my jacket in the mudroom as we returned from our early morning walk, make the coffee, feed the Westie Jasper, sit down for breakfast. In my mind’s eye, I delight in the bouquet I’ve just picked for my table. So much to remember!

I’ve written down the words of a young grandson as he exited the house for the final time. “Grandma — the Christmas room echoes!” Yes, Sascha, it does. And next Christmas and the next, let’s listen hard for those sweet sounds from this dear house. So much to cherish.

A few days later, I was more adrift than ever. Still delighted by Maine’s cooler temperatures and brisk breezes, I reminded myself that change awaited when we returned to Vermont. Should I bring in those noisy wind chimes from the cabin porch? Silence the cacophony for a moment?

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Then I looked ahead further. Where will we walk in the mornings? Who will the new neighbors be? With the pandemic dictating so many aspects of our lives, where will we go when we’re out to explore this new side of Vermont? Will I be able to cook well on an electric stove instead of gas? Where will my husband and I sit in the evenings after dinner, for reading and talking?

About the bird who perched on the branch near the feeder this morning — an eastern phoebe, says Peterson’s. I’m interested in these birds. I once knew them well. Maybe I’ll again learn to carry my binoculars with me in the basket with my book and journal. Handy for the future.

Now it’s fall and our move from Vermont East to Vermont West is complete. We are in residence at the cottage. Oh, my! The traffic of Main Street is replaced by a restful, quiet view out my workroom window, of a row of wildness — goldenrod, thistle and purple asters — in front of a split-rail fence with woods behind. Butterflies and birds abound; yellow finches crowd the feeder outside our kitchen window. It suits me.

Of course the influences of the pandemic are felt here as they are everywhere, and the newness will be with us, at least for the time being. Still, I already appreciate the dramatically smaller footprint of where we now live. All of the vital parts of my very self have come along and have their places.

How could that surprise me?

Maybe I’ve been ready for this change. There is a certain magic in a right choice.

Mary K. Otto, formerly of Norwich, lives in Shelburne, Vt. Email her at

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