Anew in New England

It’s a balmy 37 degrees this morning. And at 8:51 I’ve already been up for over an hour. On a Sunday. Of course, none of this keeps Salem from asking to go o-u-t-s-i-d-e. Thanks, Mutt.

Keep in mind, Husband has already gone out with her at an hour that feels even more egregious, so I know the playful “Hiiiii Puppy Mama … don’t you want to go out there too?” falls more under the category of self-indulgence than particular need. No matter, I need the fresh air and sunshine.

With a blanket wrapped tight around me, I step out into the world at a glacial pace. Salem has already bounded down the patio steps, crossed the yard and started galloping down the gravel driveway.

“Salem, Whoa!” I shout, realizing too late that I might have just served our neighbors with a wake-up call they did not order.

I scrunch my face in nervous anticipation. I know we’re seconds away from  someone flying out of the house down the street, long wooden spoon in hand, yelling something like “Look here, Whippersnapper, it’s a Sunday and on Sundays we REST!”

No such figure emerges. Neither am I a Whippersnapper. And in fact, I have no idea how old our neighbors are, or if  a long wooden spoon is something they own. I have an active imagination. Even when I’m still half asleep. Life is more fun that way.

Meanwhile, the dog stops immediately in place. This is thanks to Husband’s somewhat obsessive training with our four-legged friend. Back in our much smaller, yard-less abode, ten minute exercises (“tricks for treats”) are approached weekly with as much gravity as trial-bound Olympic athletes. Husband is convinced he has a future hunting partner or agility competitor on his hands. I am convinced she likes doggie treats.

As I catch up with Salem, she stays deadly still, except to turn her head so she can better hear the incumbent “Ok.” She knows that means she is released. I let her know it’s alright to move forward and we continue down the long gravel path. Although it is early and I am very cold, I cannot help but think I could do this forever.


When I was a little girl, Jo March was everything I wanted to be. Untamed, broody and wildly creative. I was fortunate to have a “Marmee” who encouraged us to read, so the story of Jo and her sisters was already familiar when we saw the movie bring it to life (on VHS – can you believe it?!). Winona Ryder’s performance only reinforced my fangirldom. One day I just had to achieve Jo March-worthy Being.

But for that to happen, I would have to embrace the very qualities I’ve long-since learned to control.  Especially the eccentricity. Not because it didn’t sometimes lead to trouble, but because I wanted to conform to cultures that did not privilege being yourself.

In my case, being myself wasn’t being proper or refined or ladylike. And because those were the things of value, it simply wasn’t done. As a result, I often felt like I didn’t quite belong wherever I was. Like I was simply too much for whatever was expected of me. And while a lot was expected, and while I habitually rose to the occasion, I quietly wanted more. I wanted more of myself in a somewhere else I could not yet imagine.


Here’s the funny thing. That somewhere else isn’t an actual place. Like the idea of home, it’s a fluid concept. It travels. And in all that traveling, all that searching for myself, I just had to learn to be myself wherever I was. At least I’ve gotten to feel at home in some great places meanwhile. New England is one of them.

In the immortal words of Husband, this is a “happy place.” Not that it makes me exceptionally happy, but that I find myself at peace here. Could be the landscape, or the fresh air, or the lack of people telling you what to do, or how to think, or when to feel. And it could just as well be that there’s some fulfillment of my truest, Jo March-iest self “thing” going on here.

Either way, being in Vermont reminds me that I am blessed. I have sisters who love me. Parents and family and friends who love me. I have a dog who at least loves that I feed her. And on this weekend, I am reminded especially that I have a husband who loves me. We’re celebrating a year of being married tomorrow, and when I said I wanted some good old fashioned R&R, he agreed.

So here I am, in the cold, up too early, and possibly angering the neighbors with my too-loud calls for the dog to slow down. Here in this place, rested and refreshed, I am the best kind of woman I can be – not little, but free.

Ryan Vale McGonigle

Comments on the Featured ImageThe pine cone in this picture is something we found on a walk yesterday. I saved one in my pocket – a little something that also left its home but ended up landing not far from where it started.

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