Tag Archives: hope

Thanksgiving, the TSA, and Two Cabbies

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post a few years ago, which captures gratitude under duress.  May we all travel safely, and with GRATITUDE this Thanksgiving holiday!

 

Give the gift of VOICE this holiday season!

Haven Writing Retreats:

February 22-26 (a few spots left!)

Talking about your travel debacles is about as appealing as talking about your dreams. So I’ll be brief. I missed my flight yesterday, late night in Salt Lake City, after two prior flights, en route to Montana where I live. They shut the door in my face. There was crying and swearing involved. One of the lovely things about living in a town with a small airport: they hold the last plane of the evening. They know their passengers have paid their dues in high prices and multiple flights to get to that last leg over the Rockies, which will certainly go bumptey bump in the night. And they’re decent human beings about it. Usually.

This was the day before the busiest travel day in the United States. This was after a week of being gone from my family on a business trip in Miami, which is a great place for a business trip so I’m not complaining. Put it this way, I’m just glad that the biggest Book Fair in the country isn’t in Fargo. But if it had been, I likely wouldn’t have been wearing sandals to lunch earlier that day and I wouldn’t have likely forgotten to change into shoes, which I wouldn’t have likely packed in my roller bag and checked. I wouldn’t have been getting into a cab in a balmy 10 degrees with my homemade pedicure showing, heading to a Comfort Inn. I would have been wearing winter boots. Which would have been a good thing, since the Storm of the Century was inching its way into Utah, according to the Haitian cab driver, who seemed to be less worried about being cold and understandably more worried about things like cholera. I asked him if he had family back in Haiti. “Yes,” he said. I asked him how he dealt with it. “Day by day,” he said.

I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I had a voucher and a room waiting for me and the hope of a metal flying machine taking me home tomorrow. “What time is your flight?” he asked. “Two thirty,” I said. I saw his head shake. “Is there a problem?” I said, afraid. “The storm is coming in right around then. You might be spending Thanksgiving in Salt Lake City.”

I started feeling sorry for myself again. Who was going to make the organic bird with the organic cranberry relish and the gravy that wins my children’s hearts every year even though they’re in their disgruntled teen and pre-teen years? Who was going to turn on the Macy’s Day parade and put the cloves in the oranges and set it in a huge pot of apple cider? Who was going to make sure that classical music resounded through the house while the turkey cooked? Who was going to polish my grandmother’s silver and make sure the good linens found their way to the table for their first of three annual appearances? Would they eat at the kitchen table? Would there be television involved? Would they forget to read Truman Capote’s “Christmas Memory” at the table? Would they say grace?

I was NOT going to spend Thanksgiving in a Comfort Inn in a blizzard in Salt Lake City in my frigging sandals.

But then I remembered–cholera. Homelessness. Haiti. My little family would be just fine without me, truth be told. And if that happened, I would have the opportunity to practice thanks for not shining silver and a legacy in linens, but things like warmth and safety.

The next morning I turned on the Weather Channel. I have an obsession with this station, and I promise myself that I will not watch it prior to airplane travel, as all it does is get me worried. Who am I to know what airplanes can handle in the way of wind sheer and gusts and blizzard conditions and winter storm warnings? But I did it anyway. I watched the damn Weather Chanel for a solid four hours, fretting and updating my Facebook Page, wanting somebody to cyberly hold my hand. Should I stay or should I go? The storm was supposed to hit exactly as I was to leave. The plane would be small. The turbulence would be fierce. Two things I loathe–small planes and turbulence. I would have the chance to practice all that I’ve learned in the way of fear-busting and inner calm. I’d use that I’m-a soldier-being-rescued-from-the-jungle-fronts-by-helicopter frame of mind I’d procured in hours of therapy. I would breathe and I would practice being in the moment in gratitude.

But DAMN. “If there’s one place you don’t want to be in the country today folks, it’s Salt Lake City.” The anchor man was, in fact, standing at the airport holding onto a pole of some sort, grounding himself from the wind.

I went into warrior mode. “I have a date with a bird,” I said out loud. And I got in a cab, the power lines and Christmas decorations blowing above the streets of Salt Lake. This time the driver was from Sudan, Africa. His country divided in war. Half his family back home. “How do you handle it?” I said. “One day at a time,” he said. I’m not kidding. Both cab drivers.

So when I got to the airport and I raised my hands over my head at security in the pose that the media has been ranting and raving about for weeks, I said, “Thank you.” I smiled at the security guy–
“That wasn’t so bad,” I said. “It’s a privilege to fly, after all.”

“We haven’t had one complaint,” he said. “People want to be safe.”

It’s true. People want to be safe. And when we took off into the wind, bumptey bump over the Rockies, I gave my true thanks. I didn’t need a bird on the table to deliver it. Happy Thanksgiving.

(stay tuned for my famous gravy recipe…)

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You Are Arriving

This is for all the brave people who have joined me at Haven Retreats, and for those who have yet to come.  The journey is everything.

There are a few poems that have kept me together in the last little while of my life as I’ve gone through the end of my marriage.  This one is at the top of the list.  Whatever end you might be coming to– the end of a relationship, the end of a job, the end of your family as you know it, empty nest…read this and know you are not alone.  The video is a wonder too.   yrs.  Laura

The Journey

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

– by David Whyte

 

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Breaking Point: #13

After reading this hopeful post, the words of the poet Wallace Stevens came to me:

Only this evening I saw it again,

At the beginning of winter, and I walked and talked

Again, and lived and was again, and breathed again

And moved again and flashed again, time flashed again.

May we all flash again with the coming of Spring.  yrs. Laura

 

Submitted by:  Robin Dake, whose ebook is available here.

Painting My Nails

I painted my toenails last week. At one time, I kept red polish on my toes – bright red, happy red. I had tried other colors, but kept coming back to red. At one time, I sparkled. But somehow, in this last year, as my 18-year marriage crumbled, cleaved, then ended, I lost my sparkle and I stopped painting my toes.

At first, it was just putting off the repair. I noticed a few chips on the edges and thought, ‘I need to fix that,’ but never got to it. The chips got bigger and my toes now needed a full-out re-do. They needed to be stripped down to bareness, filed smooth, then lovingly repainted. By summer, the nails themselves were raggedy, but I didn’t have the energy to lift an emery board, much less gather the polish remover, lotion and cotton balls.

In yoga class – the class I joined to learn to breathe in the year there was no breath – my chipped and sad toes mocked me. They shouted that I must be a failure because I couldn’t even keep my toes neat and presentable. I couldn’t hear it then, but
there was another voice speaking softly, saying, ‘it’s okay, love your raggedy toes now and know you will be okay.’

As the months went by that voice did get louder and I was able to accept that I was a girl whose toes were no longer painted red. I could do downward dog without trying to avert my eyes from my toes and I found myself looking at polish colors in the drugstore aisle. In October, I unearthed the toenail clipper and neatened things up. I stripped away the last of the red and left it at that. I wore patent leather shoes to court that day, but underneath the shine, my toes remained unfiled and naked.

The cold that came in during the last part of November made me keep socks on my feet almost all the time. They were thick, fleece socks – blue with polka dots – that muffled the cold snaking around my toes. I only caught a glimpse of them as I showered and dressed before I sought out that fleecy warmth and protection again.

A friend gave me perfumed lotion for Christmas, and after a moment of listening to the inner voice that loves me, I slathered it on my feet and ankles, enjoying the luxury and softness. And finally, I dug out the polish. I gently filed and smoothed those nails, then put that polish on stroke by stroke.  My toes wiggled with contentment.

The polish is not fire engine red, but instead a soft, pearled pink.  It doesn’t sparkle, but it does glow. Today, I breathe again.

I may not make it back to fire engine red, but I suspect one day, I may just try purple.

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Breaking Point: #8

I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain.  My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone.  Thank you all for your bravery.  You are helping the world to heal.  To participate and for more info go here.

yrs. Laura

Submitted by: Anonymous

I thought I had everything. I had the man I loved, two great kids, we just bought and remodeled a house I finally considered mine and was in love with.  Everything was wonderful…until about a week after our 13th wedding anniversary when he walked in and informed me he didn’t love me and didn’t want to be married anymore.  I begged for counseling, asked for a trial period, begged him to think about the kids.

His mind was made up, it was done. He took a loan out on a car, gave me $3000 to “get started”.  Since the house was only in his name and he wouldn’t be able to pay enough to me to make the payment, he was keeping it and I had to move.  Since the truck payment was too expensive, he would be keeping that too, so I needed to go get a car.  I could take what I wanted from the house.

Oh, how I wish I had the soundness of mind then, but to have all your dreams and then have someone tell you they were no longer yours, by his decisions and not your own, and feeling unable to control anything in your life at that moment, well… you tend not to think clearly.  I went through the home and took pictures of the kids to take with, but everything else had a memory attached, our bed, our furniture, our artwork. Everything reminded me of our life together, so I went to yard sales and got “new” furniture, new things for my own house, and with the kids moved into a 2 bedroom apartment behind a gas station.

I was blessed to make a great friend in my wonderful new neighbor, but honestly, I was embarrassed of where I was.  I gradually started letting old friends in on my situation.  Though I have to say that none of my friends still know the full details of what I have been through, I have come to rely on and appreciate them so much.

About a year or so ago one of my closest friends recommended a book to me…written by a personal acquaintance of hers…here in our little Montana town.  As I started reading it, I felt as if she had lived my life word for word. Oh, how I wished I had her insight and soundness of thinking.  Or I wish I at least had the book for reference as I was going through this.

There were times it was too intense to read…the parts where it was affecting the children was hitting a little too close to home and I would have to put it down for a few days and pick it up later.  It was a tremendous help.  But apparently I hadn’t reached my “breaking point.”

Last year, after a long period of unemployment, my ex got a job in law enforcement.  This meant he went out of town to the academy for a three month period of time.  Me, being the Supportive Sally I always had been, readily agreed to help out and take care of the kids while he was gone. I never received a single cent in financial help even though he was getting paid twice as much as I made to go to school. I took care of the kids, made sure they made it to track and softball and volleyball.  I took care of it.  So when his graduation time came, he asked me to come to the graduation.  He said it would mean a lot to him, he couldn’t have done it without my support, it was so important to him, so of course, I went.

So I packed up the kids and drove to the capital, spent the weekend with my ex and my ex-in-laws, completely uncomfortable, but making it through.  At the final graduation ceremony, the “MVP” of the class got up and gave a speech.  He was an Iraq war vet, had been in the service 20+ years, then came back and got involved in law enforcement.  He talked about how through everything, the good days, the bad days, the scary days, the most important lesson he learned was that he had support at home.  He always knew his wife would be there to listen and support.  It was then I realized that yes, I was that person for my ex, but even though I was the one that was worrying about him, scared for him, taking care of him, at the end of the day, he went home to someone else, and not even the same someone else, depending on the week or month.  It was then I realized I had to free myself of the dependency and responsibility.  I had to be done with the guilt and the hope things were different.  It was up to me to make my life what I wanted it at this point.

I thought, “I would love to have someone get up and give a speech like that about me,” but that was not my life at that point and maybe some day would be, but not if I kept the path I was on.

So after years of being a doormat, I can honestly say I am feeling strong…looking forward…hoping for the best.  I still cry myself to sleep at times, but those are getting farther and farther apart. It is still a struggle every single day and I still feel guilt for my kids and the life they have been dealt by someone else’s decision, but we are doing our best. We will make it.

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January 2012 Haven- Small World (A Case For The Trajectory Of Intention)

It is my not-so-humble opinion that people say “what a small world,” too much in not-so-small-worldish moments.  For instance, if you were raised in Montana in a ski town of 2,300 people, and you travel to Seattle and you tell someone you’re from a ski town in Montana…and they say, “Whitefish?” and you say “Yes, in fact!” and they say, “Do you know Joe Schmo” and you say, “You mean Joe Schmo of the Schmo Schmos??? I used to DATE Joe Schmo.  I almost MARRIED Joe Schmo!” well then…I’m not that impressed. There are exactly two ski towns in Montana.  And both populations totaled, it’s about the size of a small liberal arts college.  I went to a small liberal arts college.  I pretty much knew everyone.  And I considered marrying a handful of them.

Now here’s a small world incident that actually does impress me.  It happened this week.  And it happened to me.  And three other unsuspecting characters.

I was minding my own business, going about the post-holiday dig-out from emails, broken ornaments under couches, dried out cedar boughs, and stale headless gingerbread men…and a package came.  It was for me.  I opened the box, figuring it was a tardy gift like most of mine were this year, scanning my brain for who might have me on their list, and lo…it was a box wrapped in purple tissue.  Nothing Christmasy about it.  Two weeks after Christmas, and someone had sent me something.  That someone is my friend Alison.  My kids deemed her Alison Wonderland when they were little, innocently, but it has stuck because she is that friend that remembers every birthday, writes long heartfelt newsy notes, sends gifts to both kids even though only one is her god-child.  She sends hardback books, always age-appropriate, always a Caldecott prize or something enriching.  My kids love Alison Wonderland.  And so do I.

This time Alison outdid herself.  It was a long thin box.  Jewelry.  I don’t know about you, but at age forty-five, I’m beginning to get grandmother gifts.  Pot Pourri.  Room spray.  Soap.  Candles.  As if I smell bad.  Or my house smells bad, like maybe I’m incontinent.  Jewelry is divine.  So I opened it with a little lust.  And there, shimmering in silver, smoothed in leather, was the coolest damn bracelet I’ve seen in a long time.  It was a horseshoe with two leather straps lined in orange ribbon (my favorite color) that snaps.




I don’t know if you’ve seen the cover of my book, but if not, here’s a reminder.

It wasn’t my idea to put a horseshoe on the cover of my book, but it has grown on me.  The idea of strength in hardship.  The illusion of where strength lies.  A steady horse suddenly without a shoe, so suddenly lame.  No, our strength is inside us.  That’s what I’ve learned and that’s what my book is about.  And Alison Wonderland knows that I could use a little strength right now in my life.  So she sent me a reminder.  A talisman, if you will.  I put it on, snapped it, positioned the shoe so that it is on my inner wrist, pointing up, filled with strength.  And when I feel not so strong, I put my thumb in its cleavage and breathe and feel better.  Beautiful gift.  Beautiful friend.  I called to thank her.  She’d seen this jeweler’s work at a fundraiser in Hartford, Connecticut.  Thought of me.

So here’s the small world part, and I’m telling you:  I really think angels exist.

Two days later, I’m sitting at my desk going through my morning emails with my green tea, and I see a note from a friend of mine in Italy.  I met her in Seattle years ago, not because she was a friend of a friend, not because either of us were from Seattle and had gone to school together or because we were part of some sort of work environment.  I had lived in a house in a little alley in Eastlake and had moved next door.  I was on my new front stoop.  She was on my old front stoop.  I said, “Hey, I used to live there.”  She invited me over.  I saw that her only furniture was a piece of plywood over two sawhorses and a computer, said, “Oh…you’re a writer.  Me too,” and there began a friendship that probably has totaled less than ten hours in physical vicinity.  She lives in Rome now.  She writes and teaches.  I live in Montana.  We keep in touch via email.  She’s a kind supportive open soul.  The kind you carry with you as you go but that doesn’t demand much.  We all need friends like that.

So…I’m always happy to get a message from her.  This one read:

“Because the world is ever smaller, the other day I was chatting with my dear friend Jessica who used to live in Rome (and Montana) and she recounted to me that she had designed a horseshoe bracelet as a gift for a writer in Montana … and that she was now reading her book and wanted to get in touch with her … And then she asked if I had ever heard of the book and it’s author.  Well, of course you know the answer!”

Head to toe chills.  You’ve got to be kidding me!  Now THAT is a small world.  It turns out that her dear friend Jessica is a beautiful jeweler and lives in Providence, RI.  (And is my new friend, because you don’t blow this s*** off!)  I’d like to introduce her to you, because she is the perfect example of turning a dream into a reality.  And when “coincidences” like this happen, far be it from me to keep them to myself.  From intention to intention to intention, crossing oceans and the Rocky Mountains, a chain of thoughtfulness and deliberate living.  Let us remember the power of intention and how it can unite kindred souls.

Meet Jessica Ricci:  

I make jewelry. This is what I tell people when they ask me what I do, but I always feel strange when I say this, as if I am not telling the complete truth. 

The truth is, I am kind of making this up as I go along, and how I come to a finalized piece is much less than a master craft and much more than a product.

In my former life (I mean life before 30) I worked and studied to be a journalist in Rhode Island and then New York City. In one of those moments that are hard to recreate, I moved to Rome with a vague idea of becoming a foreign correspondent, but taught English instead.

Maybe to keep my mind off of this perceived “failure,” I began visiting the weekly Roman flea market, finding myself rustling through dirty boxes of bric-a-brac, collecting things that had no business cluttering my medieval apartment. I did this with the kind of passion you see in stamp collectors or bird watchers.

I became especially obsessed with the antique Italian prayer cards that depicted saints who met their mostly grizzly demise in the face of belief. By the time I unearthed them, they arrived tattered with intentions, scribbled with prayers left by generations of old Italian women in black.

The prayer cards and other obscure objects I found there seemed to me like beautiful slices of life that should be more than discarded formerly important things that travel from flea market to flea market. I wanted to freeze all that they mean — all those thoughts from all of those people.

Jewelry was the most obvious way and something I had always dabbled in. In a process that happened in two languages and languished in Roman pace that seemed to move backwards at times, I taught myself a version of a an ancient craft that I practice today. It has taken me back to the United States to a life I had not intended.

As a child I didn’t see myself trading a digital watch for a Masai spearhead in a Tanzanian market, but I am never more confident, honest, and tenacious than in the moments I get off the plane and eventually into an area of possible finds.

This summer I had the opportunity to add another adjective to this list.

I spent a month in Puglia, Italy in a remote one-church town called Martignano without a car unless road tripping to a market. I was left without an option but to bike from tiny town to tiny town if I wanted to see such dazzling theatre as the village priest blessing all the animals, from dogs to chickens.

It was on one of these twenty-mile bike rides that I had an overwhelming feeling of what I have come to describe as self-reliance.  The impetus wasn’t just being okay with being alone; it was more like being assured that I have everything I need.

I took this wave of self-reliance with me as I scoured the markets that were full of charming old horseshoes that the locals would hang for good luck. I thought that the horseshoe would be a perfect motif for the Puglia collection, but the likelihood of finding a small version was slim.

Like most of my good finds, it was at the end of the day — just when I had given up on finding the perfect piece — that I stumbled onto a shack replete with little horseshoe charms.

Back in my studio in Rhode Island, while carving the wax I created from the horseshoe, I thought about the self-reliance that anchored me as I went where I wanted to go, did what I wanted to do, with no one watching. I gave this particular piece this “intention” in a way, in a hope, that like the pieces I find in the markets, it will contain what has come before. 

 

 

 


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Woodie Guthrie’s New Years’ Resolutions 1942

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Spring-blind

2007-03-06_snow-goose-4

Today is Easter and I am officially on vacation after what has been a wonderful two plus weeks on the road.  Thanks to all of you who came to my readings.  I met some truly phenomenal people.  As I sat here in Florida watching the Atlantic ocean this morning at dawn, flocks of pelicans flew overhead and I remembered this essay I wrote years ago.  I love it and in the spirit of renewal and all that is Easter, I’d like to share it with you here.  I hope you are having a nice day wherever you are.  yrs. Laura

Spring-blind by Laura Munson

I have not noticed spring like this before. Perhaps this owes to the fact that this spring has been a long one—two years, more or less.

It began with the Snow Geese migration last April which I drove five hundred miles round trip in one day to see, over the Rocky Mountains (and back), to a place called Freezeout Lake. I missed the geese by a week, but discovered Avocets and Northern Shovelers instead. I did see one Snow Goose. It was dead in a field. I wanted to spread out its wings and sleep by it like Terry Tempest Williams. But I was scared to touch it. So I touched it. It was soft and warmish. I wanted to pluck a feather. So I did. Three of them. I felt each one down my spine. I had never plucked a feather before.

Then, within days, there were birds in the morning, waking me with their nesting frenzy. Flocks of Robins feeding in the fields, Red-winged Blackbirds assuming their bossy haunt of the marsh. And the rest came: the Bluebirds, Western Tanangers, the Sandhill Cranes. And there was a time when spring was just spring with the promise of summer as I have known it. And there were times when I knelt in the soft earth to smell the sweetness and give thanks, but maybe, too, as a bargain.
4630930~Eastern-Bluebird-Nest-with-Eggs-Posters
Then, summer, as we have known it, did not come. Smoke came. And spring moved through a summer of forest fires and we did not see one bird for all the smoke. We needed the birds—how else could we believe in summer? And then the terrorist attack came, and we missed the migration for all the smoke and television. And we needed the migration. More than we ever have. We needed to watch them go. And to believe that we were worth returning to.

It was then that I started stealing things. Hoarding them. Cramming them greedily in my pockets and stock-piling them on my desk: heart shaped rocks, bones, pine cones. Hoping mostly for a nest.

Spring moved then, through the Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, of my mind, slowly groaning under the snow heaves in the meadow and tossing and turning below the frozen ice of the pond, while its time-twin sunned on rocks in Costa Rica, and I was left with tiny questions presented by wet mittens holding empty nests: “Will the birds need this again? Do I have to put it back?”

“Yes. You should put it back,” I told my little girl, in the voice of the god I had been hearing as I pulled things through the snow and shoved them into my pockets. And we did. We put it back where she found it, in the low branches of an alder. I knew well that the bird which made this nest would not use it twice; I made her put it back so I could keep my three feathers. My heart shaped rocks. My shells and horseshoe crab skeletons and bones, all in a jumbled cairn on my desk, hoarded. Proof.

I went to Florida somewhere during this long spring. I did not see a Roseate Spoonbill; I did not know what they were then. But I found a pink feather on the beach on Marco Island and if you ask me how my trip to Florida was, I will tell you this story, and another one that had to do with a starfish I found on the beach and took even though it was still alive, then returned; then took again and kept. The nest in the alder branches is carrying more and more weight the longer this spring goes.

If you are my daughter, I will admit to you that I took a starfish that was still alive.

“You should not have taken that starfish,” my daughter said.
4630930~Eastern-Bluebird-Nest-with-Eggs-Posters
I returned to Freezeout Lake this second April in spring to see the Snow Geese. Earlier this time. I crossed the Rocky Mountains, and drove through the bleak everlasting white that drove the pioneer women white-blind and is what was left to the Blackfoot Indians if you don’t count liquor stores and casinos. I drove past an historical marker, blowing horizontal in the wind. I stopped my car on the side of the road and waited for the wind to lay down its tale for a minute. When it did, I blushed. This is where Meriweather Lewis was shot by Blackfoot Indians who were insane with pride and fear and this is where Lewis and Clark turned around and traveled another thousand or so miles south until they found their mountain crossing and even then they were not at the Pacific Ocean and it would be months and months before they ever found what they were looking for and you just drove it in a few hours, you silly stealer-of-starfish birdwatching non-goose—or something to that tune; I wasn’t sure—the wind swooped it up again before I could read it all. Still I eyed the pass I had just negotiated in my SUV not forty miles behind me, and blushed.

I saw the Tundra Swans first, their white-silver necks pumping them forward like my daughter’s skinny legs on her swing. There are Mourning Doves in their song. Then all 300,000 Snow Geese came up at once and it roared; I felt it in my spine. A professor from the University of Montana told me they were going to the barley fields to feed on the spent grain for their nightly meal. The Northern Pintail Ducks followed them, so secondary in their brownness. I looked down and there was a dead Snow Goose with its breast sliced open, its feathers bloody, a ruby organ lying next to it in the sand. I looked up at the professor. “We gave it an autopsy this morning,” he said. “We checked the liver for Airborne Cholera. It didn’t have it. Sometimes they just die.”

All I could think to say was a tiny wet-mittened, “Do they fall out of the sky when they die?” which was code for, I took three feathers.

He smiled, sadly. “Sometimes.”

I went to the grain fields and they were white and roaring and there were farmer’s children with their noses pressed against picture windows with whirligigs and bird feeders on their front lawns. Then I drove back over the Rocky Mountains in time for a late dinner.
4630930~Eastern-Bluebird-Nest-with-Eggs-Posters
I have a bowl made out of a dried, halved and hulled-out, grapefruit. It sits on my desk with the pink feather in it, the three white feathers, and the starfish, atop the cairn of shells, heart-shaped rocks, bones. I look at it and think about Airborne Cholera and non-brown birds falling from the sky after thousand mile migrations and mountain crossings and white-blindness. And I think about how starfish grow their points back if one breaks off. I need this bowl, at least until spring can turn to summer.

We put a bird feeder up in January even though the man at the store told us the winter birds would not trust us this late in the season; we’d have to wait until spring.

“Oh the birds will come,” said my daughter. “They’re hungry.”

But I did not trust. I missed the migration, after all.

She was right. In the first hour after we hung it from the eaves on the back porch, we had Mountain Chickadees and Black-capped Chickadees. And we learned that there is a difference in the world of Chickadees and it is this: a stripe through the eye. Then we had a Red-polled Finch with a broken foot. At first we thought it had a bloody head but then we saw that it was just its marking. It kept falling asleep under the feeder and tipping to one side when the snowy wind blew. We kept trying to catch it while it was sleeping; I’m not sure that we knew what were going to do with it. We just wanted to touch it. Save it somehow. Love it for trusting us and believing in spring in January. After three or four times, it flew away and stayed away; it didn’t trust us anymore. Would you?

Then we had Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Lincoln’s Sparrows and then the snow melted and we had Red-winged Blackbirds who are utterly obnoxious but I love them in the cattails so much that I cry when they come back. There has been a lot of crying this spring. Frogs make us cry, especially.
One morning, we saw two Evening Grosbeaks. They looked like parrots– accidentals. We have had Hairy Woodpeckers and Downy Woodpeckers, Starlings and Juncos, Camp Robbers and Flickers, and once a Mourning Dove. And even when we stand at the window, not three feet away from the feeder, and stare through binoculars, we still can’t really see the yellow stripe in the Pine Sisken’s wing and tail. We only know it is there, like we only know it has been spring all along.
4630930~Eastern-Bluebird-Nest-with-Eggs-Posters
When the Mountain Blue-bird came back to his house in the meadow, we said, “Hello, Friend.” That is his name, according to my daughter. Then we went to the pond and there was still ice in the middle, but we saw a male and female Barrow’s Goldeneye and a male and female Hooded Merganser and we couldn’t believe we could have such birds in our measly little pond that dries to cracked mud by August even without smoke. And there was a couple of Mallards and we could believe them, because there is always a couple of Mallards. The male Goldeneye was making quite a show with its purple head and its alabaster markings and its ability to dive down and then bob up like some kind of machine bird. The female seemed brown and unimpressed. It occurred to me that she might like to see my pink feather or maybe my long white Snow Goose feathers, or even my starfish. She looked at me and said,

“You should put it all back, if you want summer.”

I answered her, “Maybe I do not want summer.”

That is when my daughter said, “I once saw two ants shaking hands. Come on. I’ll show you.” And we went to her anthill that I had mistaken for a stump all this time, and we peered down into it and held our breath over its roaring vertical migration. I watched two ants carry a twig to the top, politely going around the other ants who were on their way back down over the millions of fir and larch needles. And when they got to the top, they gently laid down the twig, then mounted it like a balance beam, came into each other, met at the middle, stopped…and then they shook hands. “See,” said my daughter.

“Yes. I do see,” I said.

So we went to the alder tree in the marsh where we had replaced the nest in January. To visit it. To see if it was still a tightly woven vessel. To see if a bird had claimed it. (I was not so sure about the ways of birds now.) And we saw instead, that it was gone. Now there was nothing to hold the weight of my bowl. And I knew that our long spring would be over soon. And we turned back for home.

And we came across a pile of fur leftover from a kill.

“Oh that’s sad,” said my daughter.

I looked to see what the animal had been. Something softer and smaller than a deer. Larger than a coyote. Something that was very white in places and very brown in other places. Something capable of carrying much weight.

“I’ll bet that fur will help the birds with their nests,” said my daughter.
Then we heard the three part pierce of the Varied Thrush but again, did not see it—we never see it. But we knew it was there, like we have known it is spring.
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Then later, by moonlight, I walked out to the marsh where the alder trees are, holding my brimming grapefruit bowl. I woke the frogs and they all warned each other of me with beautiful music. I stood with my bowl in my hands, and I lifted it up until the moon poured itself over my feathers and my starfish, casting them in its blue glow. Then I leaned over and put my bowl in the branches of the alder and went home to receive summer.
***
It came in April when I took my daughter to Freezeout Lake to see the Snow Geese on her birthday. I took her, not because she needed to believe, but because I needed to. At dawn, we stood out on a peninsula and watched them lift, rising to feed—300,000 fold.

No terrorists, no war, no loss or fear of hope can take away belief such as that. Each April, the Snow Geese become our permission.

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Spring


First a red-winged blackbird, and now robins. Is it really here?

Spring

by Mary Oliver

Somewhere
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her–
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

“Spring,” by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems. © Beacon Press.

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Snow Fool


Last week, my husband and my kids were taking a hot tub. I was in Florida doing some readings, and my daughter sent me this photo. I honestly cannot begin to understand how this image is a piece of prestidigitation. This is my son’s face. Pressed into the snow. EXACTLY his face. Perhaps it is so correct given his hot and sweaty skin from the tub. But how is it possible that it looks as if it is in relief? As if he is from the other side, pressing his face against the surface of the snow, skyward? Sometimes, I swear that kid is magic. This morning, I was worrying about the ice on our fairly vertical driveway descent. He was in the back seat. I uttered not one word, and he said, “Don’t worry, Mom.” I didn’t even confront the fact that he’d read my mind because he does it all the time. Is it because we share the same life and his thoughts leapfrog the same events and emotions that mine do? Is it because he knows me? I can tell you that plenty of people know me, but no one consistently says outloud what I’m thinking. Sometimes he’ll actually answer questions I’m thinking but haven’t yet spoken. It’s gotten to a point where I don’t even acknowledge that he’s done it in the first place. I just continue the dialogue as if it’s been verbal all along.

I used to be a cynic about stuff like this. And lately, I find myself open in ways I never have been. What is the purpose of cynicism? Does it keep us from being called a fool? I guess I don’t care about being called a fool anymore. I am a fool. I want to be a fool. Bring it on. I want to see faces in the snow. I want to hear a robin in the too-early late winter and think I’ve been chosen. I want to enter into the language of unspoken words. I want to see shooting stars and think that wishes come true. I want to believe, not doubt. I want to say yes. Here’s what Mary Oliver has to say about it:

Morning Poem
Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver

© Mary Oliver

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More Eyes

My sister in law died not long ago and sometimes I feel her around me, making things happen. That might sound strange to you. But maybe you know what I mean. My dad died 7 years ago, and I feel him too. And why not? It’s not something to be cynical about. If you could contact the people you love after you die, wouldn’t you?

It doesn’t really matter if it’s real or not. Let’s not get stuck there. Let’s receive it and let’s smile and apply the wisdom. I’ve always told my kids that no matter what, I’ll be in their heart. When they were little, they understood, nodding knowingly. Now at 11 and 15 they aren’t so sure. Their brains are in the way.

Today my husband is visiting his sister’s kids. They are going through her things. They found a box of horse tack. I am in need of horse tack. Just yesterday I thought about how expensive it is and how I really don‘t know if I can justify spending money on my hobby, even though it’s my therapy. We have bills to pay.

And then I get this. As my grandmother used to say: there are more eyes watching us than we’ll ever know.

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