Tag Archives: spring

The Melt. Are you listening?

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As winter melts, let’s listen to its last messages of sacred stillness. For it is in silence that our voices are born, fledge, and take wing.

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

June 7-11 (still spaces)

June 21-25 (still spaces)

September 6-10, 20-24

October 4-8, 18-22

I feel invisible in winter.  Every year, I steep myself in the varying greys, and even with a bright orange scarf…I feel like the palest grey.  I’m speaking of my internal landscape.  It is penury and I like it that way.  Northwest Montana matches my mood– sonata after sonata of greys from October to April—sometimes panorama, sometimes stuck in treetops.  But with the exception of the here-and-there sapphire skies, the blanket of snow I sleep under is a stark white-grey against the steel-grey sky.  Where I tap my keys, solo with accompaniment:  she is always my muse.  Always.  And no, it is not depressing.  Not if you need to be very very quiet for a while, and I do, if I am going to hear what it is that I am to understand and say when the world wakes up.  Even the Netherlands for the holidays matched my winter mood, only there it was in countryside mud walks and slick streets along the canals of Amsterdam.  Still grey.

I went this winter of 2017 with purpose, and it was with this purpose that I did this parsing.  What makes a person visible?  Knowable?  Seen not for the orange scarf, but for the woman wearing it, under the frozen bedsheets?  I wanted to know what this question of voice really means.  I spend so much time talking about how writing can help you find your voice.  But what does that really mean?  Because I don’t mean soap box.  Have you ever been on a soap box?  It feels good for about two seconds.  But it also doesn’t feel good watching someone on a soap box and thinking that you’d never have the guts nor the words to ascend one.  If we don’t listen in sacred solitude, how are we to hear behind the lies that say:  I don’t have anything to say that’s important.  Even if I had something to say, someone probably already said it better than I ever could.  Who am I to take that stage anyway?  It’s self-indulgent at best.

15401066_10154263575531406_2886694505637283739_nI live in an almost mute life in Montana in winter.  Unless I am leading Haven Writing Retreats or doing a speaking engagement, I’m quiet.  Writing.  Watching snow fall in swirling fury one minute, and then flake by floating flake.  Sun peeks.  Shies.  Retreats.  Raven flies by.  Chickadee and deer and squirrel prove themselves Bad Ass.  Icicles form, drip, break.  I see it through my window—the ozure dogwood, the only red. The Doug fir and larch the only green.  Except my dirty truck.  Which I leave in the driveway unless I am out of almost everything.  There is always something in the pantry.  I want to stay invisible.  I have thinking to do.  Writing to do.  Quiet to learn.  Restlessness to remind, because stillness is a better boss.  Because…I have learned…that stillness is where the true voice lives.  Like the frogs who will soon fill the marsh with mating cacophony.  Real voice comes from quietude.  Prelude.  Sonata.

It’s over now.  The ice dams are crashing off the roof.  There is gravel showing in the tire ruts.  I heard a red-winged blackbird yesterday.  I saw a V of Canada geese too.  Today the first robin pecked at stiff stink bugs on my roof.  The deer and chickadees tell them tales of stillness and staying and yes, penury, unimpressed with stories of migration and color, juicy bugs and monkeys.  My orange scarf will soon enough become kindred and invisible, next to wild honeysuckle, poppies, climbing ragosas.

And I ask:  Did I listen well?  Was I quiet enough?  Did I sleep or sleep walk?  Will I get wooed by all the waking?  The color?  The voices of spring that aren’t my own?

Because now is the time for greening and saying.

What is it that you have to say?

Listen to what’s left of the grey, as it melts.  It is speaking to you.

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Montana Ode to Spring– A Walk In The Woods

…in honor of all mothers of every kind everywhere…

“If it’s wild to your own heart, protect it. Preserve it. Love it. And fight for it, and dedicate yourself to it, whether it’s a mountain range, your wife, your husband, or even (god forbid) your job. It doesn’t matter if it’s wild to anyone else: if it’s what makes your heart sing, if it’s what makes your days soar like a hawk in the summertime, then focus on it. Because for sure, it’s wild, and if it’s wild, it’ll mean you’re still free. No matter where you are.” ― Rick Bass

Sandhill-Crane-good

Sandhill Crane

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photo credit: fwallpapers.com

There are days in Montana when you feel like you are actually dancing with flora and fauna. On just a regular Saturday drive through the woods, in addition to countless critters, today I saw some rare ones:
A Sandhill Crane
A Black Bear

A Loon
A Trumpeter Swan
A Bald Eagle with a fish in its talons

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

arnica

Arnica

And some springtime favorites:
Calypso Orchid (Fairy Slippers)
Glacier Lily
Oregon Grape
Arnica
Wild Strawberry

And my very favorite NW Montana tree: (the only conifer to lose its needles each fall) The Larch, so new and green among its fellow soldier conifers

calypso

Calypso Orchid

 

larch

Larch

lily

Glacier Lily

 

strawberry

Wild Strawberry

grape

Oregon Grape

loons

Loons

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I would love to share my Montana Muse with you at a Haven Retreat
2015 (now booking)

June 3-7 (full with wait list)
June 17-21 (full with wait list)
September 9-13 (almost full)
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
–John Muir

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College Decision Day

Haven Retreat was named one of the top five Writing Retreats in the US by Open Road Media and Tumblr! The last 2014 slots are filling fast so if you want to come, email me asap: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com!
June 18-22 (full)
September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

This is for all the parents out there whose child is going to college for the first time this fall…

As featured on The Huffington Post 50, and The Huffington Post College.

May 1st, 2014. It’s been a strange spring for daffodils. By this writing, they’ve usually shot up, bloomed, and wilted. This year: not one yellow head in the garden. These daffodil bulbs are loyal and old friends. I planted many of them when I built my home here in Montana, three years into my now eighteen year old daughter’s life. They have never failed me, and frankly, neither has she. And now she’s a few months shy of fledging. Going to college. Spreading the wings that she has grown in full flourish and that I have proudly procured, mostly in small moments, doing things together like planting bulbs, canning jam from the strawberry garden, collecting heart-shaped rocks on any number of Montana riverbeds to line the garden path. This garden knows this child, and especially the daffodils do. She was born in daffodil time. My hospital room was full of them. I cannot look at a daffodil without thinking of her.

I try not to anthropomorphize as a rule, but something tells me that the daffodils are in revolt. They are harbingers, after all, announcing summer after a long Montana winter when you can’t believe there will be any other color than grey, mid-grey, and white. Somehow, they prestidigitate through the last of the snow and POW—there they are, promising color again. Birth. Every year their promise feels so pure—like the kind a grandmother makes. There will be life again. In abundance. Summer. Sun on flesh on green grass and ladybugs. Lemonade on the front porch with bare, painted toes, and cricket symphonies. I love those daffodils: they are all H.O.P.E. Maybe this year they know that she’ll walk down that garden path in a few months, and not come back for a long time. Maybe they’re depressed. Or in denial, thinking that if they don’t produce blooms, she will somehow stay. Maybe they’re trying to stall spring, so that summer and fall will have to wait. Maybe they’re teasing time in hopes of keeping her around a little longer. The tulips don’t seem to care at all. They’re ready to do their thing, looking around in confusion like their warm-up band has bailed and they have to play to an un-lubed audience.

I’m envious then, of the daffodils. I want to go on strike. To not have to feel my way through this fledge. This inevitable and natural parting. I want to fold my arms across my chest and say, “I’m stepping out of the wake of all this college stuff—the financial aid forms and tax returns, the coast-to-coast-and-in-between college visits, the applications and essays and what-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life questions. The info sessions and tours with perky student guides walking backwards and shouting fun university factoids to battle-weary Juniors and their parents. The “Beggars” meetings with advisors and teachers and admissions people and alumni. The rejections. The acceptances. The “Choosers” tour that ended just last week— the trains planes and automobiles that have taken us to all of those hallowed halls, trying them on for size, hoping to fall in love.”

I just want to spend today sitting in the garden with her, amid the daffodils, telling her about the day she was born. And drink hibiscus sun tea. And braid her hair. Can’t I, can’t we, just…plain…duck from all this for a moment? It’s over. She made her choice and she’s thrilled about it. I am too. We have a few months now to breathe. To collect the years of her youth and to pile them up somehow into a cairn that will help her find her way wherever she goes. There is this deep need in me to have it all make sense. To make one defining sculpture of her happy childhood that she can leave behind, and a duplicate for her that is portable.  I’ll put the first one in the garden and slip the other one in a box along with her comforter and favorite pillows marked:  bedding. Maybe the daffodils will come out of hiding then.

Only a mother whose child is going off to college would have these berserk thoughts. I cannot imagine what a mother whose child is going off to war thinks about to fog her fear. I’m sure it’s about way more than daffodils. I keep thinking that I am one of the lucky mothers out there who knows her child will be happy wherever she goes, and if she isn’t, she’ll change things around so that she is. She’s so comfortable in her own skin. She’s so ready to fly. I mean, what if she wasn’t? What if she wanted to live in the basement and get a minimum wage job and let her dreams, or worse her wonder, sift through her fingers? If that was the case, I’d be shoving her out of the nest with all my might. This is a good “problem” to have. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The official college decision day was yesterday. We sent in the deposit. Filled out the last forms. Applied for a few more scholarships. She wore the collegeT-shirt to school, along with her other friends who wore their college-of-choice T-shirts. It was a day of celebration. For her. I made her favorite comfort food: Greek lemon chicken soup. I think tears actually landed in the broth as I stirred. I served it to her in bed because she had homework to do and sprained her ankle running track, and just needed to be in bed. I don’t blame her. It’s the end of a long academic, extra-curricular, SAT, form-filling haul. She deserves her favorite soup in her very own bed. Next year, if she’s having a day like today, she’ll be in a bunk in a dorm room, with ramen and a microwave. Hopefully she’ll call her mother.

I am not a heli-copter mother. I didn’t push her through her childhood (except to take piano lessons, I confess. But I let her finally quit when she got to high school. Now she wishes I had pushed her to keep going…so go figure!) Instead, I took her pulse. I was the wind at her back when she needed it and sometimes without her knowing. But it was always her life to live, not mine. The first thing I said to her when we were alone in the hospital room on the day of her birth, her whole body fitting between my fingertips and the crux of my elbow was, “You can be anything you want to be.” Daffodils and all. Time to fly, my dear daughter. braid_2

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Haven Cabin Fever Tunes


In case you’re going out of your skull with cabin fever, here are some tunes to bring on Spring!  (inspired by my Facebook friends…)

Be Brave– Sarah Barellies http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4

Beautiful—Carol King http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJn3QJYYBr0

The Man- Aloe Blacc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGy9i8vvCxk

Best Day of My Life-  American Authors http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y66j_BUCBMY

Happy- Pharrell Williams http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM

Carry On-  Fun http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7yCLn-O-Y0

Raise Your Glass-  Pink http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjVNlG5cZyQ

Treasure- Bruno Mars http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPvuNsRccVw

Love Me Again- John Newman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfihYWRWRTQ

Mr. Brightside—The Killers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGdGFtwCNBE

Just Like Heaven—The Cure http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suYPHagzghU

Kid Creole and the Coconuts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UWU2X7fk_8

Do I Do-Stevie Wonder http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQEBZfG5SaY

I Will Survive-Donna Summers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9C-39ahwHY

That’s Life-Frank Sinatra http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzPOn9rYty8

Rock Steady-Aretha Franklin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOj9lPbp1I4

Respectable-The Rolling Stones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptDz5BwAgXQ

That’s What Makes You Beautiful-One Direction  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJO3ROT-A4E

Mamba #5-Lou Bega http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeqOLxRDsV8

Closer to Fine-Indigo Girls http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUgwM1Ky228

Crazy-Gnarls Barkley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd2B6SjMh_w

Love Shack-B52s http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs

Just Dance-Lady Gaga http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Abk1jAONjw

Car Wash-Rose Royce http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFVcqVM9vhw

Play That Funky Music-Wild Cherry http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDZsNksbw2Qm

Burning Down The House-Talking Heads http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNnAvTTaJjM

Beautiful Day-U2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co6WMzDOh1o

Brown Eyed Girl-Van Morrison http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfmkgQRmmeE&feature=kp

Strawberry Swing-Coldplay http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3pJZSTQqIg

Spinning-Elephant Revival http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMUQqLK65_U

If I Ever Leave This World Alive-Flogging Molly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVPTu4l6OnE

Flying-Green River Ordinance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WE7Paf5VtWw

Those Summer Nights-Journey http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBvwemf-Eqg

Don’t Worry- Bob Marley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaGUr6wzyT8

Sweet Dreams-Eurythmics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeMFqkcPYcg

Titanium-David Guetta http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRfuAukYTKg

What A Wonderful World-Louis Armstrong http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3yCcXgbKrE

 

 

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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.
4630930~Eastern-Bluebird-Nest-with-Eggs-Posters
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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Red-winged Blackbird


Listen to this while you read the below:

This song gets in my head toward the end of winter, which means I am ready for the call of spring. Each year it happens in the marsh behind my house: the song of the red-winged blackbird. So I cried tonight seeing so many dead, fallen from the sky. 5,000 and then 500 in another state a week later??? Are they our Montana birds? Will spring not know their footprints in the marsh? Is it really hail or lightning or fireworks, as they’re speculating? Or is it something else? When birds fall from the sky, what are they telling us? And are we listening?
From the Huffington Post:

BEEBE, Ark. — Environmental service workers finished picking up the carcasses on Sunday of about 2,000 red-winged blackbirds that fell dead from the sky in a central Arkansas town.

Mike Robertson, the mayor in Beebe, told The Associated Press the last dead bird was removed about 11 a.m. Sunday in the town about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock. He said 12 to 15 workers, hired by the city to do the cleanup, wore environmental-protection suits for the task.

The birds had fallen Friday night over a 1-mile area of Beebe, and an aerial survey indicated that no other dead birds were found outside of that area. The workers from U.S. Environmental Services started the cleanup Saturday.

Robertson said the workers wore the suits as a matter of routine and not out of fear that the birds might be contaminated. He said speculation on the cause is not focusing on disease or poisoning.

Several hundred thousand red-winged blackbirds have used a wooded area in the town as a roost for the past several years, he said. Robertson and other officials went to the roost area over the weekend and found no dead birds on the ground.

“That pretty much rules out an illness” or poisoning, the mayor said.

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission ornithologist Karen Rowe said Saturday the birds showed physical trauma, and speculated that “the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail.”
The commission said that New Year’s Eve revelers shooting off fireworks could have startled the birds from their roost and caused them to die from stress.
Robby King, a wildlife officer for the commission, collected about 65 dead birds, which will be sent for testing to the state Livestock and Poultry Commission lab and the National Wildlife Health Center lab in Madison, Wis.

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Wet Day


There is something fiercely gratifying about hearing a sump pump working below you, every four or five minutes motoring from the basement bowels, and then the spilling waters leaving what could have occupied your house, bound for the filtering of soil and sand and rock.
I have been listening to that sound all day, glad we put in the pump after last spring’s 6 inches of standing water in our basement that took out the whole of what was once the Rec Room. I like rain. I am the daughter of farm people. I know the power of “a good rain.”

“We need the rain” was the solution to many soggy Saturdays in my youth. And the phrase I used to justify my children’s last week. It’s a sales pitch. And in forest fire terrain, it’s something they understand not unlike like the children of corn and soy bean farmers in Illinois.

But I didn’t expect the rain I got just now, in my house, not from a leaking gutter or a high water table, but from my own doing. I ran my bath, water on water, and went outside to photograph the dripping garden. I had on tennis socks and pocketed them into flip flops—very fashionable. Who cares. I live in rural Montana. And there is a world outside to behold.

I love how water plays on flowers.

On the fuzz of poppies,
the palms of lupine,

the folds of ladies mantle.

And when I returned to the warmth and dry of my house, there was the sound of sump pump. Only not where I was used to it motoring away all day. It was somewhere central and wrong. I listened and waited. My son yelled, “Mommy, it’s raining in the kitchen!” And it was. I’d overflown the bathtub!

My socks are very wet now. And my pride too. This is a very wet day.

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Spring-blind

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Spring-blind by Laura A. 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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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