The Promise

Beautiful news!

Via email, I’m offered a division of a giant “butter yellow” peony. Oh, in this gray-upon-gray end of October, such a radiant promise of tender blossoms.

A piece of the Bartzella will be coming our way. Roots and dried stalks = creamy petals.

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers…

From Mary Oliver’s “Peonies”


Okay, not a peony….


Tasty Treats

A very first food my daughters ate — or gummed, more precisely — was applesauce and then bits of skinless apples, tiny juice-beading triangles.

One of my daughters — who, I can’t recall, younger, older, maybe both — named this cut-up fruit appleys. Our house had a diminutive child’s kitchen; now on our front porch, the well-used stove and sink look so small. In that wooden kitchen, the girls worked mightily with a small blue frying pan, a white colander, and a collection of found things — miniature jam jars, colored wooden beads, petite bottles in the shape of maple leaves and hearts I filled with our maple syrup and sold as wedding favors.

Every now and then, tidying up, I’d find a silver measuring cup sourced from my kitchen, with the dried remains of tiny apple triangles.

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones….

— Mary Oliver


Loon Recovery Project


Late last night, while my daughter ate a grilled cheese sandwich before the wood stove, we talked about a slideshow about Vermont loons we’d attended at our library and, with the cold deepening around our house, reminisced about summer nights camping at Ricker Pond in Groton, when we lay awake in our tent and listened to the loons’ wildly beautiful tremolo – a call so bizarre it hovers between our world and the mystery of the unknown.

Remember? she asked. Remember?

Perhaps for no other reason than it’s the last day of January, and winter’s teeth are easing sufficiently I know spring isn’t far in the offing, here’s a Mary Oliver poem.


Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing.,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.


Postcards From the Past

Looking for baby pictures for her senior high school yearbook page, my teenager came across a postcard from long ago I’d stashed in a box. My father had mailed me the card when I was sophomore in college (about a 100 years ago), and it had been thumbtacked over my desk for years – once scribbled upon by the girl who’s now a teenager, when she was a toddler. On the back, my father had written that famous Hemingway quote, about the little new each of us has to give: fatherly advice, about the costliness of knowledge.

In my less confident mothering moments, I wonder if I’ve learned anything.

Last night, reading Mary Oliver, I found a line that reoccurs in her poetry, over and over, like a familiar stitch: take responsibility for your life. One of the very simplest things, and yet one of the hardest. The flip side is I force myself not to responsibility for all of my daughters’ lives, too. Put your hand through a window at 17? Odd and hard as it may seem, I believed it would be theft for me to take my daughter’s responsibility for that action.

I think of my toddler in her pink waffle-weave long underwear, going at this postcard with a gleam in her eye and my felt-tipped pen in her hand. At some point, I realized I had to let her grow up; at some point I realized I had to do the harder thing, and step back.

But there is, also, the summoning world, the admirable energies of the world, better than anger, better than bitterness… And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe – that is to say, having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life.

– Mary Oliver, Upstream



Birds, Black and White

When you drive down our dirt road hill, the woods give way suddenly to open farm fields along the river valley bottom where, before the rivers were polluted, must have made for amazing swimming. We never swim in the river, but the immense fields and the arching sky are beautiful, and all my many journeys along the brambly edge have yielded treasures – wildflowers I’d never seen or small running streams from the steep hillsides.

This afternoon, crows pecked  at the corn stubble. Something like white cloths fluttered in the light snow, and I realized those graceful swoops of white were seagulls. I’d never seen seagulls there.

If you’d been looking for an omen – and I had, indeed – that mixture of the black birds, with their beaks working where the open ground lay barren and brown, coupled with the downy white of seagulls who tilted upward in the breeze and drifting snow would have sufficed. It was just me and the birds, and the birds would have gone on quite happily without me, serene in a mysterious drama all their own.

…. you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched

by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.

– Mary Oliver


Hardwick, Vermont, snowing


And Then This…

Yesterday, the heavily overcast sky hung low, sullen with the threat of snow. The day lay cold and gray. In this dismal time of year, even the most valiant of Vermont admirers must wonder what holds us to this piece of earth.

In the night, emerging from the school’s basement library after a lengthy school board meeting, one of us marveled it did snow, after all. In the school’s sharp floodlights, the snow sparkled, and I remembered in a flash that the saving grace of winter is its beauty. Even in the darkness, I saw how the snow promised a brightening of the next day.

In Hardwick, I met my daughters, the town nearly closed up for the evening. The younger girl, giddy with staying out late, scooped up a handful of the wet white stuff and kept giggling, What is this? before she answered herself: Christmas coming. She pressed her face near the snow, dreaming.

It is January, and there are crows
like black flowers on the snow…

– Mary Oliver,”Crows”


Photo by Molly S.