Category Archives: nature

Egrets

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“Where the path closed
down and over,
through the scumbled leaves,
fallen branches,
through the knotted catbrier,
I kept going.”

I don’t really like nature poetry. I’ve tried for years, taking recommendations, trying to more than just acknowledge its worth and actually revel in it. But there are few nature poems (or poets) that get me.

Or should I say: there are few nature poems (or poets) that I get.

And it isn’t for lack of love for nature, either. I’d take a day in the woods over shopping and call it blessed. Still, there’s something.

A friend once told me, “Egrets are auspicious birds.” We were standing by the ocean watching two egrets meander along the marsh. This friend is a reader of signs – a believer in “reasons for things” – and as I watched the egret bend its elegant neck to the marsh grasses, I almost believed her.

Battling through thorns, swatting at mosquitos, the narrator searches for something she doesn’t even know is there. At first, it’s just a clump of reeds shimmering across the shore. Then, suddenly, it bursts into life and white fire, egrets emerging from the reeds.

“Even half-asleep they had
such faith in the world
that made them –
tilting through the water,
unruffled, sure,
by the laws
of their faith not logic,
they opened their wings
softly and stepped
over every dark thing.”

“By the laws of their faith” – as though even birds have a sense of belonging. I imagined their long un-clumsy legs shifting with grace.

They opened their wings softly and stepped over every dark thing.

I sit on my bed, that last line resonating through the room as though I’d read it aloud.

I read it again, quickly, afraid almost that the words are not true. That I didn’t just read a poem about egrets and water and darkness and light.

But I did, and there it is on page 148. A real-live nature poem that stopped me in my mindless reading and gave words to transcendence.

She’s done it again, Mary Oliver, with her observations and daily life and the shaping of thought into poetry.

Maybe I don’t think I care for nature poetry.

If this is me not caring, then why has the image of egrets rising up out of the reeds, the image of “stepping over every dark thing”, settled so permanently in my mind?

[Photo: Texas Eagle]

Beach Week [in images]

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Back at the beach for our yearly tradition (year nine, for those of us counting).

Last summer, I wrote about Mary Oliver and living while I sat in the sun.

This time, I’ve written a letter and a terrible poem that might not always be terrible.

I’ve also consumed a lot of ice cream.

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I’ve talked about missions (still on the brain), and I’ve helped grill twelve cheeseburgers, two bratwursts, and roughly six hotdogs.

I’ve made a rockin’ potato salad.

I’ve been grateful that Dunks is a mile away and I’m shocked they don’t know my order by now.

I’ve wandered down to the water in the dark, making Gramma nervous but coming back in due time.

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I’ve people-watched like a champ, playing “inner monologue” and creating bizarre plot lines to strangers’ lives (I hope they don’t mind…they’re quite entertaining).

I’ve walked the beach three times a day, and seen how the light changes against the sand.

photo 1 photo 2And now, I sit.

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Good Things #39

Spring. Spring. Spring!
It finally seems to be here after weeks of teasing. Proof? The bluebirds are back, we planted onion sets this past weekend, and I rode with the top down twice in the past week. Dad put the nucs (short for ‘nuclear’) in the hives we lost this winter. It was a tough one, and the bees felt it. But now the new bees are buzzing about, and I can’t wait for more honey.

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TV…
So, this isn’t something I usually put on my list (other than Sherlock of course), but my brother finally convinced me to watch House of Cards. I’m only two episodes in, and stylistically, I’m hooked. I love the direct address to the audience, I love Kevin Spacey’s voice, and Princess Buttercup is even more stunning thirty years later. I’ve heard through the grapevine, however, that things get a little racy. We’ll see if I can handle it. It always makes me wonder what kind of person I would be if I’d ended up in Washington or in some other political arena. I’d probably be some ruthless cutthroat with pork-filled bills.

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Celebrating poetry month…in Latin.
My students, while not in English class, are still not immune to National Poetry Month. For three weeks we’ll be memorizing Latin poetry together, and I tried to sell it by using my 105-year-old great-grandmother as an example:

“You know what? My great-grandmother is 105, and sometimes she doesn’t remember who I am. You know what she does remember? What she learned in third grade.”

That got their attention. Yes, Gramma can recite poems and songs she sang as a child. So I told them I was giving them the gift of poetry for when they’re old.

They laughed, because none of us is getting old, please.

One of the poems we’re memorizing is Ecce gratum (See, welcome). Written sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries, it is one of 245 poems in the Carmina Burana. Feel free to memorize it yourself in honor of spring and poetry month!

Ecce gratum
et optatum
Vēr reducit gaudia.
Pupuratum
floret pratum.
Sōl serenat omnia.
Iamiam cedant tristia!
Aestās redit,
nunc recedit
Hiemis saevitia.

 

Iam liquescit
et decrescit
grando, nix et cetera.
Bruma fugit,
et iam sugit
Ver Aestatis ubera.
Illi mens est misera,
quī nec vivit,
nec lascivit
sub Aestatis dextera.

 

Gloriantur
et laetantur
in melle dulcedinis
quī conantur,
ut utantur
praemio Cupidinis.
Simus iussu Cypridis
glorantes et
laetantes
pares esse Paridis.

 

See – welcome
and longed-for
Spring brings back joys.
Purple
flowers the field.
The sun clears everything.
Now let sadness recede.
Summer returns
and retreats
the savagery of Winter.

 

Already melts
and vanishes
hail, snow and the rest.
Winter flies,
and now rises
Spring, the heart of Summer.
His mind is miserable
Who neither lives
nor loves
under the right hand of Summer.

 

May they exult
and be joyous
in the honey of sweetness
who try
to make use of the gift of Cupid.
Let us be by the order of Cypris
exultant and
joyous
to be on par with Paris.

Snow Thoughts

There were no eggs in the chicken house this morning, and I wasn’t surprised because it’s been so cold. Now, in late afternoon, the snow is falling thick and the window reflects back my Christmas lights. I’ll probably leave them up for awhile because why can’t things be cozy even after Christmas?

I love when snow sticks to forgotten summer screens.

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I love when cardinals and blue jays, chickadees and juncos feed on the porch, leave their prints in the snow.

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[Children are laughing outside in the snowy dusk. Imagine the coldness of the backs of their necks, the raw ring between the sleeve of their coats and their mittens, the wind-burned cheeks.]

Good Things #19

This fall has been a particularly beautiful one.

Morning commute. This is not something I generally consider a Good Thing, but yesterday morning was the most beautiful drive. I looked out and saw fog lying low over the fields, the trees red and orange, the sun shining in that October-morning way. I wanted to stop the car and run through the fog, but imagining it was second-best.

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Books. Writers’ group met this past week, and we talked about John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. “I’ve never read that,” I say, and my friend hopped up, ran to his shelf, and pulled out his copy. I’ve only read the preface, but already I’m in love. Addressing the fears that so many wanna-be-writers have, Gardner says:

Most grown-up behavior, when you come right down to it, is decidedly second-class. People don’t drive their cars as well, or wash their ears as well, or eat as well, or even play the harmonica as well as they would if they had sense. This is not to say people are terrible and should be replaced by machines; people are excellent and admirable creatures; efficiency isn’t everything. But for the serious young writer who wants to get published, it is encouraging to know that most of the professional writers out there are push-overs.

I love this. Partly because I think, “I knew it!”, and partly because I feel like I need to admit, “Yes! It’s true! I DON’T clean my ears as well as I should!” I can’t wait to get into this book.

Music. I first heard this band in my city-friend’s apartment last spring. I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t figure it out till a few weeks ago when another friend said, “Hey, I think you’d like these guys.” I like their lyrics and I love their sound. Good writing meets good music. “When Your Back’s Against the Wall” is encouraging in a not-hoaky way – give it a try.

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Chickens. There was a long while where I was not grateful for chickens. I hated doing them every day, I hated how they acted like they were starving when there was clearly food in the feeder, and I did not like that I had to clean out the henhouse. While not all of that has changed (I still do not rejoice in the early mornings…), I am so thankful that I get to eat farm-fresh eggs and sell them to friends and family. It’s actually been hard to get enough eggs recently – something I’ve never had to deal with before – and I’m considering expanding the flock next spring. There’s nothing more beautiful than an assortment of eggs.

Movies. Okay, this is not so much a recommendation as a plea: I haven’t seen a good movie IN FOREVER. Are there any out there? Please.

Good Things #16

Music. Okay, I know this one isn’t new either. (I turn up a song on the radio, say, “Oh my gosh, I love this song!” and my little brother rolls his eyes and says, “Cath, this was big like six months ago.” Well, Harry, deal.) To add to my appreciation of this song: we sang it around a bonfire at the woodland wedding I attended this summer. Picture this: all of us wearing fern crowns at a cabin in the woods with a stream rushing by. This song will help you picture it.

Books. If you’ve even been in the same room as an education major, you’ve probably heard of the book The Skillful Teacher. Well, that’s what I’m spending my time with this week (getting ready for the second weekend of my grad class). It’s not too shabby, either. I even implemented a few ideas in the classroom already. Thank you, Saphier, Haley-Speca, and Gower. (I apologize for the blur.)skillfulTaking your contacts out. Okay, am I the only one who loves this? Whenever I wear contacts, I can’t wait to rip them out of my eyes. (Too graphic?)

Blogs. I’ve been following Bethany Suckrow over at She Writes and Rights for awhile now. She wrote this post, “Explicit Realities, Explicit Language,” and it struck a chord with me. It deals with the experience and expression of sexual abuse and how euphemisms just don’t cut it. I’m sure there are other sides to the issue, but she has a lot of good things to say.

Homemade beeswax candles. They are amazing. They burn so much brighter than you’d think, and they smell like honey and sunlight. We’ve also been known to make candles out of such things as turkeys, frogs, and skeps…

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Children’s Musical. Yes, the time is here. We auditioned for “Aladdin, Jr.” this past weekend and rehearsals start Monday. Kids ages 5-13, faces beaming, singing their hearts out in Agrabah. I kinda wish I could be in it…

Hiking. I am eagerly awaiting a fall hike this afternoon. I envision me, somehow miraculously stronger than I’ve ever been, ascending a mountain far larger than I’ve ever hiked before. In reality, we will probably be walking more than hiking, and I will be just as un-strong as I am at this moment.

And I leave you with one last song. Enjoy your Wednesday!

Good Things #15

I decided to write “Good Things Mondays” back when Monday morning was spent with my writing and reading and catching-up. This year, my schedule has shifted, and Wednesday is now the day for creativity.

So, are things just as Good on Wednesdays as they are on Mondays?

I like to think so.

Thought-provoking. I have recently become re-addicted to TED Talks. I posted one last week on being a twenty-something, and this week’s favorite is on body language. We’ve heard this idea before – that information is conveyed through non-verbal cues – but Amy Cuddy asks if perhaps our body language can change our thinking. It left me thinking: How do I portray myself just by the way I stand? Do I adopt a posture of powerlessness? Or the other way around?

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Music. I can’t remember how I found this song. Probably Pandora. And for once I was smart and wrote down the name. It’s called “Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key”, and the version I like the best isn’t on Youtube. This one’s pretty good though, and when I heard his speaking voice, I was surprised he sang such folksy music.

Books. Right now I’m reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. I bought it from an independent used book store right before they were unceremoniously kicked out of their space of twenty-plus years by outrageously-raised rent (can you tell what I think about that?). It’s written as letters back and forth so that was an adjustment at first. It’s set post WWII, and I really like that time period these days. It’s also Shaffer’s first novel, and I like reading author’s firsts.

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Fall walks, bike rides, etc. Is there any other season that begs to be walked in? The leaves are changing here in New England, the air is crisp, and I revel in the particular way the sun looks in autumn.

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Fall foods. Crunchy apples. Warm cider. Pumpkins (uneaten on the steps). Cider doughnuts. Apple pie (as soon as I get to apple picking).

Woo-hoo! So, I submitted a poem to a competition a few months ago (okay, more like a lot of months ago), and while it didn’t win, it was one of 17 finalists. It’s called “Almost Family” and it comes out in the September issue of Ruminate. A step in the right direction. Now if only I could write more…and more… If you click on the link, you’ll see my name, fourth from the top in the poetry section as proof!

Words. Autumnal. Puerile. Euphoric.

Night Fishing

I hadn’t been night fishing since I was nine or ten. I’d fallen asleep in the middle of our 14-footer, and I remember waking up to the bright stars spread out wide around us, my father at the motor behind me, my uncle’s cigarette lit up at the bow. What were we fishing for? I don’t know, but I remember feeling like a rebel – out past my bedtime, the dark ocean engulfing us in our smallness.

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We went night fishing again this Sunday, leaving as the rain started pelting huge white drops on the pavement. “It’ll let up,” Dad said, even though of course he had no idea.

We followed him anyway.

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Down to the marina, across the wobbly dock, into the boat my grandpa bought in the ’80s. The floor’s starting to give-way, but we cruised out of the channel, me in a backwards Red Sox cap to both contain my hair and make me feel like I was actually fishing.

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There are things that overwhelm you. The ocean is almost always one of those things for me.

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And sometimes, you want to talk about that overwhelmed feeling. Your girl friends sit across from you and plumb the depths of your mind and soul. They ask questions and you question yourself and you hope that no innocent bystander is listening to your crazy.

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And other times you don’t want to talk about it at all.

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Sometimes being on the boat with your dad and your brother is the perfect place to be quiet and thoughtful and melancholy and not be asked why. And a backwards Red Sox cap is exactly what you should be wearing.

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[We caught a fish at the same time, not big enough to keep but big enough to sore my shoulder and bruise my rib where the rod was sticking – I am tender. The fins were sharp but stripers don’t bite, and I was proud.]

IMG_1626 [We got home at 10:00pm and I fell asleep, exhausted. Grandpa would’ve been proud.]

Blizzard of ’13

The brothers and I went for a night walk in the storm. We used to do this a lot when we were little – bundle up in layers and wander around in the glowy-darkness that only happens when it snows.

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I liked it better without the flash, even though the images are dark.IMG_1253

This picture looks like it could’ve come from the 1950s, with the Coca-cola machine and the clock.
IMG_1256 Kindly posing.
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The plows were the only vehicles out. They probably thought we were crazy. And we were, a little bit, singing Neil Young and Jim Croce songs at the tops of our lungs.

By the end of it, our cheeks were burning and we couldn’t look straight ahead because our eyeballs were getting sliced. “We’re like Laura Ingalls!” I said, laughing. Except, I realized, she would’ve thought we were pretty stupid, choosing to be out in a blizzard. Probably would’ve shaken her head and muttered something about 21st century wackos.

[Did I mention we had a snow day? I think I was more excited than the kids, waiting for the notification, staying up too late because hope is strong. And it paid off! A whole Friday to fill!]

~     ~     ~

This is the world I woke up to.

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I love it when the glass gets covered in icy snow.IMG_1300 IMG_1298 IMG_1297 IMG_1296 IMG_1293

Spending my morning in front of the fire. It’s quiet, at least til everyone else gets up. Trying to make a dent in “Cost of Discipleship,” but it’s not exactly a quick read. I guess it goes with the territory – “cost” doesn’t sound easy, and neither does “discipleship,” really.

Writing a letter to Switzerland, wondering what the world looks like from there, trying to share what’s been going on in this corner of it.

For someone who was ready for spring, I am certainly enjoying this wintery place.

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