“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.


Good Things #41


James Blunt came out with one song “You’re Beautiful” when I was in high school, and I haven’t heard much from him since. As the days get a little warmer, though, I pull out old cds (yes, cds), and I remembered really liking his album All the Lost Souls. I was listening to his voice in the car the other day and said, “This really reminds me of the ’70s.” Like I would know.

April vacation.
After my jaunt as a chaperone to Italy and Greece during February vacation, I’ve been lying low this week. Coffee dates with friends I haven’t seen in awhile, lunch by the water with my aunts and mom, grandma and sister. I’ve been reading some fiction, as well as Tim Keller’s The Reason for Marriage. (“Why are you reading that?!” my sister asked. Good question. Mostly because I’ve been running into people who don’t see any need for marriage, and it interests me.) I cleaned my room – sort of – and took the trash out of my car. A dentist appointment is the crowning moment of this vacation, and it will be done by 10:00 Wednesday morning.

Thank you very much.
On Saturday around one in the afternoon, I decided to check on the chicks. I can’t remember why I was compelled to do this – they have been eating a lot of food lately – but when I opened the henhouse door, the smell of burning wood wafted out. I walked closer, and sure enough the heat lamp was just a little too close to the wood chips in the chick’s home. It had gotten down to freezing the night before, so I’d lowered it to keep them warm. The shavings were browned and the smell was awful. I raised the lamp and thanked God for not letting it all set fire. The chicks looked at me gratefully and stuffed their beaks with the fresh mash I put in their feeder, thankful for a at least one more day to live.

Living by the ocean.
I write about this a lot. Nothing fills me with awe and fear like the ocean. It’s dark and deep and water always inspires me to write. We sat outside a little coffee shop along the river that leads to the ocean, and I thought how wonderful it is to live here. I know there are other geographical wonders like mountains and tropics and fjords, but the ocean’s the one for me.

And summer’s not so far.

Good Things #30

[A misshapen collection of thoughts and a longing for summer.]

I am sitting at one of my favorite coffee shops (yes, Dad, typing in public), listening to music I don’t know, drinking an Earl Grey latte, wondering how to make myself stop sneezing.

My 7th graders are writing adaptations of Greek myths for me, and it’s all I can think about. I wish I were as creative as they are. It’s so annoying.

I like this song by Penny and Sparrow:

I like that the sky still has a little light in it, even at 5:06pm.

I like realizing that if I get a B in my grad school class, I won’t die. If it’s between getting enough sleep so I don’t want to scream all day at my students and getting that extra point on a paper, which do you think I’ll choose?

I like daydreaming about sunshine and sand and the ocean. It’s still January, but my skin feels ready for sun.

I like writing poetry in my car. I like that I don’t write it down. That way I’ll never know if it were good or not – it can hang in perfection.

I like that this is the thirtieth time I’ve done this.

I like that it’s Thursday and almost the weekend.

2013 – A Year in Pictures

 Start off the New Year with a birthday and a dance party. Enjoy the fact that 2 goes into 4 twice and 24 makes a beautiful number.


One of the perks of sticking close to home is you get to visit your old favorites.



The girls had a rainy spring and the garden went through a transformation.


At first, I was completely against the pond. “It’s too big! Who’s gonna maintain it? My forsythia bush!” Now, though, I’ve grown to like it. I do NOT however agree with the unceremonious way my forsythia was disposed of.


We sold out of honey for the first time this year – a good thing, in most ways, but I hate having to tell people to wait till the spring. We’re also doing the favors for two weddings. Picture this: cute little glass jars with “One Pound Honey” on them, a simple cream label and a bow of twine.

d+n wedding

My first wedding of the season was on a beautiful island in Maine. We sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” and frolicked in the night along the dark streets of a sleepy town.


I learned that you can have the wedding you want and surround yourself with all different kinds of people at once.

Hannah\'s Wedding

We drove half-way across the country to celebrate another college friend’s wedding. The groom made their wedding shoes of leather and they danced to swing.


I even missed a wedding, but I got to go on a hiking bachelorette – that’s the way to do it!

wine tasting

The wine tasting which brought four friends together on a hot June Sunday. It’s also where a little bet began, but that’s for another day.


The best summer job ever – teaching English at my Alma Mater.


We didn’t have any fun at all.

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And then a trip to London, a trip I never thought I’d go on.

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A train-ride away was Oxford, and this is my attempt at a panorama.

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We stumbled upon an exhibit of mystical writings and illuminated manuscripts at Oxford University. We also found a large blue rooster.

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This photo was taken at Kensington Gardens, after a not-so-pleasant run trying to catch a tour through the palace (“I’m sorry, it’s 5:02. The tours are closed.”). I look much happier than my feet were feeling at the moment.

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A week at the Swiss L’Abri and mornings of “Oh my gosh, this is real.” Did you know the Swiss care about bees, too?!



Fishing trips in the Atlantic are always cold, even in August.

makin\' wine

We didn’t win the photo contest, but the winners were holding a baby. Not fair.

redsoxme and sarah



Cousin Christmas pic.

baby elijah

The last photo of 2013. A reunion of roomies and I got to hold her little one for the first time.

[This has been a good exercise for me. Too often I let things slip through my fingers, moments of joy and communion, the hard lessons I’ve learned and re-learned.]

[Next week, I’ll be posting my favorite things of 2013. A little late, but I want to make sure it’s a rocking list.]

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


[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.]

Outside My Window

Every morning this week I’ve woken up to the sound of construction. It’s not down the beach or across the street, it is Right. Outside. My. Window. The radio is blaring classic rock and the men are shouting measurements and demanding tools and singing along. I like their backwards hats, their tattoos, and the easy way they work together.

What’s fascinating to me as I watch them through the window over the kitchen sink is this:

I have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.

Now, I’m a smart girl. I can write a decent sentence, grow a (fairly) plentiful garden, knit a cozy sweater, sing a pretty song. But put a tool in my hand, and I’m going to need you to hold my other hand the entire time.

I helped my Dad and brothers build the new chicken house a few years ago. I used a drill and a saw and a hammer, but I still don’t know how to remove screws without stripping them. My youngest brother (who isn’t so young anymore), took the electric screw driver from me in exasperation, saying, “Catherine, I really don’t understand why you can’t figure this out,” and he proceeded to remove every screw with ease.

So I watch these men out my window while I wash the dishes, make breakfast, put the coffee on, and I think how amazing it is that they know what they’re doing. They’re not reading a manual. They’re not listening to a podcast. And the house is being built day-by-day, a foundation and frame where there was nothing.

Sometimes I wonder what skill I wish I had. It changes, depending on my mood. Most often I answer: “Art. I wish I were a good artist. I wish I could depict beauty with drawing or painting or sculpting.”

But right now? This morning? As the saws blast through wood and Elton John sings “Levon”?

I wish I could build a house. Maybe then I’d get that tattoo.

Good Things #8: Willing to be Dazzled

[I wrote this post as part of the Love Yourself link-up started by my friend, Anne. It goes beyond loving yourself – it starts by allowing things to dazzle you, and then, maybe, you will dazzle yourself.]

I am sitting at a round wooden picnic table. The sun is blaring hot and it isn’t even 9:00 in the morning. The beach is quiet today after a people-packed weekend – there isn’t a single person on the sand.

For my beach read this summer, I packed Bridget Jones’s Diary. I’ve never read it before, even though I’ve seen the movie, and I thought it was a pretty light book for the ocean. Poor Bridget. I sometimes see myself in her, but most of the time I just wonder: What were you thinking?!

I also brought along some Mary Oliver. My first impression of her was not so grand; nature poets don’t hold my attention as much as they should, perhaps. But every now and then I come across a gem, a piece of honest beauty.

Still, what I want in my life

is to be willing

to be dazzled –

to cast aside the weight of facts


and maybe even

to float a little

above this difficult world.

I want to believe I am looking


into the white fire of a great mystery.

– The Ponds

This hit me in a gentle strong way. Maybe I can’t help having moments of darkness, but perhaps they are made darker by my unwillingness to be dazzled. Maybe it is this small, simple thing that makes life sharp and pulsing.

Maybe it’s this willingness that sets people apart.

The sun is hot as blazes on my right arm. I’m already sweating. But the sea is sparkling in the light, the grasses on the dunes are waving in the breeze, and there is a calmness to the air that settles me.

Shift your focus and you see differently.

The thing is, not everyone can do that. Or at least, not without help. There have been times when I’ve looked at something straight on, I have known that it is beautiful and good, but I’ve not been able to see it. I’ve known but not experienced. I’ve touched but not tasted.

A lot changes when, for a few months, you think maybe your life will never be the same. Maybe, in fact, it’s almost over. You know you are dramatic, but you also know that no one is above dying.

And later, a year later, you are digging a hole in your garden, in which you will sink a spidery rosemary plant, and you look at your arms and marvel at their strength, at even the swinging motion it takes to dig.

One day, you are driving, and you look at your hand on the steering wheel and think, This is my hand. It is no one else’s. And that is shocking to you.

You see, for the first time, really, the sharpness of green grass against blue sky, and you wonder how you looked at the same landscape for the past twenty years but never really saw.

It is perhaps the first time in your life you can honestly say:

I have rejoiced in my suffering. I have praised God for my discomfort. I have been made weak that His strength would show.

That is how I am willing to be dazzled.

Back from the Beach

Back home from a glorious week at the ocean. We tried to calculate how many summers we’ve trekked just far enough from home to call it vacation, but not so far that we can’t scoot back for work: we’re thinking around seven, but the number changes depending on who you talk to. Gram doesn’t even weigh in anymore.

I’d planned on reading a lot (I brought my biography of Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massey, but that tome belongs nowhere near a beach). I’d planned on writing (there seem to be poems swimming in my head, they won’t stop persisting). I thought I’d have long stretching hours of alone time, thinking time, with a little chatting here and there.

But siblings and cousins, a Gram, an aunt and uncle, make thinking time a little harder to come by. Instead of reading in solitude, I played endless games of Cranium, a new game called Hit or Miss, and Cribbage was always going on, the players switching in and out. We walked on the beach every morning and evening, sat in the sun, actually swam in the frigid New England ocean and loved it.

That’s my biggest problem with the things I love most – reading, writing – they are such isolating events, sometimes. The reason I love them is because of the people. The words that can translate one human experience to another. And because this is largely why I find myself longing to read a good book, it is also largely why I often don’t have the attention span to wait it out.


There are so many beautiful things to be seen, so many interesting people to talk to, so many memories with family.


And to return to the writing afterwards, with fresh eyes and a more intricate history.


Nothing gets me thinking like the ocean.


Day at the Beach

I wrote a post a few days ago. About sin and a book I read.

But I’m tired of writing about sad things. I’m tired of trying to make sense of all the sadness.

So that’s why I’m not going to publish that post, and instead, I’m going to talk about my day at the beach.


It feels a little bit like the perfect job – babysitting – when I can take them to the beach all day, sit in the sun, and top it off with some yummy ice cream at the end.

It’s hard to remember, on days like this, that I’ll have to move on eventually.

The beauty in the day and the sun on my skin was amazing, and for that I am grateful.