Everywhere I can, I’m simplifying in preparation for what will come.
Sometimes, I wonder what’s ahead. I think about Mary Oliver’s question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I muse about it. I let it go.
A little later, I remember her words, “Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”
I notice I’m breathing just a little. I pause and breathe deeper.
A hummingbird comes to my window. My heart lifts. (How can a thing with wings cause so much happiness?) Thank god for birds.
There are also many butterfly visits to these same flowers. Thank god for butterflies, too.
I do especially love things that fly. I also love anything with roots that’s blooming.
Another line from one of Mary Oliver’s poems crosses my mind: “I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.”
She said, “I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”
I sing a little. (Singing helps everything. Immediately.)
Returning to the kitchen, I place dishes, vanilla, and spices back into newly painted cupboards and sort as I go. Do I love this cup? This sauce pan, this plate, this cinnamon tea…
The simpler I get, the more clear I become.
I might love clarity more than anything I own. Clarity is valuable anytime, but especially in the coming days.
Simplicity is Freedom
by Mary Oliver
When I moved from one house to another there were many things I had no room for. What does one do? I rented a storage space. And filled it. Years passed. Occasionally I went there and looked in, but nothing happened, not a single twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared about grew fewer, but were more important. So one day I undid the lock and called the trash man. He took everything.
I felt like the little donkey when his burden is finally lifted. Things! Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful fire! More room in your heart for love, for the trees! For the birds who own nothing – the reason they can fly.
Truth be told, I’ve been afraid of many things for many years. I’ve been hesitant. Worried. I’ve held myself back, not spoken up, not been willing to try something new. Ignored out of lack of self-confidence. Shaken in my shoes, walked away, shuddered and retreated.
I’ve done this in little ways and big ways — about little things, big things, and everything in between. I could make a list.
Maybe it’s time we send fear to the wolves. Or to the flashy red cardinals winging here and there on the edges of any North Carolina forest in spring. We could send it to the dolphins — I’ve spent hours swimming with them. They know what to do with fear. They toss it. They frolic and play instead. They know more than either of us (you or me) about how to be (truly, only, fully) ourselves.
Frankly, I am tired of fear and its family. Restriction. Pressure. Shame. Must and should and shouldn’t and can’t.
I’m tired of tsk, tsk. Tongue wagging. No, no. Shhh. I am tired of averting my eyes.
I am truly tired of better and best. Achievement. Perfection. Not being ready, ever. Waiting. Holding back. Thinking I have to know something before I do something. I am tired of the very idea of mistakes.
Maybe if I let this fear family slide silently away, they can all go elsewhere for work. Maybe they could even take a well-deserved vacation.
Who knows, maybe fear is even tired of itself. Tired of the job, the responsibility, the relentlessness.
You never know…
When Eric died, before Eric died, when I hoped he wouldn’t die, when Eric denied that he was dying — I felt fear. All of those times, fear welled up. It oozed. Sometimes it galloped on black stallions in the dark night. Other times, fear opened quietly under water, came up with the sun, lingered in the sweet evening breeze.
Fear was present with me. I was present with it.
From this communion, I am acutely aware of the energy of fear and that it gathers momentum if you let it. It will live and breathe, gladly and with gusto. It will accumulate power and rule if you give it the time of day. But finally, in the end, fear slumps in the corner with red eyes and a tired heart, wearing only rags.
Like I said, I’m tired of fear.
I am weary to the bone of it.
ONCE UPON A TIME, LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY
Long ago, someone did a “reading” on me, some fancy machine or other, and I found my notes from the session while going through Eric’s things.
My notes were in his file, which caused me to pause. I wondered if the old truth of my notes still belonged to me, or if it ever had.
My notes said that I had an issue around the idea of “I can’t.”
Well, if “I can’t” is still here, if it is living and breathing and taking up space, I hereby send that out to the wolves, the cardinals and the dolphins, right along with the rest of the family. After all, “fear” and “I can’t” are probably kissing cousins.
Come to think of it, though, I have a friend named “Luna” and for a moth, she’s big (about the length of an iPhone). She doesn’t have a mouth or a digestive system, never eats, and lives for about a week after leaving the cocoon.
I know “Luna.” She visited lucky me one summer night, lingering on a window in my great room for an hour in the moonlight. We had a long and luxurious conversation.
Maybe Luna would fly with it and take it with her when she goes.
Alright, it’s settled. Whatever I think I can’t do, I give to Luna.
So, beautiful eye-winged creature with delicate tail streamers, take “can’t” and the fear family and whatever else I no longer need and do what you will with it. I offer it up. I give it to you with all my heart.
Maybe you could take it to the forest “with your one wild and precious life.” (Mary Oliver, The Summer Day)
And to dear you reading this, listening to this, contemplating this — what is it that you would give wings to?
It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves––
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness––
and that’s when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree––
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing––
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky––all, all of them
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.
by Mary Oliver. “Such Singing In The Wild Branches” is from Owls and Other Fantasies.Other books by Mary Oliver
1963 No Voyage, and Other Poems (Dent (New York, NY), expanded edition, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1965.
1972 The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems Harcourt (New York, NY)
1978 The Night Traveler Bits Press
1978 Sleeping in the Forest Ohio University (a 12-page chapbook, p. 49–60 in The Ohio Review—Vol. 19, No. 1 [Winter 1978])
1979 Twelve Moons Little, Brown (Boston, MA)
1983 American Primitive Little, Brown (Boston, MA)
Every day, in every way the leaves are falling, swirling, plummeting past my window as winter approaches. Yesterday morning, the valley below us was filled with mist, and hundreds of leaves were falling, down, down, down into the mist below. It was surreal. On one recent blustery day as I walked with Jackson (dog) on our country road which is flanked on both sides with tall trees, thousands of leaves “rained” on us. It was positively heavenly.
In this change-of-seasons time, in my world, the perfect thing to do is read a little Mary Oliver. She helps me get from one place to another, from one state of mind to another. And since even we in the more southern part of the country have had our first snow, what a perfect poem for this time of year.
If you don’t know Mary Oliver, she is a true treasure. She is an American poet who has won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She is often referred to as America’s best selling poet. Her first collection of poems, No Voyage and Other Poems, was published in 1963, when she was 28. Her fifth collection of poetry, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She continues to write at the happy age of 79.
So after you read the poem, what I would love to know from you is what “change-of season” experiences do you go through? What do you notice about your personal transition from Fall to Winter? Please feel free to make a comment below.
First Snow by Mary Oliver
this morning and all day
continued, its white
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning, such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
and the heavens still hold
a million candles; nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain—not a single
answer has been found—
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.
Today’s message is short and sweet. After all, there isn’t much to say after a Mary Oliver poem, but plenty to contemplate. This poem is for anyone going through life changes, big or small.
You need tools for change? Or tools for anything? Or comforting words? Turn to Mary Oliver. She is one of the wisest women I know.
Mary Oliver writes for the soul in us. She writes prose. She writes poetry. She even writes about how to write. She’s everything, all in one.
She writes the best bedtime stories. I have her on my nightstand. In thirty seconds, or a minute or two or three, I read a poem of hers, and I am off to a blissful slumber. In those moments, my day fades, no matter what it has been.
Mary Oliver lifts me up. Calms me down. Her words make me smile. Her poetry moves me into my heart if I have forgotten for a moment to be there.
From West Wind (Part 2)
You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
~ Mary Oliver ~Continue Reading
You’re broken down and tired Of living life on a merry go round And you can’t find the fighter But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out And move mountains We gonna walk it out And move mountains
And I’ll rise up I’ll rise like the day I’ll rise up I’ll rise unafraid I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again And I’ll rise up High like the waves I’ll rise up In spite of the ache I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
When the silence isn’t quiet And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe And I know you feel like dying But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet And move mountains Bring it to its feet And move mountains
And I’ll rise up I’ll rise like the day I’ll rise up I’ll rise unafraid I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
All we need, all we need is hope And for that we have each other And for that we have each other And we will rise We will rise We’ll rise, oh, oh We’ll rise
I’ll rise up Rise like the day I’ll rise up In spite of the ache I will rise a thousand times again And we’ll rise up High like the waves We’ll rise up In spite of the ache We’ll rise up And we’ll do it a thousand times again
During this strange time in history, I noticed y’all were tackling all sorts of interesting projects. I decided I needed one, too—something positive to remember the pandemic of 2020 by.
I decided to pay attention to something I had abandoned…
Nope, I’m not cleaning my garage. I am not organizing one single thing. I’m not planting a garden or cleaning up my yard.
Instead, I decided to take care of myself better. This, folks, has made all the difference for me.
With relatively little time and effort on my part, I feel so much better than I did a month ago.
On March 30, I got on the exercise bike and the yoga mat for the first time in a long time, and did 30 minutes each. I liked it so much that I decided to do it every day. But I fell short of that, and changed my commitment to every other day, which felt more manageable, reasonable, and doable.
I also get off the bike after every song, take a couple of sips of water, shake out my legs and arms for a few seconds, and get back on. This makes the bike project a reasonable proposition, too.
Daily walks of any length—by myself, or with my little guy, Jackson—are a fresh air bonus.
My recumbent exercise bike has pulleys to work my upper body while I pedal, which gets my heart rate up fast, and also helps my whole-body strength. It feels good to get up from writing, or doing a consulting session with a client, to do something physically challenging while listening to good music.
After only a month, I feel a sheet of muscles on the front of me I haven’t felt for a very, very long time. Goodness gracious. Who knew they were there. I’ll be posting rippling ab photos soon, I’m sure.
I have no idea what the scales have to say about my bike/yoga project—I don’t care. Paying attention to scales tends to send me sideways, and therefore, I’m ignoring them completely.
But—I LOVE the way I feel! Hang in there, everyone.