February 12, 2017
by Michael Blumenthal, from No Hurry
Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind— but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others; it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there’s
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one, so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.
February 11, 2017
Primroses are making a late-winter appearance in grocery stores around here. They are a welcome splash of saturated color and hold the promise of Spring and gardening.
February 10, 2017
“Here’s how we count the people who are ready to do right: ‘One.’ ‘One.’ ‘One.'”
— William Stafford
“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the one thing left to us in a bad time.”
— E. B. White, Letter to M. Nadeau, March 30, 1973
February 9, 2017
“Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air —
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A Shrill dark music — like the rain pelting the trees — like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds —
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, I your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed you life?”
— Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
I went to the Skagit Valley to see snow geese, but they were not in their usual places. Instead, I saw swans — trumpeter swans, I think, although both trumpeters and tundra swans overwinter here. Mary Oliver’s images — white crosses in the sky, black feet like dark leaves — capture the swans’ presence so perfectly.
February 8, 2017
“The sound of geese in the distance,
in our minds
we rise up
and move on.”
— Robert Sund, “Spring Poem in the Skagit Valley”
“Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake”
by Anne Porter, from Living Things
I watched them
As they neared the lake
In a wide arc
With beating wings
They put their wings to sleep
And glided downward in a drift
Of pure abandonment
Until they touched
The surface of the lake
Composed their wings
On the rippling water
As though it were a nest.
“Wild geese fly overhead.
They wrench my heart.
They were our friends in the old days.”
— Li Ch’ing Chao, translated by Kenneth Rexroth
I didn’t have much luck photographing snow geese on my most recent visits to the Skagit Valley. I saw only a couple of flocks, and they were in distant fields. I could not drive closer. I love to witness big flocks taking to the skies, whirling around, and settling again. How do they swarm and yet not run into each other? I am always reminded of M.C Escher’s prints of birds:
In past years, I’ve gotten closer and came away with some photos that captured the breathtaking whirlwind of wings. One of my snow geese photos was chosen for the cover of Bearings Magazine‘s Autumn 2016 issue (it’s a publication of the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota).
February 7, 2017
“Thick was the snow on field and hedge
And vanished was the river-sedge,
Where winter skilfully had wound
A shining scarf without a sound.”
— Charles Causley, “At Nine of the Night I Opened My Door”
falls on snow —
The snow was beautiful while it lasted. A brief taste of “real” winter here in the rainy Pacific Northwest.