Sand Castle

Gratitude List:
1.  Gull feathers, gulls.  More than any other bird I know, the gull shows its developmental stages incrementally, and I can never tell who is who, because the plumage on one species may have five different stages.  Except the great Blacked-backed Gulls–they have all the plumage variation, but you can’t miss them for size.  We’ve seen dainty little terns, a pair of oystercatchers, several flocks of sanderlings flying in formation through the spray of the breakers, and a migrating flock of ten thousand swallows, stopping for a day or two on the dunes to refuel before they fly on.  We’ve seen a monarch or two, and I am hoping we just missed the main body of their migration.  Sometimes when we’re here for our September days at the beach, we’ve seen several an hour.  Last year, the dragonflies were migrating through when we were here, and I lost count of them.
2.  Playing on the beach with Christopher Robin and Galileo.  Galileo throws himself into the waves, body and mind, commenting on the feel of the force against his body, comparing the difference between a wave that is breaking as it hits him and a wave that has already broken.  He pays attention to the feel of the force of the undertow sucking at his feet while the next wave crashes over him.  He especially loves when two waves come right at him at different angles and he is caught in the corner between.  His attention to the physical and mechanical forces at work only increases his wonder and delight in the experience.
Christopher Robin is all light and air and dream and magic, wanting to stand out in the water as far as he can bear, holding tightly to his dad as the waves crash in, “Hold tighter!  Hold tighter!”  Or he catches hold of one of us as we stand watching the waves come in, “C’mon!  Let’s go-let’s go-let’s go!  See this!  Look at this!”  And my heart is hurting just ever so slightly because I remember that at the end of the Winnie the Pooh books, Christopher Robin leaves the Hunderd Aker Wood, and that small bear is bereft, and I think how probably that small bear was also A. A. Milne himself, and is me.  (It is good that I found a job for this fall because I think I would be sort of mopey and sad right now otherwise.)
3.  Forts and castles in the sand.  The boys spent the day digging their massive holes and setting ramparts about them.  The waves took them in a matter of half an hour at the end.  Me, I made a many-turreted Gothic cathedral with fine fairy arches.  We watched to see what the waves would do at the end.  One wave.  One wave took it down and left only a vanguard of shivering foam and a garland of bladderwrack, and no sign whatsoever that a castle had stood there moments before.  We are all sand castles, perhaps, or words scratched in the sand, here for a moment and then gone in a breath, yet hovering somehow, in the memory of the molecules that made us up.  So fleeting and enduring we are.
4.  Returning to all our favorite places.  This motel and its pool and the the towns here on the 7-Mile-Island are a memory place for the boys, and they remember now from year to year all the things we do.  Our trip is truncated to a single weekend this year because I am working, but we’re still able to pack in quite a bit of fun, and several of our favorite eating spots.  Take-out from Nemo’s Pizza yesterday (sausage pizza and a fried flounder parmesan sub), supper at Tortilla Flats yesterday (Navajo Tacos with Coconut Butterfly Shrimp, Shrimp and Scallop Fajitas–we skipped the Jersey Tomatoes with Fresh Crabmeat appetizer because the portions here are so enormous), and we’ll have breakfast at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House this morning before we play some more in the ocean or pool, or head back home–depending on our whim.
5.  Mentors everywhere.  I am so grateful for all the life experience of the people I know, you who have been parents and teachers and farmers and poets and writers and wisher and dreamers, and how you have been willing and gracious to lend a listening ear and a piece of requested advice when I have needed the extra support.  Blessings on the mentors.

May we walk in Beauty!

Today as I was walking down the hall, I noticed a small group of first years huddled in a little cluster not far from a grove of tree-like seniors.  The freshmen looked so young and innocent and small compared to the sturdy and confident older students.  I realized that it was only partly about their respective heights; it was also about their carriage and body language.  The blooming from childhood to young adulthood really seems to happen in these few years that they walk the halls of high school.  I also realized that those particular freshmen, who seemed so small in comparison to the seniors, were actually all taller than I am.  Heh.

I should be grading.  I have a big stack of essays that really need to be done by tomorrow.  But my gratitude list today is sort of centered around that stack.

Gratitude List:
1.  All these stories.  Perhaps it’s a little brutal, a little brusque, to ask these young folks whom I don’t really know to write essays for me, describing something that brought about a change in their lives.  Oh, how tender, how vulnerable, their responses.  I hold them like eggs, like butterfly wings, like whispers.  Tales of joyful tears at the birth of a niece or a nephew, of tenderly nurturing small creatures, of leaving their homes to travel to the US to study, of deciding to care about their futures and their dreams.  Oh, the stacks of grading can be a teacher’s bane, like mythological challenges to be overcome, but they hold such treasures.  Such powerful and fragile treasures.  Have I said how in love I am with these people who fill my days?
2.  How a little bit of unplanned time in the classroom can sometimes turn into powerful discussion time.  Yesterday, it was about how, when you stand up against something wrong, it makes it easier for the next person to do so.  Today, it was parenting techniques, and helping children to develop intrinsic motivations to choose the “right” option instead of forcing them to follow the extrinsic motivation of threats of parental punishment.  Really.  These are wise and thoughtful folks.
3.  Monarchs on the move.  I keep seeing them–it’s migration time.
4.  Wild geese.  The ones that fly overhead.  The ones in Mary Oliver’s poem.  The ones in Mary Black’s song.  The one some call the Spirit.
5.  Tomorrow we go to the beach.  The farm work will go on here without us.  The school work will get done in the cracks and spaces.  And I will have a day and a half to breathe seas air and refresh and rejuvenate.  Blessed be.

May we walk in Beauty.

In the field
you examine leaves and feathers
stones and bones
to learn the stories of the land
to see who has passed this way
and how the wind has blown.

At the end of the day
I sweep the broom
across the cold white tiles
of the classroom floor.

A gentle snow of tiny paper pieces
torn from spiral books
falls silently all day
upon the floor

and as I pull those tiny flakes
with my broom,
and candy wrappers,
hair, so much long hair
and almost every day
at least one plastic pen clip,

I wonder what they could tell me,
if I knew how to listen,
about the young trees
which have dropped
these pieces and bits:

That girl, the one who tore
this piece of paper from her notebook
scattering tiny shreds around her on the floor,
would her litter tell me of her loneliness?

The broken bits of pen
perhaps would tell
of the boy who is holding
holding everything in
just barely but something
every day must break
so he doesn’t.

Could I piece a story
from the long strands of hair,
the gum wrappers and bright foils?

Now there is a new lore to learn,
new creatures to track
in the wild places.


Gratitude List:
1.  The whole family playing together in the dusk
2.  More fairy toadstools emerging in the fairy circle
3.  A powerful community-building moment in my class, initiated by a student
4.  Seeing a tiny light at the end of this tunnel of grading that I made for myself
5.  Elderberries, elderberries, rah, rah, rah!  I am drinking elderberry syrup almost like juice by now, but it seems to be keeping the thises and thats at bay.   Thanks to Tabea for the elderberries.  Gotta get me a couple of bushes.

May we walk in Beauty!

Here’s the beginning of something.  My poet-mind is distracted these days.  I have been reading a little Aldo Leopold for a class I need to take.  The Green Fire has caught my attention.  This is unfinished, but there are stacks of grading to be done.

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain.”  –Aldo Leopold

Only the mountain knows perhaps
where the green fire is kindled
how the viridian flame leaps
down the slopes and into the hollows
how it broods in the deep crevasse
enkindles in every womb
caterpillar and field mouse
wolf and deer and human
how it shines behind the eye.

Perhaps the desert too
has pondered with the mountain
the quiet licking emerald ember that
touched by the merest drop of moisture
tenders into flame
drawing forth
the impossible sprout from the seed


Gratitude List:
1.  That song about Divine Mystery being the Beauty of a raven.  Joyful is the dark.
2.  Gathering with friends on a mountain.  Everybody laughing, singing, eating together.
3.  A new week, full of potential and promise.
4.  How the clock seemed to stop this morning at 5 and drag the minutes slowly until 5:30.  I don’t know how much I slept in that time, but I needed the sense that I was sleeping in.
5.  This work of loving.  Even when it hurts because the one you hold is hurting.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1.  That egg of a seed of a dream of a moon.
2.  So much unfolds.
3.  Listening to Tolkien on the journey to and from work.
4.  Keeping the story moving.
5.  Eating my words is not always terribly distasteful.

May we walk in Beauty!

My brain has been so focused of late on forms of speech other than poetry.  This one will have to be a place holder, I think, so that I can come back to the subject of that blue.  I know poets have written of blue before.  Still, I need to find my own words for this blue.  It’s not the blue of sadness, though it holds sadness deep within it.  It’s too simple, somehow, to say that it represents love.  Love is too broad for one color.  But that is in there, too.  I need to go to an art museum this winter, and look for it, or go back to that little chapel with the Chagall windows near the Hudson River and let the blue light wash me.

there will need to be more poems
more poems about the blue

the Samaritan’s clothes
as he lifts the dying man
on van Gogh’s mountain

the welling glow
of any Chagall window
where you stand in the shine
and blue surrounds you
while angels and ordinaries
float in the ether

or Mary’s cloak
the blue of the world
which was borne within her


Gratitude List:
1.  My family is fed.  Jon cooks wonderful meals.  Mom and other friends have shared food with us.  We’re finding our way into this new rhythm.
2.  Elderberries and sleep: magic healing duo.  Crossing my fingers that they will continue to hold this cold at bay.
3.  Another student story: Yesterday as I was tidying up the room during my planning period, a student that I know mostly by sight stopped by on her way somewhere else and started to tell me about the Peace Fellowship group that she is a part of.  She began speaking very articulately about justice and compassion and love, about working together in intergenerational groups, about encouraging diversity, about how she believes the work of peace is intimately bound up with the work of caring for the earth.  I held her words tenderly and thanked her and told her I would look up her peace group, and all the while I was hearing the words of Miranda in The Tempest, “Oh brave new world, that has such people in it!”  There’s hope.  So much hope in this next generation.
4.  This beautiful rock that Suzy brought me: red sandstone-looking bits, black lave-like bits, and shiny, sparkly twinkles all throughout.
5.  I am not necessarily grateful that I am no longer finding a daily feather, but I am grateful that the transition is occurring.  I have made the leap.  My wings have held in the winds, for the most part.  No I need to find my feet on earth.  Now is the time to move from feathers to stones.  Roots.  Solidity.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude List:
1.  The way the setting sun slants between the trees at the corner where the bees live, making the hive and the beeyard glow, while everything else is in shadow.
2.  Grammar.  The structure of language,  The way it creates the bridge over which our ideas can  travel between us.  I know I have been repeating versions of this one recently.  It’s just that as I delve more deeply again into this sacred discipline of the structure of language, I am again struck by what a miracle and a gift speech is.
3.  Singing in a circle so we can look into each others’ eyes.
4.  Exhausting as it is to add more work to my plate, I am loving this first course of the set that my school requires new teachers to take.  This one is called Building Caring Communities.  In some ways it feels a bit like a repeat of work I have done in college and grad school, and on my own in the intervening years, but I think I always gain new insight when I step back into different topics, especially when I am with a new cohort.
5.  Cool morning.

May we walk in Beauty.

I need to take my moments of contemplation when I can get them these days.  Only three weeks into the semester, and I have already (at least once) left a piece of my lesson planning to the morning.  And that eats up not only time, but also confidence.  Yet I am feeling an internal sense that not only should I be maintaining my morning reflection time, but perhaps I need to expand my writing practices.  Now, because I am spending my days teaching writing, when I write for myownself, I am keenly conscious of how I am moving around inside these sentences, pulling the ideas of this sentence into being perhaps even while I typed the previous sentence.  Considering whether a fragment here might be well-used to effect.  Wondering whether I can hold onto the depth of the idea that I am working with if I shift for a moment into discussion of the what happens when I explore the room of a sentence while I am writing it.

You and I, we are individual universes, separate in our separate realms, joined by. . .what?  (Meta-mind wonders how I should have punctuated that one and hopes a grammarian friend will give suggestions.) What is the web that connects us in our isolated worlds?  Love and hope, certainly.  Gesture and expression.  Still, we need language to channel those deep rivers of self between us, to make the webs between us glow and shine.  As we build these word, bridges, construct whole rooms and tunnels of sentences, cities of paragraphed ideas, our worlds connect.  I can write to you and you can write to me, and we can say to each other that we know each other, even if we have not seen each others’ faces.  Just because of words.  May all our words bring deeper understanding, more powerful connections.

Gratitude List:
1.  Personal pep-talks, for that is what this has been.  It was a short night, and it promises to be a hot day in the classroom, me yelling my words out over the fans.  Still, I cannot be anything but grateful to for the gift of this opportunity to help this cohort of 90 young people develop and perfect their ability to work with language, this magical tool for human connection.  May it be so.
2.  The great horned owls.  I know I just wrote about them a couple days ago, but their deep and startling voices here in the fall are almost as trance-inducing as my friend the oriole was in spring.  When I am grumbling at the rude voice of the alarm clock, the sudden surprised whooping of the owls in the bamboo forest will make me smile and be glad to be awake in this darkness.
3.  Following my predecessor at the school.  She was well-loved by quite a number of students.  Random students keep wandering in and looking around, a little lost, and introducing themselves as former students of hers.  Some of them even return repeatedly, as though simply the memory of her in that room makes it a haven amidst the bustle of the school day.  Big shoes to fill.  I’ll be my own me, of course, but do my best to keep her light shining in the window.
4.  Word-bridges.  Sentence-halls.  Paragraph-houses.  All these artificial structures and codes that we have created in millennia of human development that enable us to close the space between us.
5.  Annoying as his constant demands for attention, food, attention, and food can be, I love the way Fred the cat meows, his whole face getting into the act.  I love the way he won’t take no for an answer when he wants snuggles and I am wearing a dark blue dress that cannot have orange cat hair upon it.  I had to go get a blanket to cover me because he would have his mama-cuddle this morning, no matter what I said.

May we walk in Beauty!

There is so much we do not see.
We walk through a maze of rocks on a beach
and think that all the world is washed in beige,
when before us lie the myriad possibilities
of the rainbow, if we would only turn our gazes
to the shine, the light that splinters
into beauty on every surface.


Gratitude List:
1.  The great horned owls are calling this morning.  I have heard three distinct voices, I think.  Their call, here in the hollow, is the same rhythm as I have heard it elsewhere, but there’s something different, like a regional accent, an extra light bounce between the early notes.
2.  From my end, chapel seemed to go well yesterday.  They seemed attentive to what I was saying.  I talked about the Open Bowl of the Heart: the practice I do, when I get to feeling hopeless and despairing about what is wrong in the world, of visualizing that my heart can hold it all, the stories of horror right alongside the stories of unexpected kindness and the beauty around me.
3.  Elderberries!  Thanks to my wonderful friend Tabea, I now have two large bags of berries in the freezer, enough to make quite a bit of syrup to keep my family healthy in the coming winter, I hope.
4.  Unexpected kindnesses.  A student I have never met walked into my classroom and deposited on my desk a picture that he had drawn for me, a beautiful pencil rendering of a movie heroine.  Apparently he used to draw pictures for my predecessor, and he decided to keep up the tradition.  Lucky me!
5.  This gray moth that is fluttering about in front of the computer has a little flash of rosy sheen when its wings catch the light just so, and when it slows down enough for me to see.  It’s sort of like the magic of moonstone or labradorite, appearing dull and grayish on the surface, but filled with faerie twinkles when it is turned to the light just so.  Maybe people are like that, too, the ones who seem to be going about the day in a gray pallor, not drawing particular attention to themselves suddenly shine forth a color you can’t even name, it comes on you so whimsically.

May we walk in Beauty!

Sign outside of a building and remodeling business in York:  “Do more of what makes you holy.”

Gratitude List:
1.  The singing.  Oh, the singing!  The listening, the paying attention, the blending of voices, the breathing.
2.  This story: about the Christian man and the Muslim man who traveled together for a time, and every morning read together from the Bible and the Quran.
3.  The morning glories raising their violet and magenta throats toward the dawning.
4.  Yesterday, one boy shared his dessert with the other, oh so kindly, oh so gently.  Little moments that make me remember that all the work is paying off.
5.  The changing of weather and of season–always a new thing in the air to anticipate.

May we walk in Beauty!


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