Book Talk

A little hope for your Monday morning …

I have a lot on my mind tonight. There are some big changes around the bend for me, and as I stand on the margins of them, it seems right to be quiet for a little while. 

To think, and let the empty space stretch out its limbs.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some light to share today. I’ve been perusing through my favorite Mary Oliver poems again, and this one, somehow, struck me as right for the moment.

Enjoy, friends. And happy Monday…

“The Fist,” from Mary Oliver’s collection, Thirst.

Today — I promise — is an invitation…

Again. ❤


hopeful words for a dark world {on Easter Sunday} …


Today is Easter Sunday: celebration of new life, forgiveness and light.


This world can be dark. 



All week long, the violence tearing through this little planet of ours has been weighing heavily on my heart. So today, I thought I’d share a brief snatch of words giving me hope:


Courage, friends… For now, the darkness and the light dwell together…

But the darkness just can’t last.<3

Everyday Wonder

A Warm, Dry Resting Place, in Hard Rain …



Two weeks ago, it rains.

It rains all day, in a solid sheet:  hard rain that hammers the earth, needles it in divots…  

Water fills ditches.  

Creeks rise.  

Rivers rise. 

This is the first day.


On the second day, it rains harder.  Water fills basements, pouring through every crack and split seam.  In cars, sunroofs and convertible tops leak, the water pooling on the floorboards.  Doors swell in their frames and stick fast.

And then the third day comes, and the rain doesn’t stop.


In a river town, when the water rises, things fray like a bad marriage.  For awhile, the troubles are just obnoxious:  the kind of benign complaints you’d share with a girlfriend over a glass of wine.  You call a plumber.  You run a box fan over the wet carpet.  But after awhile, as things worsen, the air of trouble saturates the atmosphere of the whole house — the whole town.  Those closest to the river stay, though perhaps they should go.  They stay because they love their homes, and — yes — they love the river.

But on the third day something happens to the river, and suddenly it is not what it was.  It is solid; muscled; hard; fast; cruel.  It rips tree limbs from the bank and rakes them downstream, where they claw the undersides of bridges.  

And now you can sense something violent coming, the way the wife of a certain kind of man anticipates the solid smack of the fist to the door, the sudden shatter of glass in the night.

She sees it coming, and she packs a bag.


And this is the point at which the worst should happen:  the flash flood.  The dam break…  

But it doesn’t.

Because on Wednesday morning — almost four days since the rain began — I wake to clear sky.  The clouds scud past and suddenly there’s warm air — even sun!  

I almost can’t believe it.

At lunchtime, I drive the Xterra into Salem, park and walk down the path that runs parallel to the river. Everywhere I look, I can see evidence of where the river crested its banks.  

I can see shredded guardrails on the bridge…  


A picnic table at the park, snarled in debris…  


I find a flowerpot jammed between two fence rails, a park bench crowned with driftwood…



But even still:  the sky is blue, and faultlessly clear.  The temperature rises to 74 degrees, so that by the time I walk back to my car, I am sweating in my boots.

And I know, by then, that there are another three days of rain still ahead of us.  The weatherman has told me this, but still, somehow, in the blue air, I believe it will be all right.    The day feels like a space to rise to the surface and draw a long breath, and I do.  

I breathe, and breathe, and I think about the dove with the olive branch, fluttering back to the ark.  I think:  all this mess is almost over.  Almost, but not quite.

There is no rainbow yet, but for now, the olive branch is enough.  


I am almost to my car when I find the crayfish:  the tiny hard-shelled body hot against the asphalt.  The beady eyes blinking in the light:


He does not belong here, and he knows it.  He is dragging himself painfully along, wondering where the river has gone, and why he is out here ten feet from the road, baking in the sun.

I walk past him at first, but then suddenly my heart understands what he is and what is happening, and I go back.  Ease him onto a flat stone and carry him back to the water.

I nestle him close to a wet stone and wish him well.


I think about him for three days, as the water churns up the banks again — rises but does not crest.  

I wonder if he makes it through.  If he survives.  

((We can survive so much more than we think.))

And I understand, then, that it is not always in my power to give somebody the rainbow.  Not always in my power to make the trouble end, or to push back the curtain on the sun.

But I can bear the olive branch — almost there.  Almost.

I bear it for for you and for me, for displaced crayfish and lost souls:

Fallen sparrows.

Fallen creatures.

The wounded and the weary and the weak.

I am standing here on the first clear day, promising you that while the rain’s not over yet, the sun  — always — comes again.


Of this I am sure. ❤



Secret Messages

Thirty Wishes for my City: Day Thirty

This post is part of the Secret Messages Project.  Every day for thirty days, I’ll leave my words in places where they might be found — or might never be found at all.  I hope you’ll join me. 


I don’t know how I came up with the idea;  I just know that for me, it worked.

I’d been writing one message a day for thirty days, leaving my words in out-of-the-way places, and sometimes in plain sight.    For my last day, though, I wanted not just one secret message, but many.

I wanted to fill my city — my soft-shouldered blue little valley — with kind words.

So I began with thirty smooth stones, and I inked on all the things I wanted for this place.

I want hope.

I want mystery.

I want wonder.

I want mercy.

I want forgiveness, too, for ourselves and for others — a chance to begin again:



I want all this and more, and I’m learning that I don’t need to be a poet or a prophet to speak it.  I just need to be myself, saying as sincerely as I can what I believe must be said.

If I could do that, it would be enough.


I carried the stones in my coat pocket for days.  The load was heavy, but each time I gave a message away I felt lighter.

I left Peace on the railing of the Martin Luther King Jr. bridge:


I left Peace by a park bench downtown, where a homeless man sometimes lingers:


I left a stone in a gorgeous tangle of tree branches on the floodplain:



I left stones underwater:


And stones by railroad yards:


I even left a special stone wedged on a hook in a Wal-Mart bathroom stall:



And I hoped these words would do my city good.

The thing is, though, these messages weren’t just for my city.  They were also for me.  Because in any other winter, I’d have been holed up at home in the quiet, longing for spring, seeing nothing but gray.

But this winter, I was out in the rain and the snow, breathing air so clear it sometimes hurt…  It hurt, but also, it was beautiful.  In fact, the more messages I left, the more beauty I saw…

I hid this little bit of Mystery beneath the torn bark of a tree, and suddenly I realized that I wasn’t making Mystery — I was finding it:


I took a wrong turn and ended on a dead-end street, where a haphazard pile of junk blocked the way into the woods:


But there’s no such thing as a wrong turn — not really — and when I took a closer look at the rain beading the edge of this tire, it turns out I found Mystery there, too:


I went searching for places to hide pebbles, and I found paths tiger-striped with flashes of afternoon sun:


I found a canoe launch so quietly beautiful, it made my heart kick in my chest:


(The stone I left there, with the river lapping its edges, felt just right…)


I found beauty in this graffiti downtown:


And beauty in a set of railroad tracks that ran into nothing — they tumbled off the edge of a little ravine and began again on the other side, spiked with tall golden weeds, and my soul sensed something truthful in that:


I left a stone on top of Mill Mountain and saw my city glowing as if from within — sunstruck silver, flooding all the valley’s soft little furrows:


I saw that and I was breathless, so I put that hope into words:


Oh, Star City, I hope you feel breathless today.

I hope you feel breathless tomorrow.

I hope you feel breathless the day after that.

And I hope, in some small way, I gave back a little of the breathlessness you’ve given to me, in these past thirty days.

I’m seeing beauty everywhere I look today, and it’s been my pleasure to share it with you…



Secret Messages

An Offering, Left in the Amphitheater at Elmwood Park: Day Twenty-Six

This post is part of the Secret Messages Project.  Every day for thirty days, I’ll leave my words in places where they might be found — or might never be found at all.  I hope you’ll join me. 


Yesterday I park my car downtown, on Franklin, and walk toward Elmwood Park, in a sunlit avenue of saucer magnolias.

I’m thinking about hope.

Saucer magnolias are good trees to be watching this discussion I’m having in my head, about hope, because they’re the most hopeful trees I can think of.  They’re the first of all trees to bloom — their pink cupped blossoms opening into clouds, right in the middle of February or early March.  We had a saucer magnolia on the southern side of our property when I was a child — I remember its beautiful vase-shaped form and its limber gray branches — and every year my mother lamented that tree’s stubborn determination to blossom in the frost, only to be scorched and frozen and blighted back into brown.

It was a brave little tree, to bloom so soon.  Maybe more hopeful than it should have been.


When I was in Sunday School, as a girl, wearing frilled ankle socks and a gold locket, we memorized Hebrews 11:1:  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

And it might well be true, that hope, through faith, has actual substance — heft and weight and visible form.

Still, sometimes the substance of things hoped for is heavier than we’d like it to be.  Hard to carry.  I’ll match your Hebrews 11:1 with Proverbs 13:12:  Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.  I have no doubt about that.

So.  Sometimes hope feels like a pair of wings, and sometimes a pair of shackles.

Sometimes dreaming inspires you to open up full and pink-petalled to a February sun, and then the frost comes and the petals fall and that’s the price of your hoping.

Sometimes it’s easier not to hope at all.

(I’m just being honest with you).


On this day, though, I’m feeling hopeful.  I have seven smooth round stones in the pocket of my coat, and the sun is shining, striping the sidewalk with the shadows of those limber gray branches.

There are fat velvet buds on the tips of every magnolia twig, and I’ll tell you, rain’s in the forecast but oh! this sunset-light looks good to me now.  And it’s warm.

On this day, I have faith enough to carry my own hope, and maybe to carry yours, too.

I make my way to the end of the magnolias.  Walk into the amphitheater, its grassy terrace nestled against the hillside.

I find the right place, just under the ghost-white branches of a sycamore.

I sit for awhile in the sun.

Lay the stones down.

Snap a picture.

Disappear the way I came.


Just for today — just let me carry it for the day…

Maybe you can carry mine tomorrow. ❤




Secret Messages

A Question, Left by a Brook in Garst Mill Park: Day Twenty-Four

This post is part of the Secret Messages Project.  Every day for thirty days, I’ll leave my words in places where they might be found — or might never be found at all.  I hope you’ll join me. 


I find a new park today — a small one, hugging close to a silver ribbon of a stream, one that flows cold and deep over stones.

There’s an iron bridge here that leaps in a clean arc over the water.

There’s trees and rocks.  A bench or two.

And on this rainwet afternoon, sky-bright puddles freckle the earth with blue.

Can you believe it?  This place is just five minutes from home.  It’s been here all along…



I have with me a series of tiny chalkboards attached to small wooden stakes.  There’s a message already chalked onto them, one I’ve had in mind all day:

What if

spring comes

only to remind us

that all things

begin again.

It isn’t a new idea, this one.  I remember, from the days when I first read Walden, Thoreau’s remark that Spring might well make a Christian out of any man, and I suppose that’s true.  It’s an easy time to believe in redemption, when all things, everywhere, are bursting out new.

And yet I have to tell you:  I am learning, slowly, to believe in Spring now — now, here, in the coldest month.

Which is a crazy sort of faith if there ever was one — crazy, but not blind.


I thrust the chalkboards into the wet ground — one every twenty feet or so, following the meandering of the brook.

After that, my small work done, I make my way down to the stream’s edge.

I pick my way over the rocks, close to the falls, and snap shot after shot of water rushing black-to-white.  Leap back to the shoreline and bend low, my camera close to the surface-shimmer, trying to catch its reflection as it laps against stones.

I take pictures of everything and almost nothing:  eddies.  Pebbles.  Weeds spiking the bank.  And the whole time I keep thinking:  beautiful.  Beautiful.  Beautiful…


I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but sometime in the last few weeks I began to see beauty again.

For the longest time I thought winter was just nothing but a slow wet stretch of ice and ugliness, constant black-and-white drear.

Lately, though, my eyes have become attuned to the monochrome of this season, and – just as it was when I first began shooting in black-and-white – I’m finding myself seeing, as if for the first time, quieter forms of beauty that were here all along.

I see frost luminous on tufts of grass.

I see new growth shining flame-red on the tips of twigs.

I see sky-colors caught in puddles.

Did you catch what I said?  This beauty that I’m talking about … This beauty was here all along.





I stand up in the middle of the stream, realizing suddenly that my fingers are too frozen to take any more pictures.

Which is all right — really — I have enough.

I scroll through what I’ve taken, thinking:  Enough.  Enough.

And it is enough.  More beauty than I need to fill my heart for one more day, at least.

I walk back to my car.  Drive away, thinking again of my message:

What if

spring comes

only to remind us

that all things begin again?


And for the first time I realize that this thing beginning again — right here in the cold and the dark — is me. ❤