Losing our direction


I don’t know what happened to this hawk, a Red-Tailed, I think. Perhaps, in his dive down for a mouse or vole, he just lost his direction and impaled himself on the barbed wire fence. I shuddered when I walked by him on the path out to the lake, lost, myself, in fear and anger and sadness, during a week in which we witnessed the terrifying riot on the Capitol, and ever-escalation of people dead from Covid. As I’ve done for months now, I am always somewhat amazed we’ve made it to another week-end–that time has actually been moving forward as we continue to be trapped in place. I went to write down an appointment for February, in the calendar we keep in the kitchen, and realized I never bought a new one for 2021. I feel frozen in some sort of time warp, in which I cannot make out a future.

Friday, was the birthday of our youngest grandson, Eamon. He turned ten, yet It seems but a few years ago that we were in Berkeley, and I waited outside on the front porch with Norah and Cormac–who were bursting in excitement– for Mom and new brother to arrive home. In our FaceTime conversation with him, he told us all about the short-rib dinner his Dad was preparing, and how his sister was making his favorite chocolate cake with white icing. I said that I just couldn’t believe he was now in the double digits, and he said his sister told him that she wanted to freeze him in time, just as he is, so that he could stay like he is, forever. We chatted about how other family members were doing during this time of Covid, and he said that his grandmother in Canada was “terribly lonely”. I had to choke back my tears, remembering Billy Collins’ poem, On Turning Ten. I’ve posted this poem several times here through the years–now, this is my last grandchild, turning ten.

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Perhaps I need a good snowstorm. Winter has still not arrived in these parts. I’ve loved the afternoon sunshine, once the fog clears, and the dry roads and trails for my walks. But, like everything else, the Weather seems to have lost its direction. Where is that frigid arctic front which creates magical ice crystals in the air, and the complete stillness of a world blanketed in soft snow– that feeling of being tucked down under a big fluffy down comforter–safe, inside a silent snow globe. Maybe it could bring a bit of solace right now.

Snow Fall
by May Sarton

With no wind blowing
It sifts gently down,
Enclosing my world in
A cool white down,
A tenderness of snowing.

It falls and falls like sleep
Till wakeful eyes can close
On all the waste and loss
As peace comes in and flows,
Snow-dreaming what I keep

Silence assumes the air
And the five senses all
Are wafted on the fall
To somewhere magical
Beyond hope and despair.

There is nothing to do
But drift now, more or less
On some great lovingness,
On something that does bless,
The silent, tender snow.

A New Year


By Dana Gioia

Let other mornings honor the miraculous.
Eternity has festivals enough.
This is the feast of our mortality,
The most mundane and human holiday.

On other days we misinterpret time,
Pretending that we live the present moment.
But can this blur, this smudgy in-between,
This tiny fissure where the future drips

Into the past, this flyspeck we call now
Be our true habitat? The present is
The leaky palm of water that we skim
From the swift, silent river slipping by.

The new year always brings us what we want
Simply by bringing us along—to see
A calendar with every day uncrossed,
A field of snow without a single footprint.

I think it’s a good sign of my mental health that I woke up looking forward to writing January 1, 2021 for the very first time. After these months of solitary holidays, hunkered down alone in our silent cloister at water’s edge, good friends enticed us to join them on the western edge of the lake at dark, for a picnic in the snow around a campfire, to celebrate New Year’s Eve. In my favorite winter hour, l’here bleure, they lit the candles and lanterns, the wind was calm, geese flew by overhead, and we watched the lights on shore begin to come on and twinkle. We drank champagne and ate roasted hot dogs and beans around the crackling fire. And we laughed and laughed, telling epic stories about winters forty years ago. It was grand, and I think last night was the best sleep I’ve had in many months. No bad dreams–courtesy of the champagne, perhaps–but here we are, the start of a new year. There is hope in new beginnings.

“The new year always bring us what we want/Simply by bringing us along…”

Year’s End


The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is always an odd time–like you’ve just stalled out, hit the pause button. Back in the days when I was working, not much got done at the office, if anything, and it’s not time to take down the tree, and you’re getting tired of Christmas cookies, and you just feel like a layabout. At least that’s how it’s always been for me. I’m overwhelmed by the lists of the best books and movies and music of 2020. And, the photos of all the famous people who died this year just add to the over-arching sadness that 2020 has been. Field hospitals are popping up around the country again, and Trump still holds the power to completely blow us up.

And yet, it was a soft and gentle Christmas at our house. We had the loveliest morning walk on Christmas Eve along the river trail, in brilliant sunshine. Fellow walkers often just stopped and faced the sun, soaking up that heavenly light. Rita drove down with Christmas gifts, and she and her visiting son and girlfriend, stood on our dock at sunset and we all watched the rising moon in the clear eastern sky. It was maybe a 10 minute visit, in the cold, far apart, but I had not seen my friend since October, and it felt like a wonderful gift to me. Don had spent the day making his famous green chili, and over the week-end, we re-created some of Cafe Pasqual’s fabulous recipes and reminisced about all the times we’ve visited Santa Fe in the past 35 years together. We watched Christmas Vacation again, and there was a covering of snow when we awakened In the morning. Our German friends facetimed with us, looking merry and bright, as they showed off the duck confit they were preparing for dinner. After huevos rancheros, we went up to the Blacktail Nordic Trails, and I snowshoed while Don skied, and we looked out at the snow-covered Swan Range and Flathead Lake covered in wisps of fog, and stayed until the yellow glow of sunset began. Then, back home, in time for a family zoom meeting–the highlight of our celebration, to see all their faces, and hear their voices.

We were so tired at the end of it all. It takes a lot of energy to make this all work out–to just make the best of it. Now, the moon is nearly full, and it shines high in the sky all night long, illuminated by the snow-covered ground. I’ve been leaving my shutters open at bedtime so that when I am awake during the bewitching hours, I can look out at its glow, and find rest and comfort underneath the enormous sheltering roof over my head, and a life rich in family and friends and health and safety.

Years End, by Richard Wilbur

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

Coming to the Winter Solstice


“Hope is a renewable option: if you run out of it at the end of the day, you get to start over in the morning.” Barbara Kingsolver

Tomorrow is the Solstice and the first official day of Winter. In this time of Covid, it’s being referred to as The Dark Winter. Of course, it’s always a dark winter here in the north country, especially in the mornings, and since we are up so early, three hours have gone by before I see light out in the sky. On my best mornings, I cruise through the headlines online, bookmark things I want to delve into later, write a little, do some meditation and yoga, and stretch my sore hip muscles in preparation for a nice walk once it’s light enough. On those mornings, hope can feel like a renewable option. Mind you–those are my best mornings.

The snow on the ground is now gone, and it’s likely to be raining when we do our annual sunset walk on the north shore of the lake tomorrow. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a sunset on the Winter Solstice, but my photos are a record that there was some beautiful light last year. It’s always cold, and when the wind lashes us with freezing air off the water, it has that wild feeling of being on the Oregon coast in winter, when you can barely see the surf through the fog and rain, and the thundering sound makes you feel like your heart will burst out of your chest. I always have a pot of soup or chili on the stove to return home to, and we close down the night with hot Irish whiskey in front of the Christmas tree. I leave a candle burning on the dining room table to light this longest of nights.

And then, we get to wake up to a new day, and although it’s invisible, the light is truly returning. We can absolutely count on it. The older I get– and in these heartbreaking times–there is something so comforting, so necessary, in acknowledging that we are mere specks, on this tiny blue dot called Earth, floating around in celestial skies. Out of that vastness, I often find hope and solace, and a bit more perseverance. On my best days.

A Morning Offering, by John O’Donohue

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcomes the wonder of this day
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Waves of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

Can’t find the forest for the trees


For much of this past week, the weariness of it all has been a heavy load. Several nights, I awakened to Don’s hand on my forehead, and knew I had been yelling in my sleep again–my subconscious trying to sort out what I couldn’t do in the daylight. The stagnant air inversion matched my mood perfectly. In the meager number of hours of daylight this time of year, all the lamps had to be kept on inside the house. Then, along came the morning of this photograph. The fog was gone, the air was still, the temperature pleasant, and off I went to find the sunrise. Watching it come up, and shine golden through the trees, my own fog lifted and I felt the lightness of such a beautiful morning. I remembered the Winter Solstice is a little more than a week away, and nothing can stop the return of light to each day. And, with the vaccine approved, I am allowing myself to imagine being with my loved ones again. It will take some time, just as winter takes its own time, but warm, sunny days will surely come again.

It was a beautiful winter’s morning yesterday, with an inch of snow covering the ground and the sky was painted that unique winter grey-blue. It was soft and quiet on my morning walk, and I swear I heard winter birds that I’ve not noticed before now. I walked out to the head of the lake and couldn’t believe how golden the willow branches have become. I saw a small gathering of white swans, tucking their long necks in sleep, on still water at the edge of the ice. By the fireside, late in the afternoon, I watched L’heure bleue through the glass French doors. In spite of everything, it was another lovely day to behold. As John likes to say, “Nature always comes through.”

White-Eyes, by Mary Oliver

In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
             where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
             Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
    but he’s restless—
         he has an idea,
             and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
    as long as he stays awake.
         But his big, round music, after all,
             is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
    In the pine-crown
         he makes his nest,
             he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
    I only imagine his glittering beak
         tucked in a white wing
             while the clouds—

which he has summoned
    from the north—
         which he has taught
             to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
    into the world below
         like stars, or the feathers
             of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
    that is asleep now, and silent—
         that has turned itself
             into snow.

with its white eyes 
    shoves and pushes 
         among the branches. 
             Like any of us 




NOAA DISCUSSION…”Rinse and repeat! No words can better explain our
current weather regime as high pressure continues to dominate the
Northern Rockies. Inversions are just getting stronger and the
core of the surface high pressure still appears to be roughly over
the Missoula Valley where the surface pressure sits at 1030.8 mb
(8 mbs less than yesterday). Compared to this time yesterday
multiple locations above 5000 feet are 5 to 10 degrees warmer,
while lower valleys are a degree or two cooler. This pattern is
expected to continue through Tuesday.

Patience,young grasshopper, were the wise words spoken by Master
Po in the classic TV show Kung Fu. They relate to this discussion
in that our pattern looks to become more active Wednesday onward.

Don said the other morning that “the only light we see is coming from within the house”. I might add that the interior light has often been in short supply this past week as well. These are just hard times. I’m tempted to re-read Timothy Egan’s book, The Worst Hard Time, about survival during the American Dust Bowl years, but I don’t think it will make me feel better. Strangely, I’m very much enjoying Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney, based on the true story of a WWI messenger pigeon. There must be something about seeing human beings through the eyes of a pigeon that makes it more bearable. My California families can no longer see one another, outside, in their yards, even with their masks on. My Billings family have just returned from a memorial service for my son-in-law’s father in Colorado. Lee is still on oxygen. Trump continues to spread existential peril around the world. The gray cloud feels everlasting.

I went for an early walk along the north shore lakebed this morning, in a light misty fog, with not a breath of breeze. It was one of those times where there was no visible horizon. Just frozen sand and ice, and quiet open water, merging into the gray sky. There was not a sound. Even the four eagles I spotted were quiet. I thought of all the memories I have of being there in winter with family and friends, ice skating in the best years. Once upon a time, I would never see anyone else. There used to be a falling down homestead on the path out to the water, and I have beautiful photos of the rising sun, shining through windows where once there was glass. For a while, the ancient willow tree still remained, next to the homestead that was removed, and I have lovely photos to remember it by, as the setting sun illuminated its golden branches. Now, no one would know they’d ever been there, and new homes line the access road. Dog owners have discovered this as a great place to let their dogs run free. There was a pair of bird hunters this morning, setting up incredibly realistic Canada geese decoys in the water, and when a flock of geese flew overhead, some of the decoys flapped their wings and the call made by the hunters was inextinguishable from the real thing. I silently yelled out to the passing geese to “fly high, fly high”, and knew I wouldn’t turn to look if I heard a shot. It’s still a place where you feel you should whisper, and we’ll take our quiet annual Winter Solstice walk out there very soon. It was a reminder to me this morning that things are always changing, and these bad times will change as well. Patience.

Patience, grasshopper,” said Maia. “Good things come to those who wait.”
“I always thought that was ‘Good things come to those who do the wave,'” said Simon. “No wonder I’ve been so confused all my life.” 
― Cassandra Clare, 
City of Glass

December 1, 2020


It’s going to take some vigilance, some intention, to keep spirits bright in these December days with dim light and long dark nights.Findinghomeinmontana 12.01.2019

Did I really write that here, one year ago today? I thought things were that troublesome, even before the pandemic? I did not have a clue about how bad it would get. As Carol wrote in a text last night, “The world is spinning way too quickly, as it spirals sideways and downward…”. My Covid nightmares are back, and at 3:00 am this morning, all I could think about is where and how will I get parsley for the turkey soup I plan to make today. Sigh.

Thanksgiving turned out to be a lovely day, all day long, just the two of us, as the house filled with the smell of pumpkin pie and turkey. The champagne was popped at 2:00 in the afternoon and we listened to a cheery Spotify Thanksgiving playlist while we cooked away together in the kitchen. Late in the afternoon, just before it was time to pull the turkey out of the oven, we took a walk through our forest, across neighbor’s meadows, up their empty roads, down to water’s edge, in stunning golden light. We talked to our families and got to see those California kids via FaceTime. And we finished off the day watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles, laughing through the scenes we know so well.

I had planned to decorate the Christmas tree the next day, but just couldn’t get into it. So many loved ones in our lives are in a world of hurt right now, and Trump is burning down the house, with 50 days to go. I cannot even read the dire predictions about the pandemic’s explosion, after people gathered together for Thanksgiving. The director of our local health department just resigned after months of conflict with a no-mask county commissioner board. As Carol said, it feels like we are spiraling sideways and downward.

The weather outside is hardly frightful, for this first day of December. The temperatures are supposed to get below freezing, but no precipitation is predicted all this week. There is nothing worse for a meteorologist than a stagnant high pressure system, and you can tell our NOAA forecasters who write the weather discussions are getting bored. With no cold fronts or arctic blasts or jet stream changes to talk about, there is but a brief, bland paragraph on the discussion page. I’ve taken to reading the national forecast on NOAA’s website each morning. It’s quite interesting to read about the lake effect snow in the Great Lakes, the freeze in Appalachia, the power outages in Maine. There’s something weirdly comforting to me to have a handle on what the weather is like across the country. It must make me feel like I have control over something.

Well, it’s December now, and time to get after that tree, bring up some twinkling and sparkling ornaments from the basement, and add a little cheer to the house. If I can locate that parsley, it will smell like turkey soup. There’s a sky-blue sky out my window, just a skiff of breeze, 38 degrees, and a great morning for a crisp walk.

“Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard, or too sad when you’ve got a Christmas tree in the living room.” Nora Roberts

November’s Finale


Here we are, Thanksgiving week. We’ve somehow managed to live with Covid for nine months now–I don’t think even my pregnancies seemed that long. But, November has been so lovely, in that November kind of way. After October’s unwelcome snow storm, the days have been above freezing, sometimes raining, sometimes blustery, sometimes foggy, and I swear, it’s a rare 4:00 in the afternoon that it does not look like this in my living room. The sun, so low in the sky, floods the house and I cannot do a thing except sit in the chair with a kitty on my lap, and soak in the beautiful light. We took an afternoon walk in the woods at Wayfayer’s Park yesterday, and it was like one of those late autumn afternoon walks you read about in a British novel, after they’ve had their Sunday roast, when the rust-gold air is scented by woodsmoke, and the path is spongy with decaying leaves and needles, and it smells just like my favorite oak and cedar scented candle. It’s so lovely to return home as the sun is setting, start the fire, pour yourself a pint. I love November.

It’s lightly snowing this morning, coming gently straight down. It won’t amount to much with 34 degree temperatures, but it’s a harbinger of winter which arrives now in less than a month. I’ll miss November’s gentleness and its melancholy and its nostalgia. The light is so bright white in winter, and is there any smell other than that flinty one of cold? I know I’ll see her beauty–even now, it is pleasantly still and quiet as I watch big flakes drift down to earth out my window. But, November, I am reluctant to bid you farewell.

Reluctance, by Robert Frost

Out through the fields and the woods
   And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
   And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
   And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
   Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
   And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
   When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
   No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
   The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
   But the feet question ‘Whither?’

Ah, when to the heart of man
   Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
   To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
   Of a love or a season?

One of those families…


My brother died yesterday, alone with a nurse, in the Covid ICU unit at a Maui Hospital. We had been expecting it with his condition deteriorating over the past week or so, but his wife, Peggy–just out of quarantine–was getting things ready at their home so he could smell the sea and feel the sun one more time. He asked her to get his three sisters on the phone so he could say goodbye, and for over two hours, the three of us, Peggy, and their daughter Dee, were on the phone together talking to him and to one another. He was coherent early in the first hour to tell us how lucky he was to have us for sisters, and we were all able to share our love for him. Erin, the tenderest of nurses, helped us understand what was happening to him, how his face looked, and said it seemed to calm him as he listened to us speaking with one another. So, we shared stories, lots of laughs, pickle recipes. We said a prayer together with the chaplain when she came into his room. We kept remarking to each other that now we’d become one of those Covid families we’ve been reading about–our loved one dying alone, while we talked to them on the phone. And yet, it was a beautiful experience of family to be on that conference call together, and when Erin told us we’d heard his last breath, and said she was so sorry we couldn’t be there, and that he had to be with a stranger, she did not feel like a stranger. She was just so kind.

After we hung up, I walked out on the north shore of the lake to be with the “pale gold light of a November sky” as Albert Camus wrote. Except for a family of Canada Geese resting in the water, I was alone in the sunset. I knew it had been an extraordinary experience– to be together on that phone call as my brother left this earth–to share our love before he was gone. I kept thinking about Erin, hoping when she went home, after that long day tending to my brother and to us, that she was met with a loving family of her own. We learned this morning that she was a traveling nurse…I hope she at least had a phone call. She was so kind.

KINDNESS by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

A bit of calm


After the long, stressful election week, a bit of calm settled over things. I popped a bottle of champagne Saturday night, and just reveled in the deep breaths I could finally take. As the week closed down, It snowed and was quiet and peaceful. Everyone I talked to said they had been taken aback to realize how much tension they’d held in their bodies for so long. But, it felt like we’d come together, to the top of the hill, for some rest and comfort.

I was tearful when the promising news came out about the vaccine, and I began to imagine the possibility of being with my family again come summer. There is a long dark winter between now and then–but, we always have long dark winters. With Covid raging out of control, we are more hunkered down, more isolated than other years, but this house does winter well. I’m lighting the candles now at dusk and there’s a fire going in the living room by late afternoon. A small flock of winter robins are hanging around in the aspens outside the window, and when they land on a thin bare branch, they look like they are jumping up and down on a trampoline. I could swear they are here just to keep my spirits up. Don is starting his search for the perfect turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner for two. I’m starting to think about holiday decorations for the mantle with garland and fairy lights. Maybe we’ll get the Christmas tree early and decorate it in simple white lights. It will be so quiet in this house, and perhaps just lighting the darkness will feel just right for Christmas 2020. We’ve come so far in this year! We press on–and there is so much to crush the spirit–but, there’s a whiff of hope in the air, in our best moments.

Up-Hill, by Christina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way? 
   Yes, to the very end. 
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? 
   From morn to night, my friend. 

But is there for the night a resting-place? 
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin. 
May not the darkness hide it from my face? 
   You cannot miss that inn. 

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? 
   Those who have gone before. 
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? 
   They will not keep you standing at that door. 

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? 
   Of labour you shall find the sum. 
Will there be beds for me and all who seek? 
   Yea, beds for all who come.