Rocket the Flying Squirrel ~ a ridiculously true story

Rocket the Flying Squirrel makes his landing on our backyard bird feeders

Just before winter’s biggest snowfall, some new people moved into the house on Oxford Avenue. Before they even unpacked their clothes, they set-up several bird feeders. Continuous drama has since ensued from a cast of wild critters and feathered friends. There are many stories to tell about life in any backyard, but this is a tale about Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel.

This hunk of a squirrel got his name from the flying ace and sidekick of Bullwinkle. He lives in the same backyard as Squirrel Nutkin, a namesake any Beatrix Potter fan would recognize, and Twinkleberry, a sweet little squirrel who loves to preen herself in front of the window where the people sit to watch nature unfold in its simple, joyful ways.

Within a few days of putting out that tempting cage of peanuts suspended from a sturdy bird-feeding system, Rocket was spotted sitting on top stuffing his cheeks. He looked at the people through the window, nodded his head approvingly, and gave a thumbs-up as if to say, “Nom, nom, nom. Delicious!”

“How did he get up there?” the people asked each other. After all, this was a fairly sophisticated feeder system with a proven squirrel-proof baffle. Any trees were a good nine feet away from the pole.

It wasn’t long before they saw Rocket shimmy up a tree, gingerly tightrope-walk onto a tiny limb, so thin it was nearly imperceptible, bounce three times, and launch himself through the air in a beautiful swan dive onto the top of the feeder. Squirrel Nutkin and Twinkleberry attempted the feat several times in what could only be called epic fails.

As it was a time of sub-zero temperatures, the people began tossing bread and crackers on the deck so the poor things wouldn’t starve to death. The squirrels, as well as an occasional deer and raccoon, appreciated the feast, but it did nothing to deter Rocket from gorging himself on expensive peanuts truly meant for the woodpeckers.

One day Squirrel Nutkin lodged an entire Ritz cracker in his mouth and carried it up a tree fifty feet in the air to enjoy in peace. Rocket followed closely behind, cozied right up next to him, and stuck out his paw to snatch it from Nutkin, who had clearly had enough of Rocket’s antics. They fought in a tangled circle of squirrel tails and squirrel gibberish until the cracker fell all the way to the ground and hid itself deep in the snow. Nutkin was livid. He leapt to another tree still squawking and pouted most of the day while he watched Rocket swing gleefully from the feeder of nuts.

After the snow melted, the lady of the house propped a ladder against the tree, climbed up, and ceremoniously snipped the thin limb from the tree effectively ending Rocket’s fun, or so she thought. A few weeks of this work-out, combined with a high-protein diet, had made Rocket stronger than the average squirrel. Within a day, he was able to launch himself directly from the side of the tree onto the top of the bird feeder.

When the people see Rocket perched on the feeder, they open the backdoor, clap their hands, and shout strange words. Sometimes the man even throws ice cubes. It’s a fun game that signals the squirrel to do an impressive reverse leap right back to the tree. The only way to stop Rocket from getting on the feeder would be to move the entire system to another spot which, for some reason, hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps the people get a thrill watching Rocky fly, or maybe they understand no matter what they do, this squirrel will win.

Early one morning this week, the lady stood at the window watching several gold finches and juncos, a cardinal, a flicker, and two downy woodpeckers at the bird feeders. Suddenly, on the trunk of a tree just a foot from the house, appeared an upside-down Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel looking at her eye-to-eye through the window. Not at all surprised, she smiled and said, “Hello there, Rocky.” He held up his right paw and waved it slowly back and forth.

From the table, her husband sat perfectly still and whispered, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing right now.” “Good morning,” the lady said through the window. The squirrel smiled at her and waved again before jumping to the deck, darting up his tree, and flying to the top of the bird feeder for breakfast. §

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Flowers and Folklore ~ the mysterious Lenten Rose

Flowers enchant me, especially when they are accompanied by a rich history of legend and folklore. Right in our backyard there blooms such a flower full of mystery, excitement, danger, and above all, promise.

When we moved into our southern Illinois house in late January, I noticed an odd patch of deep green tropical-looking foliage. I did a double-take a couple of weeks later when, through a frosty window, I thought I saw a flower blooming. I put on my boots and trudged through several inches of snow to investigate. Sure enough, a dark mauve blossom was peeking out under nature’s thick blanket of white.

I gasped at the sight, but I was also curious. Upon closer inspection, I knew the flower wasn’t an early-blooming snowdrop or crocus. A little research revealed the mysterious flower was a Lenten rose, known to gardeners as hellebore from the Latin hellenborus orientalis. Not a rose at all, this hardy perennial with evergreen leaves and a variety of colorful blossoms is part of the buttercup family. What a story this flower tells!

Helleborus means “injure food” in Greek. Yes, this pretty flower is poisonous. The Greeks were known to use it in battle to poison another city’s drinking water. Many scholars believe Alexander the Great died from a poisonous dose of hellebore. It’s also said that King Arthur’s sister, Morgan Le Faye, made an evil concoction of hellebore and gave it to Guinevere to prevent her from being able to conceive.

In ancient times, smaller doses of hellebore were used to treat a range of illness including insanity. In Greek mythology, it’s told that King Argo’s daughters were driven so mad by Dionysus that they ran naked in the streets mooing like cows. As time passed, their madness increased and spread to other women in the village. The healer Melampus, gave the women hellebore in milk to restore their sanity. Something tells me a ladies’ night out would have had the same effect.

It seems our tenacious little flower was also a favorite of witches during medieval times. Old world witches were famous for using it to make their magical flying ointment. They rubbed the hellebore salve all of themselves and took off flying. Of course, the poisonous herb has hallucinogenic effects, so it’s possible they only thought they were flying.

Certain there was some dark magic involved in a flower that bloomed in winter, people in the Middle Ages threw hellebore on their floors to drive out evil influences. Many herbalists at the time believed powdered hellebore could be scattered on the ground and walked upon to render invisibility. Now that’s something I might like to try, though I’d have to face east on a moonless night and hope I’m not spotted by an eagle, which would seal my fate of death within a year.

Thankfully, Victorian gardeners rescued the innocent hellebore from its more sinister and gothic attachments. Because the flower blooms during the season of Lenten, the hellebore became better known as the Lenten rose and was a favorite among the Victorians.

What a beautiful symbol that during Lent, a 40-day time of contemplation and preparation for Easter, the cold dead ground would produce a lovely flower promising rejuvenation and rebirth. In the Victorian language of flowers, known as floriography, the Lenten rose represents serenity, tranquility, and peace.

It’s mid-March now, and our patch of Lenten roses is in full bloom. The old palm-shaped leaves have fallen away and sizable clumps of new green foliage surround an abundance of flowers in white, yellow, pink and purple. On sunny days, bees dine on the yellow centers of flowers I’ve learned will last well into May.

It’s still chilly and damp outside, but in our warm and cozy home, cut blooms fill a vase with sweet and colorful flowers I now know are Lenten roses. Reflecting on their storied past, the exquisite blooms offer intriguing history and, most of all, the very real hope and beauty of spring. §

10 Ways to Bring More Joy to Your Days

Hard to believe we are already three months into the new year. My personal mantra for this year is Joie de Vivre, or joy of living. Honestly, on more than one occasion I double-checked my poor French didn’t cause me to sign-up for more stress, than joy, in my vivre!

Of course, true advocates of la joie de vivre would say it’s when things get a little crazy, or fou in French, that we must remember to celebrate life’s simple joys. We each have our own ideas about what brings happiness, but here are ten areas where we can all find more everyday joy.

1. Dining ~ No matter what we’re eating, we can make meals a more pleasant ritual. We can take time to put our food on a pretty plate and sit down with a placemat and napkin. We can turn off the television and put away our phones. It will soon be warm enough to dine al fresco. Savoring our meals with gratitude is a simple joy we often take for granted.

2. Nature ~ Research indicates many people, especially children, are increasingly experiencing a nature deficit. With spring right around the corner, most of us are eager to get outside in the fresh air. Take a walk. Listen to the birds. Enjoy the sunshine. Nature is good for the mind, body, and soul, and it is such a simple way to increase our joy.

3. Creativity ~ When we get lost in something creative, we give our brains a break from fret and worry and get into a meditative state some scientists call flow. Whether we enjoy gardening, cooking, painting, quilting, or some other hobby, delving into a creative pursuit is where we can find our happy place.

4. Flowers ~ Flowers bring joy to any space. I’ll never forget how my students reacted when I brought in fresh flowers for our classroom. It won’t be long before the earth will be speaking to us through blossoms of every type and color. Pick a single flower or budding tree limb and arrange it in a vase of water for instant happiness.

5. The Arts ~ The arts have always brought joy to humanity. Thankfully, we all have different tastes in architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, music, performance, and film, but we know what makes our heart sing. Until we can safely return to our beloved museums, libraries, and theaters, we can explore the arts at home. I’m already planning my trip to see the Van Gogh Immersive Experience in Chicago.

6. Wardrobe ~ Opening an organized closet filled with a small selection of clothing I want to wear brings me such joy. I personally love the simplicity and femininity of dresses. I’ve already put away my darker, heavier ones and brought out my spring things. Getting dressed is something we do every day, and it can easily become something that brings us joy.

7. Attitude ~ Nothing adds more joy to our days than having a positive attitude. Cultivating a good attitude is a daily habit. Whatever we focus on seems to increase, so it only makes sense to think on the positive. Long ago I heard someone say we can choose to wake up and say, “Good God, morning” or “Good morning, God.” The choice is ours!

8. Color ~ What colors bring you joy? This week I looked at thousands of rugs at a large decorating store. I had to dig deep to find one in a color that made me smile. That peachy-coral rug and a few cans of paint in fresh, happy colors have made our new house feel like home. To a large extent, we have a choice about the colors that surround us. What color do you need more of in your life?

9. Self-Care ~ Sometimes we need to pamper ourselves a little. My sister sent me a gift set of heavenly lavender-scented bath products. She knows how much I value the simple joy of closing the door and luxuriating in an hour or so of at-home beauty treatments. It’s not about primping and preening for vanity’s sake. It’s about taking time to care for ourselves, so we can take care of others.

10. Spirituality ~ Our spiritual growth is a lifelong process that can bring us the ultimate joy. We can seek it throughout our days from books, music, meditation, scripture, yoga, art, nature, prayer, silence, service, and religious practices. Many would agree, the greater our spirituality, the greater our joy. It was Mother Teresa who reminded us, “Joy is strength.” §

(To read more about the French expression, Joie de Vivre, please go to my January article at http://www.thesimpleswan.com/2021/01/03. Merci!)

Closing Doors, Changing Paths, and Making Decisions

(Illustration by Mary Engelbreit)

If you’ve ever bought or sold a house you know the stressful process culminates in what’s called a closing. I never thought much about that name until this week when my husband and I sat around a big table, a circle of pens in hand, and gently closed the door to our old life.

It’s said, “When one door closes, another door opens.” Funny that quote comes from Alexander Graham Bell, because I really did hear a call to move in a different direction. Impossible-to-miss signs, nudges, and whispers were placed on my heart making it the easiest decision I ever made.

That’s saying a lot, because I’m the worst at decision-making. I’m always the last to order at a restaurant as I agonize over the menu. I used to change clothes several times before heading off to work. I recently stared at a display of paint samples for an embarrassing length of time deciding what shade of light blue to paint our bedroom.

Knowing my habit of second-guessing, I once framed a cute Mary Engelbreit poster of someone striding down a path with a knapsack. There is a sign at the fork in the road. One arrow reads, “Your life.” The other reads, “No longer an option.” Its light-hearted message helped me approach my decisions with more confidence.

No poetry-lover could see that poster of two paths and not think of Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth…”

I taught that poem for nearly thirty years. Having recited it hundreds of times, you’d think the poem would lose its impact on me. But no, when I come to the last stanza, my voice always trembles. “I shall be telling this with a sigh. Somewhere ages and ages hence: two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Growing up, my daughter’s favorite Disney princess was Pocohontas. Over and over we watched Pocohontas turn to Grandmother Willow for advice about which path to take in life. The beautiful old willow tree sang her words of wisdom, “Listen with your heart, you will understand. Let it break upon you like a wave upon the sand. Listen with your heart, you will understand.”

We all face decisions every day. When we follow our hearts and listen for divine direction, big decisions become infinitely easier. We can confidently choose which doors to close, which ones to walk through, and which paths to take with no regrets and no looking back. §

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Listen to the Song of the Train

Lordship Lane Station, 1871 by Camille Pissarro

In the quiet darkness of night, I hear the comforting rumble of the train as I lie awake in the same little town where I grew up. My head rests now on a pillow not far from the cozy bed of my childhood, where the train’s song was a lullaby of comfort, a reminder of perseverance, and a symbol of life’s journey.

As a child, the train that ran through our town watched over me like an angel. Day or night, its approaching sound assured me life was chugging along in a steady rhythm, and I was never alone. My train angel’s steel wings sang a soothing hymn as it flew by my house, school, or secret spot in the woods.

Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I’m conditioned to feel peace when I hear the distant sound clattering down the tracks. Even now, the train’s vibration sinks deep into my heart, and instantly makes me feel calm and connected. In her poem Song of the Railroad Train, Mrs. John Loye wrote, “How grand by night o’er countryside is that wild melodious strain; and music blown at eventide, is the song of the railroad train.”

No child should grow up without reading the American folktale The Little Engine that Could. The 1930s story teaches the value of optimism and hard work. At nearly sixty years old, I confess to finding strength in the little blue engine’s mantra, “I think I can, I think I can.”

Sometimes the rails we ride are long and monotonous. Other times they take us up steep hills, down plunging valleys, and through dark tunnels. When we can’t see the light, we find the hope and the will to keep going.

Trains are an easy metaphor. We’re all aboard a journey that takes us to different stations in life, some by choice and others by chance. There are love trains, peace trains, crazy trains, runaway trains, midnight trains, and freedom trains.

Along the way we’re joined by fellow passengers ~ family, friends, teachers, loves, children, coworkers, and neighbors ~ but we all begin and end our trip alone. Sometimes the train takes us right back where we began. We step off the platform carrying a lifetime of lessons, experiences, and memories collected on our sojourn.

On this night, the ambient wail and low blowing horn remind me of a salvation song. I hum along with my train angel, “People get ready, there’s a train a comin’. You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.” §

A Revolution of Civility ~ 10 rules from George Washington for today

Portrait of George Washington by Thomas Sully circa 1820

America’s annual holiday in honor of George Washington came a little more than a month after an unsettling display of incivility at our nation’s Capitol. The event shook many of us to our core and increased our desperate longing for a more gracious society.

I recently picked up a book on the clearance shelf titled Civility ~ George Washington’s 110 Rules for Today by Steven Michael Selzer. According to the author, when George Washington was just fourteen, he copied 110 principles for personal conduct from a manual composed by French Jesuits in 1595. Washington titled his list Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation and carried it with him throughout his life.

As America’s first president, perhaps Washington understood that civil behavior is not just desirable but essential to a successful democratic nation. In a letter written to the people of Baltimore in 1789, Washington wrote what could easily be applied to us today, “It appears to me that little more than common sense and common honesty, in the transactions of the community at large, would be necessary to make us a great and happy nation.”

Most of Washington’s rules are as apropos in 2021 as they were 250 years ago, though a few have become less relevant. One such rule states, “Kill no vermin, as fleas, lice, ticks, etc., in the sight of others. If you see any filth or thick spittle, put your foot dexterously upon it.” Ew, George.

Out of Washington’s 110 rules, I’ve chosen just ten (keeping his original language) that could start a revolution of civility.

  1. Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present. This was Washington’s rule number one, and if we truly followed it, the others might be unnecessary. Everyone deserves kindness and respect, and though the rules are apolitical, it does pair nicely with a nation founded upon principles of democracy.
  2. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet. This rule makes me think Washington may have spent some time as an eighth grade teacher. We should all keep in mind that our music, talking, fidgeting, pencil tapping, phone use, and other behaviors might be disturbing to others.
  3. Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty. I’ve heard it said we Americans often know our rights better than our wrongs. We are gloriously endowed with freedom of speech, but we should do so carefully, respectfully, and wisely.
  4. Use no reproachful language against anyone. Neither curse nor revile. One of the most distressing scenes from January 6 was that of a woman, old enough to be a grandmother, standing in the halls of our Capitol repeatedly calling someone a most vile name. Cursing others may be commonplace in today’s society, but civil it is not.
  5. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company. In business, politics, and our personal life, we should be careful of the company we keep. It was Washington’s pal Benjamin Franklin who said, “He that lies down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas.”
  6. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any. I’m not sure Washington could have foreseen the abounding dishonesty paraded as truth in our society. Now more than ever, we have the responsibility to get our information from trustworthy sources and share it judiciously.
  7. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly. In the words of another great president, Abraham Lincoln, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
  8. Be not curious to know the affairs of others, neither approach those that speak in private. In an age when many over-share details of their personal lives, it’s still important to respect people’s privacy. It takes a certain amount of maturity and discretion to stay out of the rumor mill.
  9. Put not another bite into your mouth till the former be swallowed. Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls. Though poor table manners may not be immoral, they can be unpleasant. A revival of basic etiquette would go far in increasing our respect towards one another.
  10. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience. This delightful quote is Washington’s 110th and final rule. Deep down we know civil from uncivil, courteous from discourteous, polite from impolite. Imagine if we all endeavored to keep that heavenly flame of our conscience burning bright. §

From Nature, With Love

heart swans

Nature sends the sweetest Valentines. She  gives us heart-shaped gifts in the form of clouds, seashells, and adorable puppy spots. A universal symbol of love, hearts found in nature are positively sigh-inducing.

My son was very young when he proudly gave me a rock shaped like a heart. I imagine his face beaming at its discovery while playing outside, his tiny hand quickly stuffing it in his pocket for safe-keeping. He found supplies to decorate it, outlining the rock’s shape with red poster paint and carefully painting, in blue, the word love.

It’s a gift I’ve never forgotten, and so began my beloved collection of heart rocks. For more than twenty years, nature has freely offered them. Family and friends find them on their travels and present them to me knowing I will cherish them more than any souvenir.

When my husband and I go hiking, we frequently stop to pick up a rock that catches our eye, gleaming at the bottom of a creek bed or hiding in forested nooks and rocky crannies. We carefully examine it and hold it out for the other to approve. Only those with a certain je ne sais quoi make the cut. The others are given a parting squeeze and tossed back with a wish.

My heart rock collection fills a large tray in our bedroom. There are more than a hundred, some the size of my palm, others as small as a dime. Their colors are a soothing palette of nature. They came from beaches and deserts, rivers and mountains, playgrounds and parking lots. I wonder the story of each one. How old is it? Where has it been? How did nature manage to tumble and turn it until it was shaped like love?

Photographers have captured amazing images of hearts in nature from all over the world ~ a heart-shaped beach in Brazil, a heart-shaped boulder in Joshua Tree National Park, a heart-shaped island in Croatia, even a heart-shaped crater on the surface of Mars.

While such phenomenon would be a thrill to see, I’m just as happy to spy a flock of birds flying in a heart pattern or a perfect heart-shaped leaf trailing from a houseplant.

Those who open their eyes in appreciation of nature are freely bestowed her gifts. William Wordsworth wrote this lovely sentiment about her undying affection, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” §

Note: A version of this story was published on my blog and in my local newspaper last February. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Embracing the Season of Now

My mother, daughter, and I stand next to one another in front of a sunny window. The trees outside my mom’s bedroom are bare on this crisp winter day. “The trees will be so pretty in a couple of months,” I say, instantly regretting my words.

I’m learning to accept and appreciate the unmatched beauty of the moment.

It’s easy to spend our time dreaming of the next season or reminiscing about past ones. The ages of the three women in that room span more than fifty years. Each feels a certain amount of discomfort about the season in which she finds herself.

At thirty, my daughter is in full bloom. She faces the daily excitement and anxiety of a demanding profession in a bustling city. She is a newlywed looking forward to becoming a homeowner and wondering if she will also become a mother. If not unaware, she is indifferent to her skin so soft and supple, her body so long and lithe, her mind so sharp and strong.

In the window is a hazy reflection of me between my daughter and my mom. I’m part of the sandwich generation, those of us firmly in the middle of grown children we still worry about and aging parents who need our care. I’m retired now, leaving me no real identity outside of my relationships. I look a little tired and no longer young, but I am still growing.

My mother is the most deeply rooted of us. She is a towhead little girl, a beautiful bride, a young mother, a devoted grandmother, and a grieving widow. She says she never expected to live so long and that she doesn’t want to be a burden. How I wish she understood she’s no more a burden than a stately tree that’s provided solace and shade for generations.

As if my daughter and mother can read my mind, we are silent. The significance of the three of us coming together for just a moment to look out the same window is palpable.

The trees’ myriad of branches are strong, bold, and intentional against the bright blue sky. They hold both the memory and promise of fresh blossoms and green leaves, but on this cold and clear winter day they are living fully in the season of now. §

Everything In Its Place ~ moving in with Mom

Thomas Kinkade oil painting of a 19th century English cottage

In what seems like a quaint Jane Austen novel or a zany nineties sit-com, depending on the moment, my husband and I now live in the same house as my 82-year-old mother in the small town where we grew up. The decision to move back to our hometown to care for Mom was an easy one. More difficult was the logistical issue of combining two very different households into one.

Imagine moving the contents of an average home and times that by two. For someone who values simplicity and order as I do, it was almost too much. For a month before the move, my fitful dreams were filled with visions of multiple toasters, sofas, blenders, ironing boards, pianos, and hangers…so many unmatched hangers!

I made the executive decision to pack up everything from both homes and, in one fell swoop, move it all to the new house on closing day. From there, we would choose what to keep and what to donate. Since Mike and I lean toward minimalism, our mostly functional possessions took up substantially less space than my mother’s.

As box after box was unpacked, each item met its fate. What Mom lacks in simplicity, she makes up for in good taste. In nearly every case, her things trumped ours. Our bed, books, photographs, and collection of heart-shaped rocks were just about the only things that made the cut.

Once we pared down, it was time to put things away. My mantra has always been “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Houses have a way of telling their owners where things naturally belong. Pots and pans go near the stove. Hats and gloves go near the front door. Once you find a perfect home for something, that’s where it should stay.

Within a couple of days after moving, I took Mike and Mom on a walking tour of our house. As I opened every cabinet, closet, and drawer, I proudly waved my hand and said, “Dish towels go here, wine glasses go here, cleaning supplies go here, snacks go here, office supplies go here …” Their eyes glazed over after the wine glasses, but they graciously humored me.

Much like my mom, the new house is more elegant than the contemporary lake house where we used to reside. Her Royal Doulton and Hummel figurines look beautiful on the living room book case. My grandmother’s china cabinet and sparkling crystal are perfect in the traditional dining room. More importantly, I know it all makes Mom feel happy and at home.

A week after moving into our new house, the three of us prepared for dinner as if we’d lived there for years. Mike cooked in the kitchen with ease. Mom gathered placemats and silverware to set the table. I pulled plates and glasses from their rightful spots.

We sat at the dining room table in our usual places. Mike was on one side of me, and Mom was on the other. We clinked our glasses in a toast. I looked around our cozy home and had no doubt everything and everyone was in exactly the right place. §

‘The Hill We Climb’ ~ inaugural poem by Amanda Gorman

(Stock Photo)

The Hill We Climb by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry.
A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it. §

Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old Harvard graduate and first national youth poet laureate, delivered her poem The Hill We Climb at Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. Simply reading the words of her poem is like reading the lyrics to a song. To truly capture the rhythm, rhyme, mood, and promise of this powerful poem, please experience Gorman’s beautiful inauguration day performance. You can watch it at https://youtu.be/LZ055ilIiN4