The Grace and Goodness of Snow

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Even though the calendar has flipped to March, heavy wet snowflakes transformed our woods again this week taking me back to the very first time I saw snow.

It was a sunny Easter morning, and I woke up as happy and light as a five-year-old could be. Wearing my bunny nightgown, I stepped into our tiny blue bathroom and gasped. Just outside the window was a bright orange robin perched on a branch covered in white. She chirped excitedly, “Snow! Snow! SnowSnowSnow!” 

Standing on my tip-toes and peering over the window ledge, my whole world glittered. The smell of daddy’s shaving cream lingered in the bathroom. The fluffy layer covering every budding tree limb and blade of new grass looked as if it came from a can of Old Spice. I was certain it smelled just as clean and fresh, and I could hardly wait to scoop up a handful and hold it to my nose…

The fifty-year-old memory melted away, and I noticed it was snowing harder. Thick snowflakes floated to the ground in slow motion whispering magical words.

Soft…

In his poem The Dream Keeper, Langston Hughes spoke of the “too-rough fingers of the world.” A dear friend recently confided that the world was making her hard. I understood her concern, but I know better. My friend has the kind of heart that will allow her to stay soft. The more jagged and edgy the world becomes, the more I want to be a softer presence.

Pure…

Purity is synonymous with virtue, goodness, integrity, honesty and decency. We are never going to be perfect, but aiming to live a life of good character isn’t old-fashioned or unsophisticated. We have a choice about what we listen to, watch, read, say, do and even think. Being aware of what we put into our heads and hearts helps us reflect what we value.

Gentle…

St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing is so gentle as real strength.” My husband is one of the most gentle human beings I know. He inspires me to be more tender in my actions, interactions and reactions. We can learn to be gentle without being a pushover or a doormat.

Quiet…

It’s a noisy world. Restaurants are so loud it’s impossible to converse. Music thumps from the car in the next lane. Shoppers blab into cell phones while roaming store aisles. People interrupt to make their point. It’s useless to shout over the din. It’s said if you want someone’s attention, whisper.

Grace…

The freshly fallen snow makes everything appear perfect and beautiful, not the slushy dirty mess that is real life. Perhaps a beautiful snowfall is nature’s reminder of the grace that falls down on us to cover our imperfections, heal our hurts and return us to the innocence of a child amazed by her first snow. §

 

The first Sunday of each month, I share a new version of a previously-posted story. It gives me a chance to tinker with something I wrote a year or so ago. Maybe you missed this post the first time. Even better, maybe you’ll think it was worth a second look. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empty Nest – in honor of Mothers’ Day

A plump, orange-breasted bird and her mate began building a nest atop a porch light of a house that sits on a gravel road aptly named Robin Drive. The middle-aged couple moving into the home didn’t notice the birds gathering the grass, twigs, and mud necessary for the perfect nest. They were busy feathering their own.

The robin was peacefully resting in her finished nest when the lady walked around the corner of the house carrying an armload of empty boxes. She came nearly eye-to-eye with the bird, startling them both into brief hysterical flapping. The robin gave a sharp alarm call, “Peek! Peek!” and flew to a nearby tree.

The anxious bird was relieved to see the woman and her husband study the nest with a sense of reverence and mystique. She felt sure the nest on Robin Drive was a safe place to lay her eggs, one each day for four consecutive days.

The next three weeks or so, the robin felt like a welcomed guest. The people avoided disturbing her as they worked around their new home. The lady made a habit of tip-toeing a few feet away from the nesting bird and whispering, “Hi, Little Mama, I’m sorry to bother you.”

When the robin flew off in search of food, the man carefully photographed the four sky-blue eggs inside the nest. Once the beautiful eggs hatched, they watched the blind, featherless brood instinctively open their mouths, trusting their parents would feed them almost continuously.

The robin knew time with her sweet babies would be brief. As she whistled them a lullaby in the protection of their nest, she reminded herself of the two lasting gifts she would give them ~ roots and wings.

The lady sympathized with the mother robin when the babies were big enough to hop out of the nest, but not yet strong enough to fly well. It’s a dangerous time for the fledglings. The day the little birds were capable of flying completely on their own was bittersweet.

It was May when the lady saw the robin hopping around the yard near the birdbath. “Hi, Little Mama,” she said. Looking at the empty nest on the porch light, she confided, “I know just how you feel.”

She sat down on a tree stump and was quiet for a minute. “You were a good mother,” she said. “They’re going to be just fine.” Perched on the edge of the birdbath, the robin sang a rich and comforting tune. §

 

Biology Lessons ~ in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week

An injured butterfly gently rested in my cupped hands. Looking closely, I admired the symmetrical patterns painted in sleek black on bright yellow wings. The scalloped hindwings were decorated with a royal blue art-deco design and the slightest touch of orange. She was a work of art.

I could easily identify it as a female eastern tiger swallowtail, or Papilio glaucus, thanks to my tenth grade biology teacher, Mrs. Shaw. In hindsight, she was one of the most talented teachers I ever had. She helped me see the beauty and artistry in science. This was no small task as I typically enjoyed more creative, right-brained pursuits.

Always dressed in a white lab coat, Mrs. Shaw taught bell-to-bell with no idle chit-chat or wasted time. Using colored chalk, she drew intricate diagrams of cells, or whatever we were learning at the time, which we would replicate and study in our own notebooks.

Even in college, it was rare to have a professor with Mrs. Shaw’s combination of knowledge, passion, and teaching skills. When I became a teacher myself, I borrowed many of her techniques for running an effective and efficient classroom. She was smart and kind, poised and mature, making her a role model for all students, especially impressionable young women.

Students in Mrs. Shaw’s biology class completed two main projects ~ an insect display in the fall and a wildflower display in the spring. Picking wildflowers was right up my alley, but the bugs were another story. I wasn’t afraid of them, but I didn’t want to kill them.

Mrs. Shaw gave a compelling explanation why “preserving” the insects was crucial for our education and that was that. Armed with a bug net and glass jars containing cotton-balls soaked with rubbing alcohol, I scoured our yard, nearby woods, and roadsides for a month in search of insects native to Southern Illinois.

I set up my entomology lab on my dad’s workbench in the garage. After collecting an insect, I carefully placed it in the jar. I added my own step of saying a prayer of gratitude to each bug for sacrificing its life for my GPA. Next, I methodically mounted the insects with pins onto the foam board our teacher provided. The most important step was properly identifying each specimen by its common name, scientific name, and category.

Forty years later, I can’t help but remember that experience when I encounter a cute ladybug (Harmonia axyridis), an exquisite praying mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), or a beautiful monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).

I placed the swallowtail on a flowering bush, hoping her injured leg didn’t prove to be fatal. I bent down to say some encouraging words, and she began to move a bit. “You can do it,” I cheered.

It was then I decided to name her. “Fly away, Mrs. Shaw,” I said with a grin. Suddenly, she fluttered off the bush in a graceful loop. “Thank you for the biology lessons,” I whispered. “I haven’t forgotten them.” §

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloom and Grow

The unfurling of tiny green leaves and sweet blossoming flowers had me longing to write about personal growth ~ that natural urge to enrich and improve ourselves and our lives. I wasn’t exactly sure where the topic would take me, but I had a great quote from Mark Twain, and I felt certain something would emerge once I sat down to write.

I’ve returned to my hometown the past few weeks to care for my mother while she’s had a series of minor surgeries. She is recovering well from her most recent procedure and was up and about after breakfast this morning. “I think I’ll go to the library and try to write for a little while,” I told her.

Except for wireless Internet, the library hasn’t changed much since Mom took my sisters and me there when we were children. I intended to walk up the staircase to the second floor where I sometimes studied as a teenager, but I got lost in a memory of holding tightly to the oak banister wearing a red plaid dress and pigtails. I nostalgically ran my hand over the railing, worn smooth from use, and realized it had pulled me all the way up to the third floor where the children’s section used to be and still is.

Exchanging pleasantries with the librarian, I asked if I could sit at a small table and do some work. I positioned myself near a window hoping to be inspired by an elm tree bursting with new buds. There I sat in a quaint wooden chair, ignoring my laptop but absorbing every sight and smell of the familiar room.

I rose dreamlike and slowly ran my hand along a bookshelf, lightly touching the spines of Sounder, James and the Giant Peach, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia and other childhood stories that still touch my heart.

For nearly an hour I tried to focus on writing, but my thoughts kept turning to a little girl I once knew who sat cross-legged in the corner happily reading Little House in the Big Woods. I shook her out of my mind and read the quote I had jotted down by Mr. Twain.

“What is the most rigorous law of our being? Growth. No smallest atom of our moral, mental, or physical structure can stand still a year. It grows ~ it must grow smaller or larger, better or worse ~ it cannot stand still. In other words, we change, and must change, constantly, and keep on changing as long as we live.” 

Springtime helps us understand what Twain was talking about. The sudden appearance of leaves, grass, and blooms are obvious reminders of the miracle and beauty of growth. The transformation that comes each spring is easier for us to appreciate than the much slower moral, mental, and physical growth to which Twain refers.

One day you’re a child sitting in a little chair reading a library book, and five decades later you’re sitting in the same little chair trying to write something meaningful ~ something that will encourage us to keep growing in mind, body, and soul like flowers in springtime. §

Forever in a Day

Happy Easter, friends! I wrote a poem to celebrate this morning and every morning. I’m far more comfortable writing prose, but I was inspired by springtime, Easter and National Poetry Month. I hope it offers you a positive message that you can interpret as you wish. Enjoy a week filled with the beauty, promise, and renewal of spring.

Forever in a Day

To see forever in a day, wake up and lift your voice to pray

Watch sunlight spread across the land, just as it’s done since time began

Feel the earth so lush and green, where brown and dormant ground had been

Hear sweet birdsong fill the air ~ Smell the flowers everywhere

 

To see forever in a day, ask for wisdom come what may

Seek timeless lessons to be learned ~ Toil for honest wages earned

Heed tales told by wrinkled eyes ~ Sing a baby lullabies

Reach for a neighbor’s hand in love ~ We look the same from up above

 

To see forever in a day, have faith that stones can roll away

Let starlight fall upon your face, older than the human race

Allow great mysteries to unfold ~ Dream of ancient stories told

Sleep peacefully until the morn ~ Each break of dawn we are reborn §

A Poem as Lovely as a Tree

I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree… 

So begins Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees. I was about ten when I first read the poem in a book at school. I was drawn to its uncomplicated rhythm and rhyme. At such a tender age, I was also excited to understand a poem not written for a child. Gazing out the library window, I could see Kilmer’s beautiful trees joyfully reaching towards the heavens.

I find it amusing that Mr. Kilmer’s well-known poem is sometimes disparaged for being overly simple, sweet and straightforward. Funny, because that’s exactly how I like things to be! There are more sophisticated poems about nature, but Trees was one of the first to offer me a poetic reminder to be filled with gratitude, acceptance, and humility for my own existence.

Trees

I think that I shall never see  

A poem lovely as a tree

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

~Joyce Kilmer, 1913

Gratitude ~ Kilmer personified a tree that lifts its leafy arms to pray in appreciation for its life and the nourishment it receives from the sweet earth’s flowing breast. Like the tree, shouldn’t we rejoice and give praise for our creation and the abundance of earthly resources that allow us to live and grow?

Acceptance ~ The poet uses clear imagery to portray a tree that in summer may wear a nest of robins in its hair. The tree gladly accepts its purpose of providing shade and shelter for birds and other creatures. It may be covered deep in snow and pounding rain, yet it stands sturdy through the seasons. Can you and I accept our responsibilities and challenges with as much as grace?

Humility ~ More than one hundred years after writing this poem, Kilmer’s message still rings true. As we try to make our mark on the world in whatever way we’re led, we’d be fools to think our accomplishments could ever match the perfection found in nature. It’s humbling (and a bit of a relief) to remember no matter how creative and productive we become, man-made things will never compare to God’s handiwork.

National Poetry Month seems a perfect time for us to reflect on this poem. It encourages me to humbly, though perhaps foolishly, continue writing about the peace, joy, and gratitude I feel for nature’s beauty created by the greatest poet of all. §

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Write a Haiku

Inspired by a recent spring day filled with happy moments, I penned this haiku ~

April drive with Mom

Yellow forsythia blooms

All roads lead back home

You probably tried your hand at writing haiku poetry in a classroom long ago. In honor of National Poetry Month, could I entice you to explore your creativity and try it again today?

To refresh your memory, a haiku (pronounced hi-koo) is a form of Japanese poetry. Traditionally, a haiku is about nature and has just three short lines that don’t rhyme. The first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. Do you remember tapping your pencil on the desk to count syllables?

Haiku poetry can be traced back to 9th century Japan and was a way of celebrating the natural world. Matsuo Basho wrote this oft translated haiku in the 1600s ~

An old silent pond

A frog jumps in the water

Splash! Silence again

I always looked forward to teaching a unit on haiku poetry. Even the most reluctant students enjoyed it, especially when I brought out the cardboard box of individual watercolor sets and urged them to illustrate their poems. Their work made the most beautiful spring bulletin boards!

Knowing my love for poetry, my husband often writes me poems. He casually leaves them for me to find on post-it notes and torn sheets of notebook paper. They are written in the same distinctive handwriting that made my heart skip a beat when he passed me a note in high school.

A quiet rebel, he usually breaks the rules of haiku poetry, so we call his poems Mikus. Just like Mike, they are always sweet, often funny, and sometimes romantic like this favorite ~

Wooden rocking chairs

Sitting on the porch with you 

Forever and ever

Nothing would please me more than knowing you were inspired to write your own haiku. Go outside, or look out the window, and find something in nature to write about. Follow the rules, or don’t. Artistic rules are made to be broken. For extra credit, get out some colored pencils, crayons, or watercolors and make a picture to go along with your poem.

National Poetry Month is a perfect time to be creative. I understand if you want to keep it private, but I would love to read your haiku in the comments. I know from experience your poem will spark creativity in others and invite us all to look at the world in a more beautiful, artistic way. §