Mostly I’ve given over these shortening days and lengthening nights (typically good for writing), doing two non-writing things. One is coming up with hearty (and sometimes sweet) wintery meals like winter squash, sage, & apple cider tortellini, three-bean chili bolstered with roasted corn & butternut squash, and baking Ginger Stout Cake and salted pretzel peppermint bark. Grace Paley’s poem below confirms that choosing baking over writing can be a good choice.
The other alternative to writing has been wandering the woods with Emma.
To discipline myself to sit inside, in front of a computer when Emma is outside enjoying life without me–well–she seems in the better place. She’s out there sniffing and tracking critters, discovering what holly berries and snow taste like, learning to differentiate an owl from a hawk, and perhaps to distinguish between the tittering song of the smaller birds that take up residence in the forest. Turns out the more I’m outside in misty drizzle, fog, snow or brisk sunshine, the more I’m drawn to misty drizzle, fog, snow, and brisk sunshine.
The liquid air sparkles with freshness, the quiet of a snowy morning offers a deeply peaceful silence, the fog becomes enchanting. Once I leave the confines of the house I admit to feeling like I’ve entered a truer home. This expansive place is so full of God’s presence, of connection to trees, wildlife, water running down the creek or falling from the sky, to worms turned up with Mark’s trench digging (yes–Mark is again digging trenches), to Mark–for that matter. Something primordial stirs, a deep belonging that reminds me that all of life comes from prior generations of all these things, and contributes to future ones, eon after eon, overseen by God who is both transcendent and immanent. God, who is both Other and the Inherent One who remains.
Perhaps I have lost more than a few of you, so I will return (briefly) to something more easy to relate to.
I still battle (though less than I used to), with feeling that days must be “productive” to be well-spent. To justify being outside I wander through the gardens and find kale to harvest, leeks, the last of the broccoli, and decide to dig up one of the last beds of carrots–a bed that yielded sweet carrots made sweeter by the cold. I cut boughs and branches from cedar, spruce, fir, holly, and dogwood to bring inside or tackle a section of blackberry vines or ivy. Always while outside with Emma bounding around me I work to teach her my words. We play catch, and she eagerly returns the ball for me to throw again, although she would prefer a game of tug-of-war to laying it in my hands without a tussle. Partly I am trying to teach her that living life near me, listening and following me, will give her a better life than one lived on her own terms. When those terms include running off to the neighbors to see if they will come out to play she loses all sorts of freedoms.
During Advent I am reminded that God chose to do the impossible unbelievable–to take on human form and live among us, to show us God-in-the-flesh. I am reminded that God is among and all around us still, in dark times and cheery ones, sustaining life in troubled and untroubled forests, in dry and verdant deserts, in cities torn apart by and also brought together through civil unrest. My best hope of living well is to live attentively, to bound after God, as it were, learning to listen and follow the One who speaks and would show me the way in both short days and long dark nights.
I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one
this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along
“The Poet’s Occasional Alternative” by Grace Paley from Begin Again. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000.