Tag Archives: Mary Oliver

One Million Mary Oliver Moments

Fiday Harbor Marina

Two postcards arrived in the mail this week that turned me around and blew me away. One, a black & white notification for renewal of our post office box. And the other, an illustrated reminder of the San Juan Artists’ Studio Tour, coming up June 6 & 7, an event we attended last year. Can it be we will have been here a year?

What started as a spontaneous decision, i.e. “Let’s move to the islands!” has taken a year to implement.

Our daughters are the adults now. They are working and commuting and making plans for the future. They are growing their careers, while we are growing spring salad greens and arugula. These are their globe-trotting days, while we are walking everywhere. Indeed, my husband is a trekker.

Now we are the ones mucking around in the waters and digging in the sand. Assembling Adirondack chairs like so many tinker toys, and building bonfires as if we were at camp. Taking all our cues from nature.

Talking to the attentive deer of the forest, assuring them they are safe. Going ecstatic over waterfowl. Gray  herons, gulls at play, soaring eagles. The slow turning of the seasons, the eruption of spring. The racket of crickets in tall grasses and frogs mating in marshes. The fox who congregate on the beach to yip at full moons, we are listening to you all. We see the sun come up each morning and wake each other if it’s particularly beautiful, and watch it set.

Standing Heron

One million Mary Oliver moments in each day, that is why I live here.

“Life doesn’t go in a straight line, it goes in a circle,” notes my father at 91 years of age.

Full circle is what I feel when the ferry arrives in port in Friday Harbor. Walk-on passengers move to the bow of the boat with their bags, bikes and children. Cars follow at a distance, driving at a pedestrian pace, climbing the shining village on the hill.

Refugees from the mainland.


Filed under nature

Ghosts, the Sequel

Apparently I am not done with my blog post of last week (https://alittleelbowroom.com/2013/10/30/the-ghost-in-my-computer/) in which I lamented personal loss of writing time due to addiction to the internet. For no sooner had I posted it, when I turned around and realized yet another victim: my reading time. And by that I mean books, not comments and articles online.

Anyone who knows me, or knows who I was until recently, knows my home to be my personal library. Literature has long been considered sacred in this house. In graduate school we were required to read a book each week, and following graduation I continued the ritual in earnest for a couple of years. Until just recently, in fact.

The only danger, I had thought, would be the house imploding under the weight of books. Being a bibliophile at a time when so many others are unloading has been a delight second to none.

I read because I felt I must. I’m talking close reading. Carnivorously, with a yellow highlighter in hand like a fork. Because, as all readers know, literature can be so much better than life. And literature makes us better people. Also, as a writer I knew that the very best thing I could be doing, if not writing, was reading.

And that was my life. I missed films to maintain it, became an introvert to maintain it. And whether under the sun, on the sofa before the fireplace, seated a city bus or in a waiting room, I loved my solitary time spent with books. For that matter, I found my tribe by our mutual investment in time spent reading, as well as writing. And the fact that online addiction is infringing on this too….

Well, this is war!

For the past three weeks my husband has been in Napal on a trek in the Himalayas. Living alone and a little lonelier, I turned to the internet like never before. This is when, I think, I got into serious trouble. Or could it be that as he climbed the Himalayas, I realized how much trouble I was in?

Prayer flags there, falling leaves here….

I have kept a thick anthology of poetry at Copper Canyon Press in the back of my car for as long as I’ve owned the car (many years). “Poetry for emergencies,” I called it, should I ever break down and get stranded. Well maybe that moment is now.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Mary Oliver


Filed under Mary Oliver, reading, reading

My Prayer to the World

For decades now my Sunday morning ritual has typically been walking or gardening. I believe that by staying off the religious road I have found a more spiritual path. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking that I might go to church if I could find there what I find so readily on walks, in the garden, or in the arts: and that is something new, something realized, or unexpected.

For example: at this month’s graduation speech at the UW’s Foster School of Business, the student speaker quoted the poet Mary Oliver with the line, “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” And last month at “Resonance,” a Seattle Pro Musica concert in St. James Cathedral, we witnessed the world premiere of “I Sing Love,” a choral hymn by Bernard Hughes embracing Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Remarkable moments like these are not only what I most love in life, they are what I live for!

Through love bitter things seem sweet,

Through love copper becomes gold.

Through love dregs taste like pure wine.

Through love pain is as a balm.

Through love thorns become the roses,

Through love vinegar becomes sweet wine.

(Excerpt from “Two Wings to Fly,” written by Jalal ad-Din Muhammud Rumi)

Just as love is spoken in many languages, I see the world’s religions as different expressions of the same thing. So I believe in it all. Walk into my writing room with me for a moment. A collection of antique Santos and a stone Buddha sit upon the writing table, silent and nonjudgmental.  I could never write with anyone but Buddha and saints looking on. Crosses hang around the neck of the tallest Santo. Milagros and crucifixes adorn the walls, a reproduction of a Hindu temple carving that was given to me, a handmade candle from the Holy Land, a Wiccan wreath from Salem, Massachusetts, a Native American dream catcher hangs in a window, and a Tibetan prayer flag drapes in a corner. Initially I strung the prayer flags across the room but it looked too much like a gas station.

Despite all the icons, it makes perfect sense that I would wind up in The Pacific Northwest—a region so secular, it’s almost European. One Sunday morning a Seattle friend and I were walking and the subject of religious intolerance came up. She is agnostic, and you know me, I don’t declare myself anything. The insufferable Republican primaries were raging at the time and about to swing through the South, where many of the Evangelicals were having a “problem” with Romney’s Mormon faith. As outsiders, I can’t tell you how provincial and tribal this looks! Ironic, isn’t it, that it falls on people like us to be the most religiously tolerant in all the land? I mean, we don’t care if you are Muslim or Mormon or what-have-you. And I’m proud of that.


Filed under religions

The Speed of Life 101

So it goes.  The wheel turns, generation after generation,

around and around.  We ride for a little while, get off and

somebody else gets on.  Over and over, again and again.

(excerpt from “Seventy-Two is Not Thirty Five,” by David Budbill)


My friend and I are at the University of Washington for the undergraduate graduation celebration at the Foster School of Business. Students file in donning caps and gowns, filling twenty-one straight rows of chairs. The graduates look loose and excited, cheering each other on. We spot my friend’s son at last. He is tall, good looking, and beaming. Much as I remember him at his Indiana Jones birthday party when he turned five years old, just yesterday.  It’s been quite a ride. Anyway, the important thing is that he looks as extraordinarily happy today as on that day when he was dressed in little khakis shorts and shirt, fedora, and boots.

Here he is in the auditorium hooting and calling much like he did on that day leading the charge at the piñata. It’s easy to see that he’s on good terms with everyone around him now, just as he was then. Back when we knew all our children’s friends. His mother, my friend, had decorated the yard with Tiki torches, dried palm fronds, and painted masks posted on the fence and gate. Today his black gown drapes, and as he adjusts his cap I remember the fedora flying off his head as he swung his way through on a jungle-gym-turned-obstacle-course. That hat, purchased one day at Disneyland, was what started the whole “Indiana Jones” themed birthday party. Children in costume become their part, and on that day he was indeed a miniaturized Harrison Ford. Today he’s “The Graduate.”

The student speaker catches my attention with the delightful line from the poet, Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” For his fifth birthday party his mom had made a Volcano cake with dark chocolate “lava” embedded with rock candy and gummy worms, sprinkled with cocoa, and adorned with plastic flies. This week he turns twenty-two with a double-major in Entrepreneurship and Marketing and his tastes are Epicurean.

Guests at his birthday party dug for buried treasure, arrowheads and glittery “gems.” The Foster School of Business grads intend to find success. The student speaker suggests that “when we do the things we love, we do them well.” They are the strategic thinkers. All I can do is hope. Everyone assembled here believes in bright futures. “Optimism in the face of adversity” is the theme of the keynote address. “At some point pessimism about the future becomes self-fulfilling,” he warns. Don’t be afraid to fail.

As little Indiana Jones he practiced cracking his make-shift bullwhip on the patio floor, again and again.  Today he is flicking his tassel. The graduates throw their hats in the air and it is over. Or just begun. Just like that.


Filed under bullwhip party