Every year I forget what a lapwing sounds like. Last night, walking Leonard after sunset I heard a familiar voice literally circling me. I spun around, following the direction of each call, to try to get a glimpse of the bird flying low to the ground: lapwing?

But I slowly realized it was an oystercatcher. They’re back.

The lapwing won’t be far behind.

This morning the sky is such a convincing blue, you’d swear there’d never be another day of white winds and sleet.

I am ready for a change of season. Even if it means clearing out the greenhouses and beginning again.

Not going in to the school to work these weeks has been slightly disorienting. I lose track of the days. The months, even. But I have managed to pack all of those concerns into a box and stick it in the corner of my headspace. I’ll get back to it. But for now, all is quiet. There’s no kicking from inside the box. No noise. I am hoping when I open it again all the drama will have sorted itself out. When I am ready to open it, I will dig around and pull out Hope first. And let her sit beside me while I sort through the rest.

I’ve been waiting for a nudge from the gut. A little sense of lack, a desire to “get back to it”. I should be missing my students by now. But not yet. A cup of tea, the tapping of the keyboard’s keys, the squawk of the crow out the window is enough for today. Again.

Leonard drops onto the rug in this tiny library and sighs. This is enough.

I am easing back into my old routines with yoga and meditation before writing. It’s still not easy. I keep thinking of Sisyphus getting that rock going. And of Jack and Jill and the frightening joy of tumbling down. When was the last time I lay in the grass and rolled down a hill?

Spun until I fell down?
Chewed on a dandelion?
Let an ant crawl on the back of my hand?
Shook sand out of my hair?

Yeah, all this “forest bathing” I do, and I am still just observing.

I watch and listen
as though being separate
from the world this way
were the safest thing to do
– this way to preserve a life

Leonard has something in his mouth after his trip around the edges of the garden. I don’t notice until he’s in the dining room, his nails clicking on the floor as he walks in circles – clearly unsure of what he’s supposed to do/wants to do.

I press the sides of his mouth gently, just in front of where his jaws hinge, “Slipp“. (My youngest son has always been annoyed with my code-switching, but my dog doesn’t mind.)

It’s a rat. A very dead rat. I wish I could write mouse because that seems less disgusting. But it’s a rat.

I think about living in Kentucky as a teenager. In a little house at the bottom of a hill, surrounded by farmland. An anachronous 4 years of shovelling coal into a furnace every morning before a quick shower in the corner of the unfinished, unheated basement. A quick shower because the cistern was low in the winter. I’d try to remember to look in the mirror before leaving for school every morning: to check my nostrils for coal dust.

Every spring those four years my mother’s cat would wake me in the middle of the night. She’d bring a mouse into my bed, then let it go – chasing it into the hallway and living room, before bringing back and repeating the game until the mouse died of exhaustion. Then I’d get up and dig an empty can from the trash to scoop up the furry corpse and put it in the trash. And go back to bed. It was “just” a mouse.

Maybe Leonard wouldn’t be overweight if I let him chase mice around the house. Or rats.

What is it about rats?

Last spring a cat raised her litter under our deck. So the whole thing could be much more macabre than it is.

A few months ago I ranted a little about someone claiming in their TED talk that a poet would choose “hare” over “rabbit” for the associative value of hare/hair. I pointed out that a poet might well know the difference between a hare and a rabbit. I wrote that I expect hare here, but if I were to see a rabbit, I would know a pet got loose.

When I walk Leonard through the fields around here, I know to be aware he could catch the scent of a hare and his hunting training kick in. But yesterday, rounding the corner near the house, he suddenly shot into a hedge and then nearly dragged me off my feet – a rabbit ran across the street back to its hutch no doubt.

Apparently, Leonard isn’t concerned with the hare/rabbit distinction at all.

when I write about
coal dust, it is coal dust and
not the wet topsoil
of the kitchen garden, not
the dry shit-dirt of the coop

[edit: Writing a daily public diary has its drawbacks. Typos, of course. But also other editorial problems. When I titled this post I thought I would mention listening to Krista Tippet’s interview with Katherine May for the On Being Podcast. As it turned out, my train of thought took another direction. “Winter’s Crucible” is Katherine May’s phrase.]

The first run in nearly three weeks. I haven’t taken this much time off the trail since I was forced to by a blood clot a few years ago. I know that exercise is supposed to help us deal with stress, but there comes a point – close to burn-out – where the body can’t handle the extra spike in cortisol. It doesn’t know the difference when that spike is caused by anxiety or by physical effort. Either way, it can be enough to push a body over the edge.

So I’ve been intentionally going soft. Walking carefully through these weeks of winter, wearing cleats and mittens. Thinking the mask is pretty comfortable when the temperature is below freezing. And I think I’ve made the right choice. Last week was too much and I needed the softness. One big cushion of slow, heavy surrender.

Today the trail was full of song. Birds, yes. Even people with their Sunday talk. But also the deep, resounding notes that the ice plays with the lake. I haven’t heard it these past few years of mild winters. It brings to mind mythical water creatures. Moaning monsters, and n√łkken. Last time I heard it was on a dark morning years ago. This afternoon the sun is shining. And it seems odd that it dares to be heard in this light. And then again, it doesn’t.

Take bedtime stories
into your dreams and wrestle
the demons and win
or lose – but know everything
is exactly everything

As promised at the New Year, there’s been a high pressure system for a while now. Clear skies show off a scattering of stars, and an unobstructed moon. And this means cold.

There’s a thin layer of ice on the asphalt when I have to cross the street. Otherwise I stay on the grass and relish each step. I struggle every morning to pinpoint the synesthesia. It’s like eating comfort food: the whole-body sensation of biting through. Sinking my teeth in. There is something nourishing about it.

About the time we get to the duck pond – and the inexplicable grill nowhere near a park bench or seating pit – the caffeine kicks in and the blood vessels in my fingers constrict, and the pain sets in. The morning cold bites back, I suppose.

Our walk back to the house is always quicker than the walk away. But this morning I did notice a rat in the dark. Near the skateboard park, scrambling into a drain, a rat the size of a computer mouse. Or a deck of cards. Unexpected. So much so Leonard didn’t even notice.

He’s too busy shoving his nose under the icy tufts of loose grass – turning them over to expose the wet soil. The hares living here must have just passed by. He’s excited.

I wonder why I haven’t seen a hare in months. What their routines are now that the ground is nearly frozen. I wonder if the ducks are bored in the dark. Can ducks see in the dark? They quack. This morning I think about the onomatopoeia in that: quaa-aack. Something set them off, causing a small ruckus of wings hitting the water.

True to my new year’s resolution, I’m allowing boredom to kick in on these morning walks.

I came home to google what rats do all winter. How they pass the time. I wonder if their little fingers ache. If they go hungry.

This wasn’t what I wanted to come from my newfound boredom. Rats make strange muses. And google is an all-too convenient diversion.

I write a poem. Not about rats.

We were supposed to be “back at it” yesterday. But the virus is spreading and we’ve gone back to a rotating schedule for digital and classroom teaching. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized the disruption of routine really isn’t much of a disruption. My days stay nearly the same. Even though they say to avoid mass transportation, I have no choice to but put on a mask and catch the train 5 days a week. The disruption is mostly emotional. Which means, the disruption is something I can control.

There are more articles on the news sites about how difficult this is on young people. This morning I have been wondering when we stopped talking about how resilient young people are and began encouraging their feelings of helplessness.

“Unprecedented times”. Every day is unprecedented. Every day is a personal trial for someone. We can deal with it all. And if it hurts – when it hurts – our anticipatory hand-wringing doesn’t make things easier. Perspective does.

Maybe the wisest Norwegian proverb is to not take on sorrows in advance.

The kids are going to be all right. On the whole, we’re all going to be all right.

It’s no wonder we reach for supernatural explanations, incantations and spells. Feeling as I do now, so near to breaking, I can’t point to a single overwhelming event, fact, obstacle. Instead, small moments stretch out behind me like a long path of fallen dominoes, and ahead they stand precariously, vulnerable and threatening to fall so quickly one after the other that I won’t be able to keep up.

It is very hard to sit comfortably on the mat, breathe deeply and trust that things will change. My perceptions will change. My perspectives.

This morning the crows’ chatter was grating. It shouldn’t have been. But in the dark, in the drizzle, with my shoulders aching and my mind echoing conversations (that have and haven’t actually taken place), I wanted to shout back.

I’ve always found it easiest to shift my perspective when I shift it in the material world. Stand-up. Run. Leave town for a day. Leave the country for a week. For good. How big is the thing I need perspective on?

I wanted to rush through their gathering
the way the freight train does on most mornings,
so close to the grove you can feel the wind
rerouted by its intrusion.
The trees shake. The crows wait.

I can hear it now, actually – right on cue – passing behind the neighbor’s house, metal against metal in a high-pitched howl. I can feel a cry somewhere
behind my sternum. It presses
upward and is easy to mistake for heartburn,
though not acidic: rounder, fuller
like an over-ripe fruit.

Nothing like metal shavings of the railroad track, actually.
Nothing that can compete with the world’s ills and hurts and
imperatives.

No. This withheld cry will soften into rot
and something new will eventually
emerge. A new fruit – not better – but
a potential. Because
on it goes.

And catharsis? Well, that’s the stuff
of fiction.


On the other hand. Unlike yesterday, this morning I remembered to wash my hair while showering. I found my missing comb under the sideboard in the entrance hall. I remembered to take the pills that keep my blood from clenching into tight little balls of stop.

That’s my gratitude list for a Wednesday. How am I doing? For today: this is good enough.