Life With Horace

poetry & essays

my daughter with Eddie


Lioness still

You think you know,
what you will feel,
but no it is impossible
the first time,
even with a child
you carry, part of you.
The fierce love comes
in waves of tenderness
letting down like milk
and never stops.
With each new step
from stone to anchored stone
across life’s flow,
strength to strength, joy to joy,
my heart follows, watching,
knowing only pride
as she runs on, lioness also,
my firstborn.

For my daughter, on her birthday

flowers from Geoff


every day, love

we settle, cozy with each other,
life together flowing,
knowing we won’t leave
this place, our coupleness,
while our hearts are here.

quiet moments, though less weighted,
felt more clearly than crescendos,
simple, loving gestures
saturated with delight,
flowers you have chosen,
waiting on our table,
lovely, in a jar or pitcher,
knowledge of these growing things
and bird songs,
gifts I brought to you
through our acquaintance,
love’s osmosis
passing bounty back to me.

you brought me here, to
nights on mountains,
walks through wetlands,
skiing on a snow deep pond
in winter moonlight,
summer swimming ledges,
hearing loons or beaver slaps,
thrushes lilting song in hemlock woods,
rhododendrons bent with snow,
discoveries that echo joy,
and I suppose, my loving them
is now a gift turned round again

to you

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us together, still
improbable ember
rescued from the dark,
almost at its end,
not quite extinguished

once hopeful
souls bared in grief,
looked with honest eyes
at last, just on the edge
and leapt as one
to breathe together,
gently turning glimmer
into glow once more,
memory and faith
relighting love,
honesty and trust
its fuel

standing steady,
hand clasped
loving hearts
held surely,
hard won flames
our bright reward

A swamp lobelia?


the dowser

he worked, still unaware
there was a gift
beyond his certain talents
waiting for a moment’s spark
to see and use.
then reaching out in love
still cloaked by friendship,
recognizing shuttered light
so long denied, abandoned,
the door was opened
to a warm, lit space
free of expectation or of limit,
safe haven for them both
although not recognized
at first, that’s what it was.
she was reborn before his eyes,
her art and life renewed,
and seeing, knew
this was no random thing,
a path for him to follow, work to do.
he was and is a dowser,
spirit drawing spirit
from the clutches of oblivion.

posting in her blog, Maria Wulf described her life and thoughts before she found her art again. A year ago her husband Jon Katz formed an online community to foster the creative spirit in people willing to open up to new possibilities. Fortunate to be a member of this wonderful group, I’ve been thinking about the road we have traveled together, and how far we all have come. For Jon and Maria.

Indian Pipes at Rhododendron State Park 2011


learning to see

There is a place that draws my glances on the way into town.

A garden running along the road for two hundred yards or so, grass dotted with sumac, small trees, wildflowers and bird houses, dozens of hand made tin roofed bird houses. Simple, mostly unpainted wooden structures on poles, obviously one person’s brainchild and handiwork.

This morning a bright red car in front of the house caught my eye, and then a small boy of ten or so, mowing the grass around the first bird house. Looking up, really looking. His face under the brim of his baseball cap full of wonder as he took in the faded paint, the entry holes, the bits of grass and droppings.

Who taught that child to look so intently, I wondered. Was it his nature, and someone had nurtured it? Or simply let him be?

I feel very fortunate to have had some wonderful guides in my own journey.

My next to last year at school in England included a Biology Field Course that forever changed what I take in from a car or bus or train. It taught me to notice, pay attention and to link sometimes disparate sightings together. In the coach that took us out for the day to a bog, forest or open hillside and back, we were encouraged to keep track of what we could see of the natural world as we sped by. A blur taking shape in an instant’s focus.

A chance remark by an artist friend a few years ago about seeing light a certain way got me thinking. Seeing the light? What did that mean? Eventually the answers led to awareness of backlighting and shadows and stray rays. I honestly hadn’t thought about light before, at least not so specifically.

Hands down the most powerful lessons I had in how to see happened by example, gentle explanation, and repetition in walks with my Uncle Bruce over the years. He was a constant observer of plants, light, images, and animal happenings in the natural world. I began to remember plant names, look for the color of the setting sun against the rough bark of a Tupelo tree, discover migrant Indian Pipes in late summer, see what was new in familiar places.

Now I carry his awareness into every part of my life, and am thrilled to see his open eyes and curiosity live on in my children and theirs. I’m also positive he’d have noticed that upturned face too.

Horrie looking intently at something in the grass.


field notes: when is a swamp a wetland?

The dogs and I get to our wetland walk on average once a week. I’ve been going there for the last six years, getting into the rhythms and seasonal contrasts and year-to-year changes. The first year that everything wasn’t exactly the same as the previous year I remember wondering how that could have happened?

One of many varieties of ferns there, this one in the leafy tunnel of trees at the beginning of the road.

Late summer afternoon light catching one of many varieties of ferns there, this one in the leafy tunnel of trees at the beginning of the road.

It dawned on me that a living, wild place will change (unlike a cultivated garden), certain plants will take over or disappear or diminish, the beavers won’t always be at the same spot. At that point I began to really take notice. And record its ongoing history in my mind and with photographs.

A couple of things make the place almost unique as far as wetlands go. In the first place there is a road right through it, allowing access on foot through its heart. Down the middle-ish.

The Summer Road.

A patch of “captive water” on what used to be a Summer Road.

When I first came there it was a Summer Road (don’t you love that term?) meaning go there at your peril once there is snow and ice because it won’t be plowed! Now it is a Class Six, or completely unmaintained. Farmers and townspeople in trucks, yahoos on motorbikes, and folks on bicycles use it for a passage of sorts. The rest of us simply walk.

The second is that the land is still owned privately. I have gotten to know one member of that family who also walks her dogs there (she is lucky as there is a trail down to it from her sister’s place across the road). From her I have learned that there is at least one bear skulking about in the woods at the north end, and gotten the very welcome sense that this is a family that feels strongly about preserving what is there.

Animal path through the lilies.

“Main Street” through the (yellow) waterlilies in the widewater off the earthen dam.

There are subtle signs of land management, such as placing beaver-cut tree limbs to get walkers across wide areas of wet along the road, or keeping the bittersweet trimmed back. And they do keep a path clear along one side of the road or the other.

There are beavers here, otters too on occasion. Dragonflies and damselflies. Lots of them. Mosquitos, black flies, green flies.

Birds range from year round woodpeckers and jays to seasonal hawks, crows, buzzards, ravens (rarer), red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings (new this year for me), all sorts of sparrows, warblers, at least one American Bittern, and Great Blue Herons.

A dragonfly resting. The big "bombers" however rarely seem to rest.

A dragonfly resting. The big “bombers” however rarely seem to rest.

I try to be observant about the birds, but my eye is drawn by the plant life and the water, so aside from large birds and clouds, my orientation is more down than up.

Fall seems to be coming early this year. Many of the Swamp Maples (small maple saplings that live for a few years and drown off) are already turning, not their usual cheery bright red, but a dusty maroon.

A pair of damselflies in an acrobatic clinch.

A pair of damselflies in an acrobatic clinch.

My daughter remarked yesterday that there are no swamps any more. They are all “wetlands”. Semantics, really. I think it all depends… There are some places that look pretty darned Swampy to me, as in the Great Dismal Swamp. The Great Dismal Wetland has much less cachet, don’t you think?

Swamp, wetland or bog it is all wonderful. And Aggie thinks so, most certainly. After all, not too many places that a dog can go that hits the Lab & Newfie trifecta: walking, lovely smelly things, and water.

Aggie loving yesterday's walk waiting for us to catch up on the way back.

Aggie on yesterday’s walk, waiting for us to catch up on the way back.


The Arrival

She didn’t even have to knock.
The gates were open, waiting
for her, pearled, radiating starlight.
So she walked right through,
upright, head high, heart open,
pain and frailty left behind,
sure that she would soon be
with those she loved
already there.

She stopped to listen then, hearing
song and music, and as she did
an angel joined her, passing hand
in hand into a place she could
never have imagined, but
felt she’d always known.
Sunrays and moonlight shining together,
Imagine that, she thought.

On they went, to see Himself, who
stood with open arms for
her arrival, asking her to walk
a while and share the secrets of her heart.
Full of joy she asked if all
were greeted in this way. He said
yes, but those of great old age, valiant
still, filled with love and goodness,
have a special place in my heart.

I know you Dorothy as one such soul,
reaching out in friendship.
Mother, woman, friend, full of
laughter, tears and sorrows too,
for that is human life. Working
hard, caring unstintingly.
You were always meant to come here,
even though you worried at the end.
Oh yes, I saw you with your child,
who bravely let you go warmly
bathed in love. A strong rare
bond, a mother’s job well done.

A musician you say?
Oh yes, I do remember, very gifted,
there are many like her here
joined in common song. And yes,
I know she is a writer too,
part of a group that took you
to themselves, named you heavy D,
delighted by your laughing spirit.

There are many souls waiting
to welcome you with love
in sweet reunion,
but before we part this time,
is there any question left unanswered,
any wish I can fulfill?
When shall you see your child again?
She will always be welcome, but
we need more trumpets at the moment,
so it will be a good long while I think.
A chocolate shake? Dear heart,
you have come to the right place.

for Dorothy Williams, dearest heavy D, who passed through those gates on August 15. with love and abiding admiration from one of her Space People. Photograph by Denise Gainey, copyright © 2014, used with permission.


field notes: seen in passing

One morning last week I took my usual backroads route to work, an overland passage through woods, by farms and open fields, skirting the town of Jaffrey and its one (no, make that two) traffic light(s).

My reward for leaving at 7 am was a wildlife smorgasbord.

The chipmunk trying to look inconspicuous on the stalk of a sunflower in the herb bed at home, cheeks full of green sunflower seeds.

Still on Mountain Road, a “farmer jam” in full swing. A car stopped on the opposite side of the road with doors open and flashers going, a heifer munching grass calmly between the car and the farm couple hopping out of their truck, pails of grain in hand to lure their animal back up the dirt road away from the highway.

[Folks are pretty good around here about helping out when these things happen, even on a busy state road when everyone is gunning it to get to work.]

A flock of hen turkeys under the trees and in the road next to the really old farmhouse on the last part of Proctor. Slowing down to shoo the last of the Ladies Who Munch off the road, calling out “gobble gobble y’all!”. Flatlander humor.

And, turning onto Vose Farm Road and work, there was a red squirrel down the hill, going hell bent for leather across the road, as only the reds can. With a large piece of wood or other trophy better than half its size in its mouth, sticking out on either side.

I love rush hour in the country.

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point of gray

after sun’s descent
with afterglow in slow pursuit
the light outside begins to fade
until one sees all hue has gone
a world soft palleted in gray
before deep purple
and true night

an oddness, this, I think
that with light’s advent or decline
the ordered spectrum has no steady march
but serves the sun and air, its masters
angled to the earth

at day’s beginning
the gears of light move
to reverse extinction
from the night before
black to grape toned whisper
I am coming, yes, believe
and like a drop of color into water
at a point so undefined and quick
the eye and mind are fooled
the gray point fulcrum tips
to show the world in monochrome
until God’s brush begins to paint again
and it is dawn

in Miss Entrican’s Fifth Form Biology at Channing we learned the eye sees color only to a certain point of diminishing light, after which everything is gray. decades later I still love to watch for that moment.