Counting the days

I’m guessing there won’t be any more snow this season; not that there was much to speak of anyway. I miss the blizzards we used to get when I was a kid, when everything would be buried and the neighborhood was transformed for a couple days.

Anyway… I took this pic back in late January at one of my favorite parks. I’m looking forward to finding meadowlarks in that field next month.

The worst bird walk ever*

Is February an easy month to find birds anywhere?

Sandy Hook can be something like a wonderland of waterfowl at this time of year, but today it mostly wasn’t. There were a couple of distant loons, a speck raft of red-breasted mergansers, a long-tailed duck or two, an imaginary harbor seal, a nice flock of faraway snow buntings and great looks at the world’s largest gull.


We did get to see this great big boat heading out to sea though.

Despite the lack of birds, it was a beautiful day to be out, with a hint of spring in the air. Not really, but at least the wind wasn’t quite so biting for a change.

*Post title suggested by our field trip leader

Questions we didn’t know we wanted to ask

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’ve not been teaching for the last year or so. I miss my students at the community college, miss their stories, miss the chance to work so closely with a small group of (almost) eager learners.

I was digging around in the attic the other day and came across a lesson I’d liked to use in the mid-point of the semester on questioning techniques. It’s something we readers do automatically; question as we read, but it’s a skill that less-seasoned readers need help with.

I’ve always been a questioner; not ever satisfied with the surface answer, always intent on whatever lies beneath. I’m sure that as a child this drove the adults in my life half-nuts, and I know it drives my present-day students to distraction. I’m not the type of teacher who returns papers with plain check marks in the margins or terse comments in red ink; instead I’ve always hoped for my students to think a bit deeper and tend to ask questions that make them consider another viewpoint or angle… prodding at their laziness or inattentiveness. I like the chance to dangle speculation before them, or even wonder.

Imagine that! Wonder in the classroom!

So… while the course I teach is one of reading strategies, the writer in me tries to give back some of the kind of questioning that continues to be crucial to my own growth, as a writer (!) and as a person. I like to introduce the idea of questioning and speculation with the use of Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions, wherein the poet asks a series of questions, without ever really caring if a response is likely, or even possible. Neruda’s questions invoke vivid images and tend to demonstrate a unique way of seeing and questioning… just as an example or two:

Why do the leaves kill themselves
as soon as they turn yellow?

How do the seasons discover
it’s time to change their shirts?

Some of the things I work on with my students during discussion are:

Which is more important: the question or the answer?
Which is more powerful?
Do all questions have answers? Is there only one right one?
Do we all ask the same questions? In the same way?

A part of what I’m hoping my students will discover with this exercise is that we all have a unique perspective and this *stance* is important to consider in our writing as well as in our reading of other authors.

My favorite part of the lesson is giving students the time to come up with their own questions, using Neruda’s as a model. There’s a fair amount of imitation, but the whimsy is palpable and fun! I encourage them to be playful with language and subject matter, like Neruda. Nothing is exempt from wonder, right?

Some favorites:

How come people say the moon is made of cheese and not waffles, for example?
Why do flowers bloom out and not in?
Who do we make mistakes?
How come there are more girls than boys in the world?
Where does Jimmy Buffet get his songs?
Why do cookies disappear faster when you’re not the one eating them?


I love that last one!

Of course you know to expect this, but…


What questions are you just dying to have answered?

What would you ask if no one dared laugh at your silly question?

Dear snowdrops

Thank you for flagging me down to stop and appreciate you in the middle of my crazy whir of nervousness the other day.

Thank you for the invisible valentine of your downturned petals punctuated with a little green heart; I had to be on my knees in the muck to see that.

Thank you for the lady passing by who paused to tell me how beautiful you were – I was thinking about her amazing smile the rest of the day.

Thank you for sharing your private patch of sun-dappled shade with me.

Thank you for giving me the time beside you to remember that the universe will send me everything I need at just the right moment… a friend to hold my hand wordlessly as I wonder what’s happening to me… another to talk me off ledges… someone to gather my stories and worries and unedited truth like so many ingredients of an ancient family soup… another to collect my tears when I most need to cry.

Thank you for helping me hear the stars in my dreams calling me.

Oh, and thank you for an excuse to muddy my jeans.



Winter has lost its newness and its luster and I find myself alert for the small voices that signal change…

Without any snow cover there’s little to contrast the lack of color in the landscape if we don’t look closely…

The change now, in mid-February, is in increasing daylight as the sun swings north again…

That light and the sogginess it brings underfoot, the extra brightness it adds to shrunken viburnum berries…

And the fragile texture of butterfly wings that it reveals among the tatters of last summer’s hydrangea…

All are among the small voices that signal hope for change. Have you gone looking, yet, for Spring?

Mostly I didn’t find much, but there are snowdrops in the neighbor’s garden and the promise of hellebores… can peepers be long off? Cardinals are singing some at first light and the redtails perching closer together… maybe it’s closer than it feels.


A crazy love of things

I’m funny about pens; I prefer markers, actually, and they must have the finest of points that flow smoothly without skipping or stuttering ink across the page. They needn’t be expensive; for years I’ve favored a fine-tip marker made by Staples that costs $5.00 for a dozen.

There’s something wonderful those pens do for my handwriting; they make it look like practised calligraphy, almost.


Pablo Neruda wrote a whole book of Odes to Common Things, but I’m not sure he ever wrote an ode to a pen…

I love
not because they are
or sweet-smelling
but because,
I don’t know,
this ocean is yours,
and mine:
these buttons
and wheels
and little
fans upon
whose feathers
love has scattered
its blossoms,
glasses, knives and
all bear
the trace
of someone’s fingers
on their handle or surface,
the trace of a distant hand
in the depths of forgetfulness.

From Ode to Things by Pablo Neruda

What are some of your favorite things, special forgotten treasures of your everyday life… hats, flower vases, compasses, the velvet feel of a particular chair…

Share, please!

BTW, Dave at Via Negativa wrote a series of Odes to Tools that is just delightful. Enjoy!