Category Archives: outside

Cooper’s Hawk, or possibly Sharp-shinned, 3 times.

3 times now,
this hawk has visited our 1/3 acre piece of the world,
which has a half dozen big old trees,
and sits a little ways southwest of Seattle, on a hilltop.

The first time I was sitting out front,
editing my book manuscript in a lawn chair
I heard the screeching cry
and looked up to see a small-bodied
brown speckle-winged hawk
swooping across our yard to tackle a giant squirrel on the power line.

Our squirrels are bold, and large,
accustomed to taking dares from our giant Great Pyrenees Mix,
and this one did not submit to death
it screeched back, and clung to the bobbing wires
the hawk grasped on with yellow talons
and I watched,
mouth agape
as they tussled over the driveway.
The squirrel won out
and darted for the trees,
and the hawk disappeared into the neighborhood skyscape.

A week or two later, it reappeared, screeching once,
I spied it high overhead
coming in for a landing in one of our evergreens.
It lifted up after a moment,
and Ryan and I pointed it out to Callum
floating ever higher in slow fixed-wing looping glides.

This morning I was drinking coffee on the back stoop after a thunderstorm
savoring the damp autumn chill in a light brown sweater,
and white knit cap,
and it returned, screeching once or twice,
soaring over the back driveway.
A woodpecker thudded several times on a telephone pole overhead,
and I texted a friend,
“Does that mean I’m supposed to read some Ann Lamott?”
she replied.
“that’s a good read on it.”

I look up the hawk online after I put our son to bed,
maybe a Cooper’s Hawk,
probably a Sharp-shinned
immature, whichever species.
A common woodland hawk,
“among the bird world’s most skillful fliers,”
that primarily hunts other birds.

My first impulse on seeing a wild animal in the city is exhilaration,
followed by sadness, assumptions about habitat degradation and the like,
followed by the calming epiphany
that some creatures can cross worlds,
that the natural world suffuses everything.
gives us all a chance
to survive.


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Filed under basic goodness, habitat, outside, poetry, stories, watching it all go by

making soup from what we have

photo 1

sit by an open January window
and study the healing
of the half dozen cracks and gashes
the work weekend left behind on my hands

sip lukewarm coffee
and watch a slight wind stirring in the damp boughs
of a cedar tree that is maybe a century old

think about the questions of the day
What Ought We to Do…
about potty training the toddler
about the epidemic of gun violence
and the erosion of abortion rights
How are we to love each other, best
and how long is this stomach virus contagious
when will we finish the bathroom remodel
and catch on to the violence
of American poverty

the issues of the day seem insurmountable
but are soon forgotten
in the thickening pile of months
and years

make soup from what we have
which is collard greens, black beans,
farro grains and summer tomatoes and basil, frozen in blocks
from a warmer time

make playdough
watch him knead the warm, wheat-colored lump
into dogs and sticks and gingerbread men

and continue rowing
through the thick greyness
of the doldrum days

photo 2


5 AMpThu, 31 Jan 2013 10:47:44 +000047Thursday 2009 · 10:47 am

a dead gull and a map of the world

(orderpad note 1/19)

Driving home from Violet’s 2nd birthday party,
which was sweet in every way imaginable,
Callum and I discussed the colors of the things we passed,
orange backhoes and green trees, yellow cars and blue signs.

I passed a seagull in the righthand lane,
its wings were outstretched,
and it had been run over several times.
And I thought about the colors of the scene,
and about flying
and how sometimes life is wrought
with unpredictable happenings.

Callum chattered in the backseat, showing me his party favors in the rearview
Ahead, I saw a crumpled piece of trash dancing along the shoulder of the highway
I reached one hand into the backseat to receive
the item my son needed help with
and in that moment
the trash lifted up into the wintersky
and was unfurled
by the wind

revealing before me a perfectly unfolded
map of the world

i exited the highway
and drove up the hill to our house
how to blow into a paper whistle party favor
which was yellow
and unfurled with a tweet
at the end of the curl of paper,
much to my two-year old son’s delight.

and that was the end of the poem.


Filed under basic goodness, doldrums, gathering, gratitude, January, love, meditation, motherhood, on writing, Ordinary, outside, Peace, poetry


When I was young,
you lived with two dogs in a teepee in Eastern Washington
and did tae kwon do

I watched you break boards with your feet and hands
and marvelled that you were not afraid to live in the woods alone

You crewed helicopters that flew into the thick of forest fires
and hiked miles into danger to dig firelines

As a young forest service ranger,
you once spent the night watching over a dead body by a mountain road
a story which sends chills down my spine even now

You took me on my first backpacking trip
and a few miles in, we met some men who warned you
that you ought to have brought a gun
You told them we would be just fine
and confidently led my little brother and i past them and down the trail
and i believed you
although i confess i laid awake to listen for bears

You taught us how to start a fire with one match
and instructed us in the ways of ponderosa pine,
how it smelled like vanilla if you leaned in close.
(which is still the first thing I do when I cross paths with one)
you pointed out how the pieces of bark fit together like a puzzle
forming layers of armor in a forest fire
and I marveled at the wisdom of a living thing that knew hard times would come
a tree that could stand in the midst of an inferno
shed its armor
and survive.

You seemed fearless to me,
a Warrior amongst ordinary people.

Later you built a home with your hands
brought twins into the world
went to grad school
ended a marriage
and found a new home.

I am 31 now, and my son is sleeping in the next room,
and as the coldday afternoon light refracts off the windowsill
I find myself thinking of you.

I know now that fearlessness is not living without fear

but rather:

facing it

and though you are less often on the fireline these days
and spend more time helping someone with their homework than you do
practicing martial arts

you are more Warrior now
than you have ever been
in my eyes


Filed under Family, motherhood, outside, stories

Offerings to the Utter Brilliance of the Present Moment

As we were leaving, the sweet Vietnamese woman at Chu Minh Veggie Deli on Jackson and 12th bent down to stand face to face with our son in his rubber boots and his raincoat, and handed him a crispy vegan springroll wrapped in a napkin. “Because you are special,” she said,

and I felt my heart in my chest, standing by the window in the cramped deli as the birds took off in a mass from the telephone line outside and swirled into the grey sky, feathered bodies reflected in the puddles of rainwater laying on the pavement.  There was a sign on the wall behind a potted plant that said “We care more about compassion and protecting your physical and spiritual health than we do about making a profit” and it was as if they didn’t need to advertise it, they just needed to affirm it, somewhere, commit it to the visual world in case someone bothers to look closely,

which is how i feel about the tattoo on the back of my neck, which says

basic goodness

and is usually covered by my collar and my hair.

:like a declaration of compassion tucked behind the leaves of a potted plant,  like the reflection of birds swirling into a grey sky in a puddle of rainwater on the pavement, like the momentary connection between that woman and our small son


to the utter brilliance of the present moment





Filed under autumn weather, basic goodness, community, Dharma, facing east, Family, Food, gathering, gratitude, love, meditation, memory, migration, on writing, Ordinary, outside, Peace, poetry, stories, watching it all go by

learning to see in the dark

for my mother, on her birthday

23 or 25 or 28 years ago,
it doesn’t really matter how many,
you walked alongside me through a darkened campground
Maybe Izaak was on the other side of you
it would have been sometime in summer
when the nearness of the solstice lent the darkness
a luminous quality

bearing the flashlight,
giddy with possession and responsibility,
i swung it diligently back and forth,
sending the beam into the underbrush, and down the road
nervously watching the illuminated ground for signs
of bears

You knelt beside me
and you told me to turn off the light
I refused
and you told me something revelatory

If you give your eyes a chance
they will learn to see in the dark

and so we clicked it off
and I huddled close to your leg
and the world pressed in
utterly impenetrable to my eyes
you said
listen to the night

and while i listened
the world emerged from the blackness
above us, the canopy of evergreen silhouettes gave a shape to the sky
stars became visible
campfires through the woods flickered into my vision
the campground road, solid and grey beneath my shoes, became seen.

2 months ago, walking alone to a forest service pit toilet,
deep in the Colorado Rockies
i remembered what you told me
and switched off my headlamp
made myself stand still, listen to the night
somewhere nearby, my own child was sitting with his father,
enthralled by campfire, nodding off to sleep
as the stars emerged for my wondering eyes
and the outlines of the evergreens gave shape to the sky above,
i realized I had become the mother in the campground
turning off the flashlight
full of the knowledge
that it was possible to see in the dark
more than that:
that it was possible to BE in the dark,
temporarily at the mercy of all i feared
and that if i faced that fear,
new and wondrous things would become available to me.

i felt the gravel road beneath the bones of my feet
felt the august sky, scattered with stars, yawning overhead
and gratitude welled up
and spilled into the visible darkness


Filed under memory, Mothers, outside

never in all my days

The electrician who was working in the attic has left a legacy
of fine white plaster dust
on my desk

third revision of the 27th draft
of the book i have been rewriting for eight years

and also a 26 month old son,
who could also be considered 2 and a half
or roughly 780 days old

all of the pumpkins are ripe in the garden, bright orange, uniformly,
which is unusual
for mid-september

today we hucked rocks into the Pilchuk
there came drifting down the autumn sweet smell
of cottonwoods
and briefly
time was not linear

i am making dinner,
baked breaded vegan chicken breast (ha) from scratch,
garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed
zuke with cherokee purple tomatoes

leftover plum cobbler for dessert

the kid is shrieking at the dogs
and speaking in sentences
and considering the world with a furrowed brow
he already sees more than the rest of us put together.
he has begun to talk about the past
and he seems quite prepared
for a future that will be happening Now

you’re beautiful
to me
a chorus affirms in the background

i have never harvested so many ripe garden tomatoes
in all my days

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Filed under autumn weather, basic goodness, Family, Garden, History, meditation, memory, motherhood, Ordinary, outside