The Family of Things

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

…Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~Mary Oliver from “Wild Geese”

photo by Kathy Yates from "In the Pacific Northwest"
photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Snow geese are populating the Skagit flats and farm land, as numerous as the scores of colorful tulips which soon will fill nearby fields.  The din of the flocks as they land and feed, then rise again in the air is astounding: a symphony of honks and hollers carried from one goose family to another in a ruckus of joyful abandon.  Skagit is the New York City of snowgeese for a few weeks, never sleeping.

There are a few geese who wander further up north into Whatcom County to pepper our surrounding dormant cornfields like salt,  sprinkled half a dozen here and there across the Nooksack river valley.  When there are only a few together, their calling seems so melancholy, almost a disconsolate cry of abandonment carrying over the lonely countryside.

So too am I ensconced away from the clamorous masses,  preferring to be part of an out-of-the-way rural landscape.  There may be moments of melancholy, to be sure.  Yet here,  as nowhere else, I know my place in the family of things —  of gray clouds, owl hoots, swampy wetlands, frog choruses, orange sunsets, pink sunrises, warm pony muzzles, budding snowdrops, and steaming manure piles.   I give myself up to wild abandon in a world offering itself up to my imagination instead of leaving nothing to the imagination.

Let the cities clamor and clang in their excitement.  They do just fine without me.
Instead I celebrate the relative silence allowing me to seek the words to fit the music singing in my soul.

Hope is Stirring at the Edges

Skagit Flats Snow Geese

“Spring seems far off, impossible, but it is coming. Already there is dusk instead of darkness at five in the afternoon; already hope is stirring at the edges of the day.”
Kathleen Norris in Dakota: A Spiritual Biography

For the last several days, whenever I am outside in the barnyard wheelbarrowing loads of manure, or carrying buckets of water, I’ll hear the approaching honking crescendo of snow geese coming from the north. I stop whatever I am doing to watch the sky. The geese fly in precise V formation as they head from northeast of here, the Frasier River Valley in British Columbia, southwest to the Skagit Valley flats some forty miles away where thousands of them will glean leftovers from harvested farm fields for the next few weeks. They are in constant vocal and visual contact with one another as they fly over, perhaps pointing out a point of interest here, or sharing a juicy bit of gossip there. Maybe they simply navigate by following the sound of the goose whose tail is right in front of their own honking feathery face. It is like an a capella male chorus of a dozen voices warming up using only one note–E flat.

There is such expectancy in each noisy group that passes over, each oblivious to me enviously watching them from below. They have clear mission and purpose without needing a vision statement or strategic planning retreats. They know where they have been, where they are headed and that there will be full bellies by nightfall. They work as a team to get there with minimal energy expenditure and high efficiency. They never appear ambivalent or confused. I even suspect they like each other quite a lot.

I wish I had such clarity. I stumble about wondering which direction I need to turn next, what task has highest priority, who needs to go with me or who I should follow behind, how I can be more fruitful rather than futile.

I need the hope of the snow geese. Winter won’t last forever.

Psalm 147:16-18
16 He spreads the snow like wool
and scatters the frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down his hail like pebbles.
Who can withstand his icy blast?
18 He sends his word and melts them;
at the breath of his mouth, the waters flow.

Seattle Times photo by Mark Harrison