Friday, December 21, 2012


Simple Gifts
Throughout the ages, we have entwined pain and celebration, suffering and joy, hope with despair.  So it is,this Christmas season in New England.

Earlier this morning, people stopped for a moment of silence -- a lament -- for the tragedy and carnage of last Friday's attack on the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  It's one of those things we do in our grief.  We pause.  We pray. We ring bells and remember the dead -- soldiers, saints, civilians, children and their teachers.

This tragedy feels personal.  I talk with my teacher friends, and we are overwhelmed with respect for our colleagues, teachers, principal and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We're in awe of their courage and deep commitment, even in the midst of terror.

We ache for those who lived and saved the students in their care, those who died trying to protect children, and those teachers who heard the chaos over the intercom and then acted.

The tragedy touches us, too, because we share that insider's knowledge of elementary schools, the office, the hallways, and the bright, active classrooms.

We know how children shine in their light and joy for Christmas.  They laugh easily and dance down corridors.  They love glitter, lots and lots of glitter.  We all sparkle in unexpected places after a week of making cards and gifts.

This is a tender time during the school year.  We share gifts and excitement.  We adults get to learn from our students about delight and surprise, belief and faith, anticipation and innocence.

Today is the Solstice, the day when darkness gives way to light.  In many ways, we carry forth the same message as the ancients:

Light and dark, joy and suffering, 
hope and despair, life and death,
where there is one, you will know the other.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Mt. Washington
It's that time of year when we're drawn to the well-laden table where we offer our gratitude, our thanks and our blessings.   My heart holds a bounty of good this November -- so unlike years past.  I stand reminded by the Wise Ones:  Things change. Conditions shift and nothing ever stays the same, no matter how stuck life might seem.

On Tuesday November 6, we voted at the Town House and then drove north.  For us, this election was clear-cut.  No questions.  No dithering.   The choices were black and white, and we voted black.   

We voted for what we value and cherish -- human rights, women's' rights, the environment, education, single payer healthcare, diversity, peace, the arts, economic justice, social justice, civil rights.   We voted for all those things the Republican platform threatened to end, abolish and corrupt.

Rather than sit home and endure the telephone invasion of PACs and candidates, we headed north into the vast and implacable beauty of the White Mountains.   It was a day for far vistas.  The trees were bare and the cold air cut clean to the bone.  Granite and fir were encased in snow and we counted more ducks than people, just as we had hoped.

Late that night and into the next day, I watched the numbers turn into victories.  New Hampshire scored a first and elected a woman governor and two women to the House of Representatives.  They join our two women senators to make an all-women Congressional team.   A first in U.S. history...

Even the power in our state legislature shifted, and the right-wing idiots with their guns and prejudices will be sent home in January.  Stay there.  Don't even think about coming back.

What irony!   Florida's electoral votes were irrelevant.  The Super Pacs did NOT prevail even with their billions of dollars.  Karl Rove made a spectacle of himself and Fox News.  Planned Parenthood lives on and we have another chance to reset the priorities of this nation.

During Thanksgiving grace, I added my quiet thoughts.  I am thankful for a renewed faith in people.  I feel hopeful and relieved, yet ready to act and raise my voice for what I love.    

And when I doubt my own heart, I'll head north again to where the natural world endures with her healing gifts and lessons, her mountains and snows,  trees and rivers, sun and shadows.  

Sunday, November 04, 2012



Friday, October 05, 2012

SAVE BIG BIRD: Big Bird for President

Big Bird in Taiwan
As we might expect, Romney and the Republicans have it all wrong. Or, maybe they're just jealous of Big Bird's popularity.  After all, he's outpolling Romney right now.

Big Bird would make a great president.  He represents the best of America -- its children, its openness to new ideas, its compassion, diversity and kindness.  Big Bird tells the truth.  Big Bird is a good listener. Big Bird has presence, yet does not misuse his power or prestige.

Remember this the next time we send troops and drones, bankers and "company men" to speak for us -- rather than the peacemakers and Big Birds of the world.

We saw evidence of Big Bird's global influence in Hualien, Taiwan. That yellow bird is a highly successful diplomat and has certainly logged more miles abroad than Mitt Romney.  He's probably even better known than Romney! 

So, during the presidential debates I want to hear:  "Look, Big Bird did NOT cause the budget deficit."

Neither did "Masterpiece Theatre", "Frontline", "Mystery", POV -- and all the other programs on PBS.  We cannot keep blaming education, healthcare, Head Start, Medicare, Community Action Programs, the National Writing Project or any other thoughtful, people-oriented programs for sinking our economy.

Instead, go after the decades of War and own what THAT has cost us in money, people, and social justice.  

Go ahead.  I dare you. Tackle greed, banking practices, and power --who has it, who doesn't, and who and what really rots our country.  

Ask.  Where's the outrage?  Where's the change?  Why do we let the corruption go on?

One thing is sure:  Big Bird isn't a Republican.  Maybe that's why they want to take away his job.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Young Loon at Big Brook Bog

I love his eager eyes and what seems to be a faint smile on this young loon's face.  Born in mid-June, he has grown from a small, brown fluff of feathers riding on his mother's back to the adolescent we see in this late August photograph taken on Big Brook Bog in Pittsburg, New Hampshire.

On that morning, he shadowed one parent and then the other -- fishing, surveying the bog below the water's surface, diving, and finally flapping his wings in anticipation of flight.

Now, in late September, he's ready to fly from the small bog in the northern woods to the sea where he winters.

We have followed three young loons this summer, one on Hermit Lake and two in the far north of New Hampshire.  The three have survived predators -- bald eagles, snapping turtles, humans in boats, and human debris such as plastic bits, lead sinkers and fishing line.

They've built their strength on small fish and learned the tricks of their species from their parents.

We've watched the parent loons surround their babies when danger is near.  We've heard the warning calls from one parent to the other. We've seen the male loons fly close by the large raptors and people in kayaks.  They taunt and tease to bring the threat on to themselves, not their young.

Here is the reward of all that care.  The time will come through weather and instinct.  The three young loons will leave, alone, for new horizons and unfamiliar waters.  They face  enormous challenges -- survive the winter, find a mate, and return in spring to dance the dance and continue the cycle of life.  

There are lessons here, if we choose to watch and listen.  

Spring 2013 -- with a bit of luck 


Friday, August 31, 2012


East Inlet - See the deer?
It was the end of August and time for our annual pilgrimage to the Great North Woods.   The days were warm and sunny under a brilliant blue sky.  We saw deer, otters, loons, hawks and harriers, fox and one very large, very dead porcupine.

We've been coming to northern New Hampshire since the summer of 1985. It's a place we love for its wildlife, vast stretches of forest, and its waterways. 

Midweek we had a surprise shower, a real drencher, and we ended up sitting it out in the car.  We had just enough time to paddle to the landing before the bog rocked with whitecaps and wind-driven rain.

After that storm, dense fog covered the waterways in the early mornings.  The temperatures of water, air, and land were shifting, changing, signaling an end to summer.

Big Brook Bog -- very early morning
On our final morning, we paddled Big Brook Bog at dawn.  Our kayaks slipped into gray and we lost sight of one another almost immediately.  It was otherworldly -- silent but for the splash of my paddle in water.  

I moved forward cautiously, listening for the tell-tale sounds of moose or deer.  Nothing. Nothing but vague shapes slipping in and out of the mist.  

It was the storyteller's dream!

Faintly, a tussock of grass and scrubby shrubs formed in the mist and fog.  It was then we knew the Trickster had played his hand and caught us in a terrific joke. We laughed and howled, and most likely, woke every living thing on water and land.

It was a very different sort of dream and magic!

And out of the fog appeared ... pink flamingos?         

Friday, August 10, 2012


Words pour across the page,
spill over the edge,
like so many beads from a broken
cord, falling from my neck.

They roll above wide pine boards,
lodge in wooden grooves
like wayward thoughts, I retrieve them
missing one, now two.

So much like beads from a shattered 
strand, the words shift and change
restrung, refigured, recombined,
pattern, color, rhythm, line ---
what I see, redefined.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Eagle at Black Cat Spur
I have a whole new season in my life.  Here it is the end of June and already I've watched trees bud and flower, birds arrive and fledge, the shades of green surround my house. I've been swimming and kayaking.  We've had ferocious heat and thunderstorms the likes of August.  

Some far future day, scientists will pinpoint 2012 as the turning point in Climate Change.  It's happened.  It's raging wildfires in Colorado, 108 degrees F. in the central United States, and flooding in the British Isles.   It's the loss of glaciers and the water they provide for billions of people.  It's New England blueberries ripe the end of June.

Exxon Oil's top banana-head was quoted saying, we can solve any climate problems with engineering.  Ah, your engineered environment.  Your engineered education.  Your fake food.  I grew up near Springfield, Massachusetts, home of Monsanto -- "your life on chemicals".  

It's the zenith of stupidity.

How to stay sane in this society?  I go to the wilderness again and again.  Here in northern New Hampshire, I find something to believe in -- the eagles have returned.  The snipe danced and called for mates on the 18th of June.  The loons came back to the waterway of their birth and hatched one egg.  The baby was in the water and swimming within forty-five minutes.

But, even my northern escape has changed immeasurably.  The mountains host big, expensive summer homes.  The small cabins are mostly gone or turned into what people seem to need in the wilds -- jacuzzis, Wi-Fi, and air conditioning.   Northern Pass still threatens the people and the environment with its steel towers buzzing with DC power heading for Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C.

So, I go into wild places and gather my strength from:  A snipe calling...
A young bald eagle.
A Minke Frog
Mother and baby loon.

There's even the grave of a young veteran at Coon Brook Bog.  His friends and family honor him often with flowers, a flag, and two turkey feathers.

Someone else believes in the sanctity of wild places.  May they, too, find peace here.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Irises belong to bygone summers.  On my walks to the playground, I passed rows of these tall spires. The blossoms glowed in deep purple, yellows and browns, blues, whites, shades of orange. I picked bouquets from the gardens of my childhood and gave them to Nana, Great-grandmother Belden, Aunt Maida and Uncle Bill.

Now I read about the many varieties of iris.  I'm most familiar with the bearded iris, Iris Germanica, found among the old New England homesteads.  The books say this is probably a species bred and created, not a native to this New World soil.

It's an ancient flower, revered by Egyptians, Greeks, kings and artists. You find its glory painted by Van Gogh and emblazoned as the fleur-de-lis, symbol of the might of the French monarchy.

Iris was the Greek goddess who bridged earth and heaven with her rainbows.  She was a message-bearer and the one who led the souls of dead women to the Elysian fields.  Her namesake flower honored women's graves.

The flowers are famous for perfumes and dyes, orris root, old remedies for illnesses as well as for keeping kegs of beer from going stale.

All this history and story is embodied in the stately flowers now blooming in my wild, hillside garden.  If I once dismissed irises as more suited to "old ladies' flowerbeds", I apologize.  I stand corrected.  I stand in awe of all I do not know about the power and mystery and lineage of this natural world --- its flora, its fauna, its geology, us.

So before they plant irises over my grave, I make a promise to myself and to the future. I pledge to love the pleasure and power of learning.  I will look for wonder and discovery in things big and small. I will write and share my stories, mindful of my voice and the truth of what I witness.

I promise to be forever curious, a seeker of what I do not know.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Suddenly It's Green
In this corner of New Hampshire, the biggest changes in the landscape happen between April and May.  In a matter of weeks, we go from stark, leafless browns and grays to the singular green of Spring.

I've been worried lately that we are finally living in Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.  It's been too quiet.  During the long, hot dry spell in April, we lost the vernal pools in our woods.  We didn't hear wood frogs or birdsong at the usual times.  We were harassed by brush fires and the threats of more damage from careless cigarettes, camping, or lightning.

Then, it rained.

Last night we listened to the peepers.  Two barred owls argued over territory and mates.  Their calls filled the woods by the house.

Earlier in the day we heard the robins and phoebes.  Small warblers flit from branch to branch.  And this morning the transformation grows -- indigo buntings, more warblers,  birdsong -- everywhere, birdsong.

Spring is silent no more.

Saturday, April 21, 2012



This would be a great title for a book on writing with middle school kids -- something I have just finished.  For three Friday afternoons in April, I joined Writing Project teachers, college students, classroom teachers and 140 sixth, seventh and eighth graders in a project called WriteOn! at a local school.

It was the third year of WriteOn! and as is often the case now, the funds were cut for the grant.  But at this school, the PTA decided a writing enrichment series for all the middle schoolers was important and it provided the money for the writers and materials.  Good for them!

Our group had eight students covering all the grades.  Some are avid writers and used the prompts to create pages and pages of new stories.  Some hate writing. Some are very shy about sharing their work.  Different teachers wrote with us each week -- and when teachers + students write together, the energy shifts.  The power of words and ideas supplants the power of teacher over student, and we become one writing community.

One girl discovered Viking runes and made a series of coded sentences to decipher.  One reluctant writer used a photograph from WRITE WHAT YOU SEE (Hank Kellner, Cottonwood Press).  He wrote two pieces, one about his grandmother's dog named Baxter and one about dogs and babies and why people are drawn to them.

The Native American ledger drawings from the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College inspired seventh and eighth grade girls to write serious, detailed stories about a life on the plains and first encounters with white settlers.  Some moved to poetry and personal essays on loneliness and belonging.

Two friends write war-adventure-espionage stories.  This is where the zombies come into the writing.  They support each other's work and listen intently when the other reads new parts.

In our "quick writes", the teachers also wrote about dogs and babies, loneliness and "lost love", bullies and heroes.  I love how writing can be a great equalizer, a common ground for adults and young people to share.

Yesterday, we all were a bit sad to finish the WriteOn! series.  We knew something good had happened.  We had laughed together, shared thoughts through our writing and talking, and learned something new about each person, adults and young people.  We had taken risks and explored new things.

This is why I love teaching and writing...
Why I believe in the future...
 and in the young people who are its promise
and its heirs.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Echo Lake - Franconia, New Hampshire
I have been obsessed with the politics and bad news of the day to the point where I get depressed, sick, dispirited.  It's not the way to live a life.  I have to get outside into the natural world.  Beauty.  Mountains topped with snow.  Cold, clear lakes.  Blue, blue skies.  The crisp definition of trees just before they leaf out.  

This early April morning is testament enough -- birds returning to nest, buds about to burst, life bravely embracing the next step in its cycle and me, alive again and grateful to be connected to the terrifying beauty and mystery around me.

It's a comfort in a strange way.

Sunday, April 01, 2012


Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi has inspired me for years -- through her house arrest and imprisonment.  Through her stolen election.  Through the years of broken promises and indignities.  But try as they might, the military junta could not silence her.

Two years ago, I wrote:  "Never give up hope" when thinking of her.  Five years ago, it seemed as if hope was a very small flame about to die.

Today, Aung San Suu Kyi has won a seat in the parliment.  Everywhere she travels in Burma, she is met with joy and huge crowds who, like me, now overflow with Hope.

Monday, March 19, 2012


March 19.  Just before the Spring Equinox and we find ourselves with 70 degree weather.  From one day to the next, sprouts like these daffodils appear and then shoot up two inches or more in the uncanny sunshine.

We're a cautious folk in New Hampshire.  We know this kind of weather in March is a huge teaser.  "Wait until the big snow in April" we say and the audience shakes its collective head with the memories of apple blossoms drooping under heavy, wet snows.

But this is a new world where feeding the machine rules over common sense and caution, and where the collective memories no longer revere early Spring joys of tadpoles, vernal pools and the first peepers.  

In this new corporate world, I wonder about Resilience:  How to nurture resilience with dignity and truth.  How to spring back and not be crushed by what is happening to social justice, human rights, our environment, our souls.  

Mostly, I wonder how to keep celebrating what I know and love in a country gone mad.  I'm drawn into an ancient struggle and I hope to surprise myself with what I discover along the way.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Adventures with Pigs
Dear Aimee and Millie,

You asked me what pigs eat.  That's a good question.  When I was a little girl, my grandfather and Nana raised pigs on their farm in Pittsfield, New Hampshire.  In this photo, I'm about 3 years old.  I wanted to take this little pig for a walk, but he was more interested in eating leaves in the path.  I don't look very happy.

I remember I helped my grandfather feed the pigs.  We mixed grain, molasses and water into a sweet-smelling mash.  My grandfather poured the mash into a long wooden trough and the pigs stood side-by-side eating.  They made snuffling and snorting sounds when they ate.  They also had a fenced-in field in the summer where the pigs could run and eat green plants, leaves and other tasty bits.  They always had water -- both in the field and in the barn.

Some people think pigs are dirty animals, but I remember how clean they were, especially outside in the fields.  One of the big jobs on the farm was keeping the pens in the barn clean and full of straw.

My grandfather had a horse named Pancho, chickens, geese, and a cow.  My Nana milked the cow and made butter from the cream.  I loved visiting them on the farm.  When I was older, I stayed for a few weeks each summer.  Then, I helped in the garden.  I picked peas and cucumbers.  My Nana taught me how to make pickles and we entered a jar into the local fair.  Our pickles won a blue ribbon!

I'm glad you asked about pigs.  I had fun finding this old photograph from the summer of 1950.   I like sharing stories of when I was a little girl.  Ask me more questions!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Politics 2012 - and it's only January

January 10: The New Hampshire Primary.  It's a big deal here.  We're the first in the nation to vote on the presidential candidates.

I'm an Independent who votes the Democratic ballot based on its history, principles and traditions.  It's a vote that demands I keep my voice alive and "out there"... not falling into "silence is complicity"... not letting my responsibilities stop with the one act of voting.

This year, the Republicans had a roster of candidates that filled our hearts with dread -- Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, Romney, Huntsman, Bachman.  We face extreme politics that could strip away everything I value -- public education, women's rights, single payer health care, environmental safeguards, conservation, a social agenda that protects (in deed not only mouth) the civil rights of everyone in this country.
Voting in an old New England Town House makes me feel connected to my country, my town, my roots.  It's quintessential New England -- the wood stove, food, a bake sale, jeans and fleece.  The talk is civil, more or less.  It's where we live, after all, where we see our neighbors, police + firemen, town officials, teachers, young + old, face-to-face.

January 19:  Real Heroes.  This lady, a widow from northern New Hampshire, refuses to sell her farm to the Northern Pass Project.  Northern Pass is offering huge, inflated sums of money to create high-tower transmission lines from the Canadian border to Groveton. There are no existing Right-of-Ways to this point, so Northern Pass thinks it can buy out local landowners.  This private venture promises big money to landowners in a poor part of the state.

She lives on a farm that's been in her husband's family for generations. She doesn't want to sell it to Northern Pass for many reasons. Her grandson wants to farm it again.  She loves where she lives. She doesn't in believe this project -- or its tactics of threatening eminent domain and turning family members against one another.  

After she said, No, she had legal expenses. She became dragged into controversy.  But today, she's recognized for the heroine she is.  The Northern Pass Opposition held a fundraiser and turned over a check to help her with those legal fees and other expenses.

This is what freedom and choice and doing the right thing is all about. 

January 25.  New Hampshire State Senate Votes and strengthens the law protecting landowner rights.  The final tally was 23 in favor and 1 opposed.  But it was no easy victory.

HB 648 needed to pass.  Without it, Northern Pass would have an easier time taking the land it wants for its transmission lines.  Even with this new law, the lobbyists and influence-hucksters will simply turn their attention to other avenues -- federal regulators, their friends in the courts and on regulatory committees, their lawyers, who knows...

Can you spot the lobbyists?  The landowners?
Here in the gallery, we are carefully shielded from the Senators' eyes. The space is full:  the orange of opposition, the sleek black of power, lawyers on Smartphones (making luncheon dates with lobbyists), and older residents of the North Country who left homes and farms before dawn to be a presence here.  
Here's my message to the Senate:  "I'm not paid by anyone to buy or influence your vote.  I'm one of the people you represent.  Let's not forget that.  It's simple, back to basics.  Politics 101."

Saturday, January 07, 2012


The New Year blows sweet, although a bit cold.  There are no questions for me now.  I am in the right place at this particular time of life.  On a chilly Thursday morning, Barry's birthday, we head north.  
Franconia Notch
Cannon Mountain 
Crossing the Pemigewasset River
near its source
We walk to the Basin over a thin layer of ice.  There's a woodpecker hole on this pine tree to the left.  The air is crisp and bites my nose.  I wear my new "retirement boots", lumberjack leather, thick sturdy soles -- and I don't fall.

We warm up at the Littleton Diner and feed our minds at the wonderful independent bookstore down the street.  We come away with books on mushrooms, writing, and log drives down the Connecticut River.  I buy myself a "Congratulations on your retirement" card.  It just seems the right thing to do.

Barry treats himself at the local antique-curio shop where he finds the sword of a long-deceased swordfish.  It just seems the right thing to do -- and it is.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Count the Birds

January 1, 2012:  It was warm for a January day in New Hampshire.  The sun slipped in and out of the clouds.  Brown leaves underfoot held a memory of October or early November.  I wore a fall jacket, no gloves, no boots.  It's unsettling for this old New Englander to be so free this time of year.

Then, another marker of change appeared -- this red-bellied woodpecker, a bird we knew from Maryland where we lived in 1971.  We had seen one last week in western Massachusetts where we celebrated Christmas on a warm, spring-like day.  No Currier and Ives this year!  No sleigh bells, no skiing, no snow, no ice -- just an unfamiliar bird in an untimely landscape...

Red bellied Woodpecker
January 2, 2012:  Today is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, a time for birders to scour their areas and take count of the birds they see. Across the world, ornithologists and citizen scientists share their data and study the changes in the numbers and the species recorded year by year.  
  • Changes -- like this red-bellied woodpecker, a bird of the southeastern forests, now at home hundreds of miles north of where his ancestors thrived.  
  • Changes -- like waterfowl now swimming in open water on the big lakes of our region.  
  • Changes -- robins staying all winter and feeding on different foods, like the true survivors they are, adapting to new conditions in their lives.
Where I find no change is on the human side of the equation. The New Hampshire Legislature is now considering a bill to limit how evolution is taught in schools.  The parade of presidential candidates fall all over themselves denying climate change and its consequences. 

We bulldoze wetlands, destroy mangroves and then bemoan the flood damage that follows.  Think of fracking, Northern Pass Transmission Lines, strip mining...

This red-bellied woodpecker has a lot to teach us about adaptation and survival, limited resources and conservation, destruction of habitat, and knowledge of where we live and what we need to survive.  

After all we're merely another species amongst the many, subject to natural laws and consequences.  

Let's teach that in our schools!