No Hard Feelings


It’s the water that carries us, after all,
like mermaids astride the glistening shell
of the giant sea turtle, we are slippery wet,
slick as newborns.

We are filled with the oceans, we are alive.

All my friends are anemones, supple, pliable,
bendy beneath the waves,
the salt and the sea that softens the flesh
and even the hardest of feelings.

All my friends are fluid.


When John was twelve he came upon his father
golden in the early morning light, hanging
by a noose from a rafter in the barn.

When Tim was twelve he followed his mother
to the Belgium Bridge and watched as she threw
what remained of herself into the Seneca River.

When Mark was twelve he watched his father
give himself up to the tumors that stole the hard,
dry breath from his lungs.


We did not kiss or hold each other close
one last time, we did not wish each other well.


When the edges get ragged, you can turn
a new seam. Again and again, you turn,
until the garment that once covered you
is a collar buttoned at your throat, a bib to catch
what crumbs may fall.

But this is not the edge.
This is the center, this is the heart,
where the rend is new
and the soft fray has only just begun,
there is still time to lay a patch,
still time to stitch things
back together.
If only I had a needle.
If only I could find some thread.


All along the shores of Lake Ontario
I gather the pieces of beach glass,
frosted blue and green, bits of vessels once
whole and transparent, now fractured into
fragments, small and opaque as moonstone,
buffed and lustrous, the product of time
spent tumbling, of turbulence, of friction,
of abrasion, bruised like knees for years and years.
I fill my pockets to overflow with the beautiful
battered bits and carry them all back home.

If You’re Weary, Too

“Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t feel the same,
that you’re not weary, too, of waging war in heaven’s name.

I wish I could give you a link to that song, but it’s one of mine, and I haven’t recorded it yet, tho I surely will, one day. The last time I sang it in public was over a year ago. How the days go by.

So I have this new gig, and it’s exactly the sort of thing I love/hate: getting a project off the ground, developing goals, objectives, a strategy, not knowing what I’m doing half the time, fumbling in the dark (too long), dealing with other people, merging our disparate desires and visions and ambitions and, yes, agendas. The organization has been around for five or six years and it’s never had much structure or a sustaining revenue base. My task is to develop both. They call me Executive Director. I like the title, even if it comes with no salary and a fuzzy mission.

Yes, people say, it sounds lovely, but what is it you do?

I do this: I sway like a poplar in a spring storm, tipping from optimism to something not quite its opposite, something akin to futility. I lean into blog posts and newsletters to escape the weariness of moral outrage over all the awfulness in the world. I swear off Facebook, I stop reading Salon, I curse my porous soul.

Then I go outside and wander in the tiny woodland sanctuary that is my back yard, noticing the new growth, the robin’s nest built in the crook of the rain gutter, its young already fledged and off to live their feathery new bird lives.

I go back inside and try again.

Scratch a woman, find a rage. That’s what Marilyn French wrote, all those years ago, and I’m still raging, still wondering why the wars in heaven’s name get all the money and the messes are left for someone else to clean up.

At my new gig we work on local food issues. Access, infrastructure, supply, demand. We don’t have many organic farms in our area, so choosing local often means choosing conventionally raised products. (Poisoned butterflies, collapsed bee colonies.) It also means inefficient markets. (Higher costs, limited supplies.) And it means buying what’s in season. (No tomatoes in January, no asparagus in July.) That last one is a hard sell to people who are used to the year-round plethora available at every supermarket in town.

Sometimes I think the greatest force in the universe is not nuclear or electromagnetic or even gravitational, it’s habit. The force of habit. it takes a lot of energy to overcome it, a lot of fuel to propel change.

Outrage is certainly one sort of fuel. It burns hot, it stokes your engines. Outrage made public brings things to the attention of an otherwise indifferent world. And in the face of awfulness, it’s awesome. I remember a slogan from my youth, something to the effect that if you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention. So I guess I’m paying attention.

At least there’s that.

I just need to remember that not all things worthy of my attention have to be the stuff of outrage. My new gig, for one. That song in need of recording, for another. And for the sake of my stupid, porous soul, let’s include that empty nest where only weeks ago there were eggs, then baby birds, now just downy feathers and twigs and grass. At least there’s that, too.


We traveled south to be with friends, people we no longer see as frequently as we would like. It was a last minute decision. “Do you want to go? Yes? Okay, then, we’re going.”

Death rends the fabric, then invites us to come together to stitch it back up.

We are all a mess. Our stitches are clumsy. We poke our thumbs on the needle points, and our blood dots the pretty pink napkins on the table.

Whose suffering is relieved by death? Surely not that of the dead; to feel relief, one must still be capable of feeling.

Must still be alive. Must still be feeling.

We are still alive. We are alive. We are stitching, stitching.

Not Everything is a Metaphor

Last night I played a little gig at a local club.  Midway through my third song, my voice vanished. Disappeared. Poof. Gone.

It came back, intermittently, just long enough for me to finish out the short set and whisper my thanks into the mic.

After I sat down I said to my companion, “I lost my voice.”

She was sympathetic. “Nobody noticed,” she said.


Not everything is a metaphor. Sometimes, it’s two metaphors.


“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths,” writes author Rebecca Solnit in her essay, The Blue of Distance. “This blue is the light that got lost.”

“Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water, the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance.” […]

The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go.”

My favorite Christmas songs are not really Christmas songs at all: Steve Earle’s “Christmas in Washington” and Joni Mitchell’s “River, from her 1971 album Blue. There is an entire blog devoted to Blue, which is one more reason to love the internet. On it I found a link to a list of some of the best covers of Mitchell’s songs, including a personal favorite, Beth Orton’s recording of “River.”

I’ve been dreaming of returning to Colorado, of finding a place to nestle within the arms of those mountains. For all kinds of practical reasons I have held the dream at bay. Maybe for reasons not so practical, as well.

Once more to “The Blue of Distance”:

“We treat desire as a problem to be solved […] though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. […] The mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them, and the blue instead tints the next beyond.”

Excerpts are from Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guild to Getting Lost, 2005. For something a little less melancholy, you can read her year-end essay, “Everything’s Coming Together While Everything Falls Apart” on


Being & Becoming

“Only in childhood are we afforded the luxury of inhabiting our becoming, but once forced to figure out who we want to be in life, most of us are so anxious about planting that stake of being that we bury the alive, active process of our becoming. In our rush to arrive at who we want to be, we flee from the ceaseless mystery of our becoming.”

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

(T)he future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements — inferences, guesses, deductions — it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more.

Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity

I’m not sure I’ve ever fled from the ceaseless mystery of my becoming, but I do feel, on occasion, the desire to unzip and step out of this constant state of being.

Sometimes there’s just too much me in my life.

In December, when the sun hides for days on end, I find myself restless and in need of distraction. I pick up things up and put them down, pace the cold floor in my hand-knitted socks, wonder if it’s too late in the day to have another cup of coffee, settle for tea, which I always enjoy more than I think I will.

The other day I made some bread: yeast, water, flour, salt, a spoonful of olive oil. It spent most of the day in a state of becoming. Then I baked it, and it became bread.

You can’t eat the becoming.

Which is to say, becoming is not necessarily the ideal state of being. And while the future may indeed be an abstraction, there is considerable pleasure to be found in anticipation.

I can enjoy the bread and the tea and still look forward to spring.

Food is Too Cheap

It’s the season of feasting, and food has been on my mind. At the co-op where I work the local produce on offer is of the hearty sort, cabbage and collards and late autumn squashes. It’s the food you come to want when the weather turns cold and damp and the sky is pearl white and the light of the day is gone by late afternoon.

Let’s bake bread. Let’s make soup.

Let’s figure out what to do with this rutabaga.

The other day I was in a local thrift shop looking for a set of salt & pepper shakers. As I contemplated little windmills (too dorky), little Buddhas (missing their corks) and a pair of ceramic Aristocats (too tall and unstable), I listened to a conversation between the owner of the shop and a customer who was complaining about the awful Thanksgiving dinner he’d been served at a nearby restaurant. “All they had on the menu was Thanksgiving stuff,” I heard him say. “Turkey and mashed potatoes. And it wasn’t even good. And the waitress was surly. Well,  it was late. They were getting ready to close. But still.”

But still.

Restaurant etiquette aside — you don’t go in when they’re about to close and expect them to be happy to see you — this man’s disappointment with his meal was hardly surprising. The meat came from a factory, the potatoes from a box, the gravy from a can. Yet that restaurant is a local institution, their tables full every day, and the tab for that turkey dinner was less than $10.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite local restaurants just closed its doors after five years, in no small part because the owner, who created her seasonal menus from locally-sourced meats, fruits and vegetables, couldn’t charge enough to cover what she needed to pay to her farmers, let alone to pay herself. Her plates pushed the envelop at $15 – $20, sometimes more. Not much by big city standards, but more than her rural community could ante up in numbers large enough to keep her going. She will be missed. But I hear she’s going to try again, in a bigger city. Hope springs eternal.

Like organic, local food is expensive. Right now the local food economy here is a boutique arrangement sitting atop an industrial food system that brings in 90% of our food from elsewhere to sell here for cheap.

At the co-op we sold freshly butchered Thanksgiving turkeys from a local farm. You had to order in advance and pick them up the day they arrived, because ours is a small store with no room in our refrigerators for more than a few 20-pound turkeys, and we had 50 or 60 coming in.

At $3.49 a pound, the birds averaged about $65 apiece. You can get a supermarket turkey around here for less than $20.

That $45 represents the gap we are struggling to bridge, as a co-op, and as a community, as those of us who care about such things try to figure out how to grow our local food economy. Right now that gap seems distressingly wide, a symptom of a two-tiered food system in which good food grown on small local farms is a luxury for most, not to mention hard to find, while food shipped in from far away is readily available and cheap.

People have come to expect their food to be cheap. They need it to be cheap. Money is tight, paychecks are shrinking, and people need to eat. At the co-op rarely a week goes by that someone doesn’t tell me our prices are too high, that they can’t afford to shop there.

I know their pain. I can’t always afford to shop there, either.

Local food presents a conundrum, one whose solution, I suspect, lies outside the bounds of conventional thinking about food and economics. After all, those Freakonomics guys say the whole local food thing is misguided, that going local is inefficent, that a locally-based food system would cost more in fuel and resources than the global system in place today. Moreover, it won’t feed the world.

And yet.

Food is too cheap, writes Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry, and he’s right. Our current food system is extractive, using more resources than it returns, and its costs are measured in lost topsoil and lost knowledge of good mixed-use land management and animal husbandry. But who’s going to tell that to the waitress making $2.30 an hour on a slow Thanksgiving shift?

Creating a resilient local food economy is not a sexy process. It requires infrastructure, ways to aggregate and distribute products, markets and retail outlets willing and able to accept those products, and end users who can afford them and have some idea how to use them. It’s going to be a slow process. And because it’s inefficient, and its goal is not to serve the bottom line merely, it isn’t on the agro-industrial agenda. We’re going to have to do it ourselves.

Rutabagas are excellent roasted, by the way. Peel them, cut them into pieces and toss them with a little olive oil. Roast uncovered in a shallow pan for 30 minutes at 425 degrees, stirring once or twice. They’re done when they’re nicely browned and you can pierce them easily with a fork.