There are three feet of snow on the ground in Boston, and another storm is bearing down on us. Ten to twenty more inches are predicted over the next two days. The streets are already impossibly narrowed by towering piles on either side of the road. The traffic is terrible and driving is scary. The kids like it. For the last two weeks, school has been cancelled for two days each week, and it’s probably going to be cancelled again tomorrow.
Though I try and love this very white silent world, I confess that I do feel confined and stressed by the extreme weather. It’s so icy and cold outside. Treacherous. Luckily I have been able to either Skype or talk on the phone with most of my patients, when it was not safe for them to travel to my office. I have two dogs who I typically love to walk with every day, but for the most part I have just let them out in the backyard. I don’t want to fall. All of us are cooped up.
This morning I needed to make a deliberate and conscious effort to maintain good spirits. I turned up the thermostat in the kitchen and began to cook and bake. I made a Thai beef coconut curry and an AIP Apple Blackberry Pie. As I measured, chopped and stirred, I listened to my favorite radio program, On Being, with Krista Tippett, interviewing my favorite poet, Mary Oliver. It was a moving and profound interview about many important things, including how one woman transcended the anguish of her life through her relationship with nature and her creativity. The unedited audio file is included at the bottom of this post.
Mary Oliver is 79 years old now and the interview features her during this late developmental phase, with the wisdom gained through all of her years of living. She, like so many patients I have known, found deep solace in the beauty and wonder of the natural world, and it served as an antidote to the loneliness, abuse and trauma experienced in her childhood home. Nature functioned as the comforting and reliable mother she never had, and her relationship with Mother Nature held and nurtured her. It allowed her to transcend the grim realities of family life, and to experience what can be a life saver for many people, a sense of belonging.
Mary Oliver’s creativity also sustained her. She walked daily outside in the woods, always with notebook in hand, and her careful observations of the natural world, and her awareness of its sacredness, is reflected in her poetry. She spoke about the value of discipline in her writing life. She said that it was necessary to set aside time to write daily, because dedicated space needs to be preserved and created, in order to allow inspiration to come to you.
Here is one of her most famous and beloved poems.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
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.
Vibeke Vaerum says
Thank you for sharing. We, too, had a lot of snow in Ontario last week and the frigid temperatures are continuing. I did notice my neighbours and I connecting more than ever while shovelling the drive way; a heightened sense of community seems to develop when we are forced to confront harsh conditions. The dog and I are now cross country skiing, as walking is too difficult. The dog’s joy in navigating the snow and pulling ‘mommy’ is helping me make peace with Mother Nature.
Be warm and well!
This was good. I too listened this morning to On Being and felt Mary Olivers message. At times I felt she still experienced shock that she lived thru the life she recalls. She found her resilience as so many of us have thru connection with our nature relations and find that solice and balance when we feel alone. I am sure you are ready for a change, green grass and less hibernation opportunities. Be well find what you need in your cave world and hope the next storm is small. Love,
Thank you for writing. It was a wonderful interview, wasn’t it? As I mentioned I was cooking as I listened, and I often had to just stop what I was doing and take it in. I felt moved to tears at times by the beauty and poignancy of the conversation.
The storm is intense. I have never seen this much snow here. It’s tremendous. Thank you for your kind wishes.
Betsy MacMichael says
What a beautiful piece, and poem you shared. I have always found nature to be the most inspiring if not comforting reality around. Places I’ve lived, especially Hawaii where nature is portrayed in the feminine, are not necessarily places where “mother nature” is comforting- it can be downright challenging and rough. But through the roughness sometimes comes the inspiration as we are reminded of our own strength, creativity, and essence as a spiritual being.
You are right about challenging and rough. I was aware of the irony as I was writing that, as we are enduring yet another crazy snowstorm. Mother Nature is not comforting me tonight.