Chasing Light

Shadow Self

This morning, out early to let out the dog who seemed to have urgent need, I encountered a robin in full featherage sitting motionless beneath the bird bath.  The bird didn’t so much as flinch  as River and I walked past.  After I put the dog back in, I kept walking out to the edge of the deck to check on the puffed red body below,  holding the idea of its life in my mind, willing it to be well. It moved twice around the base of the bath, apparently trying to leverage a more secure hiding place, until finally, it laid its head down and rolled onto its side.  The robin was dead.

I know animals die in the natural world but seeing the bird first thing on what otherwise promised to be a glorious late summer day, put me in a dark mood, a circumstance I admittedly didn’t help by checking the news. Before I knew it I’d gone down the rabbit hole of horrible headlines. Foremost in my sight was Hurricane Florence swamping the Carolinas, with, according to The Atlantic,  “18 trillion gallons of water, enough to fill Chesapeake Bay,” followed by Typhoon Mangkhut. It’s as inconceivable as it is alarming that we’re living in the new normal of monster storms, catastrophic flooding, and a summer where much of the West was on fire—all products of human-caused climate change. Ladies and Gentlemen, the future we have been warned about has arrived.


The Way Out

My mind circles back to the robin. An omen? I think.  I try to write my way out of my dour mood, but when that fails, I grab the leash and my camera and take River up the road.  It’s aspen season in Colorado and the hills are on fire with gold light, as one stand after another ignites up and down the mountain.

But, for my mission this morning I have more than aspens in mind:  I want light.

We’ve entered those precious few weeks of late summer and early fall when the world fills with what my friend Luis Urrea calls “Irish light.”  It’s the time of year when the sun dips in the sky, angling at a  perfect pitch so that everywhere you look landscape glows.  Meadows of dried summer grass blooms a luminous golden and pale

brown, and even the waning green of plants give off their own lime light.  It’s not the fresh tart green of spring, which makes me want to cartwheel across a thawing meadow, but the green of serenity, the green of a final farewell, the last hurrah.

I walk River up our road until it opens up and the sky presents us with a blue that never fails to put a smile on my face.  More light. The walk does my mind good.  I think of nothing but the sound of gravel beneath my feet, the sun warming my bare arms, the light that fills the world.  Meditation teachers admonish us to discover an eternity in a moment.  And for a moment I do.  The mountain is achingly beautiful, lit like a 1950s Hollywood starlet, so that each needle, each leaf radiates as if possessed with its own small sun.  Chasing light, I let the it displace deeper worries about a world in grave peril.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  The natural world offers so much solace, so much beauty. While I worry about predictions and prognostications, that darker nightmares that are to come, I will always reach for beauty, always choose light.  To love the thing even as it wanes is an act of heart.  For me there is nothing else.

Late Bloomer

Remembering Colorado by Laura Marshall

A reader recently called Rough Beauty—a fairy tale.  She was not being kind.  At first I laughed.  Anyone who knows me knows I am no princess; not once have I been a damsel in distress.  The course of my life has been a dirty mess, traversing the scarred landscape of family and fire, the misery of isolation and working too much for too little.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

And yet, I’ve had the kind of year that you get in story books:  I published my first book to critical acclaim and I bought my very first house—a real beauty on an acre and a half of land where I wake every morning to a tree-house view of the forest through French doors in the bedroom. That I never thought either event was possible makes 2018 sparkle with fairy dust.  And I recently agreed to marry Greg in the 7th year of our courtship.  This small thunderbolt arrived in the most unexpected way, as we were hiking a new trail near Rollins Pass, and for the third time this year, my landscape shifted.  I can’t decide if the fact that these firsts have come now—when I am in my fifth decade—makes the tale more saccharine or sweet, but it does write the not so traditional nature of my life large.


Lately, I’ve been mindful of the late summer blooms, counting every sip of color, each delicate petal—savoring the last of the season.  And so it is as I watch the course of my days, as I seem to be coming into the kinds of things we call milestones rather belatedly. I recently read Rick Bass’ memoir The Traveling Feast in which the writer, now sixty and ending his long marriage, wonders how many more books he might be able to write, and, I think, if he will ever love again. Does he have either in him?  is the subtext of what is a beautiful but mournful book. My trajectory is almost the opposite of Bass’, a writer whose first publication came early and in The Paris Review, whose champions were Gordon Lish and George Plimpton.  Just like the aster, which doesn’t imagine itself tardy to the riot of summer; growing instead according to its own sense of season and instinct, I try not to be bothered by time or the question of what I’ve been doing all these years.

Clearly, mine is the tale of the late bloomer, written about most poignantly in the last lines of Sylvia Plath poem, “Poppies in October”:

Oh my God, what am I

That these late mouths should cry open

In a field of frost in a dawn of cornflowers.

The circumstances of our lives are made more beautiful by context and timing. Here, Plath finds the astonishing—made even more so—out of season and surrounded by death.  That my life has burst forth with so much now is a kind of miracle.  But that doesn’t make it mythic.  No one’s life is easy—it only seems so from the outside looking in.  What’s true is The Story is Ours.  And like the poppies in Plath’s poem, it can be “a gift/a love gift” if we’re willing to see it for what it is, if we have the guts to tell the tale.

Join me for From From Memory to Memoir, a 4-week class at The Light House North beginning September 11th.

The path to a proposal Aug 17th