Sunday

Dec. 27, 2009

Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh

by Mary Oliver

All winter
two blue herons
hunkered in the frozen marsh,
like two columns of blue smoke.

What they ate
I can't imagine,
unless it was the small laces
of snow that settled

in the ruckus of the cattails,
or the glazed windows of ice
under the tired
pitchforks of their feet—

so the answer is
they ate nothing,
and nothing good could come of that.
They were mired in nature, and starving.

Still, every morning
they shrugged the rime from their shoulders,
and all day they
stood to attention

in the stubbled desolation.
I was filled with admiration,
sympathy,
and, of course, empathy.

It called for a miracle.
Finally the marsh softened,
and their wings cranked open
revealing the old blue light,

so that I thought: how could this possibly be
the blunt, dark finish?
First one, then the other, vanished
into the ditches and upheavals.

All spring, I watched the rising blue-green grass,
above its gleaming and substantial shadows,
toss in the breeze,
like wings.

"Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh" by Mary Oliver, from Owls and other Fantasies: Poems and Essays. © Beacon Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of mountain climber turned philanthropist Greg Mortenson, (books by this author) born in St. Cloud, Minnesota (1957), co-author (along with David Oliver Relin) and subject of the immensely popular nonfiction book Three Cups of Tea, first published in 2006. Since then, it has sold more than 3 million copies in 40 countries, and it's been a New York Times best-seller for about three years. The book is required reading for certain American troops sent to Afghanistan, and it's on the syllabus for various college courses around the U.S.

Three Cups of Tea is about Mortenson's ongoing quest and success in building schools for villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A sequel, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2009), came out just this month. Greg Mortenson was nominated for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to Barack Obama.

Today is the 40th birthday of humorist, essayist, and contributor to more than three dozen episodes of This American Life. Sarah Vowell (books by this author) was born and raised in Muskogee, Oklahoma (1969).

Her essay collection Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World (2000) starts with a piece called "Shooting Dad," which begins: "If you were passing by the house where I grew up during my teenage years and it happened to be before Election Day, you wouldn't have needed to come inside to see that it was a house divided. You could have looked at the Democratic campaign poster in the upstairs window and the Republican one in the downstairs window and seen our home for the Civil War battleground it was. I'm not saying who was the Democrat or who was the Republican — my father or I — but I will tell you that I have never subscribed to Guns & Ammo, that I did not plaster the family vehicle with National Rifle Association stickers, and that hunter's orange was never my color."

Vowell writes op-eds for The New York Times and has occasionally filled in for columnist Maureen Dowd. Her books include Assassination Vacation (2005), The Wordy Shipmates (2008), and The Partly Cloudy Patriot (2003).

She said, "Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know."

It's the birthday of avant-garde poet Charles Olson, (books by this author) born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1910). He wrote a manifesto about the kind of poetry he believed poets should be writing, called Projective Verse (1959). He advocated for a kind of poetry that was completely free of meter or rhyme and concerned more with the sounds of words than the sense they made. He lectured on this style of poetry at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and he influenced many younger poets, including Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Wilfrid Sheed, (books by this author) born in London, England (1930). He has written several satirical novels about the business of journalism, including The Hack (1963), about a miserable man who writes uplifting poems and stories for a Catholic magazine, and Max Jamison (1970), about a theater critic who can't help criticizing everything in his own life. He's also written several memoirs, including My Life as a Fan (1993), about his love of baseball, and In Love with Daylight: A Memoir of Recovery (1995).

It was on this day in 1831 that Charles Darwin (books by this author) set sail from England on the HMS Beagle beginning the journey that would take him to the Galapagos Islands and inspire his theory of evolution. He was amazed at the variety of shapes and colors in the plants and animals he found. He wrote in his diary, "It creates a feeling of wonder that so much beauty should be apparently created for such little purpose."

He returned to England in the fall of 1836 and never traveled beyond Great Britain again. He spent years thinking about what he'd seen during his voyage on the Beagle and eventually developed the theory of evolution in the mid-1840s.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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