Thursday, January 20, 2011

In Birdland, snow sifts silently out of a wool-colored sky. At the horizon, the sky is bright and only the bare shrubs at the edge of the field mark where the white field meets white sky. The snow mutes and layers the picture outside my window, steeling color from the covered landscape, so that I have to squint to see the green in the cedar tree and boxwood. I guess it is the same picture I have seen thousands of times, on any winter morning when the wind is low and the snow is ubiquitous. I've probably used similar words to describe the same picture in these letters, but that only points to the cyclical nature of most things.
My semester has begun its own cycle, and my life takes the oblong shape of trips to town. First the drive to town on sometimes treacherous roads, then the walk to campus. When I can remember, or spare the time, I try to keep to my dear friend, Michael's "five miles under" policy. I've read that at 60 mph, your gas consumption increases dramatically. Michael came up with all kinds of benefits of driving more slowly: "You can listen to the radio longer." But for me, a big one is safety. How old was I before I figured out that the faster I drive, the more likely I am to slide off the road into a ditch? I’m embarrassed to say. Yesterday I passed a black, Chevy pick up that had spun out off the road and up a hill, coming to rest next to some barbed wire fencing in a field of corn stubble. I drove on slowly, thinking of sailors passing a shipwreck and taking heed of the dangers.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spinning Peace

Birdland is so cold that I have to dump ice out of the heated water dishes for the chickens and the dogs every morning. The dishes don’t work below a certain temperature, and I have to check throughout the day to make sure everyone has access to fresh water. The wind blows relentlessly from the west, and sculpts the snow with fierce brush strokes, writing its own winter wisdom or warnings across the prairie.

I don’t even want to stick my nose out the door, and only go out when I have to, preferring instead, to attend to interior projects—refinishing furniture and organizing closets, organizing my thoughts and trying to find some peace in our troubled land. My mind keeps returning to tragedies, both personal and national, and I can’t help but feel that things are never as simple as they seem. Only when we push through some of the contradictions, ambiguity and conflict can we find some wisdom, but this requires honesty and the courage for self-examination. This is much harder than choosing up teams, which always seem to have a “winner” and a “loser.” I think of our former president famously declaring to the world, “You're either with us or against us,” and I think we must find an alternate path to wholeness. I’ve heard a lot of comments about violent political rhetoric, and agree that it is dangerous, but it is not the only danger in our society. It seems to me that blaming a tragedy on one aspect risks losing sight of other dangers. The tragedy in Tucson was not only a failure of our leaders to project images of peace and understanding even in their disagreement, but also perhaps a failure of an educational system that allows children to grow up without the tools to engage in peaceful dialogue, a society that isolates people instead of welcoming them, a health care system that too often leaves illnesses untreated, especially mental illness, and laws that makes obtaining automatic weapons and a duffel bag full of ammunition so easy.

Today I’m tired and cold and lonely, and it’s all I can do to project peaceful thoughts. Instead I turn to others for wisdom and understanding. Betsy Jackson has a lovely blog at called This Being Alive. She posts short vignettes with simple images, sometimes just a quotation. Karen Singer’s blog, The Prairie Year, at, walks us through the restored prairie and sculpture gardens at Meadowbrook Park, sharing the sights and sounds. Her generous photographs of what she finds there remind us to open our eyes to the natural world wherever we happen to be. Her meanderings are a meditation, which she shares with an open heart. Karen and Betsy are just two who know that words and images are important. They spin peace out into the universe, yet they have the courage to look at not only the puppies and kittens and baby chicks and spring flowers, but at difficult questions that don’t have simple answers, questions that may not have answers at all. They have the courage to look for truth, even when it’s painful.

I look out my kitchen window to see a squirrel digging in the snow. She pulls up a nugget and holds it with her paws up to her face, spinning and spinning it. It must be a walnut, though it is far from where it fell from the tree. Did she bury it under sunny skies? How does she remember where to find it again? She spins it, drops it in the snow, picks it up again, spins it some more. I watch her from the window, spinning my own nut, wondering how to crack it, and what I will find inside.

Acknowledge Truth; Spin Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She wants to approach life with an open-hearted curiosity. Maybe someday she will be able to do it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Close Knit Community

In Birdland the sky is gray and the snow is spilling down again. The last cycle of snow and melt and re-freeze had left us with a bare yard and only the grays and tawny browns of a winter landscape. The fields and garden are dry, as if the freeze has squeezed out all the moisture. Yesterday I noticed the hackberries scattered all over the ground like currents in a bun. Did the wind shake them down, or did the trees just let go with the cold?

Now a flurry will add another layer to the wintertime landscape. The sky is leaden as far as I can see to the West, and it’s cold but not windy, so I expect by noon we’ll have a nice frosting on all the fences and a blanket for the yard.

Today I am rushing to get my work done because of two important visits. This afternoon is my knitting circle at the Steeple Gallery Coffee House—a weekly gathering of wonderfully creative and fun women who meet to knit and share and visit and drink coffee. It convenes on Fridays, so I can only come during semester breaks, making today’s visit even more special for its rarity. I’ve got a finished project to show—a felted knitting needle holder that I copied from Susan. But I need some advice, because my washing machine doesn’t agitate, which is necessary for the felting process. Mine is pretty, but not quite felted, and it doesn’t like to stand up on its own. Should I just wash it about twenty more times, or try to felt it by hand, or ask Susan to agitate it for me in her washer? When I told Barbara about the flower I was going to knit for a decoration, she dug up a crocheted flower she had cut off of an old sweater and gave it to me. Now when I look at my project, I think of my connections to both of these lovely women—something to be glad of in the gray days of winter.

The second visit is from some of my nieces and nephews. Once in awhile they converge at

Birdland for a holiday. Some are home from college; some are already back at high school. I like to bake for them. I’ve got cookies already made, and plans for pizza and scones, waffles for breakfast.

They are busy young people, and they won’t all be here, but I am grateful for any who can spare the time. They come to get out to the country and away from their routines, and though I know they love me, they come more to visit with each other. I’m happy to provide this venue and mostly stay out of the way. They energize me, and give me an excuse to get the house clean, make up the guest beds, and pull out the board games and the ping-pong table. Ellis will be glad for their company. My youngest is the last little bird in the nest, and he loves to hang out with his cousins.

The snow continues to fall in tight, tiny crystals that collect first in the packed down places in the yard, showing me where the dogs have trotted out a new path around to the side of the house where I’ve plugged in their wintertime water bowl.

They also have one to the edge of the field where they go to bark at the coyotes whose commute takes them down our grass waterway every morning. The sky is now a bright white in the West, and the snow is falling faster, with bigger, fluffy flakes. It’s time for me to get to my baking and cleaning, my preparations to receive my guests.

Believe in Beauty; Dwell in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She cherishes family and community and any excuse for a gathering.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


In Birdland we’re having a thaw. The lovely snow covering has changed my yard to a soggy bog interrupted by islands of dirty snow. The wind is warm, and the grass shows some green amongst the frostbitten brown, while robins (Yes, Robins!) hop around in my yard. Are we really deep in winter on the cusp of this new year?

Ellis has gone to Texas to see his cousins. The absence of my youngest makes a quiet house, and I’m taking advantage of my solitude to do some organizing. I pulled out everything from the living room closet. A couple of coats of white paint will make it brighter, and it will be easier to keep organized. That’s the theory, anyway. Every time I tell people what I’m doing with my break, they laugh, but I’m enjoying both the task and the metaphor.

It reminds me of a story my grandmother used to tell, about a chalice that was gleaming on the outside, but dirty inside. I used to pay special attention to scrubbing out the insides of the cups when I did dishes as a child, thinking that as long as the cup was clean inside, the outside didn’t matter so much. At any rate, one final coat of paint, and then I’ll put things back in the closet in a more orderly fashion. I’m hoping it will be more difficult to put what I don’t really need back into such a nice, fresh closet, so I’ve got a box ready to fill with donations for the thrift store.

This year I’ve been behind since autumn. Usually we cut a Christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend, but I’ve always thought it would be romantic to cut one Christmas Eve. My grandmother used to tell about lighting the tree, with candles of course, for only a few minutes on Christmas Eve, like a birthday cake to be blown out after a brief show. Her father would light the candles, keeping a bucket of water nearby to douse the tree if it went up in flames (as, I think, it sometimes did). Romantic or not, I got my wish; this year we didn’t get up the hill to cut a tree until Christmas Eve, and I woke up early Christmas morning to decorate it. I pulled out the contents of the living room closet, but couldn’t find my decorations.

They must be in the upstairs closet, in the room where Dylan, my middle boy, was still sleeping. In the living room closet I found only the shoeboxes of cards of Christmases Past. Stringing them on lines to border all the doorways is my favorite part of decorating, so I did that first. It took an hour or more, because I had to pause and read some, remembering old friends and wondering how they’re getting along. When I was finished, Dylan was still sleeping, so I decided to forget about the tin of decorations and use the leftover Christmas cards on the tree.

I like it; it’s spare and simple that way—no lights, and only a few strands of beads and ribbons for garland. It will be much easier to take down when the time comes.

I glance out the window to see more robins have joined the party. Seriously. On every side of the house, kitchen window, living room, bedroom…I run up to the attic, yes that side too… fifty or more robins hopping and foraging in the yard. They won’t stand still and be counted. More swoop down from the trees. I watch two dueling, their red breasts puffed up to bump chests like human athletes. I’ve never witnessed such robin aggression, but then I’ve never seen such a congregation of them before. I wonder where they are headed. Surely not back north yet?

The next morning as I finish up this letter, the wind is even warmer and the robins are gone—the yard is quiet and still, the snow shrunk to a few small spots in the shelter of trees and shrubs. I look around and finally see one last robin high in a tree. I wonder if that one will follow its fellows, or take its chances here until winter visits again.

Sing in Beauty; Roam in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in the many visitations to her back yard and wonders where the travelers come from, and where they are going. She wishes them well on their journey