As I look out the window on this early winter day, cup of coffee in hand, I see one of my cats, starkly black and white against the winter grays and browns, prowling in the apple orchard, tail held high in a muscular curve, going after whatever moves there—mice, red squirrels, chipmunks, moles, voles. He is beautiful and sleek, powerfully built, agile and alert. A hunter. Both cats live in the barn and under the house and woodshed. Ruth and I are both allergic to cats, so this is a necessary arrangement. Mustache and Stripe, named for their facial markings—one with a white stripe down his nose, the other with a white mustache—came to us as kittens, a brother and sister, many years ago, the unwanted progeny of someone else’s barn cat. They may live outside, but these cats have none of that mangy, scabby dullness that you might associate with working farm cats. They have bowls for food and water in the barn. They make an annual trip to the vet. They meet us when we come and go from the house, squirming over on their backs and off ering their white bellies...
Hunters: A Meander
Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction / Spring 2019
Consider the Acorn
Orion Magazine. Sept/Oct 2015
Is there anything more perfect than an acorn with its jaunty beret, its burnished shell so much like the shape of a human face — wide at the forehead, tapering down to an excellent chin? What is more intricate and delicate than the designs on that clever hat — small triangles of hardened brown or green, layered over one another endlessly to create a design and texture of Fibonacci perfection, as appealing as any woven cloth?
There are plenty of natural objects to match the acorn, of course: a silk-smooth, palm-sized, heart-shaped stone; a bit of bright blue–speckled bird shell; a finely sculpted pinecone, its edges frosted with pungent sap; a tiny bleached skull of a mouse at the bottom of the woodpile; a brilliant pink shard of crab shell; an imaginative stick curved in the shape of a woman’s dancing body; the husk of a spiky brown beechnut, splayed open like a tulip, the nut itself carted off to some squirrel’s winter pantry; a tiny bird’s nest woven of birch bark, pine needles, and blue baling twine; and oh! — a bright red feather from the wing of a scarlet tanager. Yes, there are plenty of natural treasures to match the acorn, but none to outshine.
From the forested hillside above us, a bulldozer sends giant rocks and tree limbs sailing down onto the hundreds-of-years-old footpath leading us from the Paro Valley floor to Dra Lhakhang, a cliffside temple where the six of us plan to sleep on the first night of our three day hike to, Dragipangtsho, a lake considered holy. Karma Wangchuk, the leader of our hiking party, blows his pocket whistle and screams along with the rest of us, hoping our distressed voices will penetrate the roar of the machine. Finally, the bulldozer stops and the road crew hollers and waves down to us in acknowledgement, oblivious to our peril.
The Happiness Index
Orion Magazine/ Jan-Feb. 2014
One morning I woke to deer tracks crisscrossing the yard—delicate proofs in the snow, a step here, a step there, a chain of steps entwined with more chains of steps. They had come in the night, lit by stars and moon, when the woods and yard were still. We had always known there were deer in our woods. I hunted them in the fall and knew some of their routes and resting places. But they had never before come so close to the house. I felt an excited delight and a strange chill—these creatures had been awake, circling the house, while we curled under our covers, dreaming, unguarded.
I found myself at the upstairs bedroom window after dark for many nights after that. I wanted to see the deer, moving in the moonlight, unaware that I was watching. I would check at 10 p.m. just before going to bed. I would glance out at midnight when I got up for the bathroom, and I would check again at 4 a.m., an hour I habitually stir. I thought I might keep vigil all night with a cup of coffee and a book, but I didn’t. I never saw the deer; they eluded me.
Maine Magazine/ January 2022
I had been lying on my back, taking notes, looking up into the crystals and into that blue that still amazes me--blue so blue it was as if my eyes had broken; blue so blue it was like gas that faded away into more and more intense blue-violet; beauty so expansive I could not contain it--I had to break to let it in. The first time I had been in an Antarctic ice cave, months earlier, the person who took me there said that often people who go down into crevasses and into ice caves are so overcome by the blue that it makes them cry. I remembered that as I lay there on my back, taking notes, trying to draw the crystals that hung like blooms of flowers above me, trying to figure out where the blue began and where it ended.
I had gone with nine others on this expedition to the ice caves that were part of the Erebus glacier tongue, a long spit of ancient ice spilling out onto the frozen Ross Sea from the base of Mt. Erebus, Ross Island’s active volcano. The caves were about an hour’s drive over the ice from the US’s main scientific base at McMurdo Station. We had signed up for the field trip on a sheet of paper outside McMurdo's galley—it was a jaunt of sorts, free to anyone who wished to go—electricians or galley cooks who had the afternoon off, a scientist who wanted out of her lab for a few hours, or me, a writer in Antarctica as a guest of the National Science Foundation’s Artists and Writers Program. As the orange truck plodded across the frozen sea
Moments of Being: An Antarctic Quintet
Georgia Review/ Winter 2002
A river in winter with ice floes jammed violently against one another; you can see dark water in between the white and gray floes, sparkling in the sunshine.
Abandoned barns, their huge roofs sagging like the backs of tired horses.
The slick, black body of a baby goat, stillborn, lying in the hay between its confused mother’s hooves.
Neat little white-topped piles of green chicken shit–food for fragrant pink phlox and Brussels sprouts.
A limp newly hatched baby bird that has fallen onto the grass from a nest in the pine tree and has died with part of its bright blue eggshell still attached to its damp feathers.
The angry red fists of rhubarb when they first appear in the dark soil of the spring garden.
Things That Appear Ugly or Troubling But Upon Closer Inspection are Beautiful
Brevity: A Concise Journal of Literary Nonfiction / Jan. 2011