Snow Day Poems

 

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One of my writing goals this year is to attempt to write more structured forms of poetry. Not long ago I even took some notes about the structure of sonnets. Yes, sonnets! Yikes! Just the word is intimidating! But a funny thing happened. At the end of a recent snow day, I wrote the following poem, as usual, in free verse:

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Perhaps come June
I’ll lament this day
but for now I luxuriate
as the storm paints the landscape
and daubs each tree limb
with generous swirls of white
and acrobatic squirrels leap
from branch to branch,
releasing shimmering snowfalls
and a flock of puffed up bluejays
perches on branches,
a tufted winter bouquet

M. Hogan (c) 2018

The next morning, I woke with the first line shifted in my head: Come June, I may lament this snowy day. Immediately I thought–Oh! I could use that line to begin a sonnet! Game on! I got up, grabbed my notebook, printed out Browning’s Sonnet 43 (How Do I Love Thee) as a mentor text, and got to work. And work it was–though ultimately, a labor of love.  I was so energized. I kept thinking–Whoa! I’m really writing a sonnet! A sonnet! I’m doing it! (This feels like real poetry stuff!) And now, I’m not sure which poem I prefer, but I’m simply delighted that this next one exists, lumpy head and all. Happy birthday to my very first sonnet.

Snow Day

Come June, I may lament this snowy day
but school is closed and time less tightly wound
and perching birds brush snowfalls to the ground
which shimmer, shift and shine along the way
So now my senses feast on Nature’s play
as snowflakes fall and muffle earthly sound
and paint the world a vision to astound
This wintry show doth take my breath away
The petty worries vanish from my mind
as window-bound I stare in sheer delight
and watch as snowflakes to each other bind
to mound until the world is only white
Within me joy and thanks grow intertwined
for all the world seems fresh and new and bright.

M. Hogan (c) 2018

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Carol Varsalona at her blog, Beyond LiteracyLink. Make sure to stop by and celebrate winter’s creative endeavors with Carol’s  post and the linked “flurry” of poems!

 

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Nature Walks, Mystery Pods, Rabbit Holes and Procrastination

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Photo by Jay Heritage Center 2010 https://www.flickr.com/photos/jayheritagecenter/4511169213

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Last month, at the end of a quick visit with my sister, we snuck in a morning walk at a local nature preserve. It was a bitterly cold morning and even bundled up and moving briskly, we felt the chill. I stopped once in a while to take photographs then, moaning about the pain in my freezing fingers, hurried to catch up with the others. It was a beautiful, sparkly day, but not a day to linger in any one spot.

The preserve hugs the shores of Long Island Sound and trails meander through a variety of landscapes: open fields, wooded areas, and shoreline. I imagine it’s a beautiful place to visit repeatedly and enjoy the changes of the seasons. On our visit I was fascinated by the tall feathery grasses. I took picture after picture, trying to capture the play of light and the varying textures.DSCN2424

DSCN2427Then, walking over a small bridge on a woodland path, we stumbled upon these dramatic seed pods, which none of us could identify. I was captivated by their spiky shells and the long shadows. What sort of tree or plant emerges from these other-worldly pods?

We returned from our trip and I put these unidentified seed pods out of mind. (I know…this demonstrates a lamentable lack of curiosity.) But then this weekend, while avoiding my To Do list, I read a post by a blogger I follow. She shared a picture of similar pods in the snow along with an accompanying poem. I hoped she would be able to solve the mystery of the pods’ identity.

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Alas, that wasn’t the case. Her reply, however, sparked this thought: “To google or not to google” which lead to a quick reread of Hamlet’s soliloquy, which lead to this:

To google or not to google, that is the question
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to allow
the lingering question and wonder of the unknown
or to take arms against ignorance
and tapping keys, arrive at certainty
Ah, certainty, that brave and boldly struts
its knowledge upon the boards for all to see
yet snuffs out richest curiosity
To google or not to google, that is the question…

M. Hogan (c) 2018

Emerging from that rabbit hole, I considered my next weekend activity. Perhaps I should write a poem about the pods, I thought. (Especially when the alternatives look like paying bills, cleaning, school work, or changing the headlight in my Subaru.) So, I played around a bit, debating how best to proceed. Recently, when contemplating writing a poem about an image, I’ve begun to jot down every word that comes to mind and then seek inspiration from within that word pool. The pool for these pods included: gamble, dice, seed pods, alien, cast, mystery, capsules, prickly spikes, shadows, nascent, and casing.

Seed Pods

Bold pod voyagers,
what nascent life form lingers
within your prickly carapace?
Have you lost this round
of the seasonal gamble?

M. Hogan (c) 2018

After writing the above, I finally gave in to the allure of google and looked up the pods. It didn’t take long to identify them. Drum roll please….. They are… sweet gum tree seed pods! Since they apparently come from one of the most common hardwoods in the SE US, many of you might already have recognized them.  They were new to me though, so, of course, I then dove headfirst down that rabbit hole and emerged a while later, having learned a bit more about sweet gum trees–their resin, bark, nicknames, etc. I won’t share all of it here, but you might be interested to learn that these seed pods each contain 40-60 capsules and each capsule contains 1-2 seeds. Now that’s a pretty hefty seed bomb!

Thinking back over the wandering trajectory of this post, I realize that while most of it took place in a day, the initial sparks for it occurred almost a month ago. Writing’s funny like that. I suppose the ideas were percolating all this time. Percolating… Now that’s a great word! Maybe I can write a poem about that…

Winter

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This week has been a tough one for writing–a bit of a slog. I’ve been struggling with this poem for a while now, and I’m posting it even though it’s still a work in progress. I’m especially unsure about the final lines.

Winter

Winter’s cold pierces like talons
Her full moon,
an unblinking, predatory orb,
casts a questing glow

In the late night stillness
of her bitter chill,
darkened tree limbs tap and creak
beneath their ninguid burdens
Shadows flicker and flow
in pockets of dark
like whispers

Winter stretches her wings
soars in silent flight then
swoops
with lethal grace

the rabbit’s death cry
rips the night
shattering the frigid air

safe in our homes
sleeping in warm feathered beds
we shift uneasily

Molly Hogan (c) 2018

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Kay McGriff at her blog, A Journey Through The Pages. Make sure to stop by and warm up with some poetry this weekend!

Alligator Poems

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Photo from Shallotte River Swamp Park in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina

Wow! That’s some crazy adaptive trick! Alligators, feeling the unusual chill of this winter and the onset of ice, have gone into a period of brumation*. That’s essentially the reptilian version of hibernation. They stick their snouts out of the ice so they can breathe, go into a semi-vegetative state, and….well, survive! I never thought I’d feel sorry for an alligator, but mixed with my admiration for their innate survival skills is a distinct feeling of pity– that ice just does not look comfortable up against that alligator skin. Can alligators get frost bite?

Cold Snap

Winter creeps with stealth and speed
Alligator, best take heed!

In cold wind’s wake, an icy snare
     Alligator, best beware!

Winter springs her freezing trap
Alligator, LOOK OUT…

SNAP!

M. Hogan (c) 2018

 

And with a nod to Lewis Carroll,

How doth the wind of winter
blast out its frigid tale
til swampy waters splinter
on each reptilian scale

How stealthily it forms a skin
How neatly primes its trap
And welcomes alligators in
with gripping icy SNAP!

M. Hogan (c) 2018

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by J.G. Annino at her blog, BookSeedStudio. Stop by to start your long weekend off right with her post honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and with links to poems galore.

 

*Oops! I just corrected this to read brumation–originally I had erroneously typed bromation. Sorry!

OLW 2018

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIn 2016 after much deliberation, I selected my first OLW–Choose. Last year, for no real reason, I skipped the entire process. In all honesty, I hadn’t given it much thought this year either. Then on January 1st, I sat down to write and my mind wandered to OLW.  Did I have any ideas? Almost immediately the word, Pause, popped into my mind. Hmmmm…. Where did that come from?

The word pause always reminds me of my youngest daughter, Lydia. When my children were young, we did not have television, but we did watch videos. Lydia quickly picked up on the value of the pause button and integrated that word into her life. We’d be playing a game or reading a book and she’d suddenly yell, “Pause it!” and dash off to do something (often involving a bathroom visit). Then a few seconds or minutes later, she’d return, say “OK” and we were free to resume our activity. The word pause certainly worked for her.

I started writing down some random thoughts, exploring the possibilities.

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As I wrote, I realized that within a pause, there lies a world of possibility. Just think of how powerful a strategic pause is when reading aloud. We use pauses to gather our thoughts or to emphasize meaning.  When one pauses, it’s an opportunity to make a change or to stay the course with renewed vigor or determination. While a pause can be seen as hesitation, there can be a deliberateness to pausing that appeals to me: A pause adds weight to whatever comes next. It creates space to make a better decision–to choose a more thoughtful response, silence a negative comment, decide not to push send, etc.

You also need to pause to notice and appreciate. Too often I get caught up in the day to day rush of things and forget to pause, to take time to connect with others or simply to relax and breathe. I rush past people, things and ideas without noticing them. Pausing opens up a space and makes room for these things.

Finally, pausing is a prerequisite for reflection. Nudged by my new OLW, I decided to take some time and look back over my year of photographs and then share and write about my favorites. (here) I’m so glad I did! The process was enlightening and crystallized some of my thoughts about photography and writing.

So this year, I’m going to take a page from my daughter’s playbook. I’m going to try pushing that pause button and see what happens. So far, so good.

 

2017 in Pictures

 

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With the new year starting, I decided it would be fun to share my favorite photos of the year. Never having done this before, I had no idea how hard it would be to cull my favorites down to a manageable list (and you  may dispute that accomplishment!) and I couldn’t even begin to put them into a ranked order. The result of my efforts is a somewhat free-flowing organic presentation of my favorite photos and my thoughts about them. Here goes!

One of my favorite bloggers is Kim Douillard. Her blog, Thinking Through My Lens, showcases her photography and her writing. She posts occasional invitations to participate in photo challenges. Participating in her challenges always makes me more observant and helps me to see things in different ways.  One of the most interesting challenges this past year was to find beauty in the apparently “ugly”. One afternoon while I was participating in this challenge, I stepped out of my car and looked down to see this: the ghost of a dandelion. Some mix of temperature and atmosphere had it stretching its sepals wide, rather than pulling them down tightly around its stem. I can never resist dew drops and those deep purple tips–wow!  This dying dandelion stunned me with its surprising stellar beauty, and I wonder if I would have noticed it without Kim’s challenge.

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Once you start paying attention and are attuned to new ways of seeing things, the world expands. During a fall walk in the woods, I stumbled upon these two time- and weather-withered mushrooms. Despite their fungal decrepitude, they enchanted me. They reminded me of long-time partners supporting each other, tucked together and observing the changing world. Their pose struck me as so tender, and the clarity and solidity of the mushrooms against the vague green background really appealed to me.

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I love how a picture can capture an invisible process–something ephemeral–and make me wonder: How did this happen? On a morning walk in Orono one cold, cold morning last winter, I discovered this intriguing oak leaf. I imagine the dark leaf, over days, absorbed the warmth of the winter sun, melting the snow around it. This area must have refrozen at night until over time, this leaf created its own silhouette in the snow.

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On another cold walk closer to home, the gurgling sound of a stream pulled me off the road into the woods to investigate. I was delighted by what I found. These ice formations, which I’ve never seen before, remind me of spinning tops, or pirouetting ballerinas. What alchemy of wind and weather crafted these beauties?

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Sometimes I take photos that stick with me, though I can’t determine why. Something about them appeals to me on some fundamental level. In this picture perhaps it’s the shadows or the random distribution of balls of snow. Or the mystery of how they got there–as there no lines to indicate their path. I included this picture simply because I don’t know why I like it, but I do. Sometimes it’s enough to enjoy something without understanding it.

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Here’s another photo that stuck with me and also highlights the link between my photography and writing habits. This ladybug obligingly posed on a plant in my bathroom. I love the simple lines and colors in this picture. It inspired me to check out ladybugs and write about them (here). Recently I’ve been adding words to my photos to create haigas (haikus with accompanying images). That’s been great fun! (If you’re interested, you can check out an earlier blog post here)

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Ever willing to procrastinate (productively!), I often pull over on the way to work to capture some scene or another. Usually I’m taking pictures of sunrises, the river, or rolling farmland. Man-made structures rarely interest me, but on this particular morning I was intrigued by the curves of this bridge and the mixed reflections in the water. Something about those green lights with the white globes adds to the mix.

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While some photo ops pop up close to home, traveling always offers new vistas and opportunities for photography. This summer I took a trip to Campobello Island with my book club. An early morning walk led me to a nearby beach and this scene. It’s not often I find a collection of spider webs beautiful, but combined with the streaking sunlight and sparkling dew, these captivated me.

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Even when at home, I’m frequently tempted to drive down to the ocean, drawn to the long stretches of beach which soothe and reset me. The light and shadows and the interaction of sand and water in this sunrise photo feel mysterious to me. That single piece of driftwood emerging from still waters adds to the mood and pushed this photo into my favorites.

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On this same morning, a bit earlier, I captured this scene. It has an entirely different feel to me. Not mysterious, just open and serene. I love the single gull and the reflection of color and clouds in the wet sand. Sunrise beach visits are the best.

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I’ve taken hundreds of pictures of birds this past year and am ever thankful for the powerful zoom on my camera. Shortly before Christmas I arranged to meet someone at the country store in town. Waiting in the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of flashing wings. Intrigued, I walked over to investigate, and spied this pileated woodpecker enjoying his breakfast. I’m not sure what berries he was eating, but they must have been tasty as he lingered for quite a while, allowing me to capture this close up shot.

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With the recent frigid temperatures, I ventured out early one December morning in search of sea smoke. I was fascinated by the way this structure (buoy? lighthouse?) emerged from misty waters. It looked like some castle of old–magical and mysterious. This one is definitely at the top of my list as a favorite!

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Some days and places are just perfect for taking pictures. This is another photo from that frigid morning. I’ve always loved the silhouettes of winter-bare branches against the sky. If you look along the horizon, you can see tendrils of sea smoke lit against the clouds. The textured snow and the sparkles in the foreground are a bonus.

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DSCN9290Several things struck me while I wrote this blog post. First, only one of my selected photos comes from the summer and one from spring. Just like I’m beginning to appreciate the subtle coloring of the female cardinal more than the flamboyant red of the male, I think I’ve begun to appreciate the journey and reward of discovering more nuanced or unexpected beauty in the world.

I am also discovering more and more parallels between writing and photography, and the role they have in my life. With both activities it is paramount that you show up and that you pay attention to the world around you. I always have my camera and a notebook with me. They are essential. While I actively looked for some of these pictures, many of them were serendipitous (the woodpecker, the eagle, the reflected bridge,…). If I hadn’t had my camera with me, I could not have captured them. This is also true with the notebook I carry. If I can’t jot down a phrase or idea in the moment, it gets lost in the day.

As I sorted through pictures, making decisions, I realized something else. Just like writing, taking pictures captures more than a single scene for me. I look at a picture and remember where I was, who I was with, what I was feeling. Like writing, it’s a way of making things indelible–capturing moments and imbuing them with significance. Writing and photographs help me time travel.

Finally, just like writing, taking photographs has become an integral part of my life. Both activities nudge me to slow down and both enrich my life. They remind me to take the time to look around me and to notice. To follow a flash of wings or a random thought to a new destination. To be curious and to think about what I’m seeing. To explore and to wonder. They help me to breathe and to be.

 

Some pictures that didn’t make the cut (because I couldn’t really limit myself!):

And if you’re still reading, to end on a more whimsical note, I’m going to include my hands-down favorite photo of the year. Though it isn’t one that I took (photo credit to my husband), it is one that I was involved in “choreographing.” It makes me laugh and captures spontaneity and fun–two things I wish to nurture in my life–and emphasizes finding the bright side of things (like incessant snow falls and cold temperatures!). (I also felt I had to include people in one of these photos so that I didn’t appear to be entirely anti-social!) Welcome to our winter tea party:

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Little Tree, After Christmas

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This year, thanks to several fellow bloggers, I was introduced to and fell in love with E. E. Cummings’ poem, Little Tree. (How had I missed this all these years?? ) I have no idea what Cummings intended or what others see, but, to me, there are such contrasting layers here. There is the sweet compassion of a small child toward the little tree, but also the cavalier way that humans interact with nature and declare our desires/needs of paramount importance. (And, yes, I do typically have a live tree…sigh)

Little Tree

by E.E. Cummings
little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly …
click here to read the rest of the poem

Then on New Year’s day, I heard a quick segment on Morning Edition about some creative ways Americans dispose of Christmas trees after the holidays. My thoughts turned immediately to that little tree, after Christmas.

Little Tree, After Christmas
(inspired by E.E. Cummings’ Little Tree)

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
your tired arms are drooping
no rings adorn your fingers now
and the shiny spangles have returned to sleep
in the dark box in the attic
and in the parlor your needles drop softly
upon the wooden floor

come little tree
tired little Christmas tree
now that you’re quite undressed
come and rest along a lazy winding river
and hug the earth tightly to its banks
or sink into its flowing waters
and open your little arms to welcome the nibbling fish
or perhaps lie in the dunes near the churning ocean
and fill your fingers with grains of sand and specks of shell
to stop the tolls of wind and tide

come little tree
little giving tree
oh, but you’ll be very proud

M. Hogan (c) 2017

This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by the wonderful and talented Catherine Flynn at her blog, Reading to the Core.