Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Crow's Song

by Mary Oliver

    a black bear
      has just risen from sleep
         and is staring

down the mountain.
    All night
      in the brisk and shallow restlessness
         of early spring

I think of her,
    her four black fists
      flicking the gravel,
         her tongue

like a red fire
    touching the grass,
      the cold water.
         There is only one question:

how to love this world.
    I think of her
         like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
    the silence
      of the trees.
         Whatever else

my life is
    with its poems
      and its music
         and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
      down the mountain,
         breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
    her white teeth,
      her wordlessness,
         her perfect love.

Why hello there robin, and flicker, and talkative crows.  Actually, crows are always pretty talkative, are they not?  But they are especially present these days, as are the sweet little birds hopping around the lawn.  We had a wonderful spell of warm weather here in Colorado recently, and while it has snapped back to colder temperatures, that dose of roasting sunshine was like a taste of the apple.  There is no going back to the confines of winter.  We have tasted the fruit and now know what is out there.

I will miss chilly mornings the most perhaps, and running through them, my insides coffee-hot, the air outside waking me like a bucket of cold water.  I have lately been leaving the dog at home to go running, because he is old and - believe it or not - tires before I do.  When I told my friend this, she could not believe there was ever a dog who tired of running.  But there is, and mine tires of kind attention and doting, too.  He's a little grouch sometimes, and if you are tall and male and reach to his ears too late at night after he has settled into his bed, he will remind you of this quickly.  This is all to say, it is nice to go out of the house and into the waking world alone some mornings.  Doing so feels like breaking into wilderness, like snowshoeing through trees near a sleeping bear's home, though I run through a city street lined with homes, Suburus asleep in their garage.  

I almost titled this post Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Treadmill, but that would have been misleading. I would love to buy a treadmill - love nothing more than home treadmills, in fact.  But I wanted, for some reason, to nod to Wendell Berry (who wrote this beautiful poem my friend sent me). I wanted to mimic an essay Berry wrote called Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer, but then I realized, I didn't care much about the essay. In fact, I remember it most for the professor who assigned it to my Sociology class in college. This man had a terrific mane of frizzy Bob Ross hair and played squash in 70s gym shorts, the hair pinned back by a white sweatband.  I mean, who could argue with a man like that? I tell you, I could not. (I got an A.)

I had treadmills on the brain because I've been thinking about the one in my parent's basement - the one I ran on when I was growing up in a Northern climate and sometimes needed more exercise when it was too cold and dark to be outside. The treadmill was stashed on the other side of the basement's divide, among towering boxes of tax papers and my parents college correspondence.  I used to run before bed on winter nights, playing mix tapes of horrible country songs made by my boyfriend who grew up to be a priest. 

I sort of love the memory of those nights, and it is an admittedly modest dream of mine to one day buy my own treadmill, to install it in a safe corner of my home, some place secret where I can cocoon myself away, and run and dream early, before bed.

When I visited my parents in North Carolina in January, I ran an old route that I hadn't taken in some time - across the golf course, down the easy-to-get-a-speeding-ticket-on hill, around the high school and gigantic church, past our cousin's house, past the park where my mom and I once got honked at and where she waved to a carload of men in an El Camino, thinking we must know someone inside. 

It is not a long route, but it is full of hellos, and rich in long breaths.

When I got back, my dad asked how it went and I replied, "I made it!" because we both knew that this is the best part of striking out every morning: making it home alive.

I am not a fast runner.  I am not really fast at anything I do.  But I run to find the rhythm inside, to clear my lungs and let my core gather its heat.  I run because it helps me listen and hear all my thoughts, and this kind of attention is where confidence comes from, I believe.  I wish I had the particular quote right now, but I once read a monk's definition of confidence, which he or she said comes from authenticity.  Not from accomplishment.  And a bell went off inside.

I often joke with my husband that I never win anything.  Growing up, my friends won the awards, were the valedictorians, are the lawyers and doctors now.  I've always been a little on the outskirts - perhaps because I hold myself there, afraid of the fall from the top.  My husband won awards for his work in graduate school, while I extended my degree and tried like hell just to finish it.  I am becoming aware of this tendency of mine to draw out accomplishment and dissipate it, but I think it is more a lesson I've been trying to learn - to be happy where I am, in the middle of things, feeling my way along, defining accomplishment for myself.  And this is why I run - to say hello to my however-fast-they-are legs, hello to my jangling or ecstatic or reflective thoughts, hello to the world outside - and all it offers.  I run to explore.

And so, I write today to salute your own way of exploring, and to greet all the bears waking, stirring, stretching - inside and out.
With love,


  1. beautiful kara,
    feel as though we just had a little visit while reading. we each have our own way to travel through the day-to-day experience. some may walk/run, some fly or, i gracefully limp into my next breath with your words in my heart. yum.

  2. Ah hey love! So glad to see you here.

  3. This is everything I want to say in my not-yet-written food memoir!! Would you mind horribly if I copy and pasted every last word?

    with love and all of my mediocrity,

  4. Hahaha! That's awesome. Yes, please. I have always wanted to be Amelia Morris ANYWAY. This just makes my job a lot easier.


  5. I was reading this poem the other day. Maybe at the same time you were writing it down.

    That bit about authenticity not accomplishment, I like that. A lot. Especially in LA which seems to be all about accomplishment and very little authenticity. Thanks for that. It's why I do yoga in the mornings. Partly to air out the stuffy corners in my body, but mostly to reclaim whatever little patch of earth is mine, and to stand on it proudly.

    1. Hi Rebecca! Yes, I love that reminder about authenticity, it is so grounding.

      You know my favorite daily pose? MOUNTAIN! It is so simple, and sure.

      I salute your patch of earth :)


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