on brokenness and soup


On October 5th, I broke myself.

What happened was this: I went running.

Actually, I’d been running injury free since July, and things had been going well. Three miles turned into four, and the splits on the clock began to look promising. Everything seemed possible with my running shoes laced.

I felt good.

I felt so good that I started remembering my days of running across the state. I remembered long runs on the bike trails and how after I passed the “Happy Face Bridge”  (my father called it that) I always knew that six miles had fallen away and my brain could finally turn off.

I could relax and just be.

Maybe I could get back to those long runs, I told myself. Maybe I could do another half marathon — a goal for springtime even. Maybe I could run long and well enough to finally call myself a real runner.

An athlete.

Long ago I used to train with a lot of people faster than I. They’d say — not entirely unkindly — that it hurt their knees to run at my pace, so they’d sprint ahead and I’d push to keep them in sight. Frankly, this didn’t used to bother me, but all of a sudden it does and so this year I decided to push my pace. All at once I needed to eradicate the memory of girl outpaced, girl left behind.

I decided to run faster.

You can probably guess what happened next. My shin started to ache. I took a few days of rest paired with a few doses of Advil and then got back on track. It hurt again. I rested it again.

I ran again. It hurt again.

And then I got sick of it. I got sick of waiting and I repeated to myself what I have been told countless times over the years: Sometimes you just have to push through the pain, no matter the consequence.

Listen: They are wrong, the people who tell you such things. It turns out there are precious few times when you should push through physical pain. I once walked around with a ruptured appendix for three days before admitting I needed a doctor. This experience almost killed me, so I should know better by now.

Why does it take me so long to learn my lessons?

On Monday, I ran until I could no longer walk. On Tuesday, I limped into the doctor’s office. I hobbled out on crutches.

For an added dose of idiocy, I didn’t tell anyone I was so badly hurt because I was afraid my friends would show up at my doorstep clutching containers of autumn soup in their hands.

This secrecy makes no sense whatsoever because the good people of South Dakota make excellent soup, and why would anyone decline the opportunity to have such delicacies delivered to your door by people who care about both you and soup?


I am broken. Limping. Aching.



This beautiful fall week has been lived mostly in bed. When I drop my daughter off at school, at orchestra, at play rehearsal, I don’t get out of the car.

I wave and I smile. Waving and smiling is enough.

The world rushes by swiftly when you can’t walk, I have noticed. During this week of mandatory rest, I have also noticed that my dog can no longer leap off the bed particularly well. Sunset fades more quickly in the fall compared with the lingering of summer. It’s been a long time since I dusted the ceramic birds perched on my windowsill that once belonged to my gram.

I have been unfocused, it seems. Distracted. I wonder what else I have missed.


Most significantly, I noticed that my hiking shoes are beaten and worn and faded and repaired, but they held their own on the trails this summer … unfaltering. My running shoes, on the other hand, are obnoxiously bright and new-ish, but will need to be replaced in a few months all the same.


And so I made a decision.

I put the running shoes in the closet.

I set the hiking shoes by the front door.

My shin will heal. And when it does, however long it takes, I know what my feet need this season. I know what my soul needs this season.

In the meantime, I probably ought to figure out how to make soup.

in the company of bees

First, this …

My father used to say you could tell when summer was ending because the bees were out looking for new homes.

Then, this …

A friend texted this morning to remind me:  Today is the final day of summer. Enjoy it.

And so, this …

I take my work outside and flop onto a blanket under the trees. I wish my dad was sitting beside me. I wish my friend was sitting beside me.

Instead, I find myself in the company of bees.


We are never truly alone, are we? I lie here in the grass, sun warming the soles of my feet, because someone who cares about me turned my gaze to the gentle passage of another season. I lie here in the grass, a handful of leisurely bees hovering about (and I, hoping they find what they’re looking for) because someone who cares about me taught me how to be in the world.

They are both with me now. My father. My friend. More so because I have scribbled their names into my notebook. I close my eyes and my blanket overflows with beautiful company.


This morning I took a walk with my dog. Her paw is infected, I’m nursing a shin splint. We explored slowly, gingerly.

The neighborhood was wrapped in fog … a parcel bundled in damp gray paper. I half expected to stumble upon a white loop of string binding us all together. Yet each time I glanced at my dog, fur graying, limping slightly, she appeared as if inside a bubble of clarity — no fog pressing upon her at all.

She stops for every smell — this dog who knows her purpose — every taste, every texture. She turns to look at me, check up on me, smell me, as if to say, “Are you still here? Are you still yourself? Are we still on this journey together?”


This is what we do for those we love.

We walk with them. We share their stories and their sunsets and we hold their hands on the last day of summer. We love their gray hair and worn away hairs,  their slightly battered bodies, their lines and their scars.

We close our eyes and hope they are capable of knowing us this much in return —  that this unconditionality will somehow continue to make us real.

It’s been almost a year since I had to say goodbye to my father. I haven’t seen my friend in more than two decades. My dog is graying, yet I have not yet begun to gray. Sometimes I swear she notices this injustice, notices this inconsistent aging process between human and canine and it bothers her as much as it bothers me.

And so it goes.


At my dad’s funeral, one of his friends told me: “How you feel about your dad  — the way you looked up to him, the man you knew he was — that’s how your own child feels about you.”

I replied, simply, “I find that hard to believe.”

I am not my father. I am not that resilient, that indomitable. In some ways, however, his friend was right (of course).

And so I am left to wonder. Will my own child remember, long after she is grown and living on her own terms, to sink into a blanket in the grass with a journal and an afternoon stretched before her?

Will this girl, born on the vernal equinox, remember to pause and see, really see, the nuanced changing of a Dakota season?

Will she close her eyes and wonder, “Are you still with me?”

“Are we still on this journey together?”



today, we had rain


Years ago, I read an essay by Anna Quindlen, where the author’s daughters headed into the woods for an explore and Quindlen casually mentioned that her own place was on the porch, watching her children follow their wanderlust.

Though I liked the essay, I disagreed with Quindlen about sitting on the porch, even to write. If there is exploring to be done, I, as a general rule, like to be in the middle of it. My daughter was four (or so) at the time, and we had already done a good deal of forest work together — building fairy houses, examining toadstools, pretending to get lost among the trees and refusing to find our way out again.

In some ways, I couldn’t imagine doing those things without my child — or her without me.

She is 14 now, this wonder girl. Today, when a light sprinkle began, she collapsed her weary body onto the grass and faced the sky. I, tucked into a deck chair, knees folded to my chest, smiled for a moment and prepared to join her.

All at once the seam in the sky split and the firmament loosened its flood onto her face, her t-shirt, her bare feet.

She laughed.

Even the rain has nothing on that laugh.

It was at that moment — the moment I hesitated — when I understood what Quindlen had been talking about. This girl didn’t need a playmate. She needed rain. And lots of it.


She moved through it. Drank it. Swam through rushing rivers of it in the gutters.

Screen doors slammed and other girls came dashing into the deluge. The dads across the street, bare chested and tattooed, beer cans in their hands this Sunday afternoon, sauntered down the street side by side, supervising and ignoring their kids at the same time … the way only fathers can do.

Today there was mud and flooded streets and long tangled hair flecked with leaves and seeds from the air.

I stood under the awning, hugging myself. Soon the dad next door launched his three-year-old into the storm and stood next to me, both of us dry. We talked about politics and forgiveness and what it means to raise girls.

And as we settled into the quiet, I thought, for the first time in a long time, of my mother.

I was 18 years old and leaving home. It was June. Raining. I went outside and made ‘rain angels’ in the middle of the flooded street.

She stood inside and smiled at me from behind the screen door.

I loved her. I would miss her. But I didn’t need her at that moment.

I needed to believe that I had invented this — rain angels, abandon, delight.

I needed to explore, alone and with friends, the outer reaches of joy and love and heartbreak.

Today, we had rain.

Today we had rain … and I stayed dry.




into the woods

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Sometimes, it’s essential to get away.

For my second retreat at Pointers Ridge,

I again bunked in the Writer’s Cabin.

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Though I had planned to write fiction,

I ended up writing an essay.

Not here …


but here …


…  because I craved space for the unexpected.

The gift, this time, was not inspiration …

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but clarity.


I was welcomed.



I was without time.


I wrote late into the night,


but drank the sunrise as well.


Things didn’t go as planned. I drove to town for

emergency car repairs and <sigh> for work.

I was occasionally lazy. I took naps.

I made a mess.


But in the mornings, the river kept pushing

the fog to the sky in smoky columns, which makes

more sense than some things in the world.


Great writers have penned inspirations about

solitude and nature and time. I brought none

of those writers with me.


Instead, I taped the words of

Hunter S. Thompson

above my laptop as I wrote:

“Buy the ticket. Take the ride.”





imagine you are the sky





you are

the sky,


You are not

the clouds, thoughts


You transcend

the clouds.

You are

the sky,



the clouds—

billowed thoughts,

you are


The clouds,

you transcend.


The sky.

You are.




transcend billowed

thoughts, healing

rain, cleansing

breeze, wash of

gray drifting





you are

the sky.


(photo by Jeff Paul. Poem inspired by a meditation practice detailed in the book Way of the Winding Path by Eve Eschner Hogan)

retreat … well, I just got here

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I went into the woods to write

a story about going into the woods.

When I got there (The Retreat at Pointers Ridge)

I realized I didn’t want to write the story,

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which is to say, I didn’t want to write the story

just yet.

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What I wanted to write, it turns out, was


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I’ve been writing poems since I was ten years old.

Or before.

The first one I memorized (of my own creation) was

about a snowflake. The snowflake, to be clear,

was not my creation. The poem, delightfully, was.

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No one tells you, when you are young,

that you can journey well as a poet.

No one tells you, when you are in the middle of life,

that you can journey well as a poet.

What will they say when I am old …

or will I simply no

longer hear them?

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I joined the Marines, once,

long ago. I learned the language

of conflict. I learned love.

Hope. Fear.

I went to college. I learned

the same things, only

from books.

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It was in the woods where I

remembered: I speak

more than one tongue.

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I know

more than one path.

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I am

from more than one home.

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I am more

than one woman.


I contain multitudes

still, I contain

multitudes I

contain still


multitudes I





(All photo poems are from The Retreat at Pointers Ridge, South Dakota. The painted door is a creation by artist Jennifer White. Don’t know her work yet? Wait. The photo of the sky out the window of the Writer’s Cabin was inspired by a different photo, made by Jeff Paul. One moment after the other, I tried to see the world as Jeff sees the world, as Jennifer sees the world, as I see the world. I am better for the experience.)

in front of josephine’s

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in front of josephine’s

flowers like prayer

flags breathing

coaxing intention

from the breeze


you wish only

for light

light shall be

yours and

light you

shall be


Note: yesterday, I went downtown to talk photography with a group of women, some strangers, some friends. Emily spoke eloquently of light. Walking home later, I happened upon dangling flowers in front of a shop. They reminded me, equally, of Tibetan prayer flags and poetry. And so I was blessed. And so I was healed.

dear teachers …

First, a confession: I considered homeschooling.

I take the education of my daughter seriously. At five years, she was a sensitive and intelligent child—introverted, artistic—and I figured she’d struggle in a traditional classroom and, perhaps, flourish if given freedom to continue learning at home.

Now, as she launches into summer after three of the best middle school years imaginable, I’m shaking my head, wondering how I could have ever considered education without teachers?

Before you fire off those emails and letters, please understand that I am not against homeschooling. I am simply allowing myself to gush a bit about the educational system I know best. (But, seriously, how could we—children, families, society—manage without teachers?)

Virtually nothing about school is simple. The homework alone gives me anxiety nightmares. And yet … allow me to offer a slice of wisdom from my now-14-year old:

“Mom, just because something is complicated doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to figure it out.”

This, in fact, has become one of her pet peeves—when adults chuck an idea out the window because it feels too complex. When finals week arrives and she has a chorus concert, honor’s night, cello lesson, and a stack of homework that makes her mother want to wail and rend her own clothing, the girl pats the mother on the head and assures her everything is under control.

There you have it. Sometimes, when the going gets tough, the tough serve cheese and crackers with fruit for dinner (all week, mind you) and sit in the audience and cheer. Oh … and drive the car. I still get to drive the car. Maybe school is simple after all.

How do you thank the people who have become your tribe? How do you thank a music teacher for providing a three-year jam session that has made middle school raucous and joyous and cool? A science teacher so awesome that a teenage girl wants him to teach her how to drive? A social studies teacher who celebrates the arts? An art teacher who celebrates everything? How do you thank a poetry-slammin’ language arts teacher, an orchestra genius, math master, quirky gifted ed dude, Spanish maestro (maestra?), band wizard, power principal, compassionate counsellor …

Can I just come to the school, sit on the front step and weep now?

I didn’t send cupcakes to the middle school staff during appreciation week. I didn’t send gift cards or flowers.

I have only this to offer. A story. Because story is what I know.

I’m sitting in my car outside school, waiting for my child to amble out the door. As usual, she’s going to be the last student to leave the building (a topic for another day). I wait, watching all the Whittier kids. This school doesn’t have a “uniform,” I think. No one really dresses the same. There’s no popular brand I can discern, no must-have shoes or bag, no haircut that signifies your belonging. I like that.

The buses pull away, the crosswalk signals flash. A teacher sporting an orange reflective vest remains, standing next to a student I don’t recognize. The boy is holding a football. He tosses it to the teacher. The teacher backs up and throws a tight spiral back to the kid. The kid drops the ball.

Maybe this boy has an awesome dad who throws the football around with him every day after dinner, I don’t know. But it sure looks as if he’s never been taught how to pass and catch. It sure looks as if he really, really wants to know. Without words, teacher guy holds up his hands in that universal triangle position men use when showing sons and daughters how to catch footballs. They pass back and forth for a while. The clock sneaks past four. They keep going.

Another kid jogs around the corner, and he’s a ball player for sure because the teacher launches a long one and the kid snaps it out of the air, and now it’s a game of three-way pass, and everyone’s smiling and laughing, and I’m pretty sure the contract doesn’t cover this kind of after school instruction, but there it is.

I sit in my car with my memories and my gratitude and my tears.

How many times have the teachers here given my daughter—this sensitive, artistic, brilliant human being—something I didn’t know she needed at the exact moment she needed it?

When no one was watching?

When they could have been doing something else? When they probably “should” have been doing something else?

Yeah. How do you thank someone for that?

All I can say is that I see you. I see you and I love you.

sculpture walk

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Each year, right around the time the earliest

blossoms begin slipping

from their branches,

a fresh series of sculptures appear

in the heart of our downtown.

We embark, as ever, upon the reasonable,

which is to say:

We take a walk.

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We open our eyes.

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We greet the world.

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Not all change is struggle.

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Some change arrives as a carpet of petals,

unfurling beneath your feet.

for love of january

january sunset

photo by Jeffrey Paul


My friends think I’m crazy for loving January.

In fairness, my fondness for the month didn’t start until I lived, for a time, in California. It was the rising of a new year and I suddenly found myself staring into the Pacific, longing for a cold slap of Dakota air to keep things around me a little more honest, a little more real.

Then, after four gorgeously redundant Januaries in Hawaii, I finally knew it was time to turn homeward. I needed to live where Mother Nature lets her hair down and gives it a gentle shake now and then.

So here I am. January in South Dakota.

Sometimes, it gets so cold around here the citizens throw their hands in the air and decide to just stay home for the day. School is cancelled. Businesses close. And there it is—the curving of a perfectly fine morning and you find yourself holding a book and a blanket with no particular place to go.

Hello, couch. It’s been a while.

Of course one must, more often than not, march boldly into that glaring whiteness, wisps of danger curling beneath your tires as you squint at the road and accept, if not exactly welcome, the aching chill that haunts your bones the rest of the day.

We pat each other on the back for this, this surviving. No one pats you on the back for enduring January in Hawaii. What would be the point?

These are the mornings we appreciate our cars, our furnaces, the sturdy men and women in Carhartt overalls who repair our cars and our furnaces. These are the days we utter clumsy prayers and mantras and benedictions for the things we normally take for granted.

Bring her home safely. 

Please start, please start, please start. 

Stay warm. Be safe. 

Reality is heightened in January. The air bites and stings and reminds you of the delicacy, the fragility, of human skin. And yet, January, perhaps, is the simplest month of twelve. For one frozen moment, we neither over-plan nor over-schedule, if only because we are stunned and humbled into accepting our own limitations.

Instead, we adapt. We overcome. We check on our neighbors, jumpstart the cars of strangers, pass out extra mittens.

In January, it is enough to survive.

And, of course, we have now also entered the new year—the season for dreamers. Everything is seen afresh—how to eat, how to breathe, how to make the closets airy and sparkling by Easter.

In January we leap from the ledge of optimism, gracefully kneading a smidgen more sunshine out of each day. For we are the people of the warm socks, who stand in knee-deep snow in order to spill birdseed into our backyard feeders. We are January people, loosening our white-knuckle-grip on destiny for the momentary pleasure of imagining a life lived free and light and clean.

Perhaps one can never convince those who hate winter to appreciate how the sunset looks different—sacred, glasslike—at 30 degrees below zero. That’s all right.

A simple life isn’t one where you scream at the world to change its mind.

In January, the only mind worth changing is your own.

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