Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Fear in nature

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

                                                        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Three short stories on how nature leaves me musing about fear  - 


My granddaughter (Frog”) was playing in the garden. She is 20 months old; she loves, loves, loves flowers, and she always moves very close to them, trying to smell them, sometimes plucking off a petal or two. She delights in dandelions, particularly the ones that have gone to seed - she knows that you can blow the petals every which way, which is always so fun. Anyhow, this particular day, a bee was buzzing about the yellow dandelions. Frog has seen bees in her storybooks. Without hesitation, she delicately reached towards the bee with her fingers pinched, ready to grab this little insect and study it more closely.


I rushed towards her while simultaneously shouting, “NO!”  


Frog immediately jumped back and burst into tears.


My son (her father) looked at me and quipped, “Well, there’s proof that fear is taught!”


Let’s pretend that Frog did learn fear in this one moment– what did she learn to fear - the bee or my loud voice?


The reality is, my OWN fear was triggered when Frog reached for that bee. I am not a fan of the indiscriminate, overused, moralizing ‘No’ with young children, and was surprised to hear it fly out of my mouth, automatically, despite years of practice working with preschoolers. There are all sorts of other exciting exclamations I prefer to use when encountering the unexpected, such as ‘WHOA!’ ‘HEY!’ ‘WOWSA!’  ... but I went right for the commanding “NO!” due to my own fear that Frog would get hurt. But, how did I KNOW this? I don’t really know this.


By extension, I marvel at children’s natural, innate curiosity...and has mine gone?

Two – 

I am weeding in the garden. Well, I am trying to FIND the garden. Our backyard is so neglected, with many, many years of only minimal care. There can be no better opportunity than this summer of COVID, which has kept us from traveling and other fun; we are spending lots of long overdue time in our yard. Every recent day has begun here, as I try to prune shrubs, dig out weeds, move plants, etc. It is hard and sweaty work, and feels, somehow, satisfying, although there is no end in sight. 

On this particular day, I have been working for three hours already and I am battling a forsythia shrub, discovering all sorts of vines have set up their new home in and about this bush. Work, work, work, dig, dig, dig, tug, tug, tug, just one more vine is left, right there at the base, oh this looks good and clear here now – whoa! THREE LEAVES! Alert! Alert! POISON IVY. This is not my average vine.


I am hugely allergic to poison ivy. It has been years since I’ve gotten the rash. (Perhaps the last time I thought working in the garden was a good pastime? Ha!) That last rash was all over my body, and required meds from the doctor. Ugh. Had I already touched the vine? Worse yet, had I already removed some poison ivy, without somehow noticing? Was I doomed? Oh no!! Truly, I was so full of fear that I froze in place, holding the trowel.


I decided chances were I had already made contact with that demon plant. I might as well finish my weeding, leaving the forsythia nicely groomed. Taking a deep breath, I channeled my inner fearless child and dug down deep around the vine where it emerged from the ground, lifting the poison ivy out by its roots, and GO! I rushed the horrid vine into the lawn refuse bag, dropped the trowel, and flew into the house, and into the shower. I washed and scrubbed and rinsed and soaped up again and washed and scrubbed and rinsed, all the while thinking about how often I touch my face when I am gardening, how I push my hair out of my eyes, how I was going to be covered with poison ivy all over my face in the middle of this hot miserable summer...yes, I had myself a bit of a fit in the shower...until I was finally convinced that any and all remnants of poison ivy were gone. Also, I immediately washed all my clothes including my hat and gardening gloves, on hot cycle. WHEW!


I had looked the beast in the eye and all that remained was a buzzy feeling in the tips of my fingers...which shows you how mental fear is.


Truth is, four days later I do NOT have a poison ivy rash, which is absolutely amazing and divine. Plus, I have worked in the garden every day since.


Three – 

This one is short and sweet. I was enjoying an early morning cup of tea on my porch, when this little guy wandered up the driveway, moving me right out of my peaceful reverie:


I knew it was an opossum, but I had never seen one in our yard. Immediately, I was filled with all sorts of fearful and ominous thoughts – what is the opossum doing here? It can’t be a good thing! What terrible things do opossoms do?


This one wandered up the driveway, slipped in and around the garage, and then appeared down low on the driveway again, taking the same circular path - three times in a row! This gave me time to get a photo – and to chill with my fears. Clearly, he was up to something that did not involve me. I spent the next many minutes on “Google” learning about opossums. It didn’t take very long to discover that these animals are actually a benefit to the neighborhood, helping to eradicate ticks, rodents, and more. My fears were totally off-base! I had no idea; I ended up learning so much. 


I have lots to learn about fear, too. I have so many questions now -

  • Is one part of fear, simply, the unknown?
  • How often is fear my first reaction to something I don't understand?
  • In what ways do my actions grow fear in others? 
  • Do certain situations that ‘trigger’ fear simply remind me of something long ago?
  • Is fear protective or does it leave me stuck?
  • How much of fear is just an overactive scary imagination?
  • How often should I trust my fear instincts and how often are these just plain wrong? How do I discern?
  • What have I missed out on due to fear?

This is the perfect place to conclude with something witty about playing possum....but, well, I'll leave that to your overactive imagination....

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Summer reflections

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

                                                        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Once again, I woke with a jumbled mix of emotions. This is my new normal. I expect this criss-cross, up and down, swirl of feelings now, what with the larger world in painful disarray and my personal world filled with lots of unknowns due to my surprise retirement from classroom teaching. I am trying to find peace with all the uncertainty. I am trying to breathe into the pause that is all about. Yes, I have a settling feeling of unsettled. 

Today, my youngest, my baby boy, turns 25 years old, and that adds to my mood...I am delighted with him and bursting with love, stunned at the passage of time, frustrated for the ways in which he might feel that his life is more or less on hold due to this pandemic, happy that he will be making a socially-distant visit for our traditional family birthday cake, "The Ingram Family Mess Cake" (we cook a rich chocolate syrup of a frosting, then cut it and pour it into the warm yellow cake in all sorts of jumbled ways, creating more of a pudding texture and definitely a mess), and then laughing that our traditional cake matches the current state of affairs of my mind...and I realize I'll be okay.

After a few early morning minutes of no clear thinking, I got up to write, assured that my twenty-month old granddaughter ("Frog") had another hour to sleep. 

Frog spent the night with us...it is wonderful to live close enough to see her regularly. Our two households are keeping wise and respectful about COVID, allowing us to be sort of a 'pod' or a 'bubble' together, and see one another regularly. We love the sleepovers! We've decided to try these once a week through the summer, to allow Frog's parents a little special time alone each week (and to allow us, the grandparents, the opportunity to immerse ourselves in this dear little one). She'll be headed home before her uncle's birthday festivities later this evening, due to this darn COVID. We find that we can't keep Frog socially distant, she is full of physical love and connection at her age. 

Well, as life will have it, I had no sooner grabbed my journal and pen, when Frog let out a piercing cry from her crib...I rushed into the room, only to find she had somehow flipped up a section of the portacrib's 'mattress' revealing a section of hard surface and this was obviously not comfortable to sleep on and very troubling. The good news - her cry was probably of surprise, not of pain. All the same, she was not to be convinced to lay down again, even though I was able to fix the problem and soothe her. No, she was up, up, up.

So, lucky me! I scooped her into my arms, prepped her morning bottle, and we went out to the porch. Frog drank her morning bottle, cuddled beside me, and we listened to the early morning sounds, felt the soft air, and smelled summer all around us. 

Just being with her is to live in poetry:

We see the soft, white, puffy clouds

dotting the early morning pale blue sky.

We hear the birds, 

we search for the birds,

Frog points up high, towards the tree,

we watch

one solitary bird,

two, then three, now five birds together,

darting across the sky.

Frog grabs my thumb with her free hand,

caressing and squeezing,

lets go,

grabs her big toe, then

all her toes,

raising, stretching her leg in the air.

We see the tree branches, 

wiggling with the wind.

Frog sees one bird sweep down,

sitting on the lawn,

darting back up to the telephone wire.

There's a bird on the wire,

I sing to her,

in my best Leonard Cohen.

She smiles at me, 

humming along,

mmm mmm mmmmmm.

One tiny feather floats down 

from the sky,

softly, gently, slowly.

Frog is a salve for me during this time of transition.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020


Today's poem completes the June Open/Write on Ethical ELA. I struggled all day with this poem, trying to write a poem about my 'emotional state' without actually naming what that state was...the prompt and inspiration came from the author Melanie Crowder, who provided an engaging and detailed process for writing this poetry...one which I hope to revisit in the days ahead. This poem does not follow her process as intentionally as I had hoped to do. Ah, well.


It’s as if I have been staring

only at one light

bright and falsely clear

blinded by its singular rays

somehow unaware

above, within, and around

luminescent shadows

dance and invite,

flickering, lurking, leading

right there all the time

no longer unseen

revealing, reflecting, releasing

now drawing my full attention,

irresistible shadows of


Tuesday, June 23, 2020


This is day four of the five-day June OpenWrite at Ethical ELA, and I have not followed the prompt, but written my own poem: 


He was an eight year old

Beyblade, yes, he was,

when I first met him.

Do you know this spinning toy?

Very popular with his peers,

tough on teachers,

hard on the outside,

something mysterious within -

wound tightly, tighter, tighter, then


My preschool room was

a calming space he visited

every now and again

through the years.

He would mold clay or sand,

banter with the children, and

I would wonder

how often

is he free

to be

a little boy?

Who is holding him tightly and loving him dearly?

Year in, year out,

he continued

hard on the outside,

something mysterious within.


just eight years later,

all of 16 years young,

our Beyblade is arrested,

charged as an adult.

Frederick Douglass said it would be easier

to build strong children than to repair broken men,

yet we have failed him,

this child,

with still undiscovered mystery within.

Too much to drink

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

                                                        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I am thinking of a friend. 

There's a story she used to tell, with lots of laughter and embellishments, of how she met her policeman husband; they've been married so many years now. Yes, you see, she was all of 26, it was a Friday night, following a long, hard week of work, and she went out with girlfriends, to release and unwind. She had too much to drink. She had WAAAAAYYYYY too much to drink. She remembered dancing at the bar, laughing and carrying on with the girls. Then, it was time to go home. Her girlfriends asked her if she was "good," and she assured them yes, and they drove off in their cars and she sat down in her driver's seat, and realized, oh no, I cannot drive. She passed out behind the wheel, in the parking lot of the bar, sleeping off the booze, and, thankfully, not driving anywhere.

Small town, USA.

She woke up to a flashlight in her eyes, a tapping at the window, a policeman's query, "You okay? What's going on here?" He asked for her driver's license, he talked back and forth with her a bit, and in the end he said, "What, say, we leave your car here, and I drive you back to your place?" 

Wasn't that kind of him?

She got in touch with him the next day, to thank him for taking care of her and to apologize for her behavior. He asked her out on a date, and the rest is history.

I haven't seen this friend in a long while. I wonder if she's comparing her story to that of Rayshard Brooks, who was also 26 and passed out behind the wheel of a car? I wonder if her husband compares the two stories?

What 'passes' do we give to certain people, who fit a certain mold? 

How do we treat people differently?

How do we rationalize our behaviors?

What assumptions do we make about those that are different from us?

What makes us treat others less compassionately? 

How do we, 

as a society, 

dig into this

the invisible, 

within us,

that keeps us from seeing 

the full human before us?

“Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.”
― Ta-Nehisi Coates

Monday, June 22, 2020

Bends just so

It's day three of the five day June #OpenWrite at  Ethical ELA . Today's prompt is a 'memory poem,' and encouraged us to think of how certain sensory experiences trigger memories. There is a certain part of my neighborhood walking path that never ceases to take me back many, many years in time, to my college days.

Bends just so

The wooded path bends just so,

softly descending, curving,

meandering through the trees, and

I am back in Durham, New Hampshire,

the wilderness shortcut in the heart of campus,

leading me onward,

daring me to hope and explore.

The natural medley of seed,

blossom, growth, and wither,

branches stretching and interlacing above,

diffused light and precious breeze,

I am both set and set in motion.

The wooded path bends just so,



inviting me towards,


there’s more ahead,

there’s more to seek,

there’s more.

Here are the comments I received on the Ethical ELA website:

glenda funk

Glenda Funk

There is a special calling in a “wooden path [that] bends just so.” I have an image of that path through your words. My favorite line is “I am both set and set in motion” and the paradox of this line. Lovely poem. Thank you.

Tammi Belko

Tammi Belko

I love the way you lead the reader down your path with “the wooded path bends just so”. I could identify with your moment because it reminds me of the wooded college campus I attended years ago. I also love that this poem is more than just a walk in the woods it is a journey towards knowledge.

Margaret G Simon
Margaret G Simon

I like the repeated word at the end, and how it leads us forward on the path with you.

Katrina Morrison

Katrina Morrison

Your title draws us in, and then the path takes over leading us through the poem. I never heard of college woods before. You made me want to be there.

Kevin H
Kevin H

That imagery of the world “bending just so” is wonderfully evocative

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Papa and the dolphin

It's day two of the five day June #OpenWrite at  Ethical ELA . Today's prompt was entitled "small fiction" - the challenge was to begin with an actual event, person, incident - some basis in fact - and turn it into a bit of fiction, have a little fun with it. Not sure why my mind wandered back in time to a story my Dad would share about swimming in the ocean once, and having a dolphin nudge up against him. I had a little fun writing this - and it seems like a children's fable now.

Papa and the Dolphin

In the middle of his swim,

making laps along the shore,

Papa saw he wasn’t alone,

there were dolphins by the score.


He began to swim away,

wanting to let them be,

when one lifted him up, and

dropped him right into the sea.


Papa sank deep down under,

came back up with a sputter,

the dolphin just smiled,

clapping his fins with a flutter.


Papa, astonished, said,

“Wait, you did that for fun?”

The dolphin explained,

“You seemed a lonely one.”


So began a friendship,

a playful one at that,

the two would meet daily

when Papa swam his laps.


When you are given the chance

to befriend someone new,

try kindness and laughter,

plus an open point of view.

These are the responses I received on the Ethical ELA website:

Tammi Belko
Tammi Belko

What a great message. Love the joy that is spread in this piece.

glenda funk
glenda funk

indeed, your poem is a fable. I love the playfulness and the cadence, which replicated the ocean sounds. I can see this lyric as a picture book. The last stanza is my favorite. We can’t go wrong w/ kindness and laughter. Thank you.

gayle sands
gayle sands

This would be a beautiful children’s book! If I could illustrate, I would begin today. But I can only admire…

Linda Mitchell
Linda Mitchell

So wonderful! The language is playful and light and inviting. Papa and the Dolphin needs to grow into a book!

Andrea Busby

Maureen, what a great message! Even as he tries to be respectful of their space, his respect grants him a place in that community. I think that is an important message, especially when paired with “try kindness and laughter/plus an open point of view.” Allow people to be and you will find yourself being with people.
Thank you!


This poem was magical, Maureen. I love the way the lines seemed playful in their beat and rhyme. These lines really sank into my heart: Papa, astonished, said,
“Wait, you did that for fun?”
The dolphin explained, 

“You seemed a lonely one.”