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The Mary Oliver poem of our lives

2011 January 17

Our friends gave us a chicken they helped process–complete with errant feathers clinging to goose-pimpled skin–which I roasted for a holiday dinner before making enormous amounts of stock from its carcass. I poured so many quarts of golden, oily broth off those bones it became the proverbial clown car where you think you’ve decanted the last bit of marrowy richness from the old, boiled-over bones, and then another freezer bag of chicken stock steps out of the tiny Volkswagen soup pot.

This is often called frugality – the effort to extract more than expected out of something. Like when–during the kids’ afternoon naptime–I run a second round of boiling water through the spent, morning coffee grounds for a cup that isn’t as much robust as it is propping up.

This too, is how Col and Rose live – wringing juicy, succulent moments out of the thin, bland air of ordinary days. Though for them it’s not frugality, no, not at all; it’s more like they’re auditioning for a role in Mary Oliver’s breathtaking poem, The Summer Day, where Oliver famously inquires, “tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

It’s morning and Col is perched up on the back of our couch casting a long red ribbon to Rose who is lurching around the floor on her belly gulping at the dangling line. “I’m fishing!” Col shouts cheerfully. And it’s not that this game is winning any award for cleverness, or that its shelf life will exceed the next five minutes. But, there’s delight in what bubbled up from the resiny depths of their wild, collaborative minds on this blank slate of morning. This game that requires exactly one leftover Christmas ribbon.

“Now lets switch Coley,” Rose suggests. And Col, not to miss the pleasure of gasping after a grubby ribbon while writhing through cat hair, slides onto his stomach and snaps after the fishing line.

Later, I set down a rubber-banded assemblage of paintbrushes on the table and Rose abandons her cookie-eating to squeal, “oooh, paintbrushes! Which one do you love best, Coley?”

I wish I could summon that kind of awe for paintbrushes, or even our garden-dwelling cat-faced spider whose daily whereabouts the kids tracked like secret service this past summer. I wish that, like them, I could spin wonder out of an ordinary day like brilliant skeins of wool. But I take heart in their rapture, delighting in their delight as if it were my own, and so it becomes.

Meanwhile, the sun not yet up, I can think of nothing more creative or interesting to do than make coffee and read the paper, as I’ve done for the past 4380 mornings in this house. It’s like I’m reading from a script that never changes while the children live in a fanciful Choose Your Own Adventure book.

But I am pretty happy about my chicken stock.



25 Responses leave one →
  1. January 17, 2011

    This exudes lovely… :)
    What a gorgeous first read of the day, thank you. The simple joys of life through kids eyes, such a huge lesson on how to live fully.

  2. January 17, 2011

    I am smiling. Just know you are doing something, if not everything, right!!

  3. January 17, 2011

    lyrical goddess :)

  4. Ellen permalink
    January 17, 2011

    what inventive kids…good reason not to program a kid’s life with too many adult-led activities.

    And so beautifully put.

    thank you!

  5. January 17, 2011

    Ah yes, the world can be one big exciting adventure when you are a child…best years of my life.

  6. January 17, 2011

    robust vs propping up. Is it frugality or wringing the last drop out of a delicious life? When I read you I see the later every time. That’s just how it feels to me.

  7. January 17, 2011

    If coffee and the morning paper is what spawns the two, wild precious lives of those kids, then you’re right on track. Do not abandon that script! :)
    I often muse on this as if my twenties were the last hurrah of daily adventure and excitement…
    But then I see all those retired people traveling the world, taking classes and hanging out in town late at night, and I finally get it.
    Thanks for a very thoughtful post!

  8. Melissa permalink
    January 17, 2011

    ditto to all that’s been said and yes, i feel exactly the same way when i see avi (and lilit is beginning to join in) having these magical moments while i toil around doing god-knows-what–the delight is contagious and for that i am grateful. for your writing, too! xo
    ps. we may be berkeley-bound . . . just opened escrow on a sweet little house over there . . .and guess what? there’s already a garden in the back yard . . . maybe we could even have chickens!

  9. January 17, 2011

    This post is so relaxing, rewarding, it takes me back to the time when my children were young and invented those games of the young..I appreciated it then and even more so now just to remember. We are well blessed. Ginny

  10. January 17, 2011

    The imagination of a child is so, so perfect. So is your writing. xo

  11. rose permalink
    January 17, 2011

    It seems to me that this blog is one way at least that you “spin wonder out of an ordinary day like brilliant skeins of wool.”

    I am a daily witness to the magical, everyday lives of a 2 and 5yo and it is indeed contagious, if I’m paying attention, which I seem to be doing more and more lately. I’ve been struck recently by a (stronger than normal) feeling that it is all going so quickly and I want to stay out of the way and just watch the perfection that is their lives when they are allowed to simply live without agenda or schedule. I recently read the book Radical Unschooling by Dayna Martin. Check it out. It’s a quick read and has the potential to turn your life upside down in the most delightful way!

  12. January 17, 2011

    Your prose is like poetry. And I hang on to every word, hoping to catch glimpses of my own life in there somewhere.

  13. January 17, 2011

    Hmm. From the outside, it seems to me like you’re a master at “wringing juicy, succulent moments out of the thin, bland air of ordinary days.”

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 17, 2011

      I’m just the reporter.

  14. January 17, 2011

    i also run more water through already spent coffee in the afternoon. decaf at that. ha!

  15. January 17, 2011

    And yet another beautifully spun post. Also, glad to see I’m not the only one with a Christmas tree still upright.

    I have been getting the New Yorker! Thank you again. After our trip to DC and all the Tea Party headlines, the essay about our Constitution was particularly of interest.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 18, 2011

      I just read the constitution piece last night, yes, very interesting. Also, loved the story of the Pennsylvania family’s annual lamb feast; awesome storytelling.

  16. January 18, 2011

    There is real virtue in frugality, just as there is virtue in being the reporter of said frugality. Happy new year!

  17. January 18, 2011

    Love it — “Choose your own adventure book.” So true. I’m always impressed with what my ladies can do with a toilet paper roll, a broken hanger and bubble wrap. I think that is so much healthier for creative minds.

  18. January 18, 2011

    I recently inherited a turkey-disaster turkey. Half cooked, half-eaten, and frozen. It made for a fine impromptu (poached!) turkey meal, and the best stock I have ever, ever, ever made. I get all sweaty just thinking about it lurking in my freezer. I wonder if I can recreate the miracle of half cooked/frozen/poached turkey? That’s what I plan to do with my one wild and precious life.

  19. January 18, 2011

    It’s all about the process for kids. They are truly living in the moment. gosh, I wish I could be more like a kid!

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