The Family of Things

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

…Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~Mary Oliver from “Wild Geese”

photo by Kathy Yates from "In the Pacific Northwest"
photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Snow geese are populating the Skagit flats and farm land, as numerous as the scores of colorful tulips which soon will fill nearby fields.  The din of the flocks as they land and feed, then rise again in the air is astounding: a symphony of honks and hollers carried from one goose family to another in a ruckus of joyful abandon.  Skagit is the New York City of snowgeese for a few weeks, never sleeping.

There are a few geese who wander further up north into Whatcom County to pepper our surrounding dormant cornfields like salt,  sprinkled half a dozen here and there across the Nooksack river valley.  When there are only a few together, their calling seems so melancholy, almost a disconsolate cry of abandonment carrying over the lonely countryside.

So too am I ensconced away from the clamorous masses,  preferring to be part of an out-of-the-way rural landscape.  There may be moments of melancholy, to be sure.  Yet here,  as nowhere else, I know my place in the family of things —  of gray clouds, owl hoots, swampy wetlands, frog choruses, orange sunsets, pink sunrises, warm pony muzzles, budding snowdrops, and steaming manure piles.   I give myself up to wild abandon in a world offering itself up to my imagination instead of leaving nothing to the imagination.

Let the cities clamor and clang in their excitement.  They do just fine without me.
Instead I celebrate the relative silence allowing me to seek the words to fit the music singing in my soul.

4 thoughts on “The Family of Things

  1. Wonderful. And I never see a reference to snow geese without remembering that beautiful story of one that wandered across the Atlantic and took up in the rural retreat of an English painter. Can’t remember the author this early in the morning, but I remember the story and the image of that goose leading boats across the channel in the evacuation of Dunkirk. There have been a couple of films done on it but the book is so vivid to me I’ve never felt compelled to track a film down.


  2. The photos by Yates and Scholten are beautiful. Snow Geese are such gracefull creatures. Mr. Littleton’s remembrance of Paul Gallico’s story of the Snow Goose and the the English evacuation at Dunkirk in the early 1940s brought back a vivid memory. We heard the news about Dunkirk on the radio and later saw it on film at a Saturday matinee in our local theater. Gallico’s story appeared in the Saturday Evening Post around that time. I recall my father telling me about it. My parents subscribed to it and saved back issues for years but I didn’t actually read the story until several years later . I’m going to see if I can still get a copy to give to my grandson who appreciates nature in all its forms.

    Another recollection that I have about Snow Geese is their annual migration around New York City airports and the crashes and near-crashes that have occurred as airplanes, in the process of taking off and gaining altitude, collidie with the geese in mid air. The appropriate local and federal authorities have been trying to find solutions to the problem. I don’t know if their efforts have been successful or if the dangerous situation still exists. .

    I’m a city girl; have been all of my life, so I’m used to certain noises. We live a block away from a firehouse so we hear their frequent sirens and horns as two or three trucks and EMT equipment thunder past our house. Sometimes the noise actually vibrates in the house. Then there are the frequent shrill, ear-piercing police sirens, usually after midnight . There are two new neighbors living a few houses away who own motorcycles that they rev up with an ear-pounding vibrating noise at all hours of the day and night. I have reported the after-midnight noise to the police because we have a city ordinance that specifies maximum declble units of noise within city limits.

    Despite the convenience of city living, the next-door nearness of good neighbors and the feeling of community, there are times when I need to get away. I usually go north to the Adirondack mountains, or east to rural Vermont and New Hampshire for a week or two. I have done this more and more frequently (Spring and Fall) in the past few years. All of my senses echo back to me a feeling of quiet serenity. I feel washed clean, My mind is freed to think clearly without interruption. My soul is calmed and feeling the presence of the loving Creator who made all this possible. I feel restored.

    So, dear Dr. Emily, I understand and appreciate your love of the rural life.


  3. Dear Alice,

    After spending nearly a decade in the city living next to a very popular and heavy metal music and drinking night spot, I decided the relative quiet of night time frog chorus and early morning bird symphony was my preference over reverberating bass and intoxicated shouting and inevitable sirens. I am glad you are able to escape at least twice a year. Bless you and bless your writing. Emily

    On Sun, Feb 10, 2013 at 1:07 PM, Barnstorming


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