Though the Flower Fades Away…

O! my heart now feels so cheerful as I go with footsteps light
      In the daily toil of my dear home; 
And I’ll tell to you the secret that now makes my life so bright—
      There’s a flower at my window in full bloom. 

It is radiant in the sunshine, and so cheerful after rain; 
        And it wafts upon the air its sweet perfume. 
It is very, very lovely! May its beauties never wane—
        This dear flower at my window in full bloom. 

Nature has so clothed it in such glorious array, 
      And it does so cheer our home, and hearts illume; 
Its dear mem’ry I will cherish though the flower fade away—
      This dear flower at my window in full bloom. 

Oft I gaze upon this flower with its blossoms pure and white. 
        And I think as I behold its gay costume, 
While through life we all are passing may our lives be always bright 
        Like this flower at my window in full bloom.

~Lucian Watkins “The Flower at My Window” 1909

Details of the life of poet Lucian Watkins are few: a black man born in 1878 in Virginia, educated as a teacher and served as a U.S. Army Sergeant in WWI, then died shortly after in 1920. He leaves behind only a handful of poems, including the one above.

There is very little information available about Lucian but three letters written by him show a young man who earnestly wanted to have both a writing career and a “bread-winning vocation.” He describes feeling compelled to compose poetry, no matter what else he accomplishes.

The obvious challenges he faced –
–as a black man looking for a suitable place to live in Illinois so he can attend a college where there are no other people of color nearby,
–as a veteran of a most horrific war,
–as a creative mind trying to find a way to make a living,
he writes passionately about the aspirational purity of a white flower outside his window. Its bright radiance represents what he longs for in his own life.

From his letter to President Bissell of Bissell Colleges in Effingham, Illinois in 1919 after President Bissell is unable to assist in finding him a place to live, having suggested that the war veteran might consider “doing light housekeeping” – essentially live as a servant in a white household:

“About this matter of a boarding place. While I had hoped to obtain board with a member of my own race in Effingham, I had not thought it imperative that I should do so. I feel sure that there is enough Christianity in Effingham to provide that a brother-stranger in their midst shall not die of hunger. What would Jesus do?

It seems that some places in the south they rise more readily to our American ideal of democracy than in the North and Middle-West. ‘The Richmond Planet’ of Richmond, Va., states that ‘right here in Richmond, the capital of the late Confederacy, colored soldiers are welcomed to aristocratic Westhampton, and with no sigh of racial discrimination or antipathy to their being there.’ What is the matter with Illinois?

I am not sure as to what your question involves. We shall talk it over when I arrive. There must be a way that is just and that will be good for all concerned. Very respectfully, signed Lucian B. Watkins

This man was not only a poet. He was a statesman.

Though Lucian Watkins’ life was cut short for reasons unknown, and his portfolio of poetry is small, he is nonetheless a gift to generations of future poets and readers. This black artist did not let the inevitable rainfall in his life discourage his world view; he himself is radiant with illumination, showing a budding cheerfulness. His work reminds us something as simple as observing a resilient flower outside our window can help heal painful hurts and fulfill our deepest longing.

In his writing, Lucian Watkins draws a thin line between joy and sorrow, embracing the joy in a simple white flower in full bloom before it, as will we all, fades away.

Flower gleam and glow
let your power shine
make the Clock reverse
bring back what once was mine
What once was mine
Heal what has been hurt
change the fate’s design
Save what has been lost
bring back what once was mine
what once was mine

~Healing Song from Tangled

No matter if you’re born
To play the king or pawn
For the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow
So my fantasy becomes reality
And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow
So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end
And flowers never bend with the rainfall

~Paul Simon
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I’ll Take It

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
~Ada Limón  “Instructions on Not Giving Up”

I thought I was empty – hollow and irretrievable – after such a long drawn out winter. Yet here I am, here we are, still among the living and I find I am swept away and useless to accomplish anything else except breathing. 

The landscape is exploding with layers of color and shadow and standing too close, I too am ignited.  It is impossible to witness so much unfolding life and light and not be engulfed and singed.

It lures me outside where flames of green lap about my ankles as I stroll the fields and each fresh breeze fans the fires until I’ve nothing left of myself but ash and shadow.

Consumed and subsumed.  Combusted and busted.

What a way to go.

I’ll take it. I’ll take it all.

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Secrets Brought to Light

You won’t remember it—the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.

A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.

A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.

We had the luck, if you can call it that,
Of having been in love but never lovers—
The bright flame burning, fed by pure desire.

Nothing consumed, such secrets brought to light!
There was a moment when I stood behind you,
Reached out to spin you toward me…but I stopped.

What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point—
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost.
~Dana Gioia “The Apple Orchard”

Love, we are in God’s hand.
How strange now, looks the life he makes us lead;
So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
~Robert Browning from Andrea Del Sarto

As I walk down the blooming aisleways
of Spring’s ephemeral cathedral,
it doesn’t help to regret what could have been
– if only –
long ago I had reached out
to hold what remained free of my grasp.
Perhaps it is forever lost to me…

I am overwhelmed by all the potential surrounding me –
the trees are literally bursting with blossom and leaf,
an undulating green carpeting covering every rolling hill,
exuberant new life bouncing and bucking in the pastures.

I wonder, at this age and stage of my life,
whatever potential is left to me?

If I give up my dreams
if I don’t try to hold on to what seems out of reach
if I don’t remember what it feels like to want everything from life,
I would wilt and wither without forming fruit.

Ah Love – I am in God’s Hand.
Or what’s a heaven for?

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Almost No One Noticed

White egret
glided over
grasses, fiddlehead and fern,
then landed,
as I was caring
for young children by a pond.

Angelic, her wing span
fanned its gentle wave
across the shore

and no one noticed.
No one applauded or knelt
upon the grass.

But the children, eyes and mouths
as round as moons,
stopped and held her for that moment,

watched as she preened
her wings,
leaving them one feather
in the midst of spring green.

~Jesse LoVasco, from Native

Every day, there is so much I miss seeing,
sounds I fail to hear, a nurturing softness that eludes me,
all because I am wrapped in my own worries.

The wonders I miss may never come my way again,
so Lord, give me the eyes and ears and hands of a child
seeing and hearing and touching everything for the first time.

To notice the beauty that surrounds me,
let me marvel at a Creation
that started as mere Word and Thought and Hope,
left behind like a feather for me to hold on to.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –


And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
~Emily Dickinson

Deep in the tarn the mountain
A mighty phantom gleamed,
She leaned out into the midnight,
And the summer wind went by,

The scent of the rose on its silken wing
And a song its sigh.


And, in depths below, the waters
Answered some mystic height,

As a star stooped out of the depths above
With its lance of light.


And she thought, in the dark and the fragrance,
How vast was the wonder wrought
If the sweet world were but the beauty born
In its Maker’s thought.

~Harriet Prescott Spofford

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Left to Her Own Abandon

Sometimes when you’re in a dark place
you think you’ve been buried,
but actually you’ve been planted.
~Christine Caine

I love a wild daffodil,
the one that grows
where she’s planted—
along a wooded highway
left to her own abandon,
but not abandoned.
Her big yellow head   
leaning toward or away
from the sun. Not excluded
but exclusive, her trumpet
heralds no one, not even
the Canada geese—
their long-necked honks
announcing their journey. 
She’ll be here less
than a season, grace us
with green slender stems,
strong enough to withstand
rain and spring’s early chill.
And when she goes,
what remains she’ll bury
deep inside the bulb of her,
take a part of me with her
until she returns.
~January Gill O’Neil, “For Ella” from Rewilding

Our farm was homesteaded by the Lawrence family over one hundred years ago — soon afterward, someone decided to bury daffodil bulbs scattered around the yard. All these decades later, dozens of faithful heralds of spring still come up as the sun and extra hours of light call them forth. Some years they bloom in February, but most typically they wait for a more predictable welcome from the weather in March.

They are very tender, easily injured by a strong wind or late snowfall – mostly an old antique variety of fluffy double blooms, but some traditional trumpet blossoms still come up called forth by the trumpeting of the geese and swans passing over far above them.

For me, their blooming with abandon is inspiration in faithfulness and persistence, especially because of the 44 weeks per year they remain silent and buried out of sight. I have a general sense where they will appear each February, but am still surprised and impressed when they do push up through the ground. I walk around them carefully, knowing I could crush them with one firm inadvertent boot step if I am not cautious.

Once the daffodils are blooming, they encourage my hope and a promise of the spring just ahead. When the blooms wither and fade, the green spiky stems must gather the strength the bulb needs for another cycle of dormancy, so I mow around them to allow as much time as needed to replenish before disappearing underground again.

I still don’t understand how these gentle blooms somehow manage to pull me down with them into the bulb, waiting my turn alongside them while buried deep in the dark. Perhaps it is because God plants each one of us here in His holy ground, to await the ultimate wakening that calls us forth to bloom everlasting.

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Who Can Know?

I do not like to think about my life,
one lived too often without original fire.


I would rather walk among the serious trees,
hooded by important weather, by immense silences.


I’d rather unravel the wind’s calligraphies,
letter by letter, and spell myself into the world,


a glittering altar of atoms, all aswirl.
Who can know what will happen to each of us,


as time’s currents bend and assail us,
as gravity pulls us further into ourselves?


Better to be buoyed skyward, to modestly reach out
to the palaver of raindrops, to the silky leaves,


so that the air’s amazement stirs an answering
ripple among my own heavy branches.


Let me lose myself in the star’s mute company,
among the steady wanderers of night


whose eyes ignite a cupola of yearnings.
Crown me with a wreath of stars unmoored


from desire, untampered by this ache
for a blaze beyond the tremor of my fingertips.

~Maurya Simon, “A Thousand Acres of Light” from Cartographies 

I take myself too seriously,
thinking everything in my life must be planned
so I am prepared for what could happen next –

Of course it is impossible
as who can know?

Each day the unexpected happens
if I am willing to recognize it:
the rush of the wind, the drenching of raindrops,
the tingle of the winter sun on my face.

In that moment I might find endless perfection.

Even the thriving among us may lie down this night
and fail to wake tomorrow,
atoms toppled over, leaves shriveled, roots exposed,
no longer needing to breathe
much sooner than planned.

Let me lose myself in that thought:
what is lost here is more than replaced by
the joy of beholding the Face of the Eternal God.

Faire is the heav’n, where happy souls have place,
In full enjoyment of felicitie,
Whence they doe still behold the glorious face
Of the divine, eternall Majestie…

Yet farre more faire be those bright Cherubins
Which all with golden wings are overdight,
And those eternall burning Seraphins,
Which from their faces dart out fierie light;
Yer fairer than they both, and much more bright,
Be th’ Angels and Archangels which attend
On God’s owne person, without rest or end.

These then is faire each other farre excelling
As to the Highest they approach more neare,
Yet is that Highest farre beyond all telling
Fairer than all the rest which there appeare,
Though all their beauties joynd together were:
How then can mortall tongue hope to expresse
The image of such endlesse perfectnesse?
~Edmund Spenser

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Watching Ensanguining Skies

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
  Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
  Falls the remorseful day.
~A.E. Houseman from “How Clear, How Lovely Bright”

O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold…

~John Greenleaf Whittier from “The Barefoot Boy”

Once I saw a chimpanzee gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colors [and then] retire to the forest without picking a pawpaw for supper.
~Adriaan Krotlandt, Dutch ethologist in Scientific American (1962)

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God there was made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In a movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
R.S. Thomas “The Moor”

How can I feel so warm   
Here in the dead center of January? I can   
Scarcely believe it, and yet I have to, this is   
The only life I have. 
~James Wright from “A Winter Daybreak Above Vence”

Last night was a once a year sunset experience in the dead center of January, following a full day of pouring-rain gray-skies monochrome nothingness.

For twenty minutes our region was blissed to witness an evolving array of crimson and purple color and patterns, streaks and swirls, gradation and gradual decline.

It all took place in silence.  No bird song, no wind, no spoken prayer.
Yet a communion took place – the air broke and fed us like manna from heaven. And so filled to the brim…

May I squander my life no more and instead treasure each moment.

May I vow to cherish God, church, family, friends, and those in my community who are strangers to me.

May I never forget my witness this winter day of the bleeding of the last light of day.

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Saved By a Snow Storm

“I have noticed,” she said slowly, “that time does not really exist for mothers, with regard to their children. It does not matter greatly how old the child is – in the blink of an eye, the mother can see the child again as she was when she was born, when she learned to walk, as she was at any age — at any time, even when the child is fully grown….”
~Diana Gabaldon from Voyager

May the wind always be in her hair
May the sky always be wide with hope above her
And may all the hills be an exhilaration
the trials but a trail,
all the stones but stairs to God.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts…
~Ann Voskamp from “A Prayer for a Daughter”

Your rolling and stretching had grown quieter that stormy winter night
twenty nine years ago, but still no labor came as it should.
Already a week overdue post-Christmas,
you clung to amnion and womb, not yet ready.
Then as the wind blew more wicked
and snow flew sideways, landing in piling drifts,
the roads became more impassable, nearly impossible to traverse.

So your dad and I tried,
concerned about your stillness and my advanced age,
worried about being stranded on the farm far from town.
So a neighbor came to stay with your brothers overnight,
we headed down the road
and our car got stuck in a snowpile in the deep darkness,
our tires spinning, whining against the snow.
Another neighbor’s earth mover dug us out to freedom.

You floated silent and still, knowing your time was not yet.

Creeping slowly through the dark night blizzard,
we arrived to the warm glow of the hospital,
your heartbeat checked out steady, all seemed fine.

I slept not at all.

The morning’s sun glistened off sculptured snow as
your heart ominously slowed.
You and I were jostled, turned, oxygenated, but nothing changed.
You beat even more slowly,
threatening to let loose your tenuous grip on life.

The nurses’ eyes told me we had trouble.
The doctor, grim faced, announced
delivery must happen quickly,
taking you now, hoping we were not too late.
I was rolled, numbed, stunned,
clasping your father’s hand, closing my eyes,
not wanting to see the bustle around me,
trying not to hear the shouted orders,
the tension in the voices,
the quiet at the moment of opening
when it was unknown what would be found.

And then you cried. A hearty healthy husky cry,
a welcomed song of life uninterrupted.
Perturbed and disturbed from the warmth of womb,
to the cold shock of a bright lit operating room,
your first vocal solo brought applause
from the surrounding audience who admired your purplish pink skin,
your shock of damp red hair, your blue eyes squeezed tight,
then blinking open, wondering and wondrous,
emerging and saved from a storm within and without.

You were brought wrapped for me to see and touch
before you were whisked away to be checked over thoroughly,
your father trailing behind the parade to the nursery.
I closed my eyes, swirling in a brain blizzard of what-ifs.

If no snow storm had come,
you would have fallen asleep forever within my womb,
no longer nurtured by my aging and failing placenta,
cut off from what you needed to stay alive.
There would have been only our soft weeping,
knowing what could have been if we had only known,
if God had provided a sign to go for help.

So you were saved by a providential storm
and dug out from a drift:
I celebrate when I hear your voice singing,
and when your students love you as their teacher,
knowing you are a thread born to knit and mend hearts,
all because of blowing snow.

My annual retelling of the most remarkable day of my life when our daughter Eleanor (“Lea”) Sarah Gibson was born, hale and hearty because the good Lord sent a snow and wind storm to blow us into the hospital in time to save her. She is now married to her true love Brian who is another gift sent from the Lord; someday their hope for parenthood will come true for them as well.

The Beginning Shall Remind Us of the End: Leaping with Life

Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised.
~Loretta Ross-Gotta
from Letters from the Holy Ground

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys
Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place,
From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise,
And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things
Unnoticed and unknown to men of power,
But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings
And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young,’
Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime.’
They sing today for all the great unsung
Women who turned eternity to time,

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth,
Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

~Malcolm Guite “The Visitation”

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Luke 1: 41-45  (Song of Elizabeth)

This scene in Luke is remarkable for its portrayal of the interconnected relationship of four individuals, not just two.  Here are two cousins who become mothers despite utter impossibility — one too elderly and one virginal — present on this day with their unborn sons — one who is harbinger and one who is God.

These unborn babies are not just passively “hidden within” here.  They have changed their mothers in profound ways, as all pregnancies tend to do, but especially these pregnancies.  As any mother who first experiences the “quickening” of her unborn child can relate, there is an awesome and frightening awareness of a completely dependent but active “other” living inside. 

She is aware she is no longer alone in her shell and what happens to her, happens to this other life as well. This is deeply personal, yet deeply communal at the same time – as we witnessed in the arguments about maternal vs. fetal rights that took place in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday.

The moment Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she and the baby in her womb are overwhelmed, filled with the Spirit from Mary’s unborn.  They leap, figuratively and literally.  Her voice leaps up, louder in her exclamation of welcome; John leaps in the womb in acknowledgement of being in the presence of God Himself.

How can our hearts not leap as well at God’s Word to us, at His hope and plan for each of us, at His gift of life from the moment of our conception.

After all, He once was unborn too,
completely dependent on the willingness of His mother to bear Him to birth,
completely alive because of the overshadowing Spirit of His Father.

We are all buds willed to flower by our God.

This year’s Barnstorming Advent theme “… the Beginning shall remind us of the End” is taken from the final lines in T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

Waves on Waves

I haven’t yet been able to find words—
a sentence for what happens when I brush
my daughter’s hair and divide into thirds
enough hair for a family of four
(one barber said, the rare one I trusted).
Honeycomb-colored braid, she’s out the door
for school (green coat, pink backpack), and rushing
right on time, little Virgo, to the bus.
One-woman-show with harmonies, alone—
amazed, bowed down (deep inhale) O the joy
contained in waves on waves: a shimmering song
my daughter’s hair sings as she floats
each afternoon high up into a tree.
Against the clouds she climbs, far beyond me.
~Megan Buchanan “My Daughter’s Hair”, from Clothesline Religion

She was born with the announcement from the doctor: “we have a bunch of red hair here on this little lady!”

Then as a little girl her hair was straight as could be, until one day she woke up with hints of waves and ringlets which eventually became a virtual thicket of auburn tresses.

No longer could I quickly comb through her hair or even trust myself with scissors. Instead I stood back in awe, with my thin straight hair, marveling at how this could happen to a child of mine. This was her daddy’s hair.

Her amazing mane is but one part of who this remarkable woman has become, these endless waves, yet it is only the surface of a strong light that dwells richly within her. Now, as a teacher of 10 year olds, she floats among children who someday will transform overnight as she did. She is part of determining who they will become, her effect on them like a wave upon wave upon wave.

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