Unanswerable Questions

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
~Carl Sandburg, “Under the Harvest Moon”

As we enter the season
of all that is lush and lovely
which starts to wither and decay before our eyes,
we know the flowers and trees aren’t alone.
Death, whispering within its gray night’s cloak,
has been stealing the young and old since time began,
but never as boldly as during a pandemic.
Millions of family members are left
with nothing but bittersweet memories
of their loved ones now buried deep.

The harvest moon – not nearly bright enough,
as a poor reflection of the sun –
mocks us who covet light
during a rampage of contagious illness and death.

As we endure the searing beauty of yet another dying season,
let us treasure those we protect through our care and concern.
Let us cherish the memories of those we’ve lost.
There can be only one answer to the unanswerable questions:
Love itself died to become Salvation,
an ever-sufficient Light that leads us home.

A book of beauty in words and photos is available to order here:


Let Me Go to the Window

…leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.
~Carl Sandburg from “At a Window”

Now close the windows and hush all the fields;
If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
Be it my loss.

I will be long ere the marshes resume,
It will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.
~Robert Frost “Now Close the Windows”

Everything looks a little different framed by a window. We are set apart, looking out, rather than immersed within the landscape ourselves.

It is not unlike being in an art museum, walking past masterpieces that offer a framed view into another time and place, with people we don’t know and will never meet.

Let me go to the windows, moving through the house and peering out at the glory that awaits beyond the frame. But rather than simply admire the view, protected from the chill wind, I’ll walk out the door into the life that pulses continually beyond the glass.

Something Finished

Gold of a ripe oat straw, gold of a southwest moon,
What is there for you in the birds, the birds, the birds, crying
down on the north wind in September, acres of birds spotting
the air going south?

Is there something finished? And some new beginning on the

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
~Carl Sandburg from “Fall Time” and “Autumn Movement”

My summer of “no doctoring” finishes today. I return to part-time clinical work tomorrow; a new beginning is on the way.

I am readying myself.

I consider how it will feel to put the stethoscope back on and return to spending most of my daylight hours in window-less rooms. Several months of freedom to wander and wonder will be tough to give up.

However, when I meet my first patient of the day, I’m “all in.” Someone is needing my help more than I need time off. The wind has shifted, it is time to migrate back to the work I was called to do over forty years ago.

Still I will look for beautiful things where I can find them, knowing that even though they don’t last, they will always be well worth the weeping.

It Sings in Me




The roofs are shining from the rain,
The sparrows twitter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.

Yet the back yards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree–
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.
–  Sara Teasdale, “April”








Frogs plutter and squdge-and frogs beat the air with a recurring thin steel sliver of melody.
Crows go in fives and tens; they march their black feathers past a blue pool; they celebrate an old festival.
A spider is trying his webs, a pink bug sits on my hand washing his forelegs.
I might ask: Who are these people? 
~Carl Sandburg from “Just Before April Came”




And so spring asks:

Who are these people?

Here we are, closing in on mid-April and it has been a week of heavily drifting snowstorms in the Great Lakes and northeast, tornado weather in the south, and blustering wind and rain in the northwest.  I am not so sure of Spring nor is anyone else.

Yet it sings in me.  Yes it sings.

The calendar does not lie, nor does my nose.  The pollen counts are rising despite the rains and as I step outside in early dawn, I can catch the slightest fragrance of just-opening cherry and apple blossoms in the orchard.  Within a week there will be sweet perfume in the air everywhere and the fruit trees become clothed in white puffy clouds of blossom before bursting full into green.

In defiance of the calendar, our oak trees cling stubbornly to their brown bedraggled fall leaves as if ashamed to ever appear naked, even for a week.  In May they will go straight from brown to green without a moment of bare knobby branches.

Even so, it sings in me.  Yes it sings.

A morning bird symphony tunes up ever earlier including the “scree” and chatter from bald eagles high up in the fir trees surrounding our house.  Nesting has begun despite the wet and cold and wind because their nest is the secure home that calls them back, again and again, year after year.

Like them, it sings in me.  Yes it sings.

I rise opening like a bud, I dress my nakedness to cover up my knobbiness, I wander about outside exulting in the free concert, I manage to do chores despite the distractions — this routine of mine which is so unchanging through the calendar days becomes glorious gift and privilege.

Hopefulness sings in me in Spring.  Yes it sings.




Who Are These People?


photo by Kate Steensma


The snow piles in dark places are gone.
Pools by the railroad tracks shine clear.
The gravel of all shallow places shines.
A white pigeon reels and somersaults.

Frogs plutter and squdge—and frogs beat the air with a recurring thin steel sliver of melody.
Crows go in fives and tens; they march their black feathers past a blue pool; they celebrate an old festival.
A spider is trying his webs, a pink bug sits on my hand washing his forelegs.
I might ask: Who are these people?
~Carl Sandburg “Just Before April Came”


There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
With happiness.
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water.
~Tom Hennen “A Country Overlooked”



It is simply too easy to think of others as “those people” — they are not like me, they don’t dress like me, they don’t look like me, they don’t talk like me, they don’t love like me, they don’t act like me, they just aren’t me in any recognizable way.

Yet I’m the blinded one who cannot see how similar we are.

Whether I have eight legs or two, whether I have wings or arms, whether I “plutter and squdge” or sing arias,  whether I am green or brown or speckled, there is no creature I cannot love as brother or sister.

Instead of wondering “who are these people?” I will be comfortable in this spot in the spectrum of life I’m been given, in an act so full of grace and being.





How the Dream Looms


Do you know how the dream looms? how if summer
        misses one of us the two of us miss summer—
Summer when the lungs of the earth take a long
        breath for the change to low contralto singing
        mornings when the green corn leaves first break
        through the black loam—
And another long breath for the silver soprano melody
        of the moon songs in the light nights when the
        earth is lighter than a feather, the iron mountains
        lighter than a goose down—
So I shall look for you in the light nights then, in the
        laughter of slats of silver under a hill hickory.
In the listening tops of the hickories, in the wind
        motions of the hickory shingle leaves, in the
        imitations of slow sea water on the shingle silver
        in the wind—
I shall look for you.
~Carl Sandburg, “Silver Wind”


To Open the Door


Poetry is the opening and closing of a door,
leaving those who look through to guess
about what is seen during the moment.
~Carl Sandburg

Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I seek to unbar the door,
open it a little wider each day
for those who want to look inside
before it is locked up tight
for the night.

It’s Life We Harvest

vine maple WWU

madrona tree berries –WWU

…still it’s not death that spends
So tenderly this treasure
To leaf-rich golden winds,
But life in lavish measure.

No, it’s not death this year
Since then and all the pain.
It’s life we harvest here
(Sun on the crimson vine).
The garden speaks your name.
We drink your joys like wine.
~May Sarton, from “The First Autumn”

burning bush-- WWU
burning bush– WWU

red fringed maple leaf --WWU
red fringed maple leaf –WWU

Is there something finished?  And some new beginning on the way?

I cried over beautiful things, knowing no beautiful thing lasts…
~Carl Sandburg, from “Falltime” and “Autumn Movement”

WWU tree -Haskell Plaza

WWU tree

WWU tree in Haskell plaza

I praise the fall:

It is the human season. On this sterile air
Do words outcarry breath: the sound goes on and on.
I hear a dead man’s cry from autumn long since gone.

I cry to you beyond upon this bitter air.
~Archiblad MacLeish from “Immortal Autumn”

College Way, WWU
College Way, WWU




Plutter and Squidge

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Frogs plutter and squidge—and frogs beat the air with a recurring thin steel sliver of melody.
Crows go in fives and tens; they march their black feathers past a blue pool; they celebrate an old festival.
A spider is trying his webs, a pink bug sits on my hand washing his forelegs.
I might ask: Who are these people?
~Carl Sandburg from “Just Before April Came”

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

The Grass Covers All

“I am the grass; I cover all….Let me work.”  Carl Sandburg

It is our family’s custom on Memorial Day weekend to meet my two siblings and their families for lunch before going to decorate the graves of our parents and my father’s family at a cemetery an hour from our home.    This is a pleasant tradition for the living to gather together over a meal and spend a few hours catching up, reminiscing and sharing a laugh or two, before making our journey to honor the dead.

The actual decorating of the graves is rather an anticlimax.  Once at the cemetery, it is not seemly to be laughing and carrying on.  It is usually quite busy with people coming and going, placing flags, hauling planted pots and large bouquets, scouring off the moss and lichens from the gravestones and trimming the long grass missed by the mowers.  Despite the hubbub and activity, there is a silent solemnity in the people carrying out their duty to their kin.  Only the soft sound of the breeze moving the leaves in the trees interrupts the profound stillness of the dead and departed, lying blanketed under a coverlet of grass.

Our father’s family lie together in the older part of the cemetery, which is poised high on a hill overlooking Puget Sound, with the Olympic Mountains to the west, the Canadian Rockies to the north and the Cascade range to the east.   It must have been quite the wilderness cemetery in 1910 when my great great grandfather Herman was buried there as the first of the clan to be placed in the ground west of the Mississippi.   I don’t know any family lore about Herman, so his secrets remain safe and undisturbed under the grass.  Not so with the rest of the family buried there.  They are exposed by their known personality traits, their mistakes and their accomplishments, but most remarkably by their relationships with each other, now sharing the same blanket as they lie within feet of each other for eternity.

Lying next to Herman is my great-grandfather Henry, a steam boat captain first on the Mississippi River, and later in life, on the Yukon River during the Gold Rush.  He was gone from home for months at a time, living his own life of adventure on the frontier while his meek wife Margaret tried to raise their two children alone.   Her influence couldn’t tame their son, Leslie, my grandfather, who got fed up with school and left home at age sixteen to work in the remote logging camps of northwest Washington.  There he learned to cuss hard and drink heavily, coming to town on occasion to carouse and visit his horrified mother and sister Marion.  Marion, a proper and somber girl,  finished school and went on to a teachers’ college now transformed to the regional university where I now work.   She became a dedicated school teacher, living with her mother long after her father’s death, and remaining unmarried all her life.  (See Great Aunt Marion )

Leslie eventually married my grandmother Kittie, a much younger woman, just a teenager,  much to the chagrin and disapproval of his parents and sister.     Their first child, my Aunt Betty,  later died of lymphoma at age seven, leaving Kittie bereft.

Betty lies between her parents now,  with Leslie to her left (see Repentance)  and Kittie to her right (See Drops of Sun).  Next to Kittie lies Marion in a proximity that never was possible in life as they could not tolerate the sight of each other so avoided ever being in the same room together.   Somehow, each year I expect to see the ground between them in upheaval, but in fact the grass has done its work, smoothing and settling the turmoil that once existed, but does no longer.  They peacefully share the grass coverlet.

My parents lie together in the same urn garden plot a few hundred yards away, sharing a marker that at one point in their married, then unmarried, then married again lives would not have seemed possible.

The old conflicts become less compelling from the darkness of the grave.  Why was so much energy spent on them while treading on top of the grass when they become meaningless to those sleeping under it?

Shovel them under and let me work”