Me and Mary (and evidently a few others)

Algonquin was on my heart throughout the day during a recent Mary Oliver Poetry Day. She always goes along with me when we paddle. I carry a small packet of her poems to read on our trips, so it was natural that so many of the poems reminded me of being in that place I love.

During the morning session, when the presenter pulled out his bird lists, the ones he’s been keeping on 3×5 cards since 1979, I thought of Mary Oliver’s little notebook that she carried in her pocket during her dawn wanderings, jotting notes here and there to carry back with her to her writing desk, where the sparsely recorded words returned her fully to the experience of the morning. I imagine the sensory memory of the morning flooded her heart and mind through the doorway of those tiny jotted words. I know this too… how the recording of my own experiences in Algonquin, in journal entries and photographs, flood my heart with memory, as if I am fully there, the whole experience flowing back to me through those tiny remembrances. Once, when my husband was in extreme, unmanaged pain following an orthopedic surgery in which his bones were manually broken and made to bleed so that they could fuse in proper alignment, he asked me to read to him from the journal entry of a trip we had taken. The pain relief those memories offered allowed him to escape for a time, immersed in the experience of Algonquin.

When the presenter spoke of being in Love with the earth, with place, with immersing oneself, listening to one’s body, I knew that feeling too. The feeling of intimacy with the earth, the water, the persons I share it with, in that place is so real. The rapt attention to it all, the aliveness, the heart wisdom/fullness I feel there. I encounter life there from the very center of my being. I am no where else, my spirit and my mind connected to my body, undivided. No fears of being or doing enough, no anxieties about the other.

My body was restless by the time the second retreat period came around that afternoon of the poetry day, so I heeded its beckoning me to move. Through manicured landscapes and construction zones, where trees were being chewed by giant machinery jaws, I wandered. I got myself turned around in that maze abit and so, the return trip brought me past the copse of trees where I heard the white throated sparrow sing its “Oh Sweet Canada”. Instantly, I thought of the red bird in Mary’s poem we had read. This bird, like hers, of course, was singing the song of my own heart.

And so, I was stunned when a woman in the front of the hall shared her experience from her own afternoon of wandering, of coming upon the bumper sticker on a car, certain she was going to say it was a profound or pithy quote that had stopped her heart. But it was my bumper sticker with the words ‘I love Agonquin’, that stopped her short, bringing her instantly back to her own experience of that place. She Knew!! The way a word can bring you back to the experience of paddling those sacred waters.

During the closing sharings, when we read Summer Day, with its now infamous question at the end, I felt the poem differently perhaps than I have in the past. Not a call to do something BIG or REAL with my life before it is too late, but taken in context with the rest of the lines of the poem…. to take it all in, to fall in love with this place, to immerse myself in wonder, to be present to Beauty, to be idle and blessed, to live from this place of amazement.

I also heard the words of Rumi, ‘The breezes of dawn have secrets to tell, Don’t go back to sleep”. In Algonquin I am awake. When the conversation in the room came around to boats, I thought of sharing a piece I had written a few years ago, taking off of her Summer Day poem, but the moment passed, so I’ll share it here instead


i don’t know exactly what prayer is, but i do know how to kneel in a canoe, how to ease into it’s belly and drop down to my knees, how to breathe the deep sigh of release as it slips from shore and drifts into dusk, how to move reverently upon those dark waters, watching for what might be present, beaver or loon, turtle or frog, heron or moose, how to share this wordless place with them all. i do know how to softly dip my paddle, let its rhythm attune with the heartbeat, let the drops fall like kisses from the blade, spread out on the water like sun, how to follow the faintest of shorelines, shrouded in fog, how to bathe in the sky. how to be still. let the waters bless me. how to say yes to this. being loved.

All is well,

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Apr 14, 2019 @ 21:18:03

    Love this reflection and love your extension of Mary Oliver’s poem! I have to share when the women at the Retreat started to share about seeing the bumper sticker, at first I thought she saw my Appalachian Trail sticker on my car. LOL!
    I feel the same way about backpacking along the trail that you feel about canoeing in Algonquin.



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