Poetry and New Growth

 In Resources

Excerpted from my December 2023 newsletter. 


Here in Northern California, we’re a few weeks into the rainy season. (It usually doesn’t rain at all in California during the summer, for those unfamiliar with the geographic region). The first rain of autumn was always something I looked forward to when I was growing up. I loved to dash outside and turn my face up to the sky to meet the first few falling drops.

Now, the first rains have become especially significant as catastrophic fires have increased in prevalence over the last few years. Now, first rain also means the end of fire season and a huge exhale of the worry that nibbles at the back of my mind all summer (fortunately last winters’ abundant rains lessened fire threats over this summer). I wrote about living with the specter of fire and the practice of “home hardening”–– removing potential fuel near one’s house–– in a poem that was published recently by Anacapa Review:

Defensible Space

I beg for rain—
who doesn’t
when grass fires
stand up fast as sight
under breath from sitting engines,
greased rags,
the whispering of stones.
My house is stucco-hewn,
a builder’s alchemy:
cement, sand, water, lime,
covering the wood,
hard and rippled,
unlikely to catch flame.

The trees are so far away
I have to walk for 26 seconds
out the door
before I can touch one.
Yes I counted, and it’s
why we moved here,
for space,
for cement and stucco,
for few plants,
no matter how we love them,
all in hopes we won’t burn.
Do you see how easy it is,
how sometimes necessary?
Instead of running from threat
or even desire, to just
harden yourself,
paint something stiff
on the heart walls,
build a moat of asphalt
around your truer self,
step away from sparks, from fire,
no matter how you love them,
better hard than burnt,
better stone than ash.

These days I’m thinking a lot about how not to harden myself. How to stay in touch with my humanity. How to stay emotionally open and awake and willing to listen and learn. Of course, sometimes our emotional defenses or guarding are absolutely necessary. But sometimes our defenses stick around long after a threat has passed. I try to do a regular inventory of the places I notice myself closing up or staying emotionally defended. Sometimes, like the concrete that makes space between my front door and the first trees, the defenses are necessary even if I don’t like it. But sometimes I realize a defense is outdated or outgrown, a garment waiting at the back of the closet that I’ll never wear but have a hard time giving away. For me, writing poetry is one of the surest ways to take these kinds of emotional inventories and helps me stay connected with my humanity.

Should you like to, I invite you to write for a few moments and reflect on where you may have hardened yourself or closed up to protect against some sort of grief or unsafe situation or emotional threat. What does the terrain look like around the “house” of your humanity or emotional center? Are there any stale defenses? Fences with holes that need mending? Write down what thoughts emerge as you consider these questions.


Spotted around the yard: New Growth

Here in Northern California, winter means new growth. When the rains return, so does the grass. Tiny shoots that will become spring flowers, pushing up through last year’s dry, dead plants. In winter I always look forward to watching the hills turn green. It’s a real gift to get to see new growth emerge during the coldest months.

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