June 20, 2016

May in June

For those of you who have been here since the very beginning of Landing on Cloudy Water, you might remember my early attempts to learn and document the names of what I saw growing around me. First there was the snowdrop, then the Siberian squill, then the forsythia, then the tarda tulip, and finally the wild columbine. Well, a child came into my life a bit after all that, and naming him, I suppose, claimed my attention. I am happy to say, though, that he is now at the age where he wants to know what he's seeing, and that has given me new cause to do the same.

So, I bring you yet again, a series in wild identification: Plant Literate! (Although I seem to be always a month behind, and have no time for individual posts, so it will most likely happen in bursts. Ah, well. Better something than nothing, is my current motto.)

This is a doubly-sweet endeavor because what I've been learning these past months has been focused on the growing and blooming things in our yard, the edge along our driveway, and the marsh behind our house. Already most of these wildflowers are long gone with the light-blocking leaves, so who is to say how much of anything I'll document this summer, but that's half the fun, too: we'll just have to wait and see.

Here is what I've identified so far, following the order of the photos above. Please feel free to correct me if I have something wrong. I'm learning.
1) Wild ferns
2) Halberd-leaved violets
3) Early meadow rue
4) Wild lupine (this one I'm not totally sure of, as it was quite a bit smaller than most lupine I've seen, but it's the closet I've been able to get)
5) Garlic mustard (which, I've been told, spreads like crazy)
6) Sand violet (I think?)
7) Wild geranium
8) False solomon's seal
9) Dame's rocket
10) Jack-in-the-pulpit
11) Wild Columbine

We also have true solomon's seal, bloodroot, cleavers, a patch of creeping charlie along the driveway that I naively believed was just a lovely flowering ground cover (good thing someone smart advised me not to transplant it to a border area along one of the gardens), and a host of fast growing bushes and vines that I haven't even started to try to identify. I suppose that alone could keep me busy for much of the summer.

As always with these kinds of posts, I place this information here for me, so that I might come back to it next year when all these names evade me, but I hope it's helpful or interesting to a few of you, too.

It's the longest day of the year today, friends--9:42 pm just now and still light seeping in through the windows--so, let us welcome whatever this summer will be. Cheers to you all on this solstice. Isn't it incredible how much of the world bends toward the sun?

June 7, 2016

What I've Been Into - Spring 2016


Today is the last day of school for my students, and although I'll continue through the end of the week with my colleagues in workshops and other wrap-up activities, summer has arrived. It's been another wonderful year, but I can't think of one solitary person who doesn't love these two words put together: summer break. Summer break! Oh, for a few months in which to go where the wind blows me, do what the whims insist! Perhaps I'll show up here a bit more? Or perhaps I'll disappear still deeper into this marsh that is my back yard, what with its wildflowers and ferns and maples and oaks and ash and cottonwood and beech and tamarack stands. I am rippling with contentment. Can you tell? Like the leaves. Like the air, blue and redolent, and so very very close. 


  1. The Progress of Love by Alice Munro -- The entire collection is wonderful, but "Miles City, Montana" struck at my heart with a force.
  2. The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch -- I took a class with Yuknavitch in April, and although this book jumped around a bit too much for me, I do appreciate the way that--as she explained in class--the body is given a point of view. I am interested in reading her much acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water.  Here's her TED Talk.
  3. The Liar's Club by Mary Karr -- Started, but did not finish. A bit too similar in feel to The Glass Castle (although I know The Liar's Club came first...).
  4. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie -- I've only been hearing about this book for a decade. I'm so glad I finally made a point of reading it, because it's very clear why this is required reading for a lot of middle schoolers.
  5. Knockout by John Jodzio -- There is never a dull moment in Jodzio's fiction. His sardonic style and subject matter is generally not what I gravitate to, but he's a Minnesota writer who I've worked with in various capacities, and I have to champion his work. As I read through these stories--"Great Alcoholic-Owned Bed and Breakfasts of the Eastern Seaboard" being one of my favorites--I kept thinking, "John, how do you come up with this stuff?" Here's a cool interview he did with MPR.
  6. May Day by Gretchen Marquette -- A lovely collection of poems that center on loss: of a lover, a brother, a place. Marquette is another Minnesota writer who I have recently connected with, and it's been great bringing some of her work into my Minnesota Writers May Program class, especially  "Colossus" and "Ode to a Man in Dress Clothes." Here's another MPR story featuring her book.
  7. The Wilding by Benjamin Percy -- This was the most "male" book I've read in a long time (father, son, grandfather, hunting, war, machinery, bears), but a lot of it connects to the natural world in a way I respect and enjoy. And Percy lives in Minnesota now, and I've been meaning to read something by him for a while, so I'm glad I finally did.
  8. Of Mice and Men, The Things They Carried, Merchant of Venice, and lots of short stories and essays ("The Woman Warrior," "Memory and Imagination," "Boarding School in Switzerland," "A Clean Well-Lighted Place," "Barn Burning" "Superman and Me" (...should I go on?) -- all curriculum rereads.
TV & Movies:
  1. Nurse Jackie, Seasons 1-4 -- Addiction is real, people. This show pulled us in because of that fact. (And Zoey! Love her character.)
  2.  Interstellar -- We watched this in two chunks (parents of a young child, hello!), so maybe that was why it didn't amaze me? Decent story. Eh.
  3. Gravity -- Non-stop thrill ride, for sure. Some amazing special effects. It's interesting to me, though, that the scene that stays with me the most is when the protagonist finally makes it into a spaceship--safety--and all her racing and movement stops and she just...floats.
  4. Mile, Mile and a Half -- A documentary about a group of friends who set out to hike the John Muir Trail, and document the entire thing with film, photography, music, words. The cinematography alone was enough to keep me watching this one.
  5. Into the Wild -- I never view movies with my semester classes, but this May Program I'm taught a course called These Wild World, which focuses on nature writing, and this film was perfect for that group in so many ways. Gah. Alex Supertramp is a complex character--easy to love and hate--and that's one of the reason why his story is such a great watch.
  6. House of Cards, Season 4 -- The earlier seasons were better, but I am just waiting for all that nastiness in the first seasons to come back and bite the Underwoods in the butt.
  7. Game of Thrones, Season 6 --  Because we can't not watch.
 Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. "How it Slips Away" -- An essay of mine up at Two Hawks Quarterly. It's kind of a sad one -- dreams deferred, I suppose -- but it was fun to write. Check it out, if you want!
  2. "Song of Myself" by Walt Whiman -- I always forget how much I love this looooooooong poem until I reread it (well, at least parts of it) in spring.
  3. "The Old Naturalist" -- A local blog run by an educator that helped me identify a few bird calls. 
  4. This article about final gifts to students (Thanks, Pat!)
  5. They Could Live With Themselves by Jodi Paloni -- I haven't read this one yet, but Jodi is another VCFA alum who is making waves in the literary world, and I am really looking forward to reading this collection of stories this summer. 
  6. This licorice + sea salt chocolate from the Icelandic brand Omnom might be the best chocolate I've ever had in my life. No joke.
  7. The beach in March -- Because: 90' and no humidity is good for the soul (in doses).
How about you? What will you be doing this summer?

May 20, 2016


Yesterday, on our drive home, my son asked to stop at the local elementary school playground. It was a beautiful afternoon, and I was antsy from grading final essays inside all day, so I willingly brought us there. For the first few minutes, I followed him protectively as he circled through slides and ladders and bridges, dodging the older and sharper movements of the kids also there playing as a part of the after-school program. Eventually, though, I told Elliot I was going to rest on a bench nearby, and not thirty seconds later, I observed him introducing himself to an older boy sitting in the shade underneath the slide, playing with an assortment of small objects.

"Hi," I heard my son say. "Can I play with you?"

I couldn't overhear how the other one replied, and because of the age difference--I would learn later he was in second grade, easily four or five years older than my son--I felt myself again on guard, wondering if El would be able to read a social cue signaling "leave me alone," not wanting to have to intervene, but ready to.

Instead, the two of them sat across from each other pleasantly, companionably even, and I realized quickly that I wasn't needed at all.

I watched the other boy ask Elliot's name, ask him if he was in pre-school. I heard Elliot immediately return the question: Tyler.

"I'm making a motorcycle with these wood pieces," Tyler said, and El leaned in, interested.

Not long later, two other boys Tyler's size began a game of hide-and-seek, or hide-and-boo, or spy--some kind of game that instantly makes sense to school aged kids, which, I realized--amazed--included my son.

"Do like this," Tyler instructed, lining up his body behind a pole, and Elliot complied. In fact, he more than complied. He invented. He protected. Tyler was already the boy on his team.

Each time his face shifted my direction, I looked for signs of distress--those boys were bigger, maybe he was feeling intimidated or overwhelmed or--I didn't know. He was the child that just this last Christmas at a holiday concert cried half way through because the singing had become too loud for him. He was the infant who didn't smile at strangers, went serious the moment he entered a new situation, the one everybody called "observant," which I always took to mean sensitive, a likely introvert.

I expected, I suppose, among the new boys and the new games, to hear him call for his mama. 

But I understood with growing clarity that he was closer now to that pack of boys than he was to the baby who had once filled my arms. 

And he was smiling. The easy, amused smile of a boy already aware of the wonder of the next moment.

Eventually, Tyler's mom arrived, calling him to the car. Before he left, he found a multi-colored piece of paper from his backpack that he had folded into a fan.

"Here, Elliot," he said, holding it out with one hand, and then with the other, gently patting El's arm. "It was fun playing with you."

As he walked away, El called, "Where are you going?"

"Home," he said, "but I'll be back tomorrow!"

I watched Elliot watch him go, already the friendship something to be lost.

Lucky for him, the two other hide-and-seek boys were waiting--"I'm Kai and this is Finn"--and soon they were off exploring a big branch that had fallen and talking about quicksand. Later, after I'd joined them, I timed all three as they ran loosely around the school's track, Elliot's laughter ringing out over the field as he moved farther and father away.

I kept on thinking about my earlier precaution, how grateful I was to discover the kindness of second grade boys, how innocent and sweet they were: one's long hair hanging in his eyes, the other's rosy cheeks, the other's light hand on my son's wrist. How they welcomed my boy into their world.

But I realized again, of course, that Elliot had been a part of this world for a while.

That the one who needed to be welcomed was me.

May 9, 2016

April in May

I meant to get these photos up two weeks ago, but I suppose I was too busy admiring everything popping up all over our Minnesota yard. We've lived in our new house for just over a year now, and it amazes me how much I don't remember seeing last spring, but also how much more familiar everything feels. It has been an exhausting year in many ways, but my dear my dear my goodness oh my, does all this green and new and colorful make my entire being come alive.

Photo notes (more for me than anyone; I really am learning!): 
-- Blue-purple flowers: Siberian squill (early to mid April)
-- White flowers: Bloodroot (early to mid April)
-- Purple flower: Periwinkle/Vinca Minor groundcover (late April)
-- Leaves on the trees: (April, April, April, Hallelujah)

And happy belated Mother's Day!

April 21, 2016

God's World

O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
      Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
      Thy mists that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag       5
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all,
      But never knew I this;
      Here such a passion is  10
As stretcheth me apart. Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay

April 14, 2016

Chapala, Mexico: In Photos

Lake Chapala and its surrounding towns are truly beautiful. I'll likely write an essay about them at some point. For now, I hope you've enjoyed these glimpses into some lesser-known regions of Mexico. We'll be back!

April 10, 2016

Melaque, Mexico: In Photos

There is nothing quite like lazy days on a beach. To spend every hour of light outside--to be able to pay attention to how that light changes the color of things, and to feel it change even the color of your skin--is why people who live in the north go south for holiday. Thank you, Melaque, for your sand, your big and small waves, your mangos-on-sticks, the way everyone was looking up.

April 3, 2016

Ajijic, Mexico: In Photos

We were lucky enough to travel to the Jalisco region of Mexico over my spring break this year. To say I was ready for another adventure that involved significant travel is an understatement, so I hope these photos give you a sense of the height of my wonder and gratitude. I love where I spend my every-day, but going elsewhere is like being given new eyes. I looked and I looked. More photos later (and yes, that little boy in the orange shirt racing the wind is my dear one). Viva!

March 1, 2016

What I've Been Into - Winter 2016

Hello, friends.

So tell me: how is it where you live? Here we are in Minnesota already on the declining side of a short and warmish winter. There were cold spells, certainly. But really: Not that bad. It all was made immeasureably better by the fact of a small child and sleds and hills and a backyard marsh that was made to be explored in snow pants and boots. It is something strange that we remember so little of what it was like to be very young, because it is so full of wonder. I wish I could recall more of my own early experiences with snow, with animal tracks, with a full moon through empty trees leaving rectangles of light on the wooden floors. But that is part of the joy of parenting, I suppose. A selfish part. The living again through another younger body. In any case, it has been a sweet season.

Winter has also brought us fewer house projects, and therefore more time for reading, writing, lazy mornings, hearty meals, and occasional adventures. I'm ready for spring, and very eager to get back out to my gardens and see how they fared both the winter and my novice attempts at autumn planting, but I'll not rush it. These slower months are good for the soul and the body. 

More from me at another time. For now, hello and good afternoon and my boy just turned three and where does it all go but straight into our hearts.

  1. Felicity by Mary Oliver -- Her latest book of poems. They were, by and large, brief and lovely and true.
  2. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff -- I didn't love this one, or sometimes even like it, but I couldn't stop reading, which says something about the power of the storytelling. This was my first Groff, and I will read more of her.
  3. Between the World and Me by Ta'Nehesi Coates -- This one slayed me, as it has been slaying readers all over the world since the moment it came out. I read it right before Martin Luther King Day, and I immediately recommended it to several of my students. It's a hard read. Not exactly uplifting. But racism is still alive and noxious, and we shouldn't be allowed to not struggle with that truth.
  4. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang -- I read this graphic novel because the sophomores at my school were reading it, and I wanted to be in on the conversation. I liked it. It was an interesting take on assimilation and cultural identity. What I liked best, though, was the fact that my almost-three-year-old-son was so pulled in by the images that I got to read it with him. Eeeeeee! The experience made me giddy at the prospect of all our future reading together.
  5. Home by Marilyn Robinson -- Robinson's Housekeeping is one of my very favorites, and I enjoyed Gilead a lot, too. So I was a bit disappointed with this one. I just couldn't get past the pages and pages of early dialogue about making meals and forced politeness. I stopped about halfway through.
  6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley -- Also couldn't quite get into this one. I think I just wasn't in the right mood. Maybe the next time I travel to Switzerland? I also got about half-way through and quit. Time is gold, people! I used to never never never quit a book, but there is something sensible about moving on if a text isn't moving you.
  7. Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington -- The actual writing of this narrative left something to be desired, but it is an incredible story of Aboriginal girls escaping and evading their white captors. I'm told that I need to see the movie.
  8. The Bluejay's Dance: A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich -- Of course I read every sentence of this with pleasure. Beautiful language. Insightful. Real. Made me remember both the wonder and extreme exhaustion of early motherhood. How much easier it is now! How fragile and godly it was then. Erdrich, as I've said in various other places, it the closest thing I have to a literary hero, so experiencing her way with words in a nonfiction form was a delight, and it gave me all kinds of ideas for my own writing.
  9. Field Guide to Flash Fiction by Dinty Moore -- Haven't yet read the whole thing, but it's a fantastic craft book. This is mostly what I've been writing lately. Plus, many of the chapter/essays were written by former professors at Vermont College of Fine Arts, so that's fun.
  10. O Pioneers!, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Great Gatsby, and lots and lots of poetry -- all curriculum rereads.
TV & Movies:
  1. Star Wars 4 & 5 -- It's completely unpopular to say so just now, but I've never been much of a Stars Wars fan. I re-watched 4 and 5 alongside my husband, who does love the franchise, with every intention of making it through 6, too. But, you know, two was enough for now.
  2.  Downton Abbey, Season 5 -- Not as good as earlier seasons, but after acquiring a pretty significant fireplace of our own with the purchase of our new house, we find ourselves interested in the scenes where there is and isn't a fire blazing. Fire is a signifier.
  3. The Martian -- Lately my husband has been oh so interested in all things Elon Musk (man of Tesla and SpaceTech fame). Are you and I going to live on Mars in thirty years? My guess is no. But I'm no astronaut-botanist. Whatever happens, I'm paying attention now. Good movie. 
  4. Ex Machina -- Again with the Elon Musk theme (who is additionally connected to artificial intelligence, I guess?). Disturbing film, in a necessarily unsettling way. Well-done.
 Finds & Arrow Signs:
  1. "The Shut-In Economy" -- A fascinating article, which both repelled and fascinated me. As a working mother who often feels there isn't enough time in the day for, well, much of anything besides working and mothering, I'm pretty tempted to give some of these apps a try.
  2. "Tonic" at Mamalode
  3. "First Leap" at Brain,Child -- This one just came out today (hooray!). I'll probably write more about it later, because it's a special piece to me for several reasons. It's about learning to read.
  4. This story - "Absence"  - and this essay - "Worlds Upon Worlds: On Growing up Book-Rich" - by the wonderful, talented, and insightful Kate McCahill.
  5. This Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers list (including fellow VCFA alum and friend Robin MacArthur for her upcoming collection Half Wild. Hooray!)
  6. This in-door trampoline -- Because: everyday, people. Everyday. 

Spring is almost here! Stay warm.

February 14, 2016

"The Orange"

"The Orange"

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange--
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave--
They got quarters and I got a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It's new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist.

-- by Wendy Cope

January 25, 2016

"Tonic" up at Mamalode

Friends: One of the reasons I love this space is because it allows me to just write, to not worry about narrative arc or publication criteria or even a singular piece's point. If a moment comes, and I want to put words around it: Here. Here is where I know I can both talk to myself and talk to you, whether you talk back, whether you are out there at all.

And sometimes those words, as amorphous as fog, become something that coalesces, rises up--become a thing to see and sometimes touch.

I've been lucky these past months in that a few things I've written for this blog--after a bit of reworking--have been published by other places. Today, my essay "Tonic" from almost one year ago, is trying to reach into the moments of a few more people over at Mamalode. You might remember it? Sick boy, slow poems, a day that was long and tender.

If you have a moment, read it again--especially if you or someone you know could do with some tea and soothing words during this cold season.


Landing on Cloudy Water has been pretty quiet this past year. The reasons for that are many, of course. But one of them is a bit like what the earth does in winter: resting, storing up, doing the quiet work before the music swells up into everything come spring. There are words being written, folks. I hope you'll hang with me until they are ready to sing.