As friends often do, one, whom we fondly call Señora because she was our sons’ high school Spanish teacher, recommended a book to me.
And as I often do, I visited my favorite independent bookstore, Bridgton Books, took a quick look and made a purchase.
Book of March: Upstream
Upstream by Mary Oliver is a collection of essays, many which she previously published elsewhere. In 175 pages, the essays span a lifetime of writing–but even more so a lifetime of living. And noticing. And contemplating. And wondering. And making connections. And wondering some more. But all the time, believing, even in that which she could not see or quite comprehend.
She speaks to the writing process, a process I have embraced for what seems like forever. Only a few minutes ago I shared with a friend that a final draft is never really final. Each time we return to the words, we find other ways of playing with them.
She speaks to the natural world that she has spent a lifetime observing and recreates it on the printed page with elaborate detail. And so, with each sentence, I travel beside her, whether she wants me to or not, for Ms. Oliver embraces solo moments of exploration. I get that.
She speaks of Emerson and Whitman and Wordsworth and Poe. And actually, about the latter, she turns my head for she writes about him with such compassion.
She speaks of the reality of the universe and reminds us to exist. She is. We are.
She speaks of observing a mother spider and her egg sacs in the cellar of a rented home over the course of several months, and I sense her wonder. As a child, I was afraid of those cellar spiders. As an adult, I’m intrigued by them.
And so today, I took Ms. Oliver with me when I stepped into the woods.
It was a snow-eating foggy sort of day and the dampness grazed my cheeks.
As my snowshoes slapped the hardened snow pack, rain drops drew my focus. On this particular pine sapling, I was drawn to the crosses formed by raindrops and needles, which seemed apropos given that today is Ash Wednesday. And then I noticed the spider silk.
Every where I turned, long beaded strands of miniature raindrops connected one branch to the next.
What I soon realized, however, was that the strands weren’t merely on single trees. Each tree was connected to the next throughout the forest. As I moved slowly about, I inadvertently snapped some of those lines and felt a sense of sorrow for all that work lost.
And because I was looking, I found other curious sites that I didn’t expect. That is one of the take-away messages of Ms. Oliver’s book–get outside and even if you are searching for something specific that you may not find, it’s what you see along the way that is more important.
As I often do when a book such as this one pulls me in, I turn back the bottoms of pages to remind myself that there are passages I will want to revisit. If the corner is turned back and back again, as this one, it means there is something to reread on this page and the one to follow.
For me, Upstream is that type of a book. It’s broken into five sections. Ah, the word broken–it doesn’t feel right in that last sentence because there is nothing broken about the book. Perhaps divided is a better word. Or maybe there’s another that will come to me eventually. That’s the thing about the writing process–it’s never final as I said above. Anyway, I found myself relating to each section with a different part of my soul.
And give thanks that Ms. Oliver chose to share her reflections in this manner. I also thank Señora for the recommendation.
Upstream by Mary Oliver, Penguin Press, 2016