About Steph J.

I am a naturalist at heart and a forest ecologist by training. So I view the world with an artist's heart and a scientist's mind. I have two boys, ages 12 and 15, and a fantastic husband, who mean the world to me. I over-commit but rarely regret saying yes. I sometimes find it hard to turn off my brain. Trail running sometimes helps with that.

After practice

There was a poem in today
about five forty-five
as I pulled between the parallel lines
turned the wipers to silence
to hear the light tapping of not-enough rain.
Like any good mom,
the waiting time was mapped—
a full slate of ways
I could, or should,
occupy these twelve idle minutes.
I considered each of them carefully
sighed,
then reclined my seat,
gave in to the rain-song,
and slept.
Advertisements

Kindness, served.

Wind and driving rain
Greet us as we emerge from memory care.
“Where do you want to eat?” he asks.
I shrug; indifferent.
“The Nepalese place is really good.”
I groan inwardly, petulant,
Like a toddler who only wants mac and cheese.
“Would you rather go somewhere else?”
I would. But I’m indecisive and don’t have any better ideas,
Nor the wherewithal to think of them.
So I shrug.
I really just want to go home and eat cereal.

We pull into the dated strip mall, brown and dingy,
And walk in, stomping our feet outside,
Shaking the water from our jackets.
I see a slight Nepalese man, likely the owner,
Peer at us from the kitchen as we walk in.
The dining room smells deliciously of curry and other spices;
My eyes take in the spotless tile, vibrant red walls, and
The faded but still spectacular
Photos of the Himalayan Range.
Two other families share the small dining room.
My gaze meets the dark eyes of our host and server,
Who smiles warmly and seats us.

We sit, mostly in silence, exhausted,
Feeling deep sadness, eyes averted. I feel sure that
If our eyes meet, I will start crying.
A few tears escape, anyway.
The owner comes to our table; he is polite and serious,
Inquiring if we had visited before.
I shake my head no, while my husband nods an affirmative,
But we are unable to make small talk,
And conversation does not take root.
I pick up the menu, which makes it clear
That all food is made to order;
And I sigh a little, and try to choose.

Our server returns with hot tea and crunchy naan,
I breathe in the spicy ginger and honey,
And take the steaming mug in both hands.
It’s early September, yet I crave the warmth that is offered.
I think he must sense our sorrow—after all,
It shrouds our table in fog.
But the fragrant tea is filling the gray space.
He gives us respectful distance,
Then returns to take our order.
His face is open, his smile genuine and kind.
He listens to and answers our questions with care,
Making sure the dishes we order won’t burn our palates.

We talk now, just a little, about the inevitable next steps,
Anticipating hard times ahead.
How it feels impossible to prepare our hearts,
Try as we might.
Knowing that today may be the best day we have with her,
And that each moment is a gift, we remind each other.
Yet we struggle to celebrate them.
Our exchange is quiet, and punctuated with silence.
I guess the meal takes a while to prepare; earlier,
I just wanted to be home in my pajamas.
But the warm tea sustains me, and sharing these sad feelings
With my husband, makes them bearable, if not better.

Our server returns to our table with steaming bowls of curry;
Tender lamb, savory spices, and fragrant jasmine rice.
We eat, and the owner comes by,
To ask how we like the meal he prepared for us;
Finally we can smile, look into his generous eyes,
And thank him with our hearts.
If food can connect people, I think we found it here.
Tonight, recipes shared from someone’s homeland
Sustain us, and fill our empty vessels
Allowing us to walk back out into the rain
Hand in hand, feeling just a little restored
Grateful, and humbled, to receive such kindness.

Photos from 919blog.com.

Roadside Butterfly

A flash of color tumbling through the air
graceful even in the wake of the farm truck
doing fifty-five on a country road;
The driver gave the runner space, but could not avoid the butterfly;
now fluttering unevenly to the pavement in the turbid after-current.

I thought she was dead, struck by the windshield,
but her wings and body and tiny antennae were intact;
I could not bear to see the delicate wings
crushed into the rough black pavement
as though her brief and beautiful life did not matter.

I bent to pick her up, gently clasping her wings together.
Standing there on the side of the road,
I silently admired the intricate patterns of color and spots,
the rolled-up tongue for sipping nectar,
her fuzzy brown body and spindly legs.

Her wings opened suddenly, orange and vibrant,
and I discovered that she was yet alive;
Perching unsteadily, and maybe invisibly damaged.
Beyond hope? I could not be sure.
I wondered if she could taste the salt on my sweaty hand.

Cupping her in my palm, helpless–
I walked into the ditch, the tangle of weeds and poison ivy,
opened my hand around the Queen Anne’s lace,
setting her down in the center, to rest awhile, or maybe to die
next to the blue chicory along the fence row.

Late Evening

I noticed the individual
drops falling from
the sky as I emerged
into the rainy evening,
and the improbable
beauty of tiny new leaves
burdened with water droplets
hopeful and shining canopies
stretching into spaces
between the concrete
as I wandered through
the darkened parking deck
searching–
in vain–
for my car.

Remembering Mary Oliver

I ran early this evening
Thinking of her, and missing her voice
Shadows growing long,
then fading into twilight–
In January you can see
A long way through the woods
Stripped of leaves and other finery
Earth’s bones, contour and shape
Truth without adornment
Like her words, precise and spare.

Pausing at the lake, daylight fading
Two ducks silhouetted against
The orange-stained mirror
I watch, find the words and continue on—
Moon rising now through the trees
Casting a silvery light on my path
Up ahead, pale reflection on Sycamore Creek
I hear splashing below the bridge
And realize that it is always there
But I did not hear it until nightfall.

Climbing now, I pass the red oak
Two years since her proud limbs reached skyward
I grieved the loss each time I passed
But today I see her
Sinking gently into Earth’s embrace
Sharing energy and minerals and earthy rot
Housing wild creatures as always
Feeding hungry young seedlings—
Nurturing tomorrow’s forests with unbridled joy
She is here; her words are everywhere.

Umstead Lake at sunset. Two ducks in the middle.

Thank you, Mary Oliver. Rest in peace.

Seeking

0000rowboat on the sea

Rowboat On The Dark Sea (artist unknown)

Would you believe me if I told you
that I am a rudderless boat
adrift beneath the starry sky?

Sometimes gliding with apparent purpose,
then spiraling aimlessly in a gyre,
or caught in tangles of Sargassum

Motionless, while schools of fish
swim by as though with singular ambition–
I float alone, without direction.

 

Would you believe me if I told you
my hull was not built for such voyages–
too small, too fragile, too easily damaged,

Not meant for vast oceans or rogue waves
battered, creaking and straining,
green water pulsing through cracks

Bailing feverishly, waiting with dread,
certain the next wave will splinter me–
drowning seems inevitable, if not immediate.

 

Would you believe me if I told you
I am pushed by unseen currents,
and my course cannot be charted

Strong winds cast my hull west,
against the lee shore, pounding surf,
fog blurring the horizon, where sky meets sea,

Beating to windward slow and vexing
dogged effort with little headway–
wind and waves conspiring against me

 

Would you believe me if I told you
that some are meant to wander
and I am never truly lost

When I lie on the rough wooden boards, caked with salt
and look up at the star-filled sky,
my heart knows the course I should be sailing.

For now I must be content to sail through the night,
change my course with the shifting gale,
and see what the sunrise brings.

MST Sunday

00000000mst

The day is just awakening,
Feet falling, easy rhythm
Broken only by the short step or lengthened stride
To avoid an errant root or rock,
Breathing regular, though not effortless,
Engulfed in wild silence—
The kind that allows space for a mind to wander,
Not the “silence” of white noise machines
Designed to dull our reality.

This silence is full and round,
Leaves blowing, water lapping at the lake’s edge,
Bickering redheaded woodpeckers—this year’s brood, no doubt,
The crickets, of course, plus whatever brethren
Make all those different sounds, which I do not know.
Weird snorts and screeches from deer
That I have to see first to confirm they are really deer
Squirrels’ light patter, lighter still for the fence lizards
Sometimes only movement, not sound, draws my eye.

The wild silence of a very alive forest
Is the kind where I can hear myself think.