All Winter I Harvest



by Mary Oliver

All winter
two blue herons
hunkered in the frozen marsh,
like two columns of blue smoke.

What they ate
I can’t imagine,
unless it was the small laces
of snow that settled

in the ruckus of the cattails,
or the glazed windows of ice
under the tired
pitchforks of their feet—

so the answer is
they ate nothing,
and nothing good could come of that.
They were mired in nature, and starving.

Still, every morning
they shrugged the rime from their shoulders,
and all day they
stood to attention

in the stubbled desolation.
I was filled with admiration,
and, of course, empathy.

It called for a miracle.
Finally the marsh softened,
and their wings cranked open
revealing the old blue light,

so that I thought: how could this possibly be
the blunt, dark finish?
First one, then the other, vanished
into the ditches and upheavals.

All spring, I watched the rising blue-green grass,
above its gleaming and substantial shadows,
toss in the breeze,
like wings.

Five lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh, and an interpretation of a different sort.


ALL WINTER I harvest patience, aware as the darkest dark inches towards light, as seconds of light replace seconds of darkness; from this emerges a daily practice of awareness, of the smallest of movements gathering, of self care, of perseverance, of gratitude.

THEY SHRUGGED THE RIME FROM THEIR SHOULDERS, let me brush the frost from mine, in anticipation of the coming warmth. The sun comes up each morning, visible to me or not, whether I feel its warmth or not. I will not cry out for warmth in this time of darkness and cold, but wrap my grandmother’s shawl about me, gather meanings of old that warm me, hold that warmth in the breast of my body, absorb her energy, matriarchal strength, and rest in the ease she offers.

IT CALLED FOR A MIRACLE but then, let me be honest with myself, each day I call for a miracle and each day I receive a miracle. I awake to yet another day, life continues, life anticipated, deeply desired.

INTO THE DITCHES AND UPHEAVALS, those times in life I’ve pitched forward, dropped to my knees, there where the true meat of living exists, seldom is raw life found in the land of endlessly smooth pathways. Ditches and upheavals are mines for discovery and recovery.

TOSS IN THE BREEZE the worries, toss in kindnesses and the tender swirling of sweet words, add respect, toss once again, gently. Let the refreshment settle on my shoulders, let the winds remind me to inhale and awaken.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.

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