An homage to Mary Oliver


The late afternoon, preparing for my usual walk with the dog while my boys shrug off a day of school by tumbling over and over the expansive snow banks, is not met with my usual anticipation.

Oh, the dog is undoubtedly excited, wagging and equally tumbling with the boys while he waits for my call, but sentiment deflates me. I have a red rim about my eyes gained from the radio announcement on my ride home: Mary Oliver has died. The announcement came Jan. 17.

Either you noticed, or you didn't, but if you are reading this, it is likely that you did. We gather on this page in appreciation of the outdoors. Oliver drew millions to her writings through recognition of those same outdoors — an exemplary poet of our natural world.

Mary Oliver has been my writing paragon since I discovered her words in 1997. Full credit here. It was my college professor, Dr. Hinnefeld, who led me to Oliver, using her foresight to see that the pull of writer, poet, nature sage would be too much for me to resist. She was right.

I studied Oliver's poetry with such voracity that I could call up a quote of hers at any moment, for any occasion.

In a college setting, this is not necessarily the best parlor trick out there, but I didn't care what my peers thought. I wanted what Oliver wrote of in "Spring in the Classroom," "And what warmed in us was no book-learning/but the old mud blood murmuring/loosening like petals from bone sleep."

I ended my senior year with friends still intact despite my lyrical ways and a completed independent study of poetry, which allowed for "with a strain in poetry" to be tacked on to my English degree.

Here I am, tears shining for a woman whose voice still resounds for me as clear as it was back then. I am here, readers, scribing these words: an explanation of pause taken to observe this moment in time where decades later, this very afternoon my words are suspended in a column, printed in a newspaper.

What fun!

To quote from Oliver's "Mornings at Blackwater," "So come to the pond/or the river of your imagination/or the harbor of your longing/and put your lips to the world. And live your life."

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That's the dazzling cabochon. The shape and polish of my tears. For though I'm not one to lament a death, I am one to be moved by the intricate weaving together of everything else within that life. The flashes and composition in this mighty, green and watery blue jar inhabited by each of us, my world presently a swirl of full circle magic: saddened by her passing, Wonderstruck (as I finally begin to walk the dog) at what my life now holds.

Mary Oliver taught me to put my lips to that jar and bear witness. To feel astonishment as she did when observing "sheets of moss," goldfinches as "they swing on the thistles." In words most cherished, she testifies that the display of wild geese carries so much more than the reminder of fall.

I am settling back into calmness with every step of the walk.

My dog and I flow along the dirt road at a brisk pace, me in my thoughts and he in his. I can hear my boys cajoling and laughing in the distance as I try to imagine that speck of a sun sending warmth as intense as in July. No use.

The leash goes taut, my dog in a frantic sniff of the snow bank that borders the road for miles. Today the banks have changed again. A peanut brittle crackle on top, with puffs of snow formed in balls the size of my fist and larger. Inches of snow beneath these textures and tiny animal footprints traversing all around. It is the footprints my dog follows with his nose plunged into the snow. Alongside the tiny prints are older ones, streamlined and large. Coyote? Neighborhood dog? I am too lost in thoughts of nature to comprehend what happens next. A frozen vole with parts missing and my dog intent on a feast.

I react just in time and tug the leash, pulling him away so I can observe. How had the vole gotten there?

What had nibbled at it? Was there more? Just like that, I am jotting notes on a crumpled piece of paper pulled from my pocket, finding details, discovering nature in the only way I know how.

A devoted, on-going homage to Mary Oliver and her matchless legacy.

Tina Weikert is a writer and outdoor enthusiast who lives in Bondville. She can be reached at


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