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The View from Mary's Farm

The View from Mary's Farm for December

December 1, 2003

Greetings, friends,
Here is the essay for the month of December. We've had a big snowstorm here, some say a blizzard. I might call it that. I went out Saturday to sing in the Messiah. It was snowing when I left the house at ten in the morning and the forecast was for maybe two feet of snow before morning. But the Messiah only comes once a year and I couldn't bear the thought of missing it. On the way home from the performance, the snow was intense, something like the top of Mt. Washington. Visiblity was less than zero and I had to seek a port in the storm, at the home of a friend who lives on the main road. I've never had to find a storm home before but I couldn't have found a better one. Life is good when you have friends who will give you a bed on the spur of the moment in a raging snowstorm, fix you a great breakfast in the morning and send you on your way when the sun finally comes out and the roads are clear. I wish you all a very merry Christmas, full of warmth and friendship.

Kindle Your Warm Hearts

It seems like the beginning of December is often like the beginning of a marathon. I start keeping checklists: write cards, buy gifts, wrap gifts, mail cards, plan Christmas dinner, put up decorations. . . the list is long and sometimes is complicated by a snowstorm or bad weather. At times, I stop and think: wait! There must be some way I can eliminate some of this. In all the frenzy, there’s hardly time to stop and think about why we are doing all of this.
A few years ago, mysterious messages began to appear along the roadsides of this town. The messages were written on thin strips of wood, painted white. The letters were black, painterly, drawn with an almost Oriental brushstroke. Like the old Burma Shave commercials, there were sometimes three little signs, nailed to successive trees or telephone poles. Signed “phantom haiku”, the words almost always left me pondering the message. I recall one that appeared along the main highway, near a little gift shop, sometime in the fall: “Red, orange, yellow, brown/ Leaves are falling like gifts/ Remember this day.” I felt the message, more than the falling leaves, was a gift, and, oddly, I have remembered that day.
Some time later, another message appeared, down near a place known to us as Mud Pond: “Endeavor to put yourself in the way of wandering miracles,” the first panel read. The rest of the message was gone, perhaps blown off by the wind or torn away by someone with a hard heart. But that first line was enough of a poem for me. I took in the sentiment and remembered it later, kept it near for spiritual triage.
A side road that runs beside the lake comes to an end at the main highway. Turning safely onto the highway is a bit of a challenge, as the curve in the road obscures the fast-moving, oncoming traffic. Sometimes the best way to know if someone is coming is simply to roll down the window and listen. In the winter, the winds coming off the lake are particularly cold and forbidding at that intersection. Snow piles up and visibility is even more obscured. On a day close to Christmas, I was in the heat of my Christmas frenzy, my brain in the pressure cooker. I was driving to see an elderly friend but needed to be somewhere else at the same time. I was late getting the Christmas cards mailed, forgot to answer several phone messages. And so on. If my memory serves me right, this was the Christmas after the 9-11attacks and an additional anxiety clouded everyone’s face, a mix of fear and anger and confusion. Even though, way up here in New Hampshire, we were so far away from so much of the threats, we felt it all heavily and with deep concern. On that day, I pulled to a stop beside the lake. The traffic on Route 101 whizzed by me. The day was cold and bitter – not snowing but the snow blowing off the lake made it seem like a blizzard. I leaned over to look to the left and then to the right and when I looked right, I saw another of the phantom haikus, nailed to the trunk of a birch tree. It had not been there the last time I went by. This one read: Cold winds of change blow/Prepare and be mindful now/ Kindle your warm hearts.
Kindle your warm hearts. I drank these words in like warm broth. The frenzy eased, just long enough for me to be grateful for the surprising beauty of these words and for the generosity of the anonymous poet who had released the words so artistically into the outside world – an act of faith that they would reach the right heart.

Selected Works

In 1992, the Bishop of Worcester condemned St. Joseph's Catholic Church and ordered it closed. The parishioners refused to leave, sleeping on cots and on the hard pews. For thirteen months this was their life. In July of 1993, they were removed by the police. In many ways this was the blossoming of their faith. Originally published in Yankee Magazine in November 1993.
Growing up, nothing I could do seemed to please my mother and nothing she said made sense to me. But when my mother, on the threshold of death, came to live with me, I found what seemed to have been lost forever. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1995
(The follow-up article to Miracle at St. Joseph's.) The Bishop turned to them and said, "Your prayers have been answered, the hard hearts have softened." Originally published in Yankee Magazine, December 1996
A reflection on the power of cooking and friendship and the concept of family. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, November/December 2007
Memorial Day, Harrisville, New Hampshire 1995. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1996
My Articles
Libraries occupy a special place in the heart of a town. Evening events at the library give a strong sense of community and make it seem like a great place to live. And in the wake of the online revolution small town libraries have found a way to not only survive but to be indispensable.
In December 2008 an epic ice storm left virtually the entire state of New Hampshire without power. The residual effects of that storm paralyzed the Monadnock Region almost through Christmas. A first person account.
In 1994, sixteen-year-old Billy Best was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. After several treatments, he ran away to avoid chemotherapy. What happened after that may have been a miracle.
Roxanne Quimby once lived primitively in the Maine woods. Today she owns 90,000 acres of those woods, and her goal is to create a national park to preserve the landscape forever. So why do so many people wish she'd just go away?
Multi-million dollar border stations are rising along our line between US and Canada. What was once the "friendliest border" has become deadly serious.
Renowned short story writer, Andre Dubus, reflects on the accident that cost him his legs.
A trip to Poland discovers a beloved family friend
An elegy for the master of the short story.
Fall comes to The County
Thousands seek healing from this innocent, comatose child.
A complete listing of articles published since 1978
An encounter with a sick fox brings a young woman to the heart of her grief