My Own Private Penguin


2016’s nine favorite stateside phone camera shots include nine geese-a-flying, six ports, four seasons (heavy on autumn), three states, two sunsets and sunrises, and one heart-shaped bivalve immobilized by the weight of burnished sand.

At the center of my array is a moonless super moon. I caught a single sailboat in its immense silvery shimmer long after the eager ocean photographers had captured their more traditional images and headed home.

(I think Jim would have stuck around in the quiet dark as well, though he would have had a tripod and the right lenses and his shots would have been crisper.)

Only two interior shots, and not a human in sight.

You’d have to know my own interior thought processes awfully well to discern what you can’t see in these pictures: I wasn’t crying when I took any of them (though there was some light weeping on the way to the spiral staircase, but that’s a long story having to do with the last time I had been in Damariscotta, Maine); the autumn tree is in a stunning cemetery in which I walked in work heels through ankle-high crunching fallen leaves; one was the first sunset I sought out in what is now one of my favorite secret sunset spots. And the lighthouse stairwell shot didn’t look quite right going up, though objectively it was nearly identical to the shot I took looking down towards the roiling sea. (“The moments when you’re in so deep, it seems easier to just swim down,” sings my earworm.)

Or maybe it’s my traditional no-one-in-sight landscape photographs, when I’m alone at the lens with my thoughts, which are my interior shots.

Even when outside on New Year’s Eve, packed and pressed by the movement of thousands of people with, let’s say, more traditional human companionship, I feel I’m alone in the dark and inside some weightless barrier.  I’ve looked at others’ photographs from New Year’s Eve: crowds hundreds deep looking towards fireworks, hatted heads and red-cheeked faces poking into frames, selfies miniaturizing seasonal displays.

My shots were different.

I slipped through the maze of a boisterous crowd at least six deep around barricades protecting newly-carved ice sculptures. Alcohol vapor already lingered in the air, and appalling unpleasantries floated from across the street, where a handful of men sat on a curb in a swirl of cigarette smoke.

I found a spot where the crowd melted away into the night and a street-level spotlight became a perigee moon over the shoulder of an ice penguin it turned into mottled gold.  If it’s possible to make eye contact with an ice sculpture, I did.

I get you, little penguin.



Among my nine photographs I also see myself in that one goose who’s a little off-kilter, a little nick in the spearhead formation as his brethren resolutely hurtle forward.

I was surprised to have culled any interior shots among 2016’s favorites, and more surprised still to discover this year that I was not alone–uber alone, given my proclivities for rising far too early and wandering far too deep and away–when taking every one of them.

The scalloped lemon and gold glass bowl, rimmed in rust (with the somewhat heavy hand of my beagles’ natural eyeliner), was in an art museum I visited with a friend on his birthday.

It’s a start.

Twenty Stockings

Twenty Stockings (c) SMG

Today’s Daily Prompt asked us to reflect on our favorite way to spend a Saturday morning, and whether we were indeed spending the morning that way.

All I could think was that I am among vast numbers of people who would like to spend this morning thinking of just about anything but parents waiting near an elementary school  classroom where their children’s bodies lay as a crime scene was being processed.

Horrors I would have thought beyond my imagination–even given my line of work–kept me up last night and now fill countless minds.

Here in the Northeast, as elsewhere, the early elementary school years in December are marked by holiday concerts, story time, and a boatload of crafts.  December brings excitement like no other for those just starting their school years: five and six-year-old children bouncing with the hope for enough snow to build a snowman, or make snow angels by plunking backwards into soft snow and waving down-cocooned arms and legs at recess.   Or perhaps their names will be picked that day for a preferred task like picking the book for the teacher to read aloud at circle time, or sharpening the colored pencils, or delegating classroom chores, or presenting something for “show-and-tell.”

My oldest son, as a first-grader, brought in his two-week old baby sister for show and tell during one robust New England winter.   “Does she do any tricks?” asked his classmate Kyle.  My son considered the question and replied after some thought, “Not yet.”

By first grade this son was the beloved oldest brother to three younger siblings.  I cannot imagine their lives or ours had he not come home from school one day in December.

It could be a beloved music day where the children get to file upstairs to the room lined  with instruments; there’s always something to look forward to in these first days among what should be thousands of days among schoolmates and friends.

Even when going to school is less than a blissful experience, I like to think each day offers the hope of a better day, or at very least friendship and teachers’ guidance to help soothe small souls.

K-2 Holiday Concert (c) SMG

At the grocery store in December, young children may suddenly develop more of an interest in vegetables than in garish cereal boxes, because tiny carrots must be stockpiled to fuel flying reindeer.


They will count down the days until school’s December break, when they will gather together outside with sleds, skate on icy ponds and trudge back inside together in snow-caked mittened hands–sometimes not until dark–for hot chocolate.

And the prospect of magically-delivered gifts and stockings filled does not seem to dampen their spirits.

All of my children have had in common just one elementary school teacher: their kindergarten teacher–a woman so enduringly dedicated to each and every one of her pint-sized charges that she continues to reappear in their lives after retiring, as she did at the ceremony where one five-year-old had somehow aged into an Eagle Scout, and as she did when she wrote to them after their dad died.

Andrew Sullivan yesterday posted a poem, Childhood, by Rainer Marie Rilke:

It would be good to give much thought, before
you try to find words for something so lost,
for those long childhood afternoons you knew
that vanished so completely –and why?

We’re still reminded–: sometimes by a rain,
but we can no longer say what it means;
life was never again so filled with meeting,
with reunion and with passing on

as back then, when nothing happened to us
except what happens to things and creatures:
we lived their world as something human,
and became filled to the brim with figures.

And became as lonely as a sheperd
and as overburdened by vast distances,
and summoned and stirred as from far away,
and slowly, like a long new thread,
introduced into that picture-sequence
where now having to go on bewilders us.

Childhood anticipation is made up of hopeful possibility.

The teacher might pick me to choose a book for us all to read.

My painting could be chosen to go up on the bulletin board.

It could be a white Christmas.

There may be enough snow to build that snowman or fort, to fly down the hill on an inflated tube.

The pond might freeze solidly enough that we can learn to skate.

The reindeer pack might hit our house just as it feels hunger pangs for more carrots.

Those stockings with our names on them might be filled.

An Audience of One: How I Wish This Blog Didn’t Exist

Today’s daily writing prompt from our friends at WordPress is another irresistible one: “Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.”

The obvious, but impossible, choice would be my husband Jim, but this blog would not exist but for his untimely death.  So I’m going to do a linguistic semi-cheat and go for the single audience comprised by a collective noun: our children.

Sometimes it’s much easier to write than to speak.

How I wish this blog didn’t exist.  

Strictly speaking, it came into being thanks to one of you: you managed to figure out that after I had finished writing for you (a massive tome for you to read someday), I still needed to write for me.  You made the blog technologically idiot-proof, and even manage to stifle groans when teaching me baby steps like making a link and uploading a picture.  You are very patient.

But of course the blog exists–as one of my many forms of therapy–because of the audience of one it can’t have: your dad, whom you and I and the world should have had for so much longer.

When you all went back to school and plowed ahead with your education, work, projects, music, dancing, and vast arrays of art and hobbies, you honored him.

When you need to pause and reflect, that honors him, too.

Whenever you may need to ask for help in dealing with the unfathomable pain of all this, you honor him.  

Whatever it takes for you and for me to get through each day is what he would want for us.

You honor him whenever you learn something new, and whenever you teach something.

When you are able to torture your extended family with devilish word puzzles around the Thanksgiving table, that honors dad, too–as do the times you let a chuckle escape, or give me the set up to utter the words your dad would have spoken (“Can you take the cannoli, mom?”  You ask in a bakery, your arms already laden.  I pause the beat your dad would have waited, “Should I leave the gun?”).  

I think the only thing I could do to dishonor your dad would be not to do my best to take care of you and of myself (though I fall down on the job there sometimes), not to try to treasure the times when the Earth remains beneath my feet for both of us.  

He fought so hard to have more time to be with us, to take us away for a family adventure when he felt well enough to do it, and to be home with you when the time came to hand off this life and legacy to us. 

You make him so proud.   

Love, more than words could ever say, 


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