Haiku Habit

For quite a while in my last year as the Executive Director of the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, I wrote a haiku every day and posted it on this blog.  My thinking at the time was that I needed a bit of thinking each day that wasn’t about work, some encroaching deadline or knotty personnel problem, thinking that was creative and ruled by syllables and expression, not by external demands.  I began carrying my phone with me on my morning runs so I could capture the visual that often set me off into haiku composition, reordering words and phrases as I ran.

This morning I walked out of the house and there were the three cows that are pastured across the street from my porch this summer.  I know their movements across the field most likely have nothing to do with me, but whenever I see them in my corner, I feel lucky, like they’ve come to greet me.

Looking at the cows a haiku started in my head and I realized, even in this post-intense-daily-job life I’m now living, I’m still so busy I’m rarely writing in the way I’d imagined I would be 14 months after leaving my job.  Part of the problem is that I’m still working, and even though the work is consulting jobs that leave plenty of time to fit other things around the edges of the billable hours I put in, those other things include many things besides writing.

So, what about a new haiku habit?  I don’t need to read another article that tells me the only way to write is to just sit down and write.  I know that, and I am writing, it’s just not the sustained, focused level of creation I’d imagined.  So what if I commit to a haiku a day, just that space of 17 syllables (okay, I know it’s on in Japanese, not the same as syllables, as I wrote here less than a month ago, but the syllable scheme works for me), those minutes of capturing a moment?  That could lead to more minutes, more focus, more creation.

I doubt all the haikus will end up on this blog, but here’s a start to the habit.

Three cows this season
Working stubble for fresh green
In my own corner.


David and I are in Tennessee, helping Sam and Marianna with wedding prep.  Yesterday we felt on top of enough of the many many many details we’re all managing (putting on a party for almost 200 people takes a lot of detail management!) to go for another pre-England Coast to Coast training walk.  We headed for Haw Ridge Park, right outside of Knoxville, because “it’s full of trails,” as Sam said.

A bit too full.  We found our way to the water along the edge of the big peninsula that makes the park, and had a pleasant hike, eventually coming to a couple of picnic benches out on a spit of land.  By then it was raining lightly, but it was dry under the trees and I took out my iPhone to check my exercise app and see how far we’d walked, and looked at the map function to see where we were.  We decided to walk a bit further along the water, then look for a trail to cut back across the middle of the peninsula to the car.

Then it started to pour.  Really pour.  And one trail looked like another, and there were a lot, and they all seemed to curve and twist and soon it was impossible for us to figure out where we were going.  Occasionally we’d stop, I’d take my iPhone out of my new gore tex jacket it was folded into inside my pack, David would hold the pack over my head to block the rain so I could look at my phone without getting it wet, and we kept finding ourselves in the same circle.  Not once, or twice, but three times we went in the same circle.

By now we were drenched, it was getting late, and we realized we were really quite lost. In one spot where we stopped to check the phone, there was a painted turtle on the path.  After we looked at the phone, I looked back for the turtle, which had been a couple of feet behind us.  It wasn’t there.  I looked down at our feet and it was trying to burrow under David’s boot, it’s head butting up against the black sole.

David stepped back carefully from the turtle, I put on my gore tex jacket and put my iPhone in my pocket so I could pull it out and check where we were going on the exercise app more frequently, and eventually could tell by the moving blue ball on the map that we’d found a path under the power lines that would eventually lead us out of the woods.  We got back to Sam and Marianna’s house drenched, muddy and hungry and feeling ready for whatever kind of weather and twisting trails England might dish up.

Grazing Haiku

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Morning horses graze
Calves stand at east pasture fence
Abundance ascends.

Reptilian Me

It’s been a grey, rainy May, as it was five years ago, after Eric died.  Maybe that’s why I’m waking up too many mornings with a low-level churn in my stomach.  There is lots of change coming and already come — I have a grandson, I’m leaving my job and the world of regular income, Sam and Marianna have done a 180 on their plans — so the churn could certainly be related to that.  But this is more, gut level anxiety that my body remembers from those early weeks of grief, waking to my new reality, our “new normal” as the kids and I called it.  The world without Eric in it sucked and made me anxious and wish I could somehow just not wake up.

I chatted with a good friend today, just home from a visit with her frail and elderly father. Talking to her about my anxious waking this week she said, “I know, I did it too this week.  Being back with my family, I’m a little girl again.  Why do I do that?  I know what’s going on, but there I am with a churning stomach.”

I was thinking about our talk as I drove to get soil and compost and alpaca poo for my garden today.  Cutting across back roads from Pittsfield to East Concord, I saw a dark shape on the side of the road.  A snapping turtle.  A big snapping turtle, well over a foot long, just sitting there, head out, though he pulled back into his shell when I got out to take a photo.

He was my totem animal today, my reminder that I have a reptilian brain, the ancient core that takes care of basic survival and that knows when to “fight or flee.” As the Buffalo State University website on the brain says, “the overriding characteristics of reptilian brain behaviors are that they are automatic, have a ritualistic quality, and are highly resistant to change.” Reptilian me.

Time to Find Woodpeckers

Ten years ago I was at the first meeting of a new, statewide project, involving a couple dozen people from different disciplines.  The facilitator for the meeting used an icebreaker to start us off.  “Write down something that happened to you this morning, then pick a partner and share what you’ve written down.”

I wrote, “I wish I’d had time this morning to go find the woodpecker I could hear in a tree at the edge of the yard when I got home from my run.”  My partner in the exercise laughed when I read it to her.  “Only you would think about something like that, Grace,” she said.  I’m not quite sure what part she found unusual — the morning run, the awareness of the woodpecker, the desire to see the bird, or maybe all of them together.

It’s that time of year again, birdsong ascending in the mornings when I go out, and the sound of a woodpecker almost every day.  This morning I did stop, under a large, old maple with many dead branches, a magnet for woodpeckers.  I could hear the pecking, and I tried to find the bird, but I couldn’t see it in the time I had.  Back to running, back to the house to get ready for work.

Ten years later I still want time to find woodpeckers.


All week I have been thinking about this nest.  It’s in the Korean Lilac bush planted next to the walkway into the house.  The top branches are sticking up through the deep snow packed on either side of the narrow path we’ve kept shoveled through this snowy winter, and there among the jumble of bush is this tiny nest.  My guess is sparrows built it, based on their fluttering in and out of the bush last summer.  The memory of last summer’s birds and this nest now make me think of the summer after Eric died, when there was a nest in the yews that border the driveway.  I spent many hours that summer sitting on the porch, watching the adult sparrows and listening to the chirping of the chicks and the frenetic squabble when one of the parents would fly into the yew branches and disappear.  A few times I pulled back the branches to see the scraggly feathered heads stretching up towards whatever was coming.  Then the sparrow traffic stopped and the nest was empty.

I’ve been meaning to take a photograph of this nest every day this week, and then write a haiku.  But it’s been a week when taking a moment to stop and snap a picture has felt impossible, one of those weeks when breathing feels like it takes too much time.  I’ve had early morning meetings and evening meetings, meetings after meetings after meetings, which means I can’t get any work done, much less pay attention to the creative channel in my brain.  The whole idea of a haiku a day was to have at least a few syllables of space and time in my brain for creativity.

Well this week the creativity channel has been blocked.  I didn’t get to my poetry group, I only wrote a haiku on Tuesday, and that only happened because the snow sticking to every surface in the outside world was so stunningly gorgeous it stopped me long enough to take a photo and start the haiku machine whirring.

Now it’s Saturday, I’ve stopped long enough to breathe, get some wood into the house so we can have a fire, and think about something other than some work deadline that has to be met in the next minute.  On today’s list is loading wood into the barn, digging it out of the drifts and plowed bank of snow from the last few weeks.  As I carry the wood up onto the porch, through the kitchen, and into the barn I’ll be walking on the shoveled path, right past the nest, hatching its image and metaphor and memories into my brain.  Voila!

Haiku L

So, I’ve been writing the Roman Numerials of my haikus wrong since 40.  40 is XL, as in 10 less than 50, which is L.  Here’s Number 50.

Paw prints on the trail
Tracks on tracks crossing fresh snow
A wing left to show.