Great Big Beautiful Clouds



My father took red roses to my mother’s grave today. I went with him to buy the roses—plastic, long-stemmed copies of the real thing. Artificial baby’s breath round out the bouquet, which he put in the marble vase where her ashes lie.

Whatever remains of my grandmother and grandfather since they died, years ago, now lie near my mother’s grave. These are my father’s parents, not hers, and my father’s name is already etched in the tombstone he will share with my mother.

To be truthful, I doubt that my mother needs the comfort of proximity to her in-laws now.  I like to think that she is unencumbered by protocol and customary expectations in her new form. She lives wherever and however she wants and she is energetic and youthful and pain-free. She is not lying below the ground.


Cemeteries are for the living. Spirits long gone do not live below earth except in the form of rooted oaks and baby acorns or the iris clump that started from bulb taken from my great-grandmother’s garden. They lie in the wisp of white cloud against sapphire blue skies, dipping and swirling to touch the mountain top. They can be heard in wind moving through the pines and in birdsong that plays before the rest of the world awakes.

That hummingbird I hear just now may be my mother. I can imagine her flitting around, saying hello with a trill of noise and a flash of velvety green that I see from the corner of my eye.

Or she might be riding on one of those great, big beautiful clouds.

No matter which, I know she’s there.




I took these pictures of clouds on a visit to the ghost town of Caribou, Colorado.  

There is more about Caribou in my post on Through the Lens of We.

And if you missed out, I hope you will check out the photography and thoughts at some of my other posts there: 

No Matter Which Way

True Blue

Of Sunshine and Leaves

The Future Lives in a Cloud

How Things Began


The Crux of It

Sunniest Flower

Sunniest Flower


I have a friend who longs to be understood by her grown sons. And so, she is writing a memoir.

She believes that her sons know nothing of her essence. She says they know her simply as Mom, as their father’s wife, as the daughter of the grandparents they once had. They do not know who she was when she was 18 and married to a man they never knew. They cannot know how she looked when she won the barrel race with her horse Gunner when she was 15. They do not remember when she wore her long hair in an up-do and it was blonde. And they think of her life’s work as bookkeeping, though it has been poetry all along.

The story she is writing is poetic and purposeful and full of messy beauty. From what I have read so far, it is much more than a rehashing of years.

As I read my friend’s story, I began to imagine the story my mother might have written—had she been of the mind to tell it. Not liking undue attention and not inclined to spend much time thinking of herself, she did not write a memoir.

I can only speculate how my mom’s story might read. Beyond the basic, indisputable facts, what she would write about herself might be quite different from what I know. I am, after all, not privy to what lie deep within my mother as she journeyed this Earth. I can only guess what she might have wished for when she was 16 and what it was that she might have changed at 80. I do not know what she feared most.

Truth is, I know her stories better than I know her story. I know she ate a spoiled Bologna sandwich on her honeymoon and spent most of the trip to Colorado with food poisoning. I know some about her life on the farm and growing up poor in rural Kansas. I know some about what she did and did not like about her jobs that helped send four kids to college. I know how she looked sitting on the bed next to her mother, brushing what white hair remained on my grandmother’s head at age 100.

Maybe we children are not meant to know all there is to know about our mothers. Maybe in addition to babies, mothers give birth to a part of their self that reaches inside and picks out what beats loudest, folds it up neat and square and tucks it away for safekeeping. Maybe moms peek in to admire that essence, like they peek in at night to watch their sleeping babies. They touch the soft skin of their babies now grown, they smell the green grass they rolled through in childhood, they taste the mashed potatoes of the family gatherings and they see each added page of the photo album of life. Maybe a mother’s essence is protected from the worst of life’s lessons and not immune to the change of experience. And though it may be hidden from the light of day, it remains.

Did I really know my mother’s essence?

In the way known by all who had the good fortune to have had a loving mother in the center of their childhood universe, yes. While I might not be able to state everything that was important to her or each disappointment or happiness she lived, I know for a fact that she gave her children comfort and safety, kindness and caring, love and security.

I could write lots of stories of what my mom did and rehash her years in all their messy beauty.

But what I would rather remember, and honor, is not what she did, but how she made me feel.

That was, and is, the best part of her essence.

Lean Sideways



This is how I like to remember it now, so many years later:

I am six and in as deep as I dare. I dive through filtered hot summer sun to check the shadows of clouds on a peeling, aqua-blue canvas below. A push of water to my right abruptly breaks my focus. I turn to see a girl much like me gliding past with big effort, on the wave of small brown arms and the legs of a lopsided kick.

She is precariously close to the abyss.

I hold my breath as she spins to look me straight on.

Her fish-like eyes do not speak, but I hear challenge, clearly.  

A moment later, she breaks jail, sweeping under the rope and into the deep end.

I do not have enough breath in me to think. Without adequate time to consider, I plunge in, sweeping my own brown arms and longer legs to follow her taunting kick to the other side.

It was a small moment, really. Why it sticks with me is this: I would not have crossed into the deep end of the pool had she not bumped into me and dared me to follow.

She caused me to exceed my brink, to cut the bounds where my comfort still touched the shallow. She set me adrift in the big, blue world, perilously close to the drain which lie below the 3-meter diving board, poised to haunt and swish in swimmers, at its whim, extracting them elsewhere, as simple as that.

And I swam.  

Fear of that drain kept me captive on the shallow side of the rope on all previous occasions. In that safe zone, I perfected somersaults where my head reassuringly scraped bottom. I practiced hand stands where my toes still peeked above surface. I dove to the shallow left field spying pennies more easily on the short side of the pool. 

On that day when I bumped into the bravest and strongest of girls, I followed her lead before I had time to think otherwise.

I thought of this incident in the days following the death of Margaret Thatcher and in the wake of the conversational hullaballoo stirred by Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In.”

Having had little experience in the world of corporate board rooms and having seen 10 Downing Street only from a respectable distance of a little ways down and across the street, what popped into my mind was something that happened to me when I was six. In the midst of discussion about whether we do or do not like strong women and the perpetual need for women to lean in and lead, I remembered a little girl who tugged bravery out of me.

I remember her as being one of the first–in a list now a life long–of many females that led me on my way.  

I swam in the draft of other girls and women in the years to follow. My mentors were not Margarets or Sheryls, but I trailed plenty of strong women as they steered me right. And whether they delivered their message with kindness or grace or tough-minded zeal, they prodded me to go past the rope, they handed me courage when I was being sucked under and they gave me confidence with their gifts of attention.

I owe much of my life’s good moments to other women.

But I must say, and I suspect you might agree, we women can be very, very good critics.

We debate the worthiness of the differing roles we women choose and we compare the merit of the varied walks we women make.  We measure women who stay at home against those women who work, we compare women in the ranks with women who make it to the top, we consider women with children as different from women without children, and we measure ourselves, sometimes cruelly, by peering into the mirrors of other women. 

With Ms. Sandberg’s book, we might now measure women who “lean in” versus women who don’t.  She rightly encourages stick-to-it-ness and big effort while discouraging women’s tendency to hold back in board rooms or in response to big challenges. Women, she says, are caught in a catch-22: they can best eliminate external barriers (such as corporate culture and social policy) by achieving leadership roles—but until those barriers are gone, women can’t get into those roles in the first place. She calls it the “ultimate chicken-and-egg” situation. “Both sides are right. They are equally important. I am encouraging women to address the chicken, but I fully support those who are focusing on the egg.”

All good points in our continuing discussion.

But may I lean in to make one extra point? 

Shouldn’t we give more careful consideration to what exactly it is we are leaning into?

Given the collective angst in our world, is it wise to lean into tables around which status and strength is measured primarily in terms of power, competition, domination, growth and acquisition?  

What if we women lean toward balancing the table?  Why not use our time and effort and debate to shift our measure of success so that the big arrow that gauges our worth points much more in the direction of character, nurturing, wisdom and caring?

Women are half of the world and mother to the other half, after all.

I clearly hear the challenge in her fish-like eyes.


“It has always seemed strange to me……the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.”

 —John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

I am adding one more very important link which refers to a book I learned about after I posted this:

I’ve just ordered the book 🙂 .  I think it sounds like it will add a lot to this conversation!

And if you missed the last two most beautiful photos at Through the Lens of We, here they are:

Flash and Flash Again

Simply Needed