December 2019 Archives

#21 decembrance 2019

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Zoë and Mike arrived today to be with us for the week. We went for a sunset dog walk, lit a fire and had a delicious hot drink to celebrate the night. After dinner our conversation turned to therapy and how we change our perceptions of memory and experience. I told Mike that sometimes writing can change my perspective, but as we spoke I couldn't think of an example.

Half an hour later as I write I remember how I used to think of the shortest day of the year as being a really depressing moment in time. But through writing these posts I have been able to focus on the solstice as being the marker for a return to light and longer days.

In yoga we learn to pay attention to our breath. I have learned to notice the moment of stillness when we have fully exhaled before we take our next breath. It is much like this moment--these long nights when we can pause, reflect, count, focus and breath. I light the fire in the fireplace or outside in the fire-pit  to extend my moments of reflection, a dream that our actions can persuade the light to return.

21 winter 2019.jpgSolstice
We laugh to think the Romans lit great fires in December
to persuade the sun to come back. To persuade the sun!

--Elizabeth Arnold (2006)

#20 decembrance 2019

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My ten minutes of drawing today focused upon a dracaena plant in the window. It is a plant that I took from my father's loft after he died so the image of it in south-facing winter light takes me swimming back through the rivers of Christmases we spent in New York City on Sullivan Street. So then I looked back through my photos to make a drawing of the inflatable Santa my Dad  set out in the loft for the last decade of his life. Filled with air it stood almost touching the ten foot high ceiling.

In my photograph one of his house plants leans crooked in the background by the window with a few of my pots on the window sill. I disliked that noisy Santa but it makes me laugh when I now think back on it. Zoë told me that today she made a list of things she had done, places she had traveled and people she met over this last decade. I look at the pots on my father's window sill and remember making them and the insights they held in my progression as a potter. There is a river of variations on cups I have made and we have filled. Here's to thinking about all the ones I hope to fill in the next decade.

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"Nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone."
--Wendell Berry

#19 decembrance 2019

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Curled up with pillows, quilt, books, pens and the cat at my feet I felt as if I was nesting in the December sunlight. I remember when Zoë was little and energy was low making a nest out of couch cushions and quilts, then feathering it with books, markers, snacks and music was a favorite thing to do. As the afternoon wore on I listened to a podcast and drew the tree branches thinking about line, pattern and views. I then noticed a nest high in the maple tree. Earlier in the day I had read a short essay about bird nests in the back of a magazine. The essay talked about the idea of nesting in modern culture which means outfitting our permanent homes and making them comfortable and cozy. But if you look at bird nests we realize they are more about living on the planet lightly. Bird nests demonstrate ingenious balance in their use of materials and the architecture of space for the inhabitants.

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--By Tess Gallagher

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,  
an unseen nest
where a mountain  
would be.

#18 decembrance 2019

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Before sunset Warren and I went out on the pond in the rowboat. We were both bundled up with gloves and hats. The pond has been very high and the overflow clogged with pond weed and other debris.  It was so starkly beautiful. The sun was low, the winter landscape bare, and it felt brutally cold in the wet wind. All seemed unstable as the boat was blown by the breeze, my oars got clogged in pond weed and ice all while Warren pushed, pulled, and scraped the muck with a copper pole. These are the times when I need to have a panoramic view that acknowledges both the beauty and the struggle. How grateful I am for this pond and the hard stuff of maintenance. This is when I turn to poetry for the vocabulary of thanks that can include the  obvious light and a memory of the futility of waving in the dark.

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with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

"Thanks" by W.S. Merwin, from MIGRATION by W.S. Merwin, copyright © 2005 Copper Canyon Press. 

#17 decembrance 2019

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If I were ever to win an award for gardening it would be for the rogue squash I let ramble in the garden. The seedlings come up randomly from my compost and I can't bear to pull all the varieties of form. So I let a handful of them flourish. I enjoy their tendrils and exuberant growth. I love the fragile sculptural blossoms. Then at a certain point in July I get fed up with how much space they occupy.  I pick them and balance them like trophies in pots in our basement gallery where a few of the hardiest ones survive until December when they serve as reminders of the ingenious varieties of summer growth.

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"There are a hundred thousand species of love, separately invented, each more ingenious than the last, and every one of them keeps making things."

― Richard Powers, The Overstory

# 16 decembrance 2019

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Over the weekend we opened our doors and invited the public in to see our work and our life. I got over-tired, over-exposed, and over-stimulated. I wonder how did I get here and how do I keep going? How does change happen? How do I regroup and then entice more people in and do it over again?

My mother hated entertaining. She hated the pressure of opening her doors. Yet she was so generous and such a good listener. But she had me who wanted to invite too many people into her home. She used to say to me,  "You are such a natural teacher you should find a good school to work at."  One summer I tried to teach my brothers how to make artist books. After describing how to follow certain systems, they bared their teeth with great resistance and made up their own rules. They worked on my projects upside down and backwards. They dubbed me the "arts and crafts director" which I thought was a slight. Yet the following summer when we got together they asked "What is the project this year?  What do you want to teach us this time around?  It was so fun last year."  Really!  You could have fooled me.

My family had the habits of telling stories and making up theories. My father preferred good stories over the truth. The kids also had the history of not listening. This lingering legacy clings to my skin. I try to change, making sure I tell the truth. People want to hear the story of how and why I make what I make. How did I come to live in Virginia after being born in New York City? I accept the conditions of my birth, third child in a household of athletic, loud boys; growing up with the children of other artists. As much as I try to make my own path in the world my family stories always linger. I am still the sister. My calm may begin to buckle at times but I will continue to embrace change. I will keep trying to learn how to meditate. I will keep trying to tell my story with new meaning.
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I ripped my mother being born

             and I am the only.

                           The oldest ripped my grandmother

                                       and still came more.

We have a family history

             of losing our heads,

                          of no one listening,

                                       of telling someone before.

We are raucous and willful,

              loud as thunder


                             No one can forget us,

                                            we bear our teeth.

We pass through bodies


                  like summer heat. We eat

                             and thicken, worry men.

                                            They plead and suffer, come again.

I entered the world

              a turning storm,

                             but no one stopped me

                                            though they'd been warned.

"Interrogation Suite: Where did you come from / how did you arrive?" by

Remica Bingham-Risher.

#15 decembrance 2019

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This morning when I woke it was just light but the sun had not come above the trees. I looked out and there was an owl sitting on one of my garden posts. The owl was so still and obvious in its feathered presence and yet so immobile it was like an extension of the post. I looked away to find my camera and when I looked back it was gone and I wondered did I imagine it.

When I went out with the dog there was the owl perched on a broken tree branch as if staring at a mouse in the grass. I walked up the driveway and the moon was so tranquil and reflective above the single tree in the pasture. A flock of geese flew overhead. My pot that I had put out at the end of the driveway stood silent and weighty like a cross between the moon and the owl. My small view of the world was at rest--barely a hint of a breeze and the winter light clear, highlighting all the details of the landscape. On my walk back to the house I noticed where the squirrels have been eating walnuts and where a deer had been sleeping at night leaving a patch of pressed down grass.

It was as if the owl had given me the gift of vision. I remember a former student saying when she began making pots it was as if looking at clay from a maker's point of view she opened the door to a secret world with a whole new language she had never imagined.

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You have given me a thing I could never have imagined, before I knew you. It's like I had the word "book," and you put one in my hands. I had the word "game," and you taught me how to play. I had the word "life," and then you came along and said, "Oh! You mean this."
― Richard Powers, The Overstory

#14 decembrance 2019

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We had a lovely parade of visitors to the gallery today. By writing these posts it's as if I have broken the ice with so many friends that we go past friendly chitchat to the things it is impossible to say under normal circumstances. So thanks to all who read and come to say Hi.

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"Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone."
― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

#13 decembrance 2019

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No moon viewing for us tonight. We are socked in fog so Warren's bowl will have to stand in for a moon rise and a sign of hope.

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"Doing and making are acts of hope, and as that hope grows, we stop feeling overwhelmed by the troubles of the world."
- Sister Corita Kent

#12 decembrance 2019

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The sky held the faintest glow of pink and orange and the bare trees were green darkness against the sky. When I am out walking at dusk I stay off the roads behind a fence where I often get a good view of cows on the neighboring hillside. Their hulking angular mass silhouetted against the glowing sky makes me wonder what would Rembrandt make of these dark forms. Back home--email done and phone calls answered--I stepped out on the porch to get the moon view and remembered an old drawing I made of Zoe as a toddler cupped in my hand stepping out across the pond and into the rising moon. The memory of the view before the trees grew is stuck like glue on my soul, the childhood images of my daughter struggling to pull free are tied to that drawing and the moon is my window into another time.

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It is said, the past
sticks to the present

like glue,
that we are flies

struggling to pull free
It is said, someone

cannot change
the clothes

in which
their soul

was born.
I, however,

would not
go so far

Nor am I Rembrandt,
master of the black

and green darkness,
the hawk's plumes

as it shrieks
down from the sky

Russian Letter
by John Yau in Borrowed Love Poems

# 11 decembrance 2019

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This morning I took my coffee cup out into the dusting of snow as a way of greeting the glittery part of winter. The grey skies, dark trees, and muddy ground of the last few days have been the oppressive grit of the season. I love that a mug, this simple everyday object that I can overlook, can also make me think about the landscape. It can remind me of the horizon line and the winter view. It can get me contemplating drinking coffee in Australia; how I loved the short coffee breaks we took with Ben and Peta both in their house and out on adventures all over Tasmania looking at clay, rocks and views.

The simple fact of drinking coffee brings me back to my first trip to France and my initial day in Aix en Provence where I learned to love coffee. These little acts that can start or become unexamined habits can be returned to the realm of transformative experiences. They can wake me up and provoke me to pay attention to all the sparkling details. Today, in the snow each pale twisting vine was highlighted by a thin pile of snow. The light reflected by the white made the ship of the sky so blue and so welcome as a great relief from the rain.

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Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn't tell
which one it was -
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air -
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren't there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else's story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable - would have hurried
over the fields
to name it - the owl, I mean.
But it's mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name -
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.

-- Snowy Night by Mary Oliver

#10 decembrance 2019

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Just an image to accompany tonight's drizzle and the potential for an early morning dusting of snow.

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#9 decembrance 2019

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When Zoë was a toddler I remember spending a weekend with a friend in Deep Creek, Maryland where on a walk in the woods--finding many sprouted acorns--we collected them in a pail and I brought them home. At home I bundled Zoë up and trundled off with shovel and bucket jollying her along to help me plant my hopeful oak trees. I don't think a single one of those acorns sprouted. Perhaps those acorns remembered the season of their own childhood and could discern this was not forest but still pasture. They were not ready to be the instigators of new woods or the potential of a forest. So many of our saplings got eaten by the deer or mice or died in a drought. A few survivors got mowed down by an inattentive mower. But many persimmons, dogwoods and cedars grew up. Hope, good intentions, dreams of woods, envisioned privacy, and the desire to replace what I burn all fed my imagination.

09 winter 2019.jpg"We found that trees could communicate, over the air and through their roots. Common sense hooted us down. We found that trees take care of each other. Collective science dismissed the idea. Outsiders discovered how seeds remember the seasons of their childhood and set buds accordingly. Outsiders discovered that trees sense the presence of other nearby life. That a tree learns to save water. That trees feed their young and synchronize their masts and bank resources and warn kin and send out signals to wasps to come and save them from attacks. Here's a little outsider information, and you can wait for it to be confirmed. A forest knows things. They wire themselves up underground. There are brains down there, ones our own brains aren't shaped to see. Root plasticity, solving problems and making decisions. Fungal synapses. What else do you want to call it? Link enough trees together, and a forest grows aware."

Richard Powers, from The Overstory.Powers,

#8 decembrance 2019

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We got home after dark from an afternoon outing but nonetheless I still headed out on a short dog walk. It takes time to get used to being out at the tale end of dusk. My eyesight adjusts to the low light. My hearing sharpens and I feel more carefully as I step. I often describe the beginning of a new series of work as being like walking in the dark. As I move into the future I cannot see where I am going. I have to feel my way and listen for new cues to get a sense of whether I am on the right path or about to end up in a dead end.

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The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think.

--Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal on January 18, 1915

#7 decembrance 2019

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At sunset I made a loop of our property patting tree trunks and picking up a few fallen sticks and kicking aside numerous osage oranges. Even though we now have tall trees and deep shade around our house, seared in my memory is our land as a pasture with a fresh stark house perched on the side of a hill overlooking a pond.

Before we bought this property we were living in Maryland on an old farm. Warren and I rented what was originally the summer kitchen to a 1830s farmhouse. The driveway was lined with mature maples that turned deep yellow in the fall; there was a huge Japanese maple outside our front door along with a towering Tulip Poplar. Skirting around the front pasture was a hedgerow of Osage orange trees our landlord had tried to cut down only to find the thorny stumps sprouting like daggered bushes. Beside the house were enormous basswood trees and out back there was a magnificent big leaf magnolia. These huge trees were a testament to some soul who had an eye to the future. Someone who planted trees not just for their own satisfaction but also for a future generation's shade. We got permission to dig up seedlings of trees from all over the property and I was floored by how deep a taproot could go on a small sapling. I remember so many days of what felt like transplanting a thousand seedlings.

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"There's a Chinese saying.
'When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.'
The Chinese engineer smiles. 'Good one.'

 'When is the next best time? Now.' 

'Ah! Okay!'
The smile turns real. Until today, he has never planted anything. But Now, that next best of times, is long, and rewrites everything."

― Richard Powers, The Overstory

#6 decembrance 2019

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When I began this project of making twenty-one images many years ago, Warren who helps me with editing photos and words and all things technical asked if I could make the images ahead of time. I balked because I wanted each image and entry to be a response to the day and time of year. I felt like it was OK to feel a little lost and uncertain. I felt it was my job to open the door to the dark days of December to the unknown answers that need to be found as I work, walk, photograph and respond. Although to be honest I do get a running start these days, like making a compass reading to judge where the coming path lies.

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"Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it's where their work comes from, although it's arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own."
- Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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#5 decembrance 2019

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At dawn when the heat clicks on it feels as if the house is breathing. I leave our bed quietly to feed the cat, walk the dog and retrieve the newspaper. I am not naturally a morning person but the routine has become habit and reminds me of the practice of how I make things or do yoga or commit to afternoon walks.

In the gentle December sunlight of late morning I paged through my mother's archive searching for an article I remember stashing away. Instead I found myself lost in drafts of essays she wrote about her childhood experiences of camp, long friendships made in her twenties, and a piece about her sister and their familial relationship. These branching essays struck forgotten chords and reminded me how hard she worked to understand who she was, how she got there and where to go next. As a child I thought her knowledge and personality was solid, arrived at through natural growth like that of a tree. I am grateful to touch these pages that open into an invisible feeling of light and the vortices of empathy.

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At dawn when rowboats drum on the dock 

and every door in the breathing house bumps softly 

as if someone were leaving quietly, I wonder

if something in us is made of wood, 

maybe not quite the heart, knocking softly, 

or maybe not made of it, but made for its call. 

Of all the elements, it is happiest in our houses. 

It will sit with us, eat with us, lie down 

and hold our books (themselves a rustling woods), 

bearing our floors and roofs without weariness,

for unlike us it does not resent its faithfulness 

or question

Its branchings have slowed the invisible feelings of light

into vorticies smooth for our hands, 

so that every fine-grained handle and page and beam

is a wood-word, a standing wave: 

years that never pass, vastness never empty,

speed so great it cannot be told from peace.

"Essay on Wood" by James Richardson, from DURING by James Richardson, copyright © 2016 Copper Canyon Press.

#4 decembrance 2019

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When we built the house I tried to pay attention to where the sun rose and set but I didn't fully understand the impact of the seasons. Now I have an intuitive knowledge of where the sun sets in December versus June. I remember the strength of the wind as the roof shook when we first moved into our house. I remember the motion of digging holes to plant trees and the emotions of hope and effort tangled with the tiny root balls. The growth has been slow and profound, the shade creeping into my studio, the views being crowded out by branches.

I discern language that comes from the land. I not only walk the paths around our home but also study in order to dance the dialect of winter, discern the calligraphy of branches, and copy the asemic text of locust pods. I have used the ochre dug up from planting trees. I sift the black dust of basalt that comes from our driveway gravel for glazes. I ache for the white of the moon and am relieved by the blue of the morning sky. I remember how my mother lived for the sunset. Her generous spirit colors my desire to take snapshots and write in my journal. I am evidence of my mother. And I see even more confirmation of my mother in my daughter. I recognize my father's skin in the bruises on my forearm from some project gone awry. These memories are my poems. These poems are my life, the land my muse and the stars my stories.

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Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star's stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

her life, and her mother's, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their

tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.


-- Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses, W. W. Norton & Company.

Appointed the Poet Laureate in 2019

#3 decembrance 2019

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For our Thanksgiving table my daughter and I went out to forage for color. The giant bigleaf magnolia leaves were wet and smelled of mildew. The Japanese maple had lost its sparkle, but we found a few bits of red above the middle C of the November brown in Nandina Domestica along with the last blueberry leaves. My vase made in Tasmania from their local materials is the gentle reminder that other parts of the world are leading up to the warmth of the longest days of the year.

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The light has changed;

middle C is tuned darker now.

And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed. --

--  Louise Glück, from October

#2 decembrance 2019

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I lean into the shortening days making a point to get outside a little bit earlier than the usual dog walk, to go a bit further than is my custom, both serving to extend my time outside. In December I have to work for inspiration. I look at the brown rubble in our yard to find color. I search out the bits of beauty--the curled leaf, the muscular vine, the fallen locust pods. I point and shoot the camera, gather a few treasures like a squirrel, scribble like a madwoman, and sing poems as if they were songs of a child.

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The barrenness of the poetic task: as if everyday we look out at a barren courtyard of rubble and from this are required to make something beautiful.
--Theodore Roethke

#1 decembrance 2019

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Welcome to December and the first in a series of 21 images, some memories and a poem or a quote. On the heels of Thanksgiving weekend the turning of the calendar page to December takes me by surprise.

_01 winter 2019.jpgDecember brings light
yet the season turns darker
beneath a far star
Greg Sellers


About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2019 listed from newest to oldest.

June 2019 is the previous archive.

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