Portrait of DylanPortrait of Dylan, photo & all text © Irene O’Garden, 2014


To listen to this post, please click here: Questionable Qualifications


Meet Dylan, the newest member of our household. (Rest assured, his quarters are far larger than they appear–this is merely the little cage in which he traveled home last night.)

He is the latest in the succession of canaries who’ve graced our lives–Whitman, Basho, Vincent and Oliver, all named for poets. (Since only male canaries sing, Vincent and Oliver commemorated Edna and Mary.) Day before yesterday was the hundredth birthday of a certain Welsh poet, who has kindly lent his name to our bright musical fellow. Dylan adjusted immediately to his new digs and began singing promptly this morning.

Such a voice is a great cheering sound especially as winter comes in. You can hear him in a 20-second file below, joined by a surprise chanteuse who longed to be recorded, too.

What I want to share, though, was how we came to get our first canary. Thirty years ago, we had a parakeet and peppy as the little squirt was, I remember saying to myself, “When this bird dies, I’m going to get a canary.”

I’d hear his sweet but squawky Damon Runyon voice and anticipate  liquid song—until one day I listened to my own ridiculous voice. Why do I have to wait for him to die to get a canary? Who says you can’t have both at once? We became a two-cage household.

Since then, I try to listen for the scratchy, squawky qualifications I unthinkingly impose on life. Releasing silly limitations lets the heart sing.


To hear Dylan (and surprise guest) sing, please click hereDylan’s First Morning

Unretouched: A Writer Wednesday Post

October 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Essays - (4 Comments)


UnretouchedUnretouched, photo & all text © Irene O’Garden 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: Unretouched

I often fiddle a bit with my photos—not much, but subtly increasing contrast or emphasizing a hue here or there to intensify what I perceive as their emotional impact.

Not so with the photo above, which I snapped a few steps from the door of  The Memoir Institute in upstate New York, site of my brief but fruitful writing retreat this week. Didn’t even hit “Enhance Photo.” Or rather I did, but preferred the unadorned version.

This landscape already expressed a hand-tinted quality that day, an old-fashioned peacefulness.

Some things are right as they are, it said.

How much we retouch nowadays, for we can—photos, haircolor, bodies, even.  I certainly retouch my writing.

It’s a relief when life reminds us that just because we can manipulate doesn’t mean we must. “Enhancing” does not always enhance.  Only our own awareness can do that.


Tapping Power: A Writer Wednesday Post

October 15th, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Essays - (15 Comments)

TappingTapping Power, photo & all text © Irene O’Garden

To listen to this post, please click here: Tapping Power

Last week this yellow waterlily opened up a world.

I went to California to visit my sister Mary Kay in her excellent Memory Care Unit. Spending time with an Alzheimer’s patient will challenge your habits. The two pillars of ordinary conversation—what has been and what is coming–are essentially meaningless.

Of course it’s our cultural expectations that are limited, not the person. So much capacity remains: to experience, to feel, to laugh, to enjoy the familiar. But side by side in the present you must remain. What can we share?

As we smiled together over lunch, I remembered I had some family pictures on my iPad, so I pulled it out. Kako loved the familiar nameless faces and enjoyed looking at my landscape and flower photos.  

Then I opened my wonderful Poetry Foundation app and read her some funny old rhythm and rhyme pieces—James Whitcomb Riley, Edward Lear. She was especially delighted with “Casey At The Bat. “

As I went from photo to photo and app to app, I swung the iPad away from her, concerned that the zaps and zooms might disturb her.

But when I opened up MonetHD and gently slid from painting to painting, she reached out and double-tapped that yellow waterlily. It of course instantly enlarged, which tickled her. She tapped the blossom in and out and soon discovered that she could change the pictures herself with a slide of her finger.

“Would you like to make some art of your own?” I opened up a sketching app and we made some abstract pictures together. After that, Tengami, a beautiful meditative Japanese game. She loved making the little explorer move back and forth in his peaceful luminous world.

“ I like this,” she said. “It takes me out of myself.”

By the time I left, we had spent three hours together, the longest visit we have had in many years, all because we’d found a way into her almost vanished world of volition. The staff was happy to hear it and will now assist her with an iPad every day, taking her out of herself and into her power.

Technology itself is not the answer. Presence is. But I do offer gratitude for this varied, entertaining means of sharing it.



Treeglow: A Writer Wednesday Post

October 8th, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Poetry - (12 Comments)


treemoreglowTreeglow, photo& all text © Irene O’Garden 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: Treeglow

In the midst of an errand-studded, socially-whirly, travel-mottled fortnight, and in lieu of lamely listing said dance card, I share an image that brings me peace, and the few words which occurred.


Early trained to stained glass,

the eye of the beholder falls

on veined archetypal panes.


Light guides the eye

and shadow settles it.

Seasons lead and ground us.



Have a peaceful week.


Mother NaturePhoto by Jean Marzollo, all text © Irene O’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: Infant C and Infant B

It was wonderful to be part of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival again this year. I gussy up as Mother Nature on behalf of my book “Forest, What Would You Like?” but also offer my other children’s books.

Among my sales that day, two in particular gave me pause. The first was a beaming woman, who bought a copy of “Maybe My Baby” to add to a large basket of books she carried.

“Inscribe it to Charlotte, “she said, naming one of the world’s more notable grandchildren, born just the day before. The basket would soon be delivered to two residents of Chappaqua—one a former and one perhaps a future President.

Of course I was thrilled to have my book included—I felt like a marmalade-maker getting the Royal Warrant: “By appointment to her Majesty the Queen.”

But later a quieter, plainer woman came by. She picked up the same book.

“I work with infants,” she said. She read the book and nodded. “I’ll take it.”

“I’m so happy. To whom shall I inscribe it?”

“Infant B,” she answered. I did so, feeling a choke of emotion. She was gone before I could ask her anything else.

Infant C will want for nothing and I eagerly hope she and her family enjoy my book.

But for Infant B—at such risk a name has not been given—mine may be the only book. A greater, humbling and grief-streaked honor.




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