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.


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.




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.





TangleflowTangleFlow, photo and all text ©Irene O’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: TangleFlow

Such a silent place: the green and ghostly remains of Nuttalburg, West Virginia.

John and I were recently its sole explorers, whence this image. The visual poetry of the outworn often speaks to me.

This tangle was part of a tipple, which conveyed coal to boxcars to market. Eager to control all aspects of his production, Henry Ford owned this mine awhile, and made this system. He found minds creative enough to imagine these objects, bodies strong enough to build and place them. And always, bellies hungry for work.

Hear the phantom pandemonium: coal thundering into the cars, trains clattering over the tracks, ear-splitting squeals of wheels and pulleys and whistles. Nearby, dinnerbells and shouting schoolchildren. A vibrant place it was, propelled and prolonged by sheer might.

It’s fitting to remember in a week of international climate discussions, this was a system that seemed unbreakable, untwistable, invincible.

When at last dismantled, it must have roared to the ground like a Beethoven coda.

As these frayed muscles of industry show, even in tangle there is flow; in decay, abraded splendor. Though Beethoven shows no sign of wear.



I’ll be channeling Mother Nature this Saturday, September 27,  at the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festivaland being my own self with delightful young poets on  Sunday 4-6 at the opening of this year’s second Poetry Trail at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum. You would be a welcome sight at either place. 



gentle magenta1Bush Clover, photo & all text ©Irene O’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here:Startle Display

After a week away, I could hardly wait to get fresh flowers in the house again.

Michaelmas daisies are at it this time of year—starry blooms in fruity purples, chalky periwinkles— and this glorious shrub above (Lespedeza thunbergii Gibraltar, or Bush Clover) is at the height of her beauty. Her long stems are crowded with opulent, pea-like blossoms and if magenta can be gentle, she’s it.

I happily loaded my gathering basket, but ouch! Felt something sharp as I clipped her stems. Almost like thorns, I thought. How uncharacteristic of the pea family.

Indoors, I began arranging the stems in a vase. “Ow!” That really hurt! The heel of my hand went red and throbbing. I picked up a leaf.

Talk about startled.

Stung Startle Display, photo © Irene O’Garden, 2014


Looks like an intergalactic visitor. I promptly googled it. I had been stung by a Saddleback Caterpillar. Who knew there even were stinging caterpillars?

If defense were the ultimate expression of power, Saddlebacks would rule–they are the most well-defended creature I’ve ever laid eyes on. Those multiple spiraling spines are not only sharp, but venomous, and can break off and lodge in the sting-ee. The spots that look like a big face are meant to scare aggressors. Boo! It’s called the startle display.

When you calm down, though, and look again, you see this fellow is essentially an armored slug, just trying to get his naked, vulnerable self from here to there. He grows up to be a spikeless, venom-free, furry brown moth.  

It was worth the sting and startle to behold this creature who reminds us fierce defense is but a passing stage in growth. 


Publication News:  

John thinks I saved his life last fall. I am pleased to say that “An Argument With Water,” wherein I describe the experience, has just been published in deComp magazine. You can read it here

If you are Chappaqua, NY on Saturday Sept 27, please stop by my table at the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. It’s a grand event, and I will be gussied up as Mother Nature once again– 


I am traveling again this week,  so I wanted to prepare my post ahead of time.  A few sentences in, however, the phone rang.  At a glance I knew two beloved voices and a birthday were involved at the other end. Though it was my only writing window, the meaningful action was clear, so I answered the phone and shared a warm conversation.

After I hung up, the following phrase charged into my head, and I was moved to take the rest of my writing time to letter it instead–

Love Drops


May love drop many whats for you this week–


To The Upper Room Toward the Upper Room, photo & all text © Irene O’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: Intimate Privilege

Ever since I first learned to wash dishes and endure long car rides with siblings, I have dearly loved singing harmony. But I can’t join a conventional singing group. John and I travel so much that I would miss many rehearsals.

Last fall, however, I saw a request for singers. A “Threshold Choir” was forming locally, requiring only one rehearsal a month.  What sent intuition’s shiver up my spine, however, was the choir’s destination and purpose: when invited, to offer the simple gift of song at the bedsides of those who are dying. Those on The Threshold.

The songs are simple, non-denominational, just what you might want on your way out: “You’ve been loved, deeply loved,” goes one. Images of light, spirit and comfort.

I know that one reason I was prompted to this service was my spontaneous discovery years ago that when Alzheimer’s had carried off all my mother’s words, we were still able to sing together. How her face beamed. Mine, too, I’m sure.

After several months of practice, our small group has now begun singing at bedsides. Suffice it to say, it is an intimate privilege, indeed.

I did not intend to post about it, but changed my mind when I received a link this week to an NPR story about Threshold Choirs.  Over a hundred have formed across North America since Kate Munger created the first one in 2000. It occurred to me you may have a loved one who might benefit from this service. Or you might feel the same shiver I did when learning about them, and be drawn, as was I, to a bit of midwifery toward the next world, singing lullabies to lives.


They Say, I SayThey Say/ I Say, photo & all text © Irene O’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: They Say:I Say

Flipping through notebook pages recently, I came across a little game I played with myself earlier this summer, and thought you might enjoy playing it as well—

A great resource for any writer, Stanley Fish’s excellent book, “How To Write A Sentence” references “They Say/I Say,” a book on rhetoric and academic writing whose authors suggest using “they say/I say” to practice building arguments.

Build an argument if you like–I think it’s fun to just to see what your brain does with the proposal. Take a piece of conventional wisdom and contradict or modify it.

Here are a few I came up with:

They say practice makes perfect, but I say practice outlasts perfection.

They say living well is the best revenge, but I say revenge is deadly.

They say hope is for suckers, but I say it’s for creators.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I say a loving word is worth a thousand pictures.

They say you can do whatever you put your mind to, but I say not without your heart.


What do you say?


Jim&DomJim & Dom, photo and all text © Irene O’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: Swordfight with a Horse

While all my posts won’t be about my recent wilderness trip,  I do want to share the following—

In the campfire photo above, my younger brother Jim encourages the remarkable young Domenic Lewis to read us a story from “They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?” a collection of funny essays by sportsman Patrick McManus.

Nephew of my nephew Don, fourteen-year old Domenic is quite a sport himself, as you’ll see at Hour Ten of our eleven-hour horseback ride into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

The ride was the part of the trip I’d most grimly anticipated. Warnings had been issued: we’d likely ride all day with no break, we were bound to be saddle sore. Steep mountainside drop-offs can be scary– we might need to dismount and walk our horses. Saddlebags had to be light. I worried that my one measly bottle of water would not suffice for a whole day in the sun and you don’t want to be around a dehydrated, overheated Irene. Just mention noon on a sand dune to John.

As it happened, though, our guide gave us three breaks. Thanks to Don’s water filter, we drank our fill of cold, sparkling stream water. My preparatory stretches, padded bike shorts and chamois cream kept me pretty comfortable and we rode through immensely varied and beautiful terrain: dense moist forest, lyrical passages of wildflowers, a stunning field of creamy-plumed  beargrass. Shimmering lakes, a hefty wedge of glacier, vivid young pines reclaiming burnt land–it was a pleasure riding Sugar, my agreeable horse, over such scenic, well-maintained trails.  

But one spot during Hour Ten called for tough equestrian choreography. The horses had to make a short steep rocky ascent,  immediately and arrhythmically step over a large fallen tree and then instantly pivot into a sharp rocky descent. Most made it smoothly, but Domenic’s horse spooked, left the trail, and headed for a standing dead pine. One branch caught under the chin strap of Domenic’s river hat, tearing it off, but he kept his head, stayed in the saddle, grabbed his hat and managed to guide the horse back onto the trail. We proceeded.

Not long afterwards, he said, “I think I’m bleeding.” I was riding just ahead of him, and Don called, “See if he’s okay, will you, Irene?”

I turned in my saddle and froze. There, jutting three inches out of his left temple–“Domenic! You have a stick sticking out of your head!” Whereupon he screamed.

We halted. Don leapt down, helped Domenic dismount and carefully pulled out the sharp dart of white wood.  We were all shaken, no one more than Domenic, but when it appeared all would be well,  Jim patted him on the back. “Now you have a story.” A beautiful way, I thought, to mark such a moment in a young life.

I marked it later in my own way.  When we got to camp, I dug out my little sewing kit, and sewed the chinstrap back onto his hat. Finding a bit of red thread, I embroidered a tiny red star inside the brim, just at the spot of his injury.

By day’s end a smiling Domenic had come up with his take: “I was in a swordfight with a horse, and I lost.” Which, of course, he didn’t.


Publication News: While not publication as such, I supplied some narration for “Reel Herstory: The Real Story of Reel Women” a documentary on the remarkable history of female filmmakers, hosted by Jodie Foster. It’s a pleasure to see writer/filmmaker Ally Acker get well-deserved recognition on  FilmDoo, an international blog dedicated to indie and international film discovery. Look for it this fall at a film festival near you!

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