On Siblings Poster

Dear Readers and Listeners–

Many of you have asked about my posts and have wondered what I’ve  been up to these days–

The answer is I am happy, healthy and engaged in creative activity, and thinking of you more often than you know.

One of my principal projects is my memoir-in-progress, Family Landscape. I was proud to be invited to participate in Writers Read, an exciting venture in Manhattan wherein writers read short theme-based pieces for a live audience (a kissing cousin to The Art Garden) The pieces are taped and then posted online.

The most recent theme was Siblings, and if you click on the link below, you will hear me read a first slice from Family Landscape.


You will also hear other remarkable writers and their brief essays on Siblings, by turns humorous, heart-wrenching and haunting.

Will I post again regularly? Too soon to tell–maybe synchopatedly.  Know that I do miss you, at my elbow, walking through the fields, through summer’s multiple intoxications, myriad as milkweed florets and their drunken pollinators who hum, chip and skitch above the distant whine of rubber meeting road. I miss you whispering which photograph to take, what is meaningful this week, what wants amplifying, magnifying.

A life of magnified meaning. Know I seek and find this,  whether you hear from me or not. And I hope you are doing the same.




More Reading aloud:

Tomorrow night I am glad to be reading new poetry as part of the marvelous annual Calling All Poets marathon in Beacon, NY. I’m on around 8pm. It would be great to see you!

MARATHON 2015 outlined-2






Pennsylvania SkyPennSky, unretouched photo & all text ©Irene O’Garden 2014

To listen to this post, please click here:Demitterre Diem

The other night I suffered a thigh cramp. A real howler–when muscles gang up on each other and each, in defense, grips all the harder.

Sucking deep breaths, can’t answer awakened, anxious husband. Bending, leaning, rotating. Coaxing, begging the leg, which snarls and defies like a mad dog.

Isn’t this over yet? Stop. Stop. And it won’t.

In spite of the eternity pain stages, it doesn’t last forever. Eventually our flailing finds alignment.  Try good leg. Foot ankle thigh take weight. Shift to ailing limb. Acceptance! It is relieved by the weight, glad of normalcy and, in its sheepish canine way, apologizes for its lapse of muscular sanity. 

I’d vigorously exercised these muscles earlier.  Shouldn’t they be tired and want to sleep? Yet, as body will, they’d been mirroring my frame of mind.

For I’d been pumping my muscle of accomplishment just as vigorously. So much to do, to see, to create: Christmas cards, gifts, errands, visits with friends and family, making house sitter arrangements, having contractor meetings–all clamored to be done. (We’re having substantial renovations in the next several weeks and are traveling while the workers sling their power tools.)

Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) is the very motto of our age, and has inspired me plenty. But, our thighs remind, if we seize non-stop, we seize up.

So here’s my little corollary:



(Let Go The Day)


Returning to a daily taste of yoga helps me do same. As does looking at an retouched sky like the one above. After all, the vigorous and mighty sun does it every night.  With style.



***Please Note: After more than two and a half-years of weekly posts, I’m taking my first real hiatus. I anticipate being back in the Wednesday saddle in late January, but will rely completely on my intuition for the timing. Have marvelous holidays!***


Publication News: People who are wondering how to buy a copy of the gloriously photographed “Connecting: Celebrating the People and Places of the Hudson Highlands” (which contains my essay on the arts)  can click here. If you’re in the area, the book is also available at Boscobel’s Gift Store (Garrison), the Garrison Café (Garrison), Storm King Adventure Tours (Cornwall-on-Hudson), Hudson Highlands Nature Museum (Cornwall) Jones Farm (Cornwall) and at the Putnam History Museum (Cold Spring)


The Main Thing: A Writer Wednesday Post

December 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Essays - (6 Comments)



The Main Thing, quote by Auguste Rodin, artwork & all text © Irene O’Garden 2104

To listen to this post, please click here:The Main Thing

Thank you, Auguste Rodin.

The minute I read these words of his, I penciled them down and pinned them up.   

When asked by the Garrison Art Center to donate a 5”x 5” artwork for a fundraiser, I relished the opportunity to create the piece above. Not only could I absorb the words into my bloodstream/thoughtstream and share them with others, I could further explore the medium of encaustic.

Pigmented beeswax is a jaw-droppingly versatile substance. After heating and melting it, you apply it to your ground (in this case, masonite, though wood, fabric, metal and glass can all be used.)  This piece displays the many verbs encaustic welcomes: you can brush it, marble it, carve it, shave it, scrape it, gouge it, splatter it and collage with it (the lettering was actually done on paper, affixed and coated with clear beeswax.)  Seems like the very stuff of life, which accommodates any verb we make of it.

After heating and fusing the final layers, you polish till it shines. If you’re not happy, scrape it off and start again. So forgiving. Like a soul evolving through lifetimes.

Once you’re satisfied, you don’t even have to frame it. Your final coat of beeswax protects it essentially forever. Like a soul recognizing an insight.

Encaustics from our first century are still radiant.

Part of me thinks when I’m all done with words, I’ll just play with this stuff—

For now, though, nothing moves me like words, or inspires my love and hope and trembling as they do. For now, I’ll live with them, sharing those I love with those I love.

Gladdening Tasks: A Writer Wednesday Post

November 26th, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Essays - (4 Comments)


Sunset grassSunsetGrasses, photo & all text © Irene O’Garden

To listen to this post, please click here:Gladdening Tasks

The sun is setting on the growing time of year and the time of inward turning arises. Yesterday John and I squeaked in the very last moments of winter preparation before today’s predicted snow. (At present the flakes are not flying, but sinking, soppy, thick and compactable, into perfect snowman-snowball snow.)

We set the ladder and changed the battery on the outdoor clock;  safely housed the ceramic birdbath and wrenhouse; gathered split firewood, stacked and tarped it; pulled up, trimmed and scrubbed leeks and celery root. The gift of fresh roots, gently pungent on the dinner table—see how they throb with life, how glad they are to join us inside.



Today my heart swells with thanks for such simple physical tasks, some of them ancient as agriculture itself. The feeling is strong indeed—the whole heritage of humans husbanding the land and securing their homes upon it fills me to bursting with something deeper than nostalgia, broader than language.

As Thanksgiving descends on wide and fragrant wings, may you enjoy humble tasks, shared with one you love, tasks which gladden body and spirit, tasks which are not at a remove from life, but are life itself in a land of changing seasons.




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

Long talks with family, friends and colleagues; many classes full of eager and rambunctious third-grade poets—my purse of words is all but spent this week, and I have scarce enough to caption shadows.

And yet I have enough.

Join me for a short spontaneous woods-walk I took awhile back. My shadow spotted a single rock near the path, prompting hijinks of her own. Third-graders might approve.   

Forward Pass


Forward Pass.


Highlands Globetrotter.

Moon Birth

Moon Birth.



Publication News: A brief reminder that the book signing/release party for  Connecting: Celebrating the People and Places of the Hudson Highlands happens tomorrow, Thursday November 20, from 6-8 at Winter Hill in Garrison, NY. My essay on the arts appears within. Hope you can make it!


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

I get as speedy as anyone, but when I found this thought in an old notebook this week, it slowed me into a long morning of design.

Notwithstanding my recent post on retouching, I thought you might enjoy a little peek behind the curtain. Here’s the photograph on which it is based:


I snapped this picture of our malfunctioning water-treatment unit to email the technician.

We all have to deal with maintenance, chores, errands. But taking our time– with a scribbled thought, a homely image, or the dailiest of tasks– is what sweetens our time.

Have a sweet week.

Publication News: I’m happy to say that in honor of Thanksgiving, Untreed Reads, is offering 30% off the price of my Pushcart Prize-winning essay, Glad To Be Human when you buy it from their website. Some people make reading it aloud part of their festivities and it’s a welcome gift .


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.




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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