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For Marian on Her Birthday

How It Is to Fly

You can either stay on level ground and
take familiar avenues that hardly
challenge your ability to navigate
or breathe, and then you end up pretty much back
where you started, having never seen the
place where water bubbles up from rock and
dives, a cataract, into a canyon; or
you can find a mountain that you want to
climb, remembering to wear a hat and
take a snakebite kit and drinking water
and to tell your friends and family that
you are going up the mountain, you’ll be
home for dinner.

However… You might not remember to
remind yourself that everyone who climbs a
mountain worthy of her finds, if she goes
to the summit, somewhere on the way, the
end of her ability and only
God can show her how to use her wings.

There are no exceptions.

Even if she has a guide, a wireless
telephone, a topo map, a Saint
Bernard, companions who have scaled the heights
before and know the way—there will be unseasonable
weather, possibly a blizzard, hungry
bears, or boulders sliding down the slope. Always
something unexpected, something daunting
comes along, and if it didn’t, you might
wish it had, in retrospect.


How beautifully you move across the landscape.
I have loved to watch the joy you find not
only in progressing toward your destination
but in tiny miracles and common
blessings that entrance you — nestlings, waterfalls,
and poplars turning gold in autumn; I have
looked into your dancing eyes and honest
heart and wondered at your innocence, your
clarity of purpose, and your strength.


The best of us do not suffice unto
ourselves. As an antidote to arrogance,
the day arrives when all our skills are futile
swipes against an obstacle of such
inscrutability it can’t be analyzed. We
have to enter tunnels that look nothing,
not at all, as we expect the passageways
to paradise to look, and there it doesn’t
matter if your eyes are open wide or
if you sit or crawl or try to run away
and hide; eventually you say, “Thy will be
done” and really mean it. If that weren’t the
case, then there would be no need for hope, no
opening for grace, and everyone would
turn around and go back down.

beautiful butterfly

You will never satisfy yourself with
dappled lanes that take you nowhere in
particular. You will always find a
mountain with your name on it. Once you
start to climb, the peak may disappear from
view, and there are always corners you can’t
see around, and that’s why almost everyone just
stays at home and wonders what it’s like where
rivers leap from stones, and stars seem near
enough to pluck out of the sky; and you will
be the one to tell them how it is to




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