Archives For Mary Oliver

Sunny California

Mary Liz Ingram —  April 23, 2015 — 1 Comment

It’s been a while since, months can pass so quickly, but I find my thoughts daily straying to my few days on the Pacific.

I left the downpours of an Alabama spring behind and spent some time on the shores of California. A rare retreat alone, my husband and I felt like excited, curious children on a grand adventure. We ran around Hollywood Blvd., drove down the coast in a little red rental car, climbed over the rocks and tidal pools of Laguna Beach, went whale watching, and Stephen took a surfing lesson while I giggled and watched.

It was glorious.

With such incredible surroundings – the tallest palm trees I’ve ever seen, the sky catching on fire as we watched the sun sink into the ocean, dolphins, gray whales and sea lions right in front of me – I planned to paint and draw a lot.

But, I enjoyed myself so immensely and found myself so relaxed, I didn’t feel like doing much of anything besides staring at the ocean and listening to it sing. I found the words of Mary Oliver’s poem “Today” drifting through my mind: “Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word….Quiet as a feather. I hardly move though I’m traveling a terrific distance.”

Here are a few paintings, doodles and thoughts from those transforming days in California:

Pacific Ocean treasures, watercolor

Pacific Ocean treasures, watercolor

When I saw this collection of ocean treasures – shells and seaweed, sticks and pebbles – I was reminded of the poem “Breakage” by Mary Oliver as well. I recommend you read the whole poem…all of her poems, really. They are so simple, so beautiful.

I go down to the edge of the sea. How everything shines in the morning light!


First you figure out what each one means by itself,

the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop full of moonlight.

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.


“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

There’s a nest outside my window.

It’s empty now.

Nestled among the thorns of pyracantha, protected and safe, the mockingbird built her home.

I passed by the bush one day and heard peeping. Peering up through the tangle of branches and leaves, I caught a glimpse of a wobbly, tiny bird, mouth to the sky. For the next few weeks, I watched the mother tirelessly feed her nestlings, hearing their loud peeps whenever she returned with a worm.

One rainy day, I looked up to see her come out from the nest, drenched and ruffled. On yet another search for food, she paused on top of the fence. I paused outside of my car. Standing in the rain, we looked at each other. I didn’t move, nor did she. I was loaded with bags and had just ushered my kids inside, a tired mother. I felt an unmissable connection to that mother bird. I felt a camaraderie, I felt my place in the nature of things. Mothers, caring for our children day in and day out; protecting them, nurturing them, helping them grow.

Yesterday, I saw a baby mockingbird happily hopping down the road. Peppy and spry, he hopped and hopped, while mother bird followed along the tree branches, watching, protecting.

I followed too, worrying for the new little bird. Barefoot, I walked down the street after the mockingbirds, keeping an eye on the neighbor’s cat sleeping on his steps. The fledgling found a spot in a rose bush, so I went home to my little ones.

Tonight as evening fell, I went into my yard. My dogs weren’t coming when I called, so I looked to see where they were. My heart sank. One of them had my baby bird.

I still choke up as I write. In anger and mourning, I desperately made the dog release. As our baby bird lay on the ground, I looked for it’s mother. There she was, on the fence, moving back and forth, watching from a distance. I felt her confusion, her loss.

I cried. I felt such pain for her. All her care, guidance and protection, and he was gone. With apology, respect and mourning, I took the baby into the garden, passing two thrashers chirping and hopping along the gate…observing, watching. I looked at them and hoped they could feel the respect I tried to show.

The mother mockingbird had gone. I buried the baby, with my pajama pants pulled over my knees and my bare feet pushing the shovel into the dirt. A quiet, peaceful corner of the garden, marked with a stone.

This is a sad story. It reminds me that life is a gift, and life is a struggle. Life demands respect and each day is precious, each creature a wonder. And we all have a place in the family of things.*

All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful,
the Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
each little bird that sings,
he made their glowing colors,
he made their tiny wings.

Mother Mockingbird, ink doodle

Mother Mockingbird, ink doodle

*from “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver