Category Archives: Salt from the Earth

All the Many Flowers

by Laura Parker Roerden

A flower is
not just
a flower.

It’s an invitation
to dance,

to fall into
a time
and a tempo
not of
your own

wherein lies
the meaning

of being
made of
soil and sun,

tapped
lightly

in place

by

fingers

of rain.

Don’t miss another post: including #FridayPoems and From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability.

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the board of Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

Lessons of the Wild

by Laura Parker Roerden

Click the image to view this previously published article, “Lessons of the Wild” in Schools with Spirit by Beacon Press.

Click the image to view this previously published article, “Lessons of the Wild” in Schools with Spirit by Beacon Press.

lessons_of_the_wild

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

The Ways of Water

by Laura Parker Roerden

As a child, we had a hand pump
over an artesian well
by a white, double-decker chicken barn.

It was the only water
for hundreds of birds
growing on that land.

The pump required
several hard thrusts
of the handle to raise the water

like spirit, to the surface.

Then each long,
resistance laden
pull of its arm brought up

a triumph of water;
a river

spilling
into a galvanized bucket

spraying
foam and mist
in confusing and thrilling planes

that felt like rafting on whitewater.

Everything in the dim eastern
light would turn
silver and metallic,
reflective and animated

like balls of mercury
jump around a bathroom floor
when you drop
a thermometer.

The pump had long ago
been painted dark green,
but it had weathered

with flecks of peeling paint
gathered on the creaky boards capping
the well below;

the patterns held my imagination
while I pumped
the water,

drawing in the cold
air, with each long pull.

“Learn the ways of water,”
I was told

one morning

and I listened,

plunging my hand into the icy
bucket, as if the winter air was finally
ready to explain itself to me,

as if the every day
need of water

carried a promise
I had not yet

understood.

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

A Coming Hurricane

by Laura Parker Roerden

I read today that a flock of seagulls was once trapped in the eye of a hurricane.
The birds had sought refuge in the false calm of fair skies, but didn’t realize they
now flew through a tunnel of destruction, all ways out blocked by certain devastation.

Birds that sense plummeting pressure from an oncoming storm either fly aloft
on waves of wind or hunker down, feet gripped onto lower branches or huddled
together in brush. They risk being blown off course and face the errant bolt

of lavender lightening from the differential of opposing forces sparking a fire.
The winds, which are now stirring, reveal the trees’ lonely bones as perches;
and harbors of strength among the lowest rungs; yet also invites us to rise.

No, hope is not a destination, but instead a way of entering into dialogue
with possibility like a leaf trembled and blown finds its way to the ground.

At Jo-Erl Farm

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

A Small Poem

by Laura Parker Roerden

Small things sometimes call us home, like the two birds I saw
circling the hay field this morning on my way back from
farm chores. Their shrill vibrating whistle, a half warning, half invitation
stunned me awake from a deep dream—even though

I should have been sufficiently awake from an hour of shoveling
manure. Why would two seagulls have come so far inland? I wondered,
as I mentally calculate whether the recent hurricane
or an errant trash heap had thrown the birds off course.

Then I saw the unmistakable thick body and spiraling flight of
predators:  a grey morning sky backlit like a metallic robe
about to hit the ground in full favor of nakedness, no pretense.
The birds were not seagulls, but red-tailed hawks.

I hadn’t noticed that our free-range hens were already
scattered outside like balls on a pool table hit particularly well
by a skilled opening break. The roosters were on high alert and
had surrounded the hens, several of which were on a

chaotic sprint towards the low lying platform my father had built
as a roost, but we now used for a refuge and cover outside
for moments just like this, for times when hawks were double-
or triple-teaming the hens. The hawks have lost interest

in the hens, for now. But suddenly the hayfield has come alive,
shaking in the wind with vulnerability. A small toad or mole: now the sole subject
of the hawks’intention. I start to draw closer, but my boots on the newly paved road
are too loud. The trite intrusion draws my attention to a small rivulet of

water from last night’s rain along the side and I think just how insufficient
a surface asphalt is, as rain can no longer follow a true path to the sea
and how so often our way is bridled by obstacles of our own making. The sun,
still hidden beneath a grey cloud cover, shimmers as if stretched

across our skies in shredded ribbons. So I take off my
muck boots and wait, while the heavy strain against the birds’ wings
appears to hold them aloft and the hawks soar ever freer
in the stark fact that existence is connected to these moments.

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

 

 

The Garden Spider

by Laura Parker Roerden

Every single evening
in her short life
the garden spider spins

a web of concentric
circles. Each anchored
to five

or so holdfasts,

simple spokes
on a wheel,
against which everything hinges.

Around and around she goes,
adding to her work,

bridging the distance from
one holdfast

to another, length by length,

adding depth
and perspective as she telescopes inward,

moving deftly to a center only
the edges can project, filling
in a spiral with detail.

Her strange and perfect offering
completes itself in zigs and zags like a zipper
on a fine golden purse to safely carry expected coin.

By morning the light and dew
create a hall of mirrors,
drawing her prey down

now lit corridors,
the mirage of open
space an enticement to beyond,

but instead a dead end.

A goldfinch flies over the garden
on his way to a field where evening
primrose offers buttercups of nectar

and darts past the spider,
her work a magnificent lit
lamp tilted just so

he can avoid ruining her elaborate
composition. By evening, the spider
dines on her work, now studded

with the jewels of beatles
and papery moths, lying still
in silky sarcophagi.

The spider unwinds
her entire web, ingesting it within

in a feat of impressive completion,

only to begin
again spinning
come dark.

The Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia or “with a bright face” in Latin) goes by several other common names including the writing spider, corn spider, or McKinley spider. They are found in all 48 contiguous states usually in gardens or at the edges of open fields. We commonly see Garden Spiders on squash or tomato plants in the farm’s vegetable garden that abuts a hayfield.

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

Everything is Broken

by Laura Parker Roerden

I.

My mother used to talk about the garden she and I would plant together
in her retirement, with imperfect peonies, roses, lily of the valley, and tall stands
of irises swaying in the breeze facing the western sky of the upper pasture,
where the sunset we watched nightly could mirror the pinks and plums

as if a reflection in a pond. She died of cancer before we could plant one bulb,
her own body piecemeal through surgeries, a fragment of her once gracefully
beautiful and perfect wholeness, now turning into tiny bells of light, bells that

grew closer
and closer together

until she herself turned into a pillar of light
like a stand of tall,
thin wheat rustling with seeds at sunrise

and kissed by a first frost.

II.

For years I would throw away broken pieces of pottery—bowls cupped
once by their creator’s calloused hands, dried in open window sills and
painted in colors that spoke of the sky or sand or night: a suggestion

of a whale’s tail on a handle, glazed with a swirl of sunlight,
like a holy stone in a riverbed that had received spring’s inundation
might reveal different shades of grey at dawn. I’d watch in horror

as a mug about to be filled with morning coffee slipped from my hand
onto a granite countertop and smashed into shards,
a few pieces still large enough to remind of the beauty

now lost.

Everywhere fragments,

reflecting

light now as chaos,

as disconnection, as if prayer
could be destined for a trash heap.

III.
The ground where the garden should stand is empty.
The patch of grass in its place speaks of what’s missing, as

if a tornado has left nothing but the suggestion of a denuded dream.

But I am slowly building a different garden with only white flowers
around the stump of a maple tree, that was felled by lightning
shortly after my mother left.

This garden is where our picnic table once held our entire family like a raft
under the largest of leafy canopies.  I am also placing a path

through the garden with the broken remains of shards of pottery,

pieces that I now

keep when they shatter. I throw the fragments of art on the ground,

as if birdseed,
where they are scattered and rearranged in patterns that ask us

always to make new sense.

Over time the shards—which receive the blessings
of relentless snow and rain—

show us how sharp edges
were never meant to be permanent

and

how

everything

beautiful

breaks.

 

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

Into the Clearing

by Laura Parker Roerden

All day long I had lain in the grass and waited for the sun
to reach the clearing, though it never did come. The dew

from the morning had left my hair damp to the touch;
my heart aching for something I had never expected to miss.

I knew these woods to be vernal wetlands, but I had forgotten
just how much shade can be thrown by the trees that

surround it. Yet all it takes is an unwillingness to thwuck in
the muck, past the skunk cabbages and stinging nettle to

miss out on the thicket of grass, soft like a bed, a cool reprieve
from the summer sun. As a child, this spot had been where I’d

have picnics in the daisies and bluettes, which swayed so low to
the ground as if fighting off sleep. I knew a rock that acted

like a sun dial and pointed at noon to a secret location of lady
slippers–fragile pink moccasins–that I could imagine fairies

wore to silence their footsteps like pine needles buffeted mine.
The edges of the field were where the remnants of a long ago

stone wall had fallen, once marking a pasture or home site, and
later simply held space in a child’s imagination, a canvass

of clouds, whose angle of reflected light told her the time.
The time is late now, so I have to go. In the clearing today

stands a house, built by my brother. He had to go too,
taking his place among the moss in a family cemetery with my

parents, grandparents and great grandparents.
But I visit my brother in the clearing when I can

by taking that walk into the dank, smoldering woods and
listening as birds call out my arrival as if nothing has changed.

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd.

 

Fire and Ice

By Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden

I hate spring. It feels freeing to admit that. When you live in a cold clime, there is too much social pressure to triumph spring’s return as if it were the 2nd coming of Jesus Himself, sliding in on a gaudy skateboard wearing a magnolia wreath and tossing chocolate coins to all the good children.

My mother died in the spring. The next day the forsythia along our garage exploded into riotous golden bloom. My father also died in the spring. The greening of the pasture that year heralded the beginning of a battle against weeds; there were no cows to graze it.

Then my brother died a few springs later, four days after the anniversary of our mother’s death. Huge flocks of geese landed that year in the hayfield destroying any chance of second-cut hay. My brother was not there to chase them away. That’s just as well.

By the time my nephew had repaired all of the haying equipment by himself it was nearly fall. He set out with his brother and a few friends and hayed the slanted field for the first time without his father as the light slid low on the horizon, which matched our moods at the time.

Today is the first day of spring. To mark it, I walked the river with a dear friend I’ve known since grade school. The blazing sun projected skeletal shadows from the trees on the white canvas of snow-cover and still partially frozen ice, giving everything an exaggerated architectural feel that nearly propped me up as we walk.

Busy chatting, we stop when we notice two wood peckers drilling holes for their nests in a call and response pattern that felt less like a territorial move and more like an attempt to erase loneliness. If not for the warmth of the sun, which lit the remaining dried grass peaking above the snow across the meadows as if it was on fire, there would be no sign that it was, in fact, now officially spring.

I’ve always assumed I hated spring because of the losses I have experienced during it. But today something different is afoot. I am comforted by the fire from above and the ice below, as if holding these two extremes is easier than swinging into a field of riotous blooms when your heart is still shattered. It’s not a flip of a switch, or turn on the earth’s axis, that allows us to get to spring, but the long march of winter itself.

It has taken me more than a half century to get it. You cannot have Easter without surrendering to the long march of death that is Lent. If you wait until Thursday, when Christ is betrayed, to prepare for Sunday, when He rises, you won’t get there in time. I know that for a fact. The razor’s edge between the dark and light can be skated, but only within the larger cavern created by tending our broken hearts.

A friend just posted that her mother has had an additional 16 years since today’s anniversary of a stem cell replacement that saved her life. I read this as I grapple with the 15-year anniversary of my mother’s loss of her own battle with cancer.

I do not shrug the coincidence of these two events off. I have at times been sanguine about those years without my mom;  but I’ve also been jealous of the time my friends have had with their mothers that I have not. For today, I will settle into the gap and hold my friend’s celebration with joy while also holding my loss with pain and welcome the advent of spring in a field of snow.

Surrendering does not always mean we come up empty handed. Sometimes it means we simply hold two extremes.

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.