Starting with Little Things

by William Stafford


Original Language English

Love the earth like a mole,
fur-near. Nearsighted,
hold close the clods,
their fine-print headlines.
Pat them with soft hands --

Like spades, but pink and loving; they
break rock, nudge giants aside,
affable plow.
Fields are to touch;
each day nuzzle your way.

Tomorrow the world.

-- from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by William Stafford

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I know that I missed last week, no poem email. In the midst of so much uncertainty for everyone, I have been striving to keep my work hours solid and, of course, just trying to navigate the shifting social environment. First, the guidelines are about social distancing, but we still need to go to the grocery store and walk the dog, so everything must be done with care and attention. Then guidelines in our area state that we should be wearing masks and gloves in public. Going to the grocery store looks like going to the hospital. Eyes become furtive. Are people smiling a greeting behind those masks? Checkout counters now have plexiglass barriers erected.

But there is also often a friendliness during our cautious outings. People, keeping their distance, say hello with the warmth of shared experience. Everyone is going through this. Everyone's life is disrupted. Everyone's plans have become questions. And a sort of community emerges.

So I have been starting with little things...

I have been making a point of regularly connecting with friends through online video calls. My day job has always involved working remotely, so our weekly office video conference call continues.

Our kitchen counter once again holds jars of sprouts -- alfalfa sprouts, adzuki sprouts, lentil sprouts are a favorite. We have a tray of sunflower greens happily growing near the window. I loved growing sprouts in past years but had fallen out of the practice. This seemed like a good moment to start up again. The fresh food is wonderful, of course, but even more, I love the sense of life it brings into our home. Bright, growing green things. Gently watering them each morning and evening becomes a sweet communion with the living world.

And that has led me to one of my bigger projects, starting a vegetable garden. I have a space in our yard that has been waiting for several years as I worked through my excuses. I had been telling myself that, while I liked the idea of growing vegetables, I didn't have a natural instinct for working in the earth. Air, fire, even water come fairly naturally to me, but earth, that feels like labor. Here's the thing, though-- I have to remind myself that I have been doing that earthy work. Nearly twenty years ago, something in my passionate, erratic nature found an inner sense of fulfillment and... just settled into itself. I have been consciously cultivating steadiness and follow-through in my life ever since, as a direction and as a daily practice. I surprise myself these days by how much satisfaction I derive from the quiet rhythms of each day and its small rituals. To me, that is earth. And, through significant labor, I have learned to love it like a mole. The nearness of mundane life. Its friendly jostling. Its tactile presence.

So I have been digging in the earth this past week, running my hands through the soil. Today I'll be mixing in some compost and turning the soil. We haven't experienced our last frost for the season, but I'll be planting in a couple of weeks, a few early season vegetables -- and flowers for joy.

Fields are to touch;
each day nuzzle your way.

Tomorrow the world.


I hope you and your loved ones remain well and that you continue to find ways to be engaged with life, day to day and hand to earth. Have a beautiful day!



Recommended Books: William Stafford

The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems My Name is William Tell Even in Quiet Places The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems
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Starting with Little