Apr 07 2020

William Stafford – Starting with Little Things

Published by at 7:17 am under Poetry

Starting with Little Things
by William Stafford

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


/ Image by Treemad Madagascar /

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 Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems Even in Quiet Places The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy
More Books >>


William Stafford, William Stafford poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Stafford

US (1914 – 1993) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by William Stafford

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6 responses so far

6 Responses to “William Stafford – Starting with Little Things”

  1. marrobon 07 Apr 2020 at 8:14 am

    Thank you , Ivan, for the Stafford poem and reminder of little things.
    Much appreciated, now more than ever. Dig away! A wholesome, grounded, simple way to be with the Earth…we ‘seed’ our gratitude. Spade in hand, we greet the spring and the promise of renewal at this sad time. May you and yours be well, safe and strong…
    and may your garden bloom.

  2. Anna M.on 07 Apr 2020 at 8:54 am

    Greetings Gardener!

    I expected to read a worried, fearful and desperate comments from you in accordance with the trap of the whole world fearful madness of this crumbling world…

    But what such a great, nice surprise to feel your soft, beautiful, calm and completely new energy rhythm, a gentle heart, connected gently to Gaia and her renewed energy field, starting with the little things…indeed!

    Wonder_Full! Probably you will hear her voice…

    So glad for you… and smiled joyfully with and for you… 🙂

  3. Kris Hineson 07 Apr 2020 at 4:25 pm

    A perfect poem Ivan. Wishing you and yours all health, safety and inner joy in the vast fulfillment of little things.

  4. Carolon 08 Apr 2020 at 10:56 am

    Thank you, Ivan for this poem from Stafford. Missed last weeks poem, but certainly
    understand. Probably would have not been in a place to accept this poem, but by now
    it seems the only way.

    Starting With Little Things, of course is what we all must do. And thank you
    for your commentary – so good to hear what you write.

  5. Carolon 08 Apr 2020 at 11:35 am

    Thank You Ivan for this dear poem by Stafford, When my daughter lived in CA she
    heard Stafford and brought me one of his books. I have loved his poems ever since.

    I missed a poem last week, but probably would not have been ready for this one then.

    Starting with the little things – this we can do. And I loved your commentary. Peace

    and Love, Carol

  6. John Pendreyon 09 Apr 2020 at 9:57 pm

    I have a problem.
    My garden is visited by rats.
    The eat the root vegetables and beans.
    Sometimes I see them and admire their wild and free life.
    When I trap them they are scared and all too human.
    But I can’t work to feed them.

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