Dog Days of Winter

Dog days are suppose to be reserved for the summer, but I feel them in my heart in the gray, windy, last gasps of Midwestern winter. Dog days of winter. When the wind still bites at the tips of noses and fingers. Before the sun has returned in glory to the sky. Before the warmth and green trees and baseball. These are days of winter weariness, looking for signs of spring. Like Mary Oliver’s sighting of the Red Bird, who appears to fire up the landscape as nothing else could.

Red bird came all winter
Firing up the landscape
As nothing else could.
Of course I love the sparrows,
Those dun-colored darlings,
So hungry and so many…
Still, for whatever reason-
Perhaps because the winter is so long
And the sky so black-blue,
Or perhaps because the heart narrows
As often as it opens-
I am grateful
That red bird comes all winter
Firing up the landscape
As nothing else can do.
– Mary Oliver

My backyard did a re-enactment of this poem this week. A flock of wild sparrows, and a flash of red, and then, he was gone.

In the yard and the parks and along the sidewalks where there should be tulips and daffodils and snow drops, piles of trash have bloomed instead.

Cheetos bags. Condom wrappers. Used diapers bloated with rainwater and who knows what else. Discarded office chairs. Plastic bags, so many plastic bags, some in sizes that must have contained illegal substances. I know what a legitimate snack-size Ziploc bag looks like. These ain’t it.

Van Morrison was the soundtrack of my growing up, and his “I’m Not Feeling It Anymore” has been on repeat in my soul. This is a space where the heart narrows, more often than it opens. And, it’s more than just the trash. It’s a history of injustice and racism and privilege that crosses into green spaces. I know that there are other neighborhoods in my city where the parks and the alleys and the sidewalks look different.

This is how it is – for now. Beauty and blight.

Yet, there is beauty.


Even in the midst of the trash blown in by the winds that will bring the spring, you can feel the beauty. It’s there when you hike and climb the trees and chase the gulls and watch the pond from the rise of the bridge. This place could be beautiful. At the same time, this place is beautiful.

There is just no getting around the complicated messiness of urban nature.

For today, I’m going to read this post from Dianne Glave on “African Americans, Eco-Resistance, and Eco-Inequity.” I am going to tuck work gloves and a garbage bag in my backpack and clean up one small corner. And, I am going to stay open to that flash of red that can fire up the landscape as nothing else could.

How do you keep your heart open during the dog days of winter?




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