Rest In Peace, Mary Oliver

Photograph of Mary Oliver raising a glass at her home, Pembroke Lodge, Richmond [1930s] by Eileen Agar 1899-1991

Although Mary Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, she was never respected by serious critics the way she deserved. For example, she was never given a full-length review by The New York Times. She earned a full-length review from the Times but did not receive one.

To be clear though, Oliver wouldn’t have cared about this. She wasn’t in love with mere things. Instead, she loved the natural world, geese, the sun, grasshoppers, and – of course – her dogs (I’ve gone through her poems and attempted to count her dog companions, and it’s impossible. She rescued too many to count).

Mary Oliver passed away today at the age of 83. What she left behind is incredible.

For people who don’t know much of her work, here’s a short poem called “Praying”:


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

– Mary Oliver


And for readers who don’t know her work at all, here is her most famous poem:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver


Great Article From Orion Magazine On Nature And “The Rock Climbing Cure For Anxiety”


“Facing Fear” by J.B. MacKinnon

Do we need nature? Natural Spaces? Adventure? Contemplative time outside and the rush of adrenaline in a wild setting?

Two excerpts from the full article (click here to read the original – it’s excellent).

1. OVER THE PAST TWO DECADES, the evidence that nature serves us well in mind and body has accumulated to a degree that approaches natural law. “The benefits of nature that have been intuited and written about through the ages have withstood rigorous scientific scrutiny,” notes Frances Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Yes, we still find these benefits when we measure them objectively; yes, we still find these benefits when non-nature lovers are included in our studies; and yes, we still find these benefits even when income and other factors that could explain a nature-health link are taken into account. In the face of the tremendously diverse and rigorous tests to which the nature-human health hypothesis has been subjected, the strength, consistency, and convergence of the findings are remarkable.”

2. To which I would respond: surely it was always thus. Were our distant ancestors, gathered around the fire in the lowering light, touched only by the awesome sunset, or did they also dread the awful night? Do we say that nature is only beneficial when it comforts, calms, and uplifts, as though there are no secret pleasures, no vital lessons, in feeling scared, disgusted, and uncomfortable? Is there a person alive who only ever wants the calm sea, and never the storm?

Joshua Tree National Parks Writer-In-Residence

I’m really grateful to have been selected for a short-term artist’s residency in Joshua Tree National Park starting at the end of this week. Time to read and write and think in an off-the-grid cabin, plus there might be a little bit of gorgeous nature surrounding me.

I have a novel deadline with Knopf, and this is the perfect opportunity to finish my revisions.

Click here for pics of the writer’s cabin.

Thank you to Caryn Davidson and Meg Foley for hosting me in the park.

VICE Magazine & Smoking

I got to talk to River Donaghey, a writer with VICE magazine, this week. We did an interviewed about Yosemite, bears, dirtbagging as a verb, and my forthcoming novel, Graphic the Valley:

Here’s the VICE feature interview with a few pics (including my garage climbing wall – my woody – behind me in the lead photo).

Although he mentioned a little bit about my odd younger years and my memoir The End of Boys, he didn’t mention my child-smoking cover.  And on that topic, look at this weird photo shoot, where a photographer used incense, cheese sticks, and chalk to create his images.  For the record, my mother wanted me to become an artist like Picasso when she taught me to smoke.  So my cigarette was real.

On “Great Writing”

As I’ve been reading lesser works by well-known authors this summer, I’ve wondered what makes a work great.  Is it imagery, plot, character development, or the ability to surprise?  Is it subtlety or precise diction?  Paragraph structure or syntax?  Is it the author’s ability to keep the reader uncomfortable yet still engaged?

I don’t know.

This article in The New York Times has an interesting take.  I like the question, “Why, for example, do the great writers use anticipation instead of surprise?”:

“How To Write Great” by Roger Rosenblatt.

A Writer, On His Process (Chuck Wendig)

For me, it’s always good to see where a writer writes or what his or her process is.  I like to think of Andre Dubus III’s walled-in, blank writing room where he writes in total silence.

Or how Stephen King can’t write at an expensive desk in a huge, solitary room, how King wrote Carrie in a noisy hallway while getting bumped by family members passing through.  King later tried to recreate that environment in his expensive Maine house by having a desk in his kids’ rec room, asking them to invite in friends, talk, and watch TV while he worked nearby.

Hemingway wrote three drafts of each short story, always three.  One in Pencil, a typed second draft, and a typed third draft.  That’s not my process, but it still fascinates me.

I love to read how writers write.

And here’s one I came across recently – If you missed it, this is the same writer who wrote about the “25 Lies Writers Tell (And Start To Believe).”

This new one is also from

“Just What The Fuck Do You Do, Anyway?”

“25 Lies Writers Tell and Start To Believe” – Chuck Wendig

This is too good.  Funny, applicable, and no BS.  I had to put up a link to it.

Any writer (or artist for that matter) should read this piece.

8, 10, 13, 16, and 18 are incredible, but like I said, it’s all good.

Thank you, Ben LeRoy, for pointing me to the site.