On Presence, Vermont Winters, and Mentor Writers

Winter this year seems to be arriving all at once. This Groundhog Day of snow on snow on snow gave me time to dig into my writer’s notebook and savor some snippets from Take Joy, Jane Yolen’s insightful and incisive book on the craft of writing.

Jane Yolen, a writer whose work I have loved ever since first reading Owl Moon, writes a poem each and every day as part of her routine as a writer. If you connect with her via email, she will send them to you. My first one arrived yesterday. It was amazing: artful, smart, creative, magical. A clarion call to inspire the writer’s muse, couched in a gathering of fairies. It contained delicious words like “freshet”, and this line, “Not a BANG, but a slow greening.” (c) Jane Yolen.  You could take this line literally, that is how spring arrives in Vermont. But I also interpreted it to refer to the creative process as well.

Her email noted she welcomed comments. So amongst a few other small comments I sent this:

Dear Jane,

This time of year I miss western Oregon where green is a year round garment, and as we speak the hellebores are waking.

She wrote back.

“But if it is green all year, how do you wake from the winter sleep into productivity?”

I have to say, at this point I was nearly falling out of my chair to think I had just had an email conversation with “THE Jane Yolen.” After I recovered from my starstruck delirium, I thought about her words. I thought about my One Little Word: Presence. I thought about a conversation I had just had with my husband Herb. He had just read aloud to me a thoughtful piece from Brain Pickings Weekly this issue being a collage of excerpts from Annie Lamott and poets Strand and Oliver (among others) on the subject of presence and awareness. We discussed on how “our” incessant focus on the future robs of us of living in the present.

Funny, how the same message can wash over you in waves-even to the point of knocking you off your feet. I realized, longing for the spring awakenings in Oregon, in a way prevented me from being fully present in the gift of Vermont winter. How often have I lived my life this way, blind to what is going on right in front of me because I am busy thinking about a future..that may never materialize in the way I hope or imagine.

Today in my inbox was another poem from Jane with a winter theme. Inspired, I gleaned from my notebook some snippets I have been collecting and here is my own poem: a celebration of winter in Vermont

Winter Dreams By Julie Burchstead

Winter panes spill light like butter, golden pools on the snow
Inviting travelers home again with their warming glow.

Winter chimneys puff out smoke, like twisted cotton threads.
Weaving gossamer tapestry in the sky over our heads.

Winter people seek good books, steaming mugs and cozy lairs,
They pull on fuzzy sweaters, curl into comfy chairs.

Winter days sleep late, are stingy with their light.
They retire early, give way too soon to night.

Winter dogs are lazy, they snore and grow fat.
They twitch and dream of chasing squirrels, a ball, perhaps a cat.

Winter dreams stretch long-into dark that’s rich and deep,
Wrapped up in PJs, downy quilts, flannel sheets, soothing sleep.

Winter villages settle in and wrap themselves up tight,
In soft white afghans knit from snowflakes, then they say Good Night.

If you are a writer, and have not read Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft, (Yolen, 2006) I highly recommend heading to your local independent bookstore and adding it to your personal library as soon as you can.  You will be better for it.

Two of my favorite independent bookstores (I have personally wandered the aisles of both)

Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, Vermont

Powell’s City of Books, Portland, Oregon

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Thanks to TwoWritingTeachers Blog for the opportunity to participate in Tuesday Slice of Life

11 thoughts on “On Presence, Vermont Winters, and Mentor Writers

  1. Maybe you need to think about doing some poetry writing for kids, Julie. This is just gorgeous.

    Love that Jane Yolen wrote you back. I’ve heard her speak once and she’s amazing! And the question she posed to you is a worthwhile one.


  2. Mel, Thank you. Your words are kind. I am ever astounded at your ability to create natural flowing scenes out of thin air! One of my favorite parts of Take Joy is the ABC section beginning on p. 43. So many times I thought…there’s something to share with group…


  3. Your poem is beautiful, Julie. You have such a gift for imagery. I love this:
    “Winter villages settle in and wrap themselves up tight,
    In soft white afghans knit from snowflakes…”
    I have Take Joy, but have only read parts of it. I will take it off the shelf tonight.


    • My oh My…I think I replied to Melanie..and it was Catherine! (red-faced as I write) The comment would remain the same. You so both inspire me by being able to write chapter books, to pull me into worlds that ring true, and take me on amazing journeys, both as a read, and as a human being. How did I end up with such amazing writing partners?
      PS I would not know of Brain Pickings but for you!


  4. You shared so much of yourself as a writer with this post: your personal writer’s notebook, a conversation with an author, a review of a favorite book, and a finished piece of writing. Thanks for sharing.


  5. How marvelous to be touched by a poem, and then to find yourself engaged in a conversation with the poet!And Jane Yolen at that?! I shall have to look for this book…and link up to her poem a day, too.


  6. This was a lovely post. Living in Portland, OR, I don’t miss the snow most of the time. The signs of spring are more subtle here…. the green tips of daffodils poking up tentatively from beneath the ground, the return of the worms and the scent they bring after the rain….

    I had not heard of Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft, but I have also long been a Jane Yolen fan, so I will check it out. Thanks


    • A fellow Portlander! I grew up first near 39th (I know,can’t get used to the name change)..and Woodstock, and then 39th and Couch. Then taught and lived in The Eagle Creek and Sandy areas. I love the 4 seasons here…but miss my friends and family..luckily Powell’s I can access mail-order!


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