Small change

I wait, cup in hand, for the shiny coins of inspiration — that small change. I sit on the bench at the edge of the spruce grove, watching the sun rise red above the layers of cloud and mountain. Bumblebees are flying overhead, a steady stream of them, heading for the spruce trees and their inconspicuous male flowers. The evening before, when Eva and I were stringing up the tarp we used for a tent, the whole grove had been abuzz, even as the wood thrushes were tuning up. But with nightfall came the more miscellaneous sounds, the kind that invite breathless speculation: the snap of a twig, a high-pitched chittering, an explosive snort.


On Monday, my mother discovered that she’d lost her little pocket notebook: two months of journal notes, which she hadn’t yet typed up. Yesterday, she and Eva retraced their steps from Sunday’s walk, but to no avail. As the day wore on, Mom became increasingly despondent. But this morning, when we get back to the house from our camping adventure, she’s in high spirits. Last night, she says, Mark — Eva’s dad — had called, and while she listened to him talk, she suddenly remembered ironing some clothes on Sunday, right before she missed the notebook. As soon as she hung up the phone, she went down to the basement, and sure enough, there was the notebook on the shelf above the ironing board. The impending arrival of visitors on Sunday afternoon had been enough of a distraction to make her misplace the notebook, so it makes sense that she would need another disruption of routine — Mark’s call — to return to the mental state she’d been in when it went missing.


You may have noticed the small midden of pocket notebooks surrounding my computer monitor in yesterday’s self-portrait. For me, however, these notebooks serve as much more temporary repositories of information and fragments of thoughts; the computer screen is my primary tablet now. This is a big change from my pre-blogging days, when I still used scrap paper for at least the first several drafts of a poem or essay. All that tree flesh — one drawer of my file cabinet is so full, I can barely get it open. I should haul its contents into the recycling center, but its physical presence is somehow comforting. It’s a kind of ballast, I think.

These days I don’t save anything but the final draft, and maybe that’s a mistake. It seems a little like our jerry-rigged tent last night: all roof. Imagine a ship that’s nothing but a sail, or an airplane that’s little more than wing. It might get you where you wanted to go, but with little room for comfort.


Mosquitoes sang me to sleep — a private concert in my ear. When I wake at 5:30, they’re still singing the same tune. We had hoped for coyotes or at least a whippoorwill, though getting to hear wood thrushes from just a few feet away did repay me for my aching hips and shoulders, I guess. But it’s the thin, dogmatic theme of the mosquito that keeps replaying in my head as I sit looking sideways at the sun, an array of copper-colored spots forming on my retina. One always hears about pennies from heaven, as if Providence never trades in anything larger. But perhaps the point is to fine-tune our sense of gratitude, I think, as I drain the last of my coffee and Eva joins me, sleepy-eyed, on the bench.

10 Replies to “Small change”

  1. Yes, it’s all about gratitude for the many little things in each day, even mosquitoes! (And I’m grateful that the little problem with your page got fixed – thanks!)

  2. This is nice. I did notice all the little notebooks, and remember you jotting notes in one in Montreal. Interesting how you equate those scraps of paper with being ballast, being still worth something. I suspect our friend St. Antonym, he of the disappearing ink, will think otherwise. Do you think there’s anything in there worth going back and finding, or is it mined about as much as it can be?

    I love those last two lines. Fine-tuning gratitude. Good point.

  3. Somewhere the mosquitos are singing
    Some other place
    Some other time.

    The night decays into morning
    I bow my head, and think of home.

  4. Marja-Leena – Apparently the problem with your feed reader (or my feed) just magically fixed itself. We didn’t do anything.

    leslee – I should have made it clear that my use of the little notebooks is also a post-blogging development; previously, I wrote on unlined, 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of white paper that were already printed on the other side – scraps from my parents’ computers, for the most part. So it’s as if my word-hoard has been downsized, to mix skaldic and corporate metaphors.

    But to answer your question: I rarely find myself going back through those papers for anything, and the main thing preventing me from getting rid of them is my distaste for any attempt to re-write or erase history.

    dale – Thanks for that.

  5. Hi Dave,

    I can relate to this one. I too have a box of writing/journals to one day go through. But I can’t think of throwing the writing away, even if the writing seems more and more ridiculous as I age. Basically I save all the writing and yet never go back to it. But it’s the idea of having it there, a security and a possibility in a single box.

    — also, thanks very much for the smorgasblog link — I really like the idea of the smorgasblog by the way and it’s already led me to other sites when I couldn’t resist the “more” button.

  6. It’s interesting that you shifted to only saving final drafts and writing in small notebooks *after* blogging (or, at least after the computer): I learned to write creatively on a computer, and being the priveleged kid I was I always had a personal one on which I could do so. Not so at the temple: now everything is saved in all its drafts because I write nearly everything on paper before typing it into the blogger template. I try and save the blogger final draft on the computer, but now–like you–I have a weight of paper accumulating in one of my drawers. I also find it comforting, for reasons I can’t fathom. Perhaps it is ballast; more likely, for me, it’s reassurance that somehow I’ve done something with all this thinking I do. I’m not sure it’s good to keep it around, but there it is.

  7. Curt – Perhaps in some way we need the assurance that we are – or have been – ridiculous? On rare occasions when I write what seems like a practically flawless poem, it’s helpful to remember all the mis-shapen or still-born poems that went before. That’s what I mean by “ballast,” I guess: the notion that all those less-than-perfect words are essential to keeping me on an even keel.

    Soen Joon Sn – Speaking of rough drafts, for some reason my anti-spam program decided that this comment was spam – and I just happened to check the spam folder for the first time in 15 days! (I hope that won’t happen again, but if your comments ever don’t appear, please let me know.) And now Bloglines is down. Really, paper is the most dependable, least frustrating format — barring a fire, that is.

  8. Interesting… I’ve been working on a long poem on paper all week. Must be in the ballast, or the drawer, however it may be. While they say that writing with a keyboard is good in that both hands are being used therefore both ‘sides’ of the brain, I find writing with either a technical pencil or a fountain pen more enjoyable… even if it’s only an image or so, or a few lines, whatever builds builds from there. Paper and pen, tactile, sensual, holding and feeling, the scrawls meaningful, connected. What I like about a keyboard is aural, the sound of the keys clacking, the clear lettering on the screen, the sense of ‘published,’ the ease of transmission. But don’t take paper and pencil away from me! I’d be bereft…

  9. I agree, the tactility of pen and paper can’t be beat. I never heard that about typing, that it engages both sides of the brain, but I guess it makes sense. I do find it easier to write with a keyboard now, that’s for certain. The words flow much better.

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