Sundial on sunny day

It’s a strange, unseasonably warm day: rainy and dismal this morning, and intermittently cloudy now. The sun is chasing the clouds across the sky: one minute bright, the next minute gray. The quality of light keeps changing, too, from iron-clad to gold-toned. I just posted my final small stone for this month’s Mindful Writing Challenge, and it was difficult to describe a day so mercurial: as soon as I’d mentally crafted an adequate description of Now, the light and tenor of the day had already changed.

Inside, looking out

I sit writing these words on the last day of the January in my office at Framingham State. I have work to do, as always, but more than anything I want to walk. What better way to experience a kaleidoscopic day shot through with a rotating assortment of glinting, metallic light than by walking through that light, illuminated?

In today’s small stone, I compared the clouds to hammered pewter, and indeed some of them are gray and mottled, capping the heavens like a lid. But at the fringes, these thicker, darker, more solidly heavy clouds fray into something more miscible: spun-sugar and cotton-tuft. On the dull, muddy ground, the rain-sodden grass is etched with spider-tracery, the weirdly wending shadows of overhead tree limbs. Students pass in sweatshirts and long-sleeves—no jackets, but no bare arms, either.


What have I learned from a month of mindful writing? Every day gives you something you can boil down to its essence, the meaty broth of experience. Every moment offers something to see.

I crafted one version of today’s Tweet in my head while I was driving to campus through windblown drizzle this morning, but by my office hour, when I had a chance to post it, that moment had already long passed. Looking back on a month of Tweets, I see not a month of days but a month of moments. Why this arbitrary decision to post a small stone a day when one could easily Tweet a small stone an hour, small-stoning rather than rocking around the clock? If my heart had thumbs with which to Tweet or text, could I emit a small stone with every heartbeat, my Twitter feed pulsing with the emphatic urge of Now, Now, Now?


A car passes, its engine whining, in one direction; two women pass, chatting, in the other. Right now the clouds have parted and the light is golden; in a minute, the cloudy curtain will close, and the light will turn leaden. Nature’s alchemy works in both directions on partly cloudy, late-January days: gold turns to lead, and lead turns back to gold. Given the anvil of time, what will you hammer from your days?

Will I continue Tweeting tomorrow? When the urge strikes, yes, but automatically every day, no. Having started the year with open eyes, now I’ll walk through the rest of these days, alert.


January’s small stones:

1. I needn’t see the shadow of passing wings to know a hawk has been near: the hanging feeder bereft of birds tells the tale.

2. Two downy woodpeckers flit and chitter on a frozen branch, their chatter as brittle as clacking ice.

3. A blue jay calls, and the cardinals, nuthatch, juncos, and all but two house sparrows vanish. False alarm.

4. A downy woodpecker scoots around a slim limb while a male and female cardinal fluff their feathers against the cold.

5. A fat gray squirrel leaps from feeder to tree, spraying an arc of seed for the juncos and sparrows scratching the snow below.

6. A sugar-sifting of snow on my birthday. Two nuthatches scoot and honk overhead, neither looking a day older than yesterday.

7. A squirrel leaps from fence to tree, his tail curled into a question mark. A woodpecker startles, silhouetted in morning light.

Tall and narrow

8. Curbside trash bins sparkle with predawn frost. High above the streetlights, a thin sliver of moon glows like God’s thumbnail.

9. Two male cardinals are meticulously placed, each a spot of color in his own tree, each coolly eyeing the other: winter detente.

10. Two nuthatches work a half-dead walnut tree, probing for insects. Their claws scratch bark as they hop from branch to trunk.

11. With no gaudy mate to overshadow her, a female cardinal is perfectly complemented by her red bill, black mask, and olive coat.

12. A damp morning–the backyard fence green with algae. A white-throated sparrow sings, his whistle as cool and clear as water.

13. No birds at the feeder, just three fat squirrels who know they outweigh the invisibly lurking Cooper’s hawk.

14. A balmy day, humid with the souls of melted snowmen. The backyard, stripped of snow, is as bare & miserable as a fleeced sheep.

Zigzag stair-railing shadow

15. Outside before dawn, I see the ears and eye-shine of one of our cats in an upstairs window. In a nearby house, one lit candle.

16. Juncos fly into a black & white tree. A cardinal beneath the snow-topped feeder gives a spot of color to a monochrome morning.

17. Four squirrels scramble down a mazy maple, each taking his own circuitous path to the fence, where they scurry in a neat row.

18. A turquoise sky caps a fiercely cold morning. Sunlight glints on the birdbath ice, and chickadees chatter from brittle pines.

19. What unseen bit is wedged at the apex of this particular fence slat, luring a red-breasted nuthatch to hammer fearlessly there?

20. One fat squirrel on the bird feeder, a second tail-twitching on the branch above, quietly plotting strategies and trajectories.

21. A woodpecker calls, his “peeeek” as hard as the bird bath ice. Incongruously, a chickadee sings a spring song: two clear notes.

Bike rack with shadow

22. A thin film of snow squeaks underfoot. Three lines of rabbit tracks crisscross the driveway: this way, that way, and back.

23. The rising sun glows & sparkles through an opaque veil of ice crystals, the window feathered with bluish brushstrokes of frost.

24. Too cold to look for the woodpecker calling from the tall, twiggy trees behind my office, his cry as sharp as the winter air.

25. Beneath the feeder, two white-throated sparrows scratch for seed, so natty with their neat eye-stripes and clean white bellies.

26. A faint line of bird tracks wends delicately across the sidewalk, an intricate embroidery in a script I can’t understand.

27. Alerted by a downy woodpecker’s call, I look up just in time to see the sun glint golden on a passing red-tailed hawk’s belly.

28. A nuthatch zooms like a torpedo to the feeder, parries with a sparrow there, & deems the place big enough for the two of them.

29. Up before dawn or any birdsong. Underfoot, an inch of sugar-white snow crusted with ice, like walking through crème brûlée.

30. A soupy-humid day, with yesterday’s slush reduced to slop. Beneath the dripping trash bins, two flat rectangles of hidden snow.

31. An otherworldly light as hammered-pewter clouds roll in and out. High overhead, a lone gull circles on long, spindly wings.

If you’re a Van Morrison fan, you’ll recognize the allusion in today’s title. Enjoy!