A Bear, Tomatoes, and an Exercise in Resisting in Metaphor


A black bear is wandering our small city. Braving the busy main roads, trotting down quiet side streets and into little backyards, finding temporary refuge in the marshes and sparse woods. Two days ago, he was across from my mother’s house, moving so stealthily through the neighbor’s yard, he didn’t even disturb the laundry on the line. He took the beach route to our side of town, must’ve walked right past our house to get to the tennis courts by my dad’s where he was last photographed. He’s a young male black bear, alone, and most certainly lost. I wish he’d stop by our backyard and rest awhile in an Adirondack chair. I’d bring him a stack of toast with butter and jam and a drink of cool water, walk him over to a good fishing spot where the woods meet the marsh, and invite him back when the tomatoes are ripe.

Days of rain kept me from the garden. When the sun finally returned, I went out to weed and see if it was too late to plant cucumbers only to discover there wasn’t an inch of space. The garden is wild with tomato plants, volunteers from last summer. I have only a little tending to do: some transplanting to reduce crowding, a bit of weeding and watering. Sometimes the things we create take on a life of their own. Some growth comes not with labor but with ease.

Before I get metaphorical and compare gardening to writing, I want to pour my Marie Howe collection of observations on the table. If you decided to play along, I hope you’ll leave me a few (or a whole bunch) of yours.

A man, large and bald with thick glasses, sweeps the cafeteria floor near the table where I sit writing, looks at me and asks, “How do you like world war three?”

The boy with the missing front tooth and greasy hair always wears the same grey-brown clothes and sits alone, but at least he has a phone, and today talks briefly–so briefly–to a girl sitting nearby.

The copy machine in the teacher’s room whirs and chugs and spits so loudly, I can practice my poem in full voice without anyone hearing.

My daughter runs across the wet, green grass through the sprinkler and shouts, “Drink, mommy, drink!” I bend down and lower my face to the spray, catching the cold metallic-tasting water that feels somewhere between a tickle and a sting. I shriek with laughter.

Thin clouds gauze over the blue sky. We count two lobster boats, one barge, four sea gulls. Charles Island in the distance.

Tiny 3-year-old feet with chipped red nail polish run through the sand.

I press my nose to the back of my daughter’s head and breathe deep the scent of salt air, sunscreen, and a sweetness that belongs only to her.

The tides comes in and we watch the seaweed–green, brown, red–dance around our ankles.

Evening on the front porch. The swish-swash of the swamp maples waving in the wind. The tink-tonk of the bamboo chime.

The full moon casts a glow over the rippling water. I sit in the wet sand and watch.




3 thoughts on “A Bear, Tomatoes, and an Exercise in Resisting in Metaphor”

  1. I just started listening to David Sedaris’s journals on Audible, and the little observations are what I love most about his writing. They feel so authentic and personal, just like the ones you’ve captured here. The OnBeing podcast sounds lovely.

    You and Tara both have bears! I’m thankful that all I have to worry about are the rabbits eating out of the vegetable garden. Bears are a whole other story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Tara and I both have bears! Though I think our bear would be much happier up in her neck of the woods. Hoping the Dept of Energy & Environmental Protection will step in and relocate him.

      I’ll have to check out Sedaris’s journals. I’m curious about how they compare to his memoirs. I love his work!

      The Marie Howe exercise on resisting metaphor has felt like a meditative, even spiritual practice. It’s made me aware of how strong my impulse is to write this is “like” that, to construct and deepen the meaning, to create something artful. Of course, those are important aspects of craft too. But I love the way this exercise roots me in the physical word and tasks me with simply noticing. And since we all see things a little differently, there’s a perspective and a story inherent in our observations. The full moon and the chipped nail polish and the greasy-haired boy and the loud-as-hell copy machine all have something to say on their own.


  2. I haven’t done mine yet, although I have found myself returning to the diary convention of setting the scene as I begin my daily pages in the morning. Describing the coffee dripping away, the sun beginning to brighten the sky in the east, the flowers on the table, the cat on the chair next to me. I remember how May Sarton often begins her entries this way in Journal of a Solitude. Strangely (perhaps) I have received criticism in the past for blog posts that began setting the scene in that neutral way. Not enough to the description–not enough–what? Excitement? Action? Emotion? Very possible. Sometimes I’m just sort of clearing the way for writing. But other times I find that observation a la Marie Howe also kind of sacred, as you wrote here. Or you said, “meditative, even spiritual practice.” And I too recognize how much I want to bend and contort and interpret and draw meaning instead of allowing meaning to arise. I’m so enjoying your writing here (and everywhere else, too, but there is something new to this that I feel too. Something fresh, clean, open and opening.)

    Liked by 2 people

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