I love snow! It brightens up a dreary winter and makes me feel happy. Normally. But wouldn’t you know it, this morning, on the 4th anniversary of my mother’s passing, I woke up under 10,000 pounds of sorrow, as if the foot of fresh snow we’d received had collapsed our roof and was now crushing my heart. R’s comforting words or his offer of making a nice breakfast of yogurt and marionberries with granola didn’t help. Who can eat her way through grief?

Mary, my mom, was a Quinn and Irish to the core. Instead hanging out in bed weeping like me, she would have insisted on a mug of coffee with a shot of Bushmills on the front porch loveseat, tossing toast onto the snow for the crows and and a default recital of Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life,” which Sister Mary Michael had encouraged her to memorize as a young girl at Mount St. Joseph in Owensboro (and which Mom had lovingly referred to as “The PIZZ-alm”).


Tell me not in mournful numbers
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real!  Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us further than to-day.

But it was too early to drink, so I switched to Plan B, a steaming bubble bath with Mary Oliver.

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever!

[from “First Snow]

Fortified by a double dose of poetry, I had a playful vision as I soaked, beamed, no doubt, by my mom who before she died told me, “Just as the Virgin Mary appears as the scent of roses when we say the Rosary, dear, I will let you know when I’m around by the same heavenly smell.”  And soon she was right there in the bathroom, my mom, as essence of rose growing stronger with each inhalation; so strong, in fact, that I had to take a couple of puffs from my inhaler! And then, not surprising since we both adore them, she channeled (I guess that’s the word) a mental picture to me of a snow raven.

I shouted to R after I’d toweled off and bundled up in layers of wool and my insulated snowboarding boots, “Darling, I’m going out to build a snow raven for Mom.”

“Okay, Sweetheart, have fun!” he called back, as though this was something I did every day.

I gathered my mother’s faded brown gardening hat, her purple plaid scarf from Ireland, and headed out the door. In the garage I found a shovel and trowel that might come in handy, and from the ground a handful of fallen fir boughs that could be useful as feathers. Out front, I was greeted by a flurry of crows squawking disapproval that I was making a snow raven instead of a snow crow.


Eventually, R, sensing that I might be going off the deep end with this snow raven business, appeared snow shovel in hand, which was good because I’d started crying again and it was damn near impossible to see my work through the blur. Plus, I was getting cold.


We worked for another hour or so until we’d achieved what looked more or less like the image I’d seen in the bathtub. The crows had quieted down, by then, and seemed to approve of what I now realized was a totem to my beautiful mother, significantly enhanced by the addition of a carved raven mask from Salt Spring Island that I’d found half-hidden under the snow in the garden.

“These crows need some toast,” I announced, once again smiling, feeling good old snow joy. “And we need some hot cider… Screw it!  Let’s have some coffee with Bushmills and a fire in the fireplace to celebrate.”

R added a final fir bough feather to one of the snow raven’s wings, and then we headed back into our cozy house.


35 thoughts on “Totem for a Snowy Day

  1. For me, contains a sweetness and an intensity—also an easy intimacy hard-earned–with one’s landscape—personal and geographical. The voice had a matter-of-fact quality–like we, the reader, were being goaded along for a ride–and where we ended up is not where we began–which leads me to feel that you instead guided us on a journey—home. Blessings to you, your mom, R–and the snowy raven. Thank you, as always, for kindling within us a magical relationship with the supernatural sides of existence.


    • You know, dawg, I appreciate your kind words, as always. It’s a profound experience allowing the Mystery in, going along for the ride and then somehow sharing it using words and pictures which evoke only the tiniest glimpse. Blessings back on you and your family, including your mom.


      • Hi Dawn, and thank you for the sweet comments. Longing for our mamas is something we’re both living with, eh? I’m grateful for the time I’ve spent in Mexico learning to embrace and even celebrate passings. Building ofrendas (altars), totems…having ritual ways to grieve…these are so important. XO


  2. Loved this bit of writing. I feel like I know your mom just a little bit from this story, and you and R too. You have a way of showing not telling, letting us have the information about by weaving around. Huggs, Kate


    • Hola Sandra! Ah, your mom’s passing is so fresh. How are you doing?

      The snow eventually melted as our weather in the Pacific Northwest has warmed a bit. I pinched tips off the Douglas-fir “feathers” and made tea, which was delicious and completed the process, I think. Sometimes we just have to follow our hearts…maybe always. Thanks for your comment.


      • Doing okay thanks, Dad died March, Mum died May, so this is the season of remembering them. It’s the odd little things, isn’t it? I’ve never had fir ‘tea’, sounds fascinating! SD … oh and thanks for following my writing blog too!


  3. Yes, it is the little things. Sometimes I’m out in the garden and the scent of oregano or sage will waft by and at the same time I feel my mom’s tiny hands touching mine. What a gift! Losing both parents so close together is hard on the heart…so sorry.


  4. It’s really hard to believe that is your writing studio in the photo. S., you have an incredible eye for composition and detail. It’s also incredible how there is a huge color-connection between the lovely photo of Mary and the studio; the color of her sweater really pulls at the blue in the photo. A beautifully written, endearing and memorable story of a lovely lady! ❤ U, R.


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