For Some Things There Are No Wrong Seasons

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 5:30 am

For Some Things There Are No Wrong Seasons

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had at least one “hurricane” in his or her life — a destructive personal experience that seems beyond redemption at the time. In this poem, Mary Oliver does what she does so well, drawing lessons from nature that can keep hope alive even during our darkest days.

In 2004, a tornado ripped through our neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin, damaging houses and toppling many old trees. No one was hurt, but property damage was extensive.

At the time, I was going through my third major bout of clinical depression. I found it nearly unbearable to look at our yard, where we had lost a lovely maple and a towering white pine — the devastation “out there” mirrored so closely what was going on “in here.”

But slowly, very slowly, the still-standing trees began to recover, “pushing new leaves from their stubbed ends.” And slowly, very slowly, new life began to grow in me.

So for me, this poem evokes deep feeling. It reminds me of hard times and of the fact that eventually I was able to reclaim hope. Today I read Mary Oliver’s closing lines as a sort of prayer for all of us:

“For some things / there are no wrong seasons. / Which is what I dream of for me.”

by Mary Oliver

It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
. But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

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  • Your thoughts have always made me grow, Mr. Palmer. Thank you for your lifetime of reflections- you have inspired me to push through with my own life and writing…and to hope. This one made me think of one essay I wrote in November I think as we all deal with blows, the “how” and “who” need to replace the “why” in our focus: How are we able to deal with those hurricanes? Who is with us? How and Who let us see Hope.

  • Candyce Ossefort-Russell

    Thank you for sharing this poem and your associations with it. The combination of Mary Oliver’s words and yours resonate deeply with me. 25 years ago this week, my hurricane slammed in on my life–my husband died suddenly when I was 30 years old and my son was an infant. Nothing has ever devastated me more. Yet I made it through with the love and support of family and a fantastic therapist. And I was cracked open to grow into depths I would never have seen without the sorrow. And I became a therapist who helps others with pain and sorrow and loss and grief. There’s an anguished beauty to this life-cycle of loss and growth. I appreciate the way you expressed it.

  • John Rufo

    There were a few big hurricanes in my life, but they are maybe half a decade or so behind me. And yet little
    hurricanes of doubt and difficulty assail each day of everyone’s life. At the end of the day, or any time really, we can find calm for a moment or two and encourage the leaves to the surface of our stubby branches.

  • Judith Dancy

    As I get older I realize that loss is one of the few constants in life. Because of increasing neuropathic pain in my arms and hands I’ve had to stop driving. I had to give my little Jack Russel, Emma, away because I can’t take care of her. I’m not able to do my laundry or put clean sheets on my bed without help. At 72 I didn’t realize I’d be ‘old’, and the dream I had of driving to the Pacific Northwest with a friend isn’t going to be realized. I know that when our losses are weighed, mine- even those that accumulated over the course of my life- will weigh no more than a Hummingbird’s foot. Still, though, they are my losses, so sometimes I cry. The hurricanes in my past: divorce, death of loved ones, undiagnosed mental illness, and others, are pale now, almost invisible as I peek through memories. These current losses too will become “something that once happened to me”. I am grateful for having seen this post today.

    • Jo Hauser

      Thank you for sharing this very sad story, I hope that your will find a light somewhere every day to help you.

    • Tracey Lynn

      I wish I knew you Judith, I wish I was your granddaughter, your neighbor, your friend. There is so much grace in your words and obviously in you, you’ve touched my heart.

    • jnday

      I agree with Tracey Lynn, Judith. You sound like an amazing person, and I would be delighted to you know you. Your words are so expressive and your perceptions full of grace. I would encourage you to consider using your gift for verbal expression to write a memoir.

  • JR

    Nature holds up a powerful mirror, if we can only pause to see. A poem penned at the Grand Canyon ~

    This place clears fog like no other
    leaving only a child on a rock
    watching with awe and an inkling
    of another landscape inside
    that must look like this one.

    And that may be why it is here.

    As if someone of a wickedly artistic bent
    stood at the rim of a human being
    and having peered in felt compelled
    to sculpt a terrain to show a life
    of thought, desire, pain and prayer
    paying close attention
    to crumbling temples and sacred grottos
    that harbor ancient gods and holy spirits.

    The light looks fragile lying around
    in shards of shadow and the only sound
    is of memory trickling
    slowly down cool rippled walls
    baring layers of wants and wounds
    words and love, born or scorned
    and a river runs through it all.

    Jump off that rock one must
    to go in search.

    • Kathy Roberg

      thank you — this is really poignant!!!

  • Virginia J. Pulver

    I am wrestling with grief – not letting go until I find the blessing. It seems to ambush me from time to time, but on this weekend that marks the anniversary of my son Caleb’s death in 2002, I find my wrestling partner back in full form. Your post today has given me strength and I find comfort in Mary Oliver’s observations. I am a stick but there are leaves and blossoms erupting in the warm sunshine… – Ginn