rare video of snow leopard family

One of the poems in Candle, Thread, and Flute that I always get a lot of reaction to is “Snow Leopard, Bronx Zoo,” in which a mother snow leopard mourns that her zoo-born daughters can only

bound over unnatural boulders

to the tops of unnatural crags

whose mitigated steepness assures survival,

whose artifice conceals the cage doors.

Here is a wonderful video from the Snow Leopard Trust, filmed in Kyrgyzstan, that shows the life my snow leopard mother wishes for her family–and that I wish for all of these beautiful, amazing cats:

book review: The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd

This is a moving, beautifully written story with a protagonist you quickly come to care deeply about. Lady Elspeth Douglas is in France when World War I breaks out, and in the course of making her way back to England, the suffering she sees among the first soldiers returning from the front impels her to join Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. Knowing her guardian would believe that this service is beneath a woman of her class, she signs up without getting his permission or revealing her rank to anyone. It turns out that she has a true gift and passion for nursing; she takes pride in her work and in serving her country and feels, for the first time in her life, that she is truly doing something worthwhile. Her newfound sense of purpose and of herself is threatened, however, when word gets back to her guardian about her nursing career. To complicate matters, her French fiancé has been wounded and captured by the Germans, and even as she has anxiously awaited news of him, she has, despite all her efforts, become increasingly attached to one of her patients, a Scottish captain who was a childhood friend and would like to be much, much more. This book can be read and enjoyed purely for its characters, romance, and historical elements, but it is also a thought-provoking exploration of issues such as honor, duty, class, gender roles, and how we give our lives meaning.

a sonnet for the Winter Solstice

“IF WE DON’T TURN THE WHEEL, IT WILL NOT TURN”

Our ancestors in their simplicity,

we hear, believed the spent midwinter sun

would die at last and never rise again

without their rites—so every turning of

the seasons had its keeping and its forms,

and failure in them meant the end of all.

“Now we know better”—or do we know less?

In the pattern’s loss, what have we gained?

The days we set aside to mourn the sun

or drive the cattle through the fires or bless

the fields joined our spirits, bodies, minds

to the moving heart of all. We did not turn

the earth upon its axis—what we turned,

and still might turn, was purely our own souls.

(from Candle, Thread, and Flute)

a prologue for The Healer’s Choice

At one point during the writing of The Healer’s Choice I was wrestling with some character issues and as a result wrote a short prologue. I ended up not using it (because I’m generally inclined to just jump right in and get the story rolling), although at one point in the book one of the characters does describe his memory of this event. The setting is Forstene City, about ten years before the beginning of the story proper.

Dursten glared at the column of armed men passing in review below—so far below that the sounds of hooves and harness and arms and orders blended in a single muddy music. Beside him on the balcony, his friend Torval shifted from foot to foot.

“Stop fidgeting, will you?”

“I can’t help it; it’s exciting! Don’t you think it’s exciting?”
“I would if we were going with them. I wish we were old enough. I ought to be leading that army, not watching it march out.”
“Don’t you think my uncle will do well in command?”
Dursten shrugged. “He’ll win glory, certainly. But it’s not his place; it’s mine.”
“It is his place; your father made him Lord Marshal.”
“The Celestials made me crown prince.”
A new voice brought the quarrel up short. “That is so, Your Highness.” The boys’ tutor joined them on the balcony and bowed to Dursten. “But they also made you too young to wage this particular war; there is no profit to you in denying or fighting that fact. However . . .”
“What?” That trailing word had pricked Dursten to a sense of expectation.
The tutor pursed his lips, as though a secret were trying to force its way out through them.
Torval, like the wolf on his family crest, was quick to sniff out the possibility of a savory tidbit. “You went up to the tower last night, didn’t you, Master? You saw something in the stars, something for Prince Dursten, didn’t you?”
“I wouldn’t like to say. . . .” He addressed Dursten. “It should really be for your royal father’s own Star Reader to interpret, and His Majesty’s decision—”
Dursten interrupted with a gesture that took in the army in the great courtyard below. “My royal father has other matters—great matters—on his mind. Besides, you’re my Star Reader, aren’t you? And my teacher. And my friend. Aren’t you?”
Indecision played over the tutor’s face. Then his gaze dropped. He was looking at the mourning sash Dursten wore in honor of his mother; Dursten could tell. And he could tell that the man was pitying him, even after all these months.
“Your Highness speaks true,” the tutor said. “And Torval has spoken truly as well—I did see something in the stars for you last night.”
“Well?”
“Your royal house, the Blood of Stennar, is dwindling, its numbers and its strength alike. But you, my prince, are marked for a great destiny: when you come to manhood, you will have the opportunity not only to restore but to surpass the glories of your great ancestors.”
Torval let out a whoop. “You can’t ask better than that, Dursten!”

The tutor nodded vigorously. “Indeed, Highness. So you see, you must stop yearning to ride to this war, and focus on preparing yourself for the deeds that lie ahead. For I have read it in the stars: The greatness of the king’s heir shall be known in every land this side of the sea.”