Rocking the Boat by Pamela Bennett

Layers of ice streak my bedroom window as an arctic wind rattles the glass.

A late sun struggles in to bless the yucca plant but its looping leaves dream of desert heat as it shudders in the cold draft.

Winter in Ohio…again.

I am dreaming too, wishing the snow away, but strangely euphoric as I sit at my desk, despite the fact my hands and feet are cold.

Strange because the winter has been too memorable, marked by the death of a friend, so sadness lingers too. Threads of grief weave darkly around that place in my mind where lost ones dwell, but memories of love and laughter live there, too.

So inner warmth persists, flames of joy that spread into the long afternoon hours, because—at long last—time is on my side again. Time to finish my novel, work at my loom, play the piano, hike in the woods and spend time with loved ones.

I took an early retirement last winter, but continued to work as a part-time journalist. The security of steady paychecks continued, but so did weekly deadlines and the stress that goes along with those deadlines.

I stepped away from journalism early this month and feel like a kid on summer break, stacking books from the bookmobile (yes, the libraries brought the books to us) next to my old manual typewriter, eager to fill long summer days with reading, writing and dreaming.

A laptop computer sits in front of me now, but the feeling is the same.

What to do next? As Emily Dickenson said, “I dwell in possibility.”

Another poet may have said it best:


I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver, from The Summer Day, HOUSE OF LIGHT, 1990.


The world lost Oliver Jan. 17 at the age of 83. She’d won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her poetry collections and many of us loved to read her words about nature, love and loss.

A lesser-known poem by Oliver affected me in a surprising way—I felt almost seasick when I read “If I wanted a Boat,” realizing how powerful the right words can be.



I would want a boat, if I wanted a

boat, that bounded hard on the waves,

that didn’t know starboard from port

and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed

dolphins and headed straight for the 

whales, that, when rocks were close,

would slide in for a touch or two,

that wouldn’t keep land in sight and

went fast, that leaped into the spray.

What kind of life is it always to plan

and do, to promise and finish, to wish

for the near and the safe? Yes, by the

heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want

a boat I couldn’t steer.

-Mary Oliver, from Blue Horses


I seldom set foot in boats—my motion sickness always gets the best of me. The movement of that poem, however, the wildly bounding boat that heads straight for whales, slides in to touch rocks and leaps “into the spray” is also wildly inspiring. It dares us not to always settle for the “near and safe” but to choose “a boat I couldn’t steer.”

A recent song by country singer Kenney Chesney mentions a boat too, in lyrics written by Travis Meadows and Liz Rose:

Now and then I let it go

I ride the waves I can’t control

I’m learning how to build a better boat.”


What about you? Is it time to build a better boat?


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

with your one wild and precious life?”


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