shoveling gutters

February 22nd, 2015

18335467I’m biding my time today until the sun is higher in the sky, the air warms a bit, and I can get out and clean the rain gutters. This is a chore that stands in for all the snow shoveling that might go on where you live. It is a solitary job. No one but me notices that it is time to do it. No one but me will do it. It does not diminish me. On the contrary, cleaning the gutters will give me power and purpose, direction and rhythm: spiritual guidance that doesn’t come when I spend the day merely thinking about what I could be doing, say, tomorrow.

My dear and sensitive friend Katrina Kenison recently sent me a marvelous book, out of the blue, which is what makes something a gift, descending like a bird into your hand from who-knows-where, a memoir by Mary Rose O’Reilley, a poet and author hitherto unknown to me, who once apprenticed herself to a sheep farm. Going to work every day in a barn made no sense in a literal way, her lofty mind knowing nothing about sheep or lambing or castration or shearing or sudden virulent sickness and death, any of the activities that make up the muddy substance of a sheep farm. Perhaps she had an inkling that the experience would spiritually ground her, rescue her from the reaches of her poetic inclinations, and it did. The farm rescued her, and reading about it rescued me too.

I haul the ladder from the garage and put on oversized gloves. I always start by using a trowel to dig out the gutters but before long I’ll pitch the gloves and tool because they don’t quite get at the depth of the matter, the sweet oozing muck, the marriage of last summer’s dust, wind-brittled leaves and December’s forgotten rain. You have to use your hands.

Sometimes, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel greatly alone and sad. Especially these days, I have to remind myself that I keep company with the earth and sky, and that I alone mother the myriad things in-between. That I am a farmer and a friend, and still an apprentice at both. I have to come back to this wholesome earth and shepherd myself in the best way I can. That’s about the time a gift arrives, and I am saved.

The ladder is shaky because at no spot around this house, which sits on a mountain, is the ground level. I’m not afraid. This old path is muddy, but my aim is straight, and maybe I’ll see a bird.

Going out now.

Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.


  1. I think both you and your friend Katrina are very good thinkers and examiners of yourselves. As far as I can tell, not knowing what to do with yourself is a sign of health and energy. Boredom or confusion or lack of drive can mean that you and your life are growing some new shoots and roots. You may just need to fidget and whistle and cook for while, waiting for your new direction to mature and emerge.

    Comment by Bill — February 22, 2015 @ 1:33 pm

  2. Yes, you’re right, Bill. Whistling is the way.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — February 22, 2015 @ 2:58 pm

  3. I stumbled across that back years ago at our public library, and then promptly went out and bought it. It is one of those books that has touched me in different ways over the years. Great reminder of (for lack of better term) finding the spiritual in everyday life. What a wonderful gift!

    Comment by Donn King — February 22, 2015 @ 5:14 pm

  4. Yes Donn. I have been abundantly blessed to read “one of those books” that touches me in a different way nearly every day. My gutters runneth over.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — February 22, 2015 @ 9:22 pm

  5. Dear Karen
    I always look forward to reading your posts. You write with beauty and honesty and I am sure you help many people.
    Kind wishes

    Comment by Wendy — February 23, 2015 @ 3:11 am

  6. Your posts are always timely. I was just thinking yesterday as I shoveled snow how it was something that I never thought I would do, didn’t want to do, and wasn’t going to do. Then I found myself doin it, and enjoying it. I used to leave it, among other things, to my husband but now if I don’t do it, it won’t get done. Funny how life reveals itself. The things we try to get away from have a way of finding us. Love.

    Comment by Ranya — February 23, 2015 @ 4:25 am

  7. More and more I feel that the divide in the world between “us” and “them” (however we choose to define that, because there are so many ways) needs to be closed for humanity to find true peace and to understand their true nature.
    In my mind that means we all have to take responsibilty for our own gutters. Thank you for setting the example.
    Have a wonderful day!

    Comment by Simone — February 23, 2015 @ 7:27 am

  8. I find solace in household chores too. I’ve been recently inspired by a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. It gives new meaning to the act of putting one’s house in order. Kiss the old stuff goodbye, send it away with love, and then handle what you decide to keep with a new regard and appreciation.

    Diving into the gutter as a way to get out of the gutter. I love your writing on so many levels, Maezen.

    Comment by Clare — February 23, 2015 @ 12:19 pm

  9. M, Mary Rose O’Reilly became a “friend on the page” to me when I was lost, sad, between homes, and wondering why, to paraphrase Willie Nelson, “I’d just ruined the world I lived in.” I had no idea what to do, so I slowly read her book, having randomly picked it up somewhere for a dollar, and learned a lot about sheep, although I’ve never had much interest in sheep. Somehow, though, she helped me to stop feeling sorry for myself. She helped me realize that the world I thought I’d ruined was still as whole and as perfect and beautiful and messy as ever. Gifts have a way of circling back around. Your post today: a gift to me.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — February 23, 2015 @ 7:53 pm

  10. Don’t you wish you had the ear, the hand and the chance to write “my gutters runneth over”?

    Comment by Bill — February 28, 2015 @ 8:50 am

  11. […] … The Barn at the End of the World. I read about the book on a blog I follow and was drawn to the lessons it evoked. It wasn’t available at my local library but […]

    Pingback by Taking Stock of Right Now ~ April 2015 | Ranya, the memory keeper — August 2, 2018 @ 6:11 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month