Fill Your Hands with Mud



Mary Oliver is my comfort this gray winter. I have been reading and rereading her poem “Rice”since her death last month.

I don’t want you just to sit down at the table.
I don’t want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk out into the fields
where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with mud, like a blessing.

I am not ready to fill my hands with cold mud.

My alarm clock does not go off in the morning with a cheerful benediction that I will be handed an extra two minutes and 16 seconds of sunshine today.

I am thankful for any sunny, winter day, but most days are cloudy. Some are bone-chilling 2F, whipsawed to the mid-60s  a few days later.

Back and forth.

Winters were gray and rainy in Kentucky long before Noah set sail.

I push off, hand on the rudder.

I troll for things brown—bark, foliage, seedpods, prairie grasses and mud.

Many of you will say, thank god for witch hazels, winter aconites,  hellebores and snowdrops. I love them, as well, though calling them spring harbingers sounds too much like a come-on—a one-day Black Friday deal at the outlet mall.

Early-blooming plants are an irresistible tease—road signs for the next round of cold and gray. Still, shades of brown govern Kentucky winters, mile after mile, until we reach a few weeks past the vernal equinox.

One day in April—I’m never sure which glorious day it will be— spring beauties and Virginia bluebells will come into bloom again.

Yellow buckeyes will unfurl their compound, palmate leaves from their fat, winter buds—one leaflet at a time.

Put your boots on.

Be patient.

Take the slow lane from darkness to light.

It will warm up.

When it does…

“Fill your hands with mud, like a blessing.”


Listen to Krista Trippett’s 2015 interview with Mary Oliver:

Mary Oliver — Listening to the World


  1. Beautiful, Allen. RIP Mary Oliver. Here in Oregon, after an unprecedented warm winter so far, we are heading into cold and heavy snow, and I will be looking forward to those handfuls of mud as the light grows stronger!

  2. The same brown and grey in southwestern Indiana, but how I appreciate the sun when it comes to green up the world and watching the daffodils slowly peek thru the leaves.

  3. Magnificent. Elegiac. Deeply thoughtful. Beautifully crafted.

    Your presence on this Earth is a blessing.

  4. My heavens but Allen Bush can write well. Thank you. Here in the mid-Hudson valley, the freakish temperate day doesn’t touch the hard ice of the ground; no mud issues. And you’re right, Krista Tippett’s interview is memorable.

  5. I am new to Garden Ran, 3 days. On these brown, gray and sometimes white days, they have been a smile inducing joy to read.

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