A Winter of Prophecy, Story, and Hearthfire

Winter in Tennessee has been a season of stark contrasts and startling shifts. We’ve had days clear and frigid enough to burst pipes; days of mellow sunlight and fresh breezes; days dark enough to light flickering candles; days of sharp sleet or glittering frost. Black buzzards circle above the hills; squirrels bustle in the bare trees, whisking their tails; golden daffodils and green leaf buds unfold in the woods. 

This is an awkward time of year, meteorologically and culturally. The merriment and busyness of Christmas, New Year, and Epiphany pass away into January that can be fresh and quiet and still – or dreary and dull and lonely. In February, the crimson, heart-shaped candy boxes and pink balloons that appear in Walmart are not a pleasant sight for everyone.

I expected a gray and sluggish January and early February. Instead, I found myself in a whirlwind of good, fascinating, exhausting things: 

The Lion on the Mountain: Studying Exegesis through Amos

A few weeks ago, I attended a Bible-teaching workshop that illuminated God’s leonine majesty and abundant mercy in the Book of Amos. The workshop focused on the practice of Scriptural exegesis, or drawing meaning out of the text rather than using it as a platform for your own assumptions. It was humbling and awe-inspiring. We learned more about determining contexts, stepping into the dusty world of the first audience; identifying the bones of structure to find the author’s points of emphasis; seeing the glimmers of gospel justice, mercy, sin, and grace in a particular passage; tuning your interpretation of the promises, warnings, and principles of the text to the ears of a modern audience. 

I felt, as I have never felt before, how much help we believers have in understanding the nature and will of God. The text itself leads you by the hand; the Holy Spirit overshadows you; the church walks beside you. The book of Amos uses multiple literary techniques to press its message on our hearts: the concrete images of a lion roaring, threshing sledges and plumb lines, summer fruit and mountains dripping with sweet wine; the repetition and rhythm of poetic lines; the command of imperatives, forceful verbs, and evocative nouns to call Israel to repentance. The very fierceness of the warnings testifies to the fierceness of divine love.

The workshop reminded me to listen, and listen wisely. Listen to the voice of God in His Word, the Spirit, and the true Church, and measure the trustworthiness of all other voices – family or friend, influencer or news source – by its integrity to His plumb line of truth. 

Goodness in Story and Song

It has been a month of stories. A few weeks ago, I sat in a high balcony seat with a partly-obstructed view and watched an incredible cast singing of candlesticks and barricades, rain, stars, black and red, love, grace, suffering, and heaven-longing in a performance of Les Miserables. At home, I’ve been delighting in the sonorous images of gold rings, glass hills, nightingales, wells, fawns, and ravens in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which I have never read all the way through. 

For a book study, I’ve explored a narrative of ravenous swamps, a light twinkling through the fields, a terrible burden, and a shining city in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. As part of that study, I’m researching the mysterious, controversial, oft-misunderstood wayfarers known as the Puritans. There is so much to read and know about them, but in my research so far, they are defined by zeal: passion, earnestness, ardor, sincerity, boldness, perseverance, and painstaking care in all they did. 

These stories inspire and intimidate me as a storyteller. As an artist and a person, I want to be known for zeal, for gentleness, and for excellent craftsmanship: for creating story-worlds that resonate because they testify to the truth without being preachy or simplistic. Somehow, despite being extremely and unapologetically preachy, and using a form criticized for its simplicity – allegory – John Bunyan created a story that has shaped thousands of imaginations for more than three centuries. Les Miserables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales also meditate on justice, goodness, mercy, honor, and self-sacrifice in plain prose as well as poetic images. I hope I can learn to write well enough to write tales of goodness and wisdom, joy and courage without oversimplifying or making truth seem boring.

Hearth Fires and Hospitality 

Last weekend, I held an 80,000-word manuscript in my hands – my own manuscript, my own work, the first novel-length writing I have actually finished. A friend lovingly printed the copy for me. We sat in a room full of laughter, stories, and the smell of hot apple cider and woodsmoke at a writer’s retreat.

The weekend gave me much to reflect on in the mystery of hospitality and fellowship. Since childhood, I’ve struggled to understand how the deep friendships portrayed in books like The Lord of the Rings are hard to establish in real life. We all crave intimacy, to be welcomed into cozy rooms and laughing circles, but it is so difficult to find. Learning and remembering people’s names; asking the right questions; drawing out the quiet people or launching into a monologue to give them a break; introducing people to each other; setting up board games, walks, meals, or other gatherings; asking “how are you?” casually or seriously; it is all a dance, a pattern of wit and discernment and perseverance and sometimes chance. It is so delicate, but worth every careful step and cautious leap. 

All this winter busyness was good – beautiful, encouraging, and thought-provoking. It has also been exhausting. After years of seeking good things like fellowship, adventure, and opportunities, I have to remind myself that I need to seek rest, too. Maybe that’s why February is gray – not just the gray of drabness, but the gray of quiet. 

A New Song: Winter Pages for the Holiday Season

Red ornament on a street at night

Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise from the end of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
the coastlands and their inhabitants.
Isaiah 42:10 (ESV)

This past November, I tried the Poem-a-Day challenge for the first time. I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last year, churning out 1600+ words a day with a purring cat in my lap and a woodsmoke-scented candle perfuming the room. The challenge was a forge for my imagination, refining but painful. I wasn’t sure I could do it again. But one poem a day? If I tossed meter and rhyme and extensive revisions out the window, I could do that. 

The Poetry Pub’s prompts were magical. I struggled with some of them, especially “syzygy,” but I rediscovered an old pleasure with the hardest ones. The mental wrestling required to make an image work, to tie the first and lines together back to the same idea, and to make the last line of a poem ring like struck crystal, gave me a thrill I had forgotten. I glimpsed connections between memories, ideas, and stories I had never seen before – relationships and geometry, conversations and pottery, cold wood stoves and loneliness, staircases and nostalgia. I remembered the joyful labor to sing a new song.

Most of my poems were too messy or too personal to share here, but this one is my favorite:

Theme: Currents

Fall Semester, 2016

The awful responsibility of Time, 
My Southern Lit professor intoned
With the resonance of a great brass bell.
The west wind rustled crimson leaves across campus.
Flocks of absentee ballots launched from the mailroom.

What if time is a pool and not a river? I wrote, 
Hazelnut coffee in hand, looking out the window,
Where afternoon gilded the red brick archway
Over the ebb and flow of class times and mealtimes.

Wolf Creek! Wolf Creek! The frequent chant: 
A parade of friends carrying the newly-engaged to the river
To throw them, laughing, into the current of days.

 “A poem is judged by its last line,” my British literature professor told us in my freshmen year. “A good poem has a good ending.” Messy as this poem is, I was proud of that last line. 

The current of days has carried November away, and we are in Advent again. This year, a writer-friend named Reagan Dregge and I are approaching winter with a new creative collaboration: a letter subscription with a matching website centered on the theme of rest, stillness, and abiding. It’s called Winter Pages, and the first few contributions have already given me the refreshment of delight.

November’s Poem-a-Day challenge was, unexpectedly, excellent preparation for Advent and the Winter Pages project. Pounding out a poem a day – raw, rough-edged, and unglazed – forced me to see fresh wonders, intricate complexities, and startling relationships. Similes served as intricate bridges between memories, dreams, ideas, and longings; metaphors were copper mirrors that recast the world in mesmerizing shades; alliteration chimed cheerfully; the few formal styles I tried, including a villanelle, were crucibles which forced me to bend my words into beautiful shapes. Poetry forced me to see and make things with new eyes. 

In the same way, the artists participating in the Winter Pages project are helping renew my sight, restoring and re-illuminating the colors and textures of the ancient story. Reagan Dregge’s introduction and musings on green and gold and shades of gray gave me the coziness of the winter prairie in Minnesota and reminded me of our eversummer hope. Tyler Rogness’s description of an ensnowed maple tree recaptures the waiting and Resurrection that Christmastide looks forward to. Jaclyn Hoselton’s meditation on Mary’s Magnificat emphasizes the breathless wonder of Gabriel’s message and Mary’s creative response. Joy Manning’s poem re-tuned me to the unutterable longing and endless beauty of starlight. Sara Bannerman and Margaret Bush’s playlists invite me into the ministry of music, which can weave celebration, lament, suffering, and hope into beauty. More contributions are coming – ponderings on joy, solace, and seeking.

The last Poem-a-Day prompt, November 30’s, was “You, Too?” The idea comes from C.S. Lewis’s Four Loves, where he says, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’” (Chapter on Friendship, pg. 83). Happy but exhausted from the feasting and travel of Thanksgiving, I was too tired to come up with a poem for that one. It has been a year of solitary drives, new faces and known ones, deep conversations, laughter, and long silences, but not many of those fresh “you, too?” moments. 

But then I realized: working with other artists to honor the “still point of this turning world” (to steal from T.S. Eliot), a refuge of quiet in this busy season, is a better expression of that magical “you, too?” than any poem I could have manufactured to fit that theme. I am only one of many who are trying to sing a new song.

Hutchmoot 2022 and the Many Selves of Memory

Sunset with colorful leaves

Bring a memory you want to write about. 

The writing seminar’s theme was “Personal Narrative” – memoir, creative nonfiction, telling your own story. Jonathan Rogers, my writing teacher, held it just before the Hutchmoot Conference of 2022 – a faith and arts conference that I’ve dreamed about going to since 2018. 

A memory I wanted to write about . . . fresh out of college in 2017, eager to finally begin my career as a creative writer, I listed memories and experiences in a spiral-bound notebook. Our magical trip to Hawaii when I was nine; summers backpacking in Yosemite; sunscreen-and-ice-cream days by the lake; the cross-country road trip west along I-40 after graduation. I had pillaged a lot of these for my writing already, and I don’t like to rewrite the same memories if I can help it – at least, not yet. 

It’s not 2017 anymore. It’s 2022. Somehow, the “me” that applied frantically to every writing or editing job within a fifty-mile radius of home, read Robert Frost and G.K. Chesterton at lunch breaks, and devoured podcasts on faith, literature, and beauty on long commutes is gone. I’m not a new college grad trying to market herself to potential employers. I’m not the bewildered new car owner trying to figure out if $200 was an overcharge for an oil change. 

This summer, I wrote a speech for a friend’s wedding. Writing that speech required me to delve into the memories of all that we had been at summer camp and college together, from kayaking at dawn to late-night hot chocolate. Remembering it all, and knowing that the years between then and now will only continue to grow, gave me that same feeling you get when you’re underwater and look up to see the shimmering circle of the sun.

“Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days,” said Flannery O’Connor in Mystery and Manners. That may be true, but it’s a lot easier to find things to write about now that I have worked in the adult world for a few years. For the seminar, I chose a memory from 2018: the morning when I woke up alone in a lakehouse in February. I had forgotten to pull the curtains closed, so my first sight was of whist mist hovering over the snow-muffled lake under a rosy sunrise.

Is it ok to change or rearrange details in my story? What is your earliest memory? Are we remembering, or reconstructing? What is episodic vs. semantic memory? How do you draw meaning out of sensory data and specific events? The writing seminar group met in a barn-turned-venue full of framed mirrors. Squirrels and chipmunks skittered over the tin roof as we talked. Tiny flames flickered in tea lights on the table. We shared memories, stories, techniques, questions, and mutual wonder, taking breaks to scribble thoughts for writing exercises. 

That night, my first in-person Hutchmoot conference began. 

Rooms named for C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, Frederick Buechner, and Walter Wangerin; a pottery wheel and freshly-fired pieces in one corner; books on poetry, philosophy, aesthetics, and story everywhere; a gallery of paintings, sketches, linocuts, and engravings; jam and coffee and biscuits; secret puzzles stashed in random places. Concerts and writing workshops; sessions on sacred symbolism, the art of adaptation, and the making of chai; conversations with people who loved books, had traveled to or from Libya, Japan, Mali, and other faraway, and many people who had suffered deeply. 

It was a feast, a carnival, a holiday, and a whirlwind in one. I found that two years of limited large-group interactions had left me ill-prepared for so much richness all at once – by the end of some sessions or discussions I was exhausted beyond coherent thought or speech. I met many sweet friends for the first time, or the first time in a long time, who have shared their hearts and imaginations with me through their writing. Our conversations were the best part; their wisdom and encouragement was a walled garden in itself, lovely and safe. 

I couldn’t help thinking about how my 2017 and 2018-selves would have reacted to all of it. I was hopeful; lonely; ambitious; a yearner, a day-dreamer, and an anxious worker. Younger-me may have handled the exhaustion better than my 2022-self, being more used to in-person interaction. She would have been breathless with excitement, eager to join in this fellowship of beauty and adventure. Her own life would have appeared dull, boring, and limited compared with the beautiful worlds of art-making, travel, and friendships that each speaker and conversant wove with their words.

At 2022, I don’t think I’m wiser, but I do know one thing: the world I ached to join, the realm in which people do walking-tours and have house concerts and read the most wonderful books, is not something far away and unattainable. It’s real, but it’s something I can make for myself, in my own way. A good life is made as well as given. 

Between my younger and current self, I feel a little lost – partly in attending this conference, partly because my move to Tennessee is still so recent. In speaking of age and childlikeness, Madeline L’Engle said something that has encouraged me: “I am not an isolated, chronological numerical statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and . . . and . . . and . . . / If we lose any part of ourselves, we are thereby diminished. If I cannot be thirteen and sixty-one simultaneously, part of me has been taken away.” (Taken from Walking on Water.)

I am all the ages I have ever been. I’m still the new college grad, the child, the entry-level employee, and the graduate student. I’m also all the selves of all the places I’ve been, including New England, Maui, Yosemite, Glacier, Iceland, Scotland, and Tennessee. Thinking of myself as many overlapping selves is somehow comforting. It turns aging into addition and expansion instead of loss. It turns my heart into a forest growing taller and wilder and thicker with golden leaves.

Wonders of a Southern Summer

Amur honeysuckle. Black cherry. Honey locust. Tree-of-heaven. Sugar Hackberry. Eastern redcedar. Southern magnolia. Sawtooth blackberry. Crape-myrtle. Queen Anne’s-lace. The deep greens and golds, purples and whites of the flora is mesmerizing enough, but their fragrances make their own sacred pleasure-dome (to plagiarize Coleridge) in the warm air. The beauty makes me feel like I’m in some faraway, exotic place on vacation, but I’m not. This is my new home.

Dove’s-feather white. Enormous as whales. Billowing like sails. Tinged with baby’s-breath blue. Scattered and wispy. Gray and thundering. A hilly country with more pastures and fields than forests and mountains has opened up the vast and quiet world of clouds to me. The humidity is heavy on my lungs and clammy on my skin, but makes each rainstorm a sweet relief. Cloudbursts douse the dry, dusty ground and brown grass, filling ditches and rivers. They keep the greenery lush – apart from a few leaves that have shriveled in the heat, turned banana-yellow, and fallen.

Tiny, white-eared rabbits at silflay during golden hour. Cheery goldfinches, elusive cardinals, pert mockingbirds, and aggressive blue jays hopping around bird feeders. A mother cat and three silky black kittens with golden eyes watching me at dusk. A snake longer than my arm curled lazily in the middle of a path. Many of these creatures are familiar to me, but I love watching the drama of their alert watchfulness and quick movements on my walks. My own creature, a jolly golden retriever, enjoys chasing most of them, tongue hanging out, tail wagging.

A high school performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A four-person cast in a production of C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce.” Lectures on time, the Christian values embedded in our culture, grief, and joy at the Rabbit Room’s North Wind Manor. Over the past few years, I have trained myself to listen to rumors of talks and conferences, performances and concerts that I could possibly attend on Eventbrite, Universe, Facebook, Instagram, the websites of faith & art or Christian-based intellectual organizations, and blog posts. Now, it is so good to have this wealth of opportunities within easy driving distance. Each event is a small wellspring of ponderings on time, love, justice, and joy that keep me from drying up in the grinding necessities of life (like grocery shopping and taxes).

The turbulence of the past few years in the world and my life – COVID, moving a few times, war, government changes, travel, making and canceling plans – have made me expect ephemerality. As I shopped and hauled and hammered and shifted new furniture, I kept wondering how long it will be before I have to break down what I built, repack my possessions, and move somewhere else. I don’t feel comfortable imagining myself becoming safe and settled anywhere for more than a year. When will the next pandemic, tornado, hurricane, or recession break? When will I need to make a career movie or transition for family or friends? Every anchor I screw into drywall and rug I unroll is an attempt to create a fragile but cozy haven for a time, however long that time is.

In these golden, sweltering, precious summer days, I’m reading stories and trying to craft my own. I savored Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White in the sultry afternoon sun by the pool. I paged through Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There on my phone as I waited in line at the county clerk’s office for new license plates. Every free evening, I hunt for magical creatures and literary archetypes in The Lore of Scotland and The Folk Tales of Scotland by the flickering light of a honey-scented candle. I can feel potential future readers with me in every scene I craft, as if I’m the driver of a safari bus tour, hoping I don’t run us all off the road into the jungle of clichés, melodrama, confusion, preachiness, or boredom.

But finally, after empty for so long, I’m able to dream again.

Tulips for Easter


All inside
Our Amsterdam she hides
Watery eyes
That howling wind, she’s waving hi
Her other hand’s in mine…

The sweet, wistful melody of Gregory Alan Isakov’s “Amsterdam” came to me every once in a while as we walked its cobbled streets. We dodged bikers as they rushed past, ringing their tinkling bells; took pictures of regal townhouses with painted shutters and the motorboats reflected in glimmering canals; studied the satin curves of cherry blossoms and tulip petals that bloomed, gem-bright, beside the bare branches of trees still waiting to leaf.

It was my first trip to continental Europe. Books like Hilda van Stockum’s The Borrowed House and The Winged Watchman or Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place had given me an enchanted sense of Holland’s dykes and windmills, tulips and canals, wooden clogs and patriotic love for the color orange. I liked the whimsical sound of saying, “I’m going to Holland to see the tulips” and that sense of being a seasonal beauty-seeker, like the leaf-peepers who come to New England for the autumn blaze or snowbirds who flock to sunny Florida in the winter. 

We walked through the winding paths of the Keukenhof Gardens, awed by the splendid chalices of tulips, curls of hyacinths, and trumpets of daffodils: ruby and amethyst, citrine and sapphire, emerald and garnet. Sections named for the royal family during World War II – Queen Wilhelmina, the princesses Beatrix and Juliana – were arranged in orderly beds around cherry or beech trees, a chattering stream full of busy ducks, and plenty of shops and cafes. It was crowded with people taking photos of each other: girls in prom dresses, flocks of little kids, babies in strollers, and elderly folk in wheelchairs. 

. . . All inside
Our Amsterdam she flies
Hoarding the kites
That howling wind, she’ll take everything
But she’s easy on the eyes . . .

The Dutch people were lovely to talk to: from the rental car agent to the hotel staff, they greeted us with warm smiles, useful tips, and gentle teasing. Dutch is close enough to English that guessing the meaning of road signs and parking garage ticket machines was a lot of fun: to shove a credit card in at AUT KAART AUB and sigh in relief to see the transaction was IN BEHANDLING, or to find the right UIT (exit) off the highway.

We visited the Dutch Resistance Museum, which documents the struggle against the Nazi occupation in World War II. I’ve always loved stories of the Resistance and wanted to hear about specific Resistance leaders, their backgrounds, how they organized hiding places and secret messages, and specific acts of sabotage and rescue. The museum focused more on information about the occupation itself and organized strikes, but it was full of specific stories of endurance and courage. Watching videos of elderly men who had been boys in the war enthusiastically recounting their adventures was an unexpected delight. I learned about the horrors of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia, or the Dutch East Indies as it was called then, which I had never heard about before.

. . . Oh, churches and trains
While they all look the same to me now
They shoot you some place
While we ache to come home somehow . . .

We only visited one church on Sunday, so I’m still not sure why Gregory Alan Isakov compared churches and trains in Amsterdam. Grace Church’s sermon was on Romans 5, the pastor earnestly reminding us that while we were yet sinners – beyond all hope of redeeming ourselves – Christ died for us, the ungodly. He read the Triumphal Entry from Mark in honor of Palm Sunday. If I tried to find a good metaphor for that church, it would be a beacon on a mountain: a cozy shelter up close, and a blazing signal from far away. But I still love the multi-layered ambiguity of Isakov’s church-train image, and the yearning in the last line of the song: we all ache to come home somehow.


Last year, Easter was one of the first church services we were allowed to attend in Scotland after five months of COVID lockdown. I had tears in my eyes during the singing, which the congregation could still not legally join in.

This year, I have a song or rhythm stuck in my head, one usually reserved for Christmas: the ancient O Antiphons that call on Christ to come as O Sapientia (Wisdom), O Adonai (Lord and Ruler), O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Key of David), O Oriens (Dawn of the East), O Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles), and O Emmanuel (God With Us). The beauty of each image, and the reminder that Christ’s death and resurrection are both glorious myth and unfailing fact, make me want to cry now. Concrete images like King and Messiah, Lamb of God and Lion of Judah embody the wonder of the familiar story that theological terms like savior, propitiation, substitutionary atonement, justification, and imputed righteousness do not (though I believe we need both – poetic image and straightforward theological term – to grasp the truth).

So we celebrate the Resurrection again with singing and feasting, chocolate bunnies and egg hunts. And still, the Kingdom of Heaven is coming. 

We all ache to come home somehow.

Winter Eyrie: “From the Lighthouse Above the World”

In a gray, cold late winter/early spring, this Winter Eyrie series has been such a blessing. Jesse Baker, Becky Hunsberger, Reagan Dregge, Sandra Hughes, Kori Frazier Morgan, Jen Rose Yokel, Loren Warnemuende, and Bethany Sanders wove worlds with poetry and prose, sunlight and snowfall, fairy lights and squirrels’ nests, ash and rose vines, moonglow and sleeping lilies. Their work brightened my days.

For my own Winter Eyrie contribution, I wanted to try metered poetry again, but realized that I would need more than a few weeks to hammer out trochaic tentrameter or a rondeau. I wanted to do something ethereal and dreamy, and this was the result. It’s the first time I’ve tried an epistolary style, and I had fun working with the limitations it imposes (such as dealing with only a few voices and not explaining everything that both people would know). Enjoy. 🙂

From the Lighthouse Above the World

From: Zach, Lighthouse above the World
To: Ellie, Western Isles
Delivered by crane
February 20

Hi Ellie,

I hope you’ve had a good winter out at the edge of the world. Do the leaves ever fall there?

I’ve been up at the Lighthouse since autumn. It’s quiet and cloudy. I have to tend the lantern every two hours until Easter, which makes my sleep schedule a bit like a new parent’s. It’s ok, though. I haven’t gotten tired of the colors. The clouds burn rose and saffron at sunset, and the beacon turns from orange to violet after dark. I can see the pale lights of the Vessels as they slip past.

It’s peaceful, after the war. I’m sure I’ll tire of it, but for now, the books and the doves are good company. 

Miss you.

From: Ellie, Western Isles
To: Zach, Lighthouse above the World
Delivered by flame
February 28


It’s so good to hear from you. We were worried when you left the hospital without saying goodbye. 

Is it lonely up there? 

We didn’t really get a winter out here – the apples are gold year-round, and the leaves turn silver and fall but grow right back. The dragons won’t let us get close enough to pick the apples.

It’s peaceful here, too. My unit has been exploring the sea caves on our days off.

I hear that the rest of the world is getting back to normal. NYC sealed their rift and just had their first football game. My sister is going to Purdue for engineering. Wireless communication might start up again.

Do you think we’ll ever feel normal whole again? 


Zach to Ellie
March 4


I’m sorry I left without saying goodbye. I couldn’t face you. In my mind, you’re still all in that ward, burned. I haven’t had the courage to write to the others.

The island sounds wonderful. Do you think you’ll stay when your deployment is up?

A Vessel came close last night, so close I could almost see it. It smelled like frozen stars. There was a break in the clouds afterwards, and I saw the whole Milky Way, glittering. I could almost hear the music.

I don’t know if we’ll be whole again. Maybe the rest of the world will be. The sky is open now.


Ellie to Zach
March 9


Have you wondered what would happen if you did see the Vessel? The Treaty stipulates non-contact, but surely they know that military posted at the Gateways might glimpse things.

We had a bonfire and s’mores last night on the beach. The mermaids sang. Then it rained, warm golden stuff that smelled like sandalwood, and we just sat there and laughed and let it drench us.

Zach, no one blames you for what happened on Manaslu. You had an impossible choice, and you saved all our lives. I’m not sure about the others, but Lea is posted on the Glass Mountain, and Sammy and Liang are down at the Everblue. I know they would like to hear from you.


Zach to Ellie
March 11


There’s no rain here – it’s too high. All I know is the lightest, most delicate crystals of snow, forming before my eyes, drifting down to the world I can’t see.

If I got a good look at a Vessel…Treaty or no Treaty, I’m not sure it’s safe. Anyone who saw the Rift-makers never came back the same.

Ellie, you’re so kind, but I was a coward at Manaslu. I should have been the one to burn.


Ellie to Zach
March 14

Don’t repeat this, but…I don’t think all Rift-makers are evil. Or that they’re the only ones out there. The Gateways destroyed so much, but they brought so much beauty. I was just stretching on the beach after my morning run, and a herd of unicorns thundered past me into the sea.

I miss texts and FaceTime – letters are so slow. Please tell me what you mean about Manaslu. 

Zach to Ellie
March 16

Maybe you’re right. When I go out on the balcony, I can see the clouds playing – pale wisps of wyverns and jaguars and rocs twisting and turning and chasing each other. Maybe the world wanted to go wild again.

So Manaslu . . . ok. I didn’t run to draw the Snowdrake away from the rest of you. I just ran. I had no idea the crevasse was right there. By rights, I should have been the one to fall into it.

I’m sorry.


Ellie to Zach
March 19


If you could see the sunsets here, you would either die of happiness or write an epic poem. I can’t describe them like you could. But we watch them each night like a TV show.

Can you get leave to come visit here, so I can see you in person? This is the twelfth draft of this letter, and I can’t write the words I need to tell you.


Zach to Ellie
March 20


I can’t come to you. I would, but this deployment is a five-year commitment.

But you could come here ~ 

Zach to Ellie
March 27

Ellie? If you don’t want to hear from me again, please just say so.

Zach to Ellie
April 3


Ellie to Zach
April 5

I’m coming. Bribed a pegasus.

Keep the light on for us

Winter Eyrie: “Safe Haven” by Bethany Sanders

March is ending, and the magnolia, cherry, crocus, and other blossoms are still promising to appear – maybe by Easter. I was worried that a winter-themed collaboration would seem ridiculous if it stretched into April, but the chilly weather and drooping hemlocks in the woods make the series still very fitting.

The penultimate contribution to the Winter Eyrie project is a piece by Bethany Sanders that offers comfort, coziness, and wonder. Her excellent description of the textures and nuances of the senses – especially smell, taste, and hearing – made me want to pay more attention to the wonders of my own world. Enjoy!

Safe Haven

by Bethany Sanders

I could feel the light even before my eyes learned how to open. The light didn’t feel like my mama or my brothers, nor like my blanket, nor did it feel like the inexorable wooden edges of my world. It was a gentle pressure–gentler than my mama’s tongue, gentler than my mama’s fur, gentler even than my mama’s breath–but it had neither scent nor sound. The cold air was biting at my skin because my brother had kicked off our bedding, but I felt warmth seeping into my skin from behind the cold. When I tilted my head in the direction of the warmth something sparked and flashed behind my eyelids. I scrabbled at the ground and turned so that I faced towards the warmth. The presence of it remained steady, and I knew that there was something warm which looked at me and breathed towards me beyond the fearful shivery sea of air. 

Then my mama pulled my bedding back over me, and the blaze behind my eyelids winked out, and I snuggled deeper into the warm nest.

My world was imbued with smells; the oaky-bright scent of heartwood, the earthy mineral smell of shredded bark, the sharp pungent odor of moss, and the sweet green scent of leaves. And of course there was Mama and my two brothers. Their scents were as complex and layered as the rings on a tree. They smelled like . . . well, they smelled like themselves. How can you describe someone’s name except by saying it? I would know their scent from any other. 

When my ears finally opened it was like the touch of the world became threefold. The papery touch of the leafy bedding against my shoulder was now accompanied by a rustling and crinkling, and the chiding chuk-chuk-chuk of my mama echoed in the nest whenever we rolled out of the bedding. The shifting press of my siblings’ sides now came with the soft sound of breathing. Strange echoes and fragments of sound slipped in from a specific area over our heads. Sometimes I would hear the scrabbling footsteps of Mama from the area, and then her sounds and scent would fade away. Then her step would sound from the unknown, and she would land lightly among us with strange and pungent scents rippling from her fur. The world was more than I had known, much more.

Then one day, my eyelids slipped apart, and the distant warmth coalesced into brilliant patches of color. The area of the unknown was a circle that blazed with light which then splashed gold across the floor. That was the nest entrance. That was out. I was in.

When I snuffled my way over to the entrance and looked out, my heart filled up with longings. I longed for the sweet scent of green, to feel the twigs spring under my paws, to run and leap like my mama. I sat on the entrance, curling my newly-grown tail over my back, and felt joy. Run and leap I will! For I have a place to run back to when I see the cat’s tail or feel the hawk’s shadow.

Bethany Sanders

Bethany Sanders has been drawing ever since she could hold a pencil, but storytelling has always been her deepest longing. After reading Maus by Art Spiegelman and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Bethany realized that comics were a medium that combined her love of drawing and writing. She received her BFA in Painting from Herron School of Art and Design in 2013 and has created paintings and comics ever since.


Winter Eyrie: “Through the Window” by Loren Warnemuende

In a week of cold rain, I’ve been trying to focus at work by burning a woodsmoke-scented candle and listening to deep-focus YouTube playlists, Angelina Stanford’s “How to Read Fairy Tales” video course, and an audiobook of Elizabeth Grierson’s “The Scottish Fairy Book.” Between this listening material and my technical writing job, my work hours are full of cloud networking jargon and Scots Gaelic names, fantastic quests and engineering meetings. Somehow, this winter has impressed on me the goodness of the multiple worlds I inhabit – business and the arts, software and fantasy – and the beauty at their points of intersection.

The next contribution to the Winter Eyrie project is a short story by Loren Warnemuende. Loren introduced me to the “How to Read Fairy Tales” course and many other great resources, and we share a love for fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. Her thoughtful, vivid prose and beautifully-drawn characters take the imagery and symbolism of fairy tales like this one and draw out fantastic colors, textures, and layers. Enjoy!

Through the Window

By Loren G. Warnemuende

By Jean Carlo Emer on Unsplash

There is a truth outside of me, outside of what I know.

I sensed this, I think, even as a child. I couldn’t quite believe Mother when she told me there was nothing beyond the forest surrounding my eyrie.

“But where do you go when you leave each night?” I asked her.

“Into the woods, my bird. All that we need is there.”

She brought me many beautiful things that seemed impossible to grow amidst those dim, dark trees—crimson strawberries, cadmium peaches, golden grain. And the overarching sky was so great and blue, and the horizon so far, and the birds who came to my high window seemed to sing of sunlit spaces. All these things were so different from the tangles of rose briars at the foot of my tower, with their black thorns, and the shadowed-red of the blossoms, and the gray stone of the high walls.

Mind you, my room was snug. Mother saw to that. I see now that she provided for me, but I also know she gave me only what my body needed in order to grow and a fraction of the beauty and wisdom that my mind craved. I longed for something more, something beyond the cold stone walls that surrounded me. In winters I wrapped my golden hair about me, burrowed under heavy furs, and dreamt of the sun. In the summer, I was still chilled.

“Might I go with you to get food?” I dared ask Mother once.

She raised her brows. “Haven’t I brought what you wanted?”

“Well, yes, but—”

“It would break my heart if something harmed you out there, my bird. And besides, how would we climb back up if you came down with me, bringing your braids with you?”

She silenced me with that, but not because her argument was flawless. Rather she gave me a window through which I could see that her words were false, for I knew my hair had not always been long enough for her to climb.

I did not know how to change things. Each day, all I could do was wait for Mother to bring some small taste of that world I couldn’t see. I spun the flax she brought, I sang, and I hoped for something I could not put words to. And then my dear one came and gave me the words.

I suppose I should have been frightened when he first appeared. I heard Mother call, and I wondered what had angered her, for her voice grumbled low like the times she’d lost her temper with me. When I cast down my braids for her to climb, her weight pulled my head and I puzzled over what heavy load she carried. But then a face appeared over the window ledge and it was not her! How I stared! And the person stared too, eyes blue as the evening sky.

“Who are you?” we asked at the same time.

And we laughed with joy for saying the same simple words we both understood.

My dear one was a man, he said, the son of a king. He had to explain much to me before I grasped his meaning, but as he spoke I felt warmth enter my heart and fill my tower, for he spoke of what I had suspected—of wide spaces and people like us who walked together, and spoke, and loved.

I knew I could not tell Mother about him–I feared her anger if she saw her lie had failed–but I admit it was hard to hide the truth. My walls pressed in each day until he came again, bringing stories of life and light with him. When he was there, the walls melted, and my eyrie was a safe nest. We spoke of the future, and he told me about marriage, the eternal pledge between a man and a woman, and he asked me to be his.

“I want to be yours,” I told my dear one. “But how can it be forever?”

For I knew now that I could not exist if I had not had a father, and I wondered why Mother had never spoken of him.
“As long as there is life in either of us,” my dear one said, “I will be yours.”

I understood then what death was, but I knew I could risk it, and I pledged myself to my dear one.

We laid our plans, and set the day for when my dear one would take me to his kingdom. He brought me silk so I could weave a ladder to give me a way to escape. We thought we were careful with our secret, but we were young, and there were things we did not understand. Truth has a way of showing, and the day it did my two worlds collided.

“Who is he?” Mother hissed, her voice cold and low as she glared at me. “What have you done?”

I trembled. I did not see how she knew. But I lifted my chin and spoke the truth.

“He is my husband,” I said.


She snatched my braids, yanking my head, and with one swift move she pulled out a knife and sheared my glory from my head. Then she tied my poor shorn braids to the window, and pulled me out after her to climb down, barely avoiding the briars at the bottom of my tower. She marched me, long and relentlessly, through the dark of the forest and finally into a wasteland where she cast me down. The fierce sun seared my eyes and my tears scalded my cheeks.

“I gave you everything, but you are no longer my responsibility,” she said. “Let’s see how strong your husband’s love is.”

She turned away.

“Mother!” I cried.

She cast one scorching glance back at me. “I was never your mother,” she said, and she vanished into the woods.

I tried to follow, but I didn’t know the way. At last I decided I must wait for my dear one, and while I waited, I strove to make a new home, a better haven. I found a clear brook flowing down from a high hill. Beside it grew a strong little apple tree and a hedge of roses. I wove a trellis of rose briars for shelter.

Many, many months passed, and the wasteland was cold in a way different from my tower, perhaps more because I knew what I had lost. Yet my tree bent its fruit to me, and my creek gave me sweet water, so I had enough to survive. I wondered that I grew fat there, but truth revealed that too. When my twins were born, a new warmth entered my heart and soothed the ache of the loss of my dear one.

I still hoped. When my dear one looked at me from the blue eyes of my daughter, and when my son’s laugh echoed his father, I knew that my dear one was true. If he was still in the land of the living he would find me.

Perhaps you think this is a tragedy, but that is not the truth.

One day I sang to my twins, a song their father taught me, and as I sang a lower note joined in. I looked up, out across the wide waste where a figure stood, stooped over a staff. I stopped singing and my heart beat fast.

“Who are you?” I called, and the very words returned to me in that dear voice.

I laughed and ran, over the wide land, and I fell into his arms. He held me so close, but then I saw his eyes were blind! He told me how my false mother had lured him into the tower using my shorn braids. When he reached the window, she shoved him back and he fell into the thorns and brambles below, his blood mingling with the roses. While the thorns robbed him of his sight, the soft roses saved his body, and in his blindness he searched for me. And he found me! I wept at his sacrifice. As I cried, my tears fell on his eyes, and they cleared! He gave a shout that woke our children, and when they raised their heads, his shout turned to wonder. They stared at him, wide-eyed, surrounded by the roses of our home.

And under the warmth of the golden sun my dear one carried us to his kingdom.

Loren Warnemuende

Loren Warnemuende is a writer, wife, and homeschool mom of three. She still has a hard time including “writer” as a valid part of who she is, but for most of her life she’s processed the world and how she understands it through written words and stories. While she loves to read various genres, her own stories seem to flow best when she takes a new perspective on an old tale. She is the author of two short stories in the forthcoming The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad (Rabbit Room Press, April 2022). Her Daughter of Arden Trilogy will be published by Bandersnatch Books, starting this fall with Exile.

Winter Eyrie: “Until the Lillies” by Jen Rose Yokel

In this shivery, withered start of spring, I’m delving into some books that have sat on my to-read list for too long, including the turbulent, mythical beauty of N.D. Wilson’s Ashtown Burials series and the humor and honesty of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. The evenings here are brighter; red-bellied woodpeckers are hopping among the trees; cold winds are stirring up autumn’s leftover leaves.

Today’s contribution to the Winter Eyrie project inspires me to see and treasure all these precious things, the bright and the bleak. Jen Rose Yokel is a fellow New Englander, so I can appreciate her poetic vision of this region all the more. She picked a difficult form, the French ballade, and spun images of abiding and awakening with such grace that she made it seem effortless. Enjoy!

Until the Lilies
(a ballade for wintering)

by Jen Rose Yokel

Image by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

Fickle March comes with a false spring,
swinging between robin egg blue
skies and a roaring wind that stings
and claws at our coats. Is it dew
or snowmelt that soaks the grass? You
see color drain from the world, keep
fighting the darkness to get through
until the lilies wake from sleep.

So these are the days of wintering.
In this gray, any space will do
to make a haven from shivering
crowds, above the gray snow’s purview.
Climb up the stairs and you’ll find true
rest, a soft, kind stillness that sweeps
over weariness, sheltering you.
Until the lilies wake from sleep,

small stars of light will blaze on strings
to brighten darkest corners. New
scents — garlic, spice, and soup — will bring
warmth before the blooms. All through
each night, we’ll pause and review
favorite tales, and tea will steep,
and records spin, and hope renew
until the lilies wake from sleep.

In the cold earth, everything grew
before spreading into green. So keep
winter, wait until we come to
the day the lilies wake from sleep.

Jen Rose Yokel

Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at The Rabbit Room, She Reads Truth, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection, Ruins & Kingdoms, in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, their rescue dog, and an assortment of books and houseplants. Find more of her writing at jenroseyokel.com.

Winter Eyrie: “The Treehouse” by Kori Frazier Morgan

I mixed up my dates and was excited for the first day of spring to be…tomorrow, March 21st. I was thrilled to find that it’s actually today. The first signs of it are here: mourning doves coo in the morning fog, deer wander through our backyard, and the buds on the magnolia tree are swelling like scrolls waiting to unfurl.

I found this contribution to the “Winter Eyrie” project sweet and life-giving. To me, Kori’s simple, vivid prose has a viridescence (greenness) to it that captured the goodness of summer, childhood, and yearning. Enjoy!

The Treehouse

by Kori Frazier Morgan

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

I grew up in an old house surrounded by trees. In the summertime, a thick, natural canopy of green covered our yard, with only the thinnest streaks of sunlight sliding between the leaves. The trees were thick-trunked oaks; two of them were older than the house itself. I loved to sit against the scratchy bark to read my books, or lie on a blanket and stare up at the intricate patterns of leaves, hearing the swish-swish of the wind.

There was one thing I desperately wanted, though, one that my trees could not give me: a treehouse. I wanted to sleep in the house with the leaves rustling against the windows and the birds perching nearby. I wanted a special place of my own to sit, far above everything, with a bucket I could let down on a rope to deliver messages or bring up my snacks and books.

But the old trees were too tall, with branches too sharply angled against the trunk. There was no safe place to build such a house.

My dad had meticulously restored our family’s turn-of-the-century home, even altering the structure of the rooms to suit the needs of an imaginative, adventurous daughter. He combined two bedrooms into one large play area, and demolished the wall shared by two closets to make a secret passageway.

When I asked for a treehouse, though, he was silent. Not even my dad’s ingenuity and skill with a toolbox could create a place for a treehouse in those high branches. But he found a solution anyway.

One weekend, while my mom was away at a conference, we went to the hardware store for lumber. He explained that we were going to build my treehouse. In the attic.

The attic had a high ceiling that peaked at the roof—the perfect location for an indoor treehouse. I watched him lay a foundation of thick beams about six feet in the air, then nail in sheets of plywood to make the floor. Once he was sure the floor could support our weight, I climbed up with him, my plastic hammer and nails in hand, to help him finish the job. He even crafted a lattice-style gate so I could see over the edge without falling and built a sturdy ladder that I could safely climb up.

And then, there was the finishing touch: my bucket, which he attached to a pulley system for efficient delivery of snacks and supplies.

The single remaining disappointment was that there were no rustling tree branches surrounding my house, and while I could faintly hear the birds from outside the attic, they could not land outside my windows.

But the more time I spent in my treehouse, the less those things mattered. In fact, the attic made it easier for the treehouse to take on other roles in my play—a space capsule, a covered wagon, a cave. It was my own place, built especially for me, that could be whatever I wanted. 

It could even be an actual treehouse, where I could imagine the branches blowing in the night air, the leaves surrounding the lattice gate. When I slept there either alone or during sleepovers with friends, I wrapped myself in my blankets, feeling the solid floor beneath me. And most of the time, I could almost feel the house slightly swaying amid the rustle of the leaves, even though I was just six feet off the ground.

Kori Frazier Morgan

Kori Frazier Morgan received her MFA in fiction writing from West Virginia University. Her work has appeared in Shenandoah, Forge, Switchback, Blanket Sea, Prick of the Spindle, Scarlet Leaf Review, & other publications. She is the author of two books, Bone China Girls: A Poetic Account of a Female Crime & The Goodbye Love Generation: A Novel In Stories