One of the nice things about living with someone for a long time is that you're influenced by their interests and habits. My spouse, Maureen, has always loved astronomy, and for the last couple of weeks or so I have enjoyed watching Venus and Jupiter do a sky-dance in the mornings.

When I first noticed them, Venus was above Jupiter, just over the treeline in our yard, a little while before sunrise. Over time, Jupiter appeared to approach Venus, then moved gradually to the right of it. One morning, they seemed to be pretty much parallel. Soon after that, the waning moon showed up between the two planets, with Venus on the left, closer to the moon, and Jupiter further away on the right. That was beautiful. It lasted two days, then the moon disappeared and Jupiter started getting noticeably further away from Venus, and appeared to be higher in the sky, although still more in a horizontal line than a vertical. One of these mornings, I expect Jupiter will either be out of sight entirely, or so far away from Venus that I won't be able to tell it from the brighter stars.

Of course I know that Venus and Jupiter are actually hundreds of millions of miles apart; it is only their positions relative to my particular location on Earth that makes them seem to do their lovely dance. But it is lovely all the same. Constellations are the same kind of illusion. Sunrise and sunset don't have colors from space; those breathtaking hues are created by the diffraction of light by particles in our atmosphere. Still beautiful, though.

I could go on. The way dogs appear to smile, because of the shape of their mouths; the smiles of infants, commonly attributed by grandmothers to gas; the waxing and waning of the moon; the way spring peepers mimic the sound of bells jingling; the swirling patterns created by a murmuration of starlings ebbing and flowing across the sky. All illusions that we can't help but admire, even if we know the truth about them.

Brings to mind Mary Oliver's line from her poem, "The Ponds," "What I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled." To be dazzled by nature is to remember our own relative puniness, to rest in the assurance of our insignificance. And to be blessed.


Freedom comes in many forms. For a few years now, I had been inwardly cowering before a pile of mail in my mail tray in the kitchen. It was about a foot high, all stuff — or nearly all — that had to be filed. After so much time, I had come to feel overwhelmed by it; paralysis had set in. In the course of a conversation about something else, I admitted to Maureen that I needed — longed for — her help in taming that pile.

"Sure," she said. "Bring it over to the table." Within an hour, we had it sorted into piles to file, a pile to shred, and had thrown out the rest. Then it was the work of a moment to do the filing.

And I really did feel like I'd been freed from a burden that had been hanging over me for far too long. It wasn't just the awful task; it was guilt of knowing it was there, waiting for me, and that I felt unable to face it.