That Wild Darkness

A resident of Boneyard Beach – Little Talbot Island, Fla.

by Mary Oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shanking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.


It’s been a long week of writing about home, or of trying to write about home.

Throughout the month of June I have been participating in a fun Instagram photo-a-day challenge and decided to use the above photo to define my version of “centered”. The whelk in the photograph is the literal center and my emotional center is the beach beyond. Just this morning I realized the whelk, in its battered and nearly broken shell, is always home no matter where the seas toss him out. That damn whelk gave me a clearer perspective on the whole idea of home.

Does home have to be a single place?

During my research on the definition of home (yes, I’m that bewildered by the topic that I had to do research), I began to feel a little less obligated to call out the name of a single place to point to as home which, to be honest, left me feeling guilty for not giving the designation to all the other places I’ve ever lived. Clearly, I have been traveling.

For the record, I haven’t yet figured out my own definition of home but I’m learning there is more than one way to define it.

4 thoughts on “That Wild Darkness

  1. I love this so much. I haven’t been traveling, but this speaks to me. (Anything that starts with Mary Oliver and ends with your writing speaks to me.)

    I spent the first 16 years of my life in WV, and every place I lived there (only two that I remember well and one that I remember vaguely and in dreams) were all within 20 minutes of each other. When we moved to VA, I was knocked off balance, and clung hard to WV as home for many, many years. Now… Now my home is here, where my husband is, where our mutts are, where my mom is four blocks away. It’s not the place, the city, though, that’s home: that’s in me. I mourned the loss of (my idea of) home when I went back there several years ago and so much was changed and so much was the same. I realized that I was so different from when I lived there that even if I moved back, it would be a different, alien place to me. Home became the circle I’ve built around me, so it comes with me – my friendships, my close family, my own little family of hubby and dogs. I feel like now, no matter where I end up, it will always be home, because I bring my life with me.

    • You know, I haven’t read this post in forever, so THANK YOU for taking me back. There is so much more to home than I’ll ever know. Wisconsin, a place I’ve never held an address, feels very much like home; Florida feels more foreign every time I go back. I think the nomad in me has been awakened. I’m more willing to keep moving, like I’m afraid to grow roots again, though my roots have probably spread to places I haven’t yet been. Santa Fe? Magical. PG County? Hell hole. I’ve only lived in one of those places, but I feel like I could thrive in the other.

      We are all carrying home with us.

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