To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden” #1


To a Waterfowl by William Cullen Bryant

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glows the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?

IMG_20150106_080940_575~2In Bryant’s beloved poem, To a Waterfowl, the speaker is addressing a shorebird in flight. Using the literary tool of apostrophe – addressing an abstraction or a thing, present or absent, an absent entity or person, or a deceased person, Bryant achieves the effect of having the speaker muse aloud: “As dew falls and the sun sets in the rosy depths of the heavens, I wonder where you are going?”
In this series of blogs, To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden,” the poem will be taken verse by verse. The reader may wish to read the poem, first, in it’s entirety.

My mother, Ellen, will be the speaker in the poem. As the poem is, essentially, a profession of faith, her musings are a testimony to her life of faith on the small farm, where she and her beloved Hinie, eked out a living, raised their children and honed their faith.
As the waterfowl begins it’s migratory journey north, it has no idea what challenges and difficulties it may encounter along the way, so Ellen, when she married the love of her life, Henry, and began a new life with him in the house on the hill, had no idea what life held in store for her:

“Nothing in Ellen’s life, growing up in a comfortable, well-to-do home in the city {if New Era could be called a city}, could have prepared her for the stark reality of living on (and off) the land; still she threw herself into her new life with determination and optimism for she loved Henry with all her heart and was totally committed to their life together.
The farm is bleak in March. A grim austere landscape greeted Ellen in mid/late March as she and Henry returned from their honeymoon and began settling into their new home.” Looking out the kitchen window, on her first morning on the farm, she would have seen the sun rising to the east. Barren, scraggy trees stood here and there in the yard. Sooty stale piles of snow were reminders of winter’s frigid blast. Patches of green dotted the snow-covered pasture and a ring of water circled the frozen pond – hopeful signs that the bleak barrenness would not last forever. The pond wound lazily uphill to the woods – a scruffy, scraggly army of trees guarding the rear boundary. She might have seen the cows, relieved of their saggy udders, straggling out in a line to greet the first signs of spring, following their leader to seek what sustenance they could find in the grim austere wilderness of the pasture.
As she waited for Henry to return from his early milking for breakfast, her sense of excitement and exuberance shifted to a twinge of uncertainty and doubt, triggered, perhaps, by the foreboding scene framed in the kitchen window. Suddenly, she felt vulnerable, alone and unsure of herself. What was she doing here? She knew nothing of farm life or being a farm wife. Her comfortable, leisurely life back home, only one and a half miles away, seemed far away indeed. …Yet, here she was in the kitchen, dressed in her new house dress and apron, feeling lost and alone.
Suddenly a flash of red flew past the window. Ellen noticed a male cardinal perched on a limb in the yard, his shebird a few branches up. A pair of cardinals, she thought. A pair, just Henry and me. The sight of the birds ifted her spirits. Henry would be home soon. He would make everything right. She loved him with all her heart. He was a farmer, so she would be his farm wife. Well, a housewife who lives on the farm, she thought. Somehow that sounded better.
Ellen started the coffee, set the sausages sizzling and whipped the pancake batter into a froth. Henry would be home soon. He would be hungry. She had better get busy fixing his breakfast.
Ellen’s life on the farm had begun.” (In the Garden pp 22,23)

pair of cardinals

And so it was, on her first morning on the farm, a pair of cardinals, would bring hope and reassurance to Ellen’ soul. it would not be the last time that “things with feathers,” – Emily Dickinson’s symbol for hope, appeared to lift her Ellen’s spirits and put a song in her heart.

I love the image of my mother, there in the kitchen, full of love for her Henry and full of hope and promise for their future together. How could she have known then how dramatically her life would be shaped and fashioned by her new home on the farm and in return, how indelibly the farm would bear the stamp of her (their) presence?
In the beginning, it was her love for Henry that nurtured and sustained her, but as time went on and the challenges of eking out a living and raising a family on the farm increased, her love for Henry and their love for each other would find new meaning and strength in their faith in God and His Word. It was in the everyday details of their lives on the farm, that their faith was honed.
Though Ellen may have recited scripture in church or Sunday School, God’s promises would take on new meaning in the days and details of her daily life:

“I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139: 13 – 16)

Coming soon: the second verse of To a Waterfowl in To a Waterfowl Revisited “In the Garden”

MimiThe MimicNote: Mimi the Mimic and the Great Migration, Janet’s 5th book in her Tales From Pelican Cove series, is based on Emily Dickinson’s “things with feathers,” poem and is a tale of hope and remembering.


Note:  The memoir, In the Garden, portrays the author’s mother, Ellen, an ordinary woman, who became extraordinary by surrendering her will and ego to the will of God at every crossroads of her life.  She chose faith over doubt, acceptance over resignation, hope instead of despair.  “Not my will, but Thy will be done,” was her mantra.  After marrying the love of her life, Henry, Ellen lived her entire life in a house, on the hill, on a farm in west Michigan(the site of present day Country Dairy)rooting herself in the place where she believed God had planted her.  There she found her calling as a helpmeet and homemaker.  She transformed the house on the hill into a place of beauty and sanctuary for their family.  To view the memoir visit or

In Hoeing “In the Garden,” the author revisits her mother’s story, cultivating and digging up tidbits of truth to provide inspiration and encouragement for the challenges of her life.


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