One night, a very long time ago, all the animals in the barn were awake late into the night.
They had a most unexpected visitor that night: a brand new baby. A special baby.
The animals tried to stay quiet, to let the baby and his exhausted parents sleep, but they talked amongst themselves as they nibbled and munched on the hay.
“I carried her all the way here,” the donkey said proudly. “I was so careful to make sure she was safe.”
“We gave up our stall,” the horses said, towering over the rest. “We made room for them here when no one else would.”
The chickens merely slept on the perch. The rooster would have his own boasts to make come dawn, but for now the hens tucked their heads under their wings and hummed a gentle lullaby.
“We gave the wool for the blankets the shepherds brought the Holy Child,” the sheep bleated. “We made sure he would be safe and warm.”
“When she needed help to feed him, we gave her milk,” the goats said. “And we haven’t jumped on top of the manger, not once.” They butted each other, unable to resist the urge to play, but the baby began to wake and they hushed themselves.
“I have chased away all the rats,” said the old shaggy dog from his place by the barn door. “And I am keeping watch over the baby all night.”
Four little paws pattered into the barn. Two bright eyes peered around.
“What will you give to the Holy Child?” The dog asked the cat. “You have nothing to bring that has not already been given.”
The cat only purred. On quiet stealthy feet she danced to the manger where the newborn baby lay, restless and starting to fuss.
Lightly she leapt up into the hay and curled up on his soft woolen blanket, right against his side. A purr began, deep in her belly, and she blinked her eyes as the baby settled back into sleep, soothed by her warmth and the comfortable purr.
“I give myself,” the cat said softly.
Originally posted on Facebook September 30, 2021.
I saw the flash of fur first, then the Frisbee arcing through the air, then the man.
He was standing at the edge of the dooryard, arm raised still from throwing the Frisbee over the sizable lawn. His white hair made him stand out while his dark red flannel shirt made him fade into the crimson maple leaves on the tree behind him.
His dog leapt into the air, all four feet off the ground — Aussie shepherd, most likely, based on the size, coloring, and coat.
The road carried me off before I could see the rest but I have seen this scene enough to know that her jaws will snap on the Frisbee and she will carry it back to earth with her; she will barely touch the ground before she races back to him, legs moving so fast you only see a blur. He will take the Frisbee and send it soaring out again and she will fly like a bullet to snap it out of the air again.
The road wound north to the mountains. I know it is nearly straight north because in the morning and in the evening the sunlight slants through the trees on either side of the road, making a flickering ‘piano key’ set of shadows almost all the way home.
The trees are starting to turn and the air was cold today, so cold that for the first time since early May I kept my windows closed for the entire drive.
When I got home, I sat in the truck in the driveway for a few minutes, catching up on emails for work. Two of my crows flew into the yard and hopped around, pecking at the grass and whatever interesting bites they were finding there. They ignored me as I turned off the truck, rolled down the window, and leaned out to watch them, but as soon as I pulled out the camera and tried to take a picture, they flew up into a pine and scolded me.
It is nearly October. It is a good time to be here.
📷: Smalls Falls near Rangeley, September 29, 2021.
The beach was three hours away.
Really, it was a little over two hours, but when you factored in the number of stops required when traveling with a cacophony of children, all under the age of 13, it turned pretty quickly into a three hour trip.
It was the first time I’d been to the ocean. It was before we were six, before the baby, before I was one of the middle kids, when I was still one of the little kids.
You measure time in odd ways when you are growing up. There aren’t any good ways to measure it when everything is new and changing, and simultaneously, constant and eternal.
The water at Popham Beach is cold. The river flows through into the Atlantic, so the water is always moving and the temperatures are frigid, even for Maine.
The big boys went swimming, shrieking about the cold water, until Mom called them back to shore to sit on the sand until their fingers and toes turned pink again.
I waded, with my other brothers, and searched for seashells and sea glass in the sand and seaweed on the beach.
After a picnic lunch of sandwiches and sand, as the tide started to wander back in, all five of us collected our sand pails and plastic shovels and set about building a sand castle.
Built like the medieval castles in my big brothers’ history books, it had a keep, towering over the courtyards and stables and sheds and outer buildings. There were walls and watchtowers and turrets, decorated with mussel shells and polished driftwood sticks and smooth pebbles sifted out of the sand. There was a gate, which my oldest brother labored over for a long time, using wet sand and sticks and stones to sculpt the curved arch so it would stand upright. There was a moat, filled with so many pails of seawater that the sand around it became waterlogged and the moat actually held water for a few minutes at a time. There were flagpoles at the top of every tower, some with seaweed for the flag, and some with imaginary flags.
The big boys were the designers and architects, and they kept us little kids busy, running down to the ocean to fill pails of water and collect wet salty sand from the waterline for cementing the castle together.
The finished castle was fairly monolithic, even by adult standards, judging by the one photograph I found a few years ago. It was large enough for all five of us to sit behind for the photo, all wearing swimsuits and hoodies – Maine’s summer uniform – and happy smiles.
It was three hours home – a little over two hours, but with a cacophony of sleepy, sandy children, it turned into three hours pretty quickly. So we packed up in the middle of the afternoon, when there were still people coming and going on the beach.
One little girl – smaller than me – and her grandmother came down to the beach and claimed the space near us. The little girl had her own sand pail and shovel, and she worked on building her castle. She wanted to build a big castle like ours, but ours was hours of work with five of us, and she was only one.
When we were finishing up our packing, towels and seashells and sand pails and shovels and the lunch cooler and the hundred-and-one other things that go to the beach, my big brothers wandered over to the little girl and her grandmother, and invited her to move in to our castle.
We were leaving, and it was a very good castle, and the tide would wash it all away in a little while longer, and she could make it bigger if she wanted, and we would be happy if someone got to enjoy all our hard work.
I don’t remember anything about her. Not her hair, her swimsuit, nothing. But I remember, clearly, her smile.
Days later, when I was out on the back porch sorting through my seashells in my sand pail, I dumped out the sand in the bottom of the pail – the sand was everywhere for days and weeks after our trip – and in the sand in the bottom of the pail was a perfect sand dollar the size of a dime.
The sand dollar is still in a tiny fishing tackle box with other tiny seashells I found that day. Every time I look at it – and often when I look at a normal dime – I remember that little girl and that sand castle.
Originally posted on September 2, 2021, on Facebook.
It’s been more than six years since I asked myself “what is the point of all this?”
At that time it didn’t look like there was any point.
But there was. There is.
Today, I’m sitting on the porch railing listening to the rain fall. If I reach my fingers out a few inches, I can feel the drops, cold and fresh against my skin. It is still early, and the air is cold. I am bundled in a flannel shirt and my breakfast is on the railing next to me.
There’s nothing fancy or expensive or momentous about this: my flannel shirt is well loved and worn, there is a cobweb overhead for my back porch spider, and none of my dishes match. I have to go to work in an hour.
But the food on my plate is fresh, from a farm down the road, and the coffee is cold brew I made myself, and this house is a space that I can call my own, at least for now.
There is gas in the truck to get me to work and a few dollars tucked in my wallet for iced coffee when I go to town tomorrow.
Most importantly, there is peace.
When I was asking myself “what’s the point?” it wasn’t because I felt nothing–it was because I felt everything, and I was drowning.
It took time and hard work, and there is still work to do, but there is peace here on the back porch railing with the rain falling.
There are birds singing in the trees at the back of the yard.
Someone told me that when I asked myself “what’s the point?” I needed to put my foot down and MAKE a point.
Something tiny, like ‘next week the grocery store has a sale on my favorite fruit’ or something huge, like ‘there are still mountains I haven’t climbed’.
There are people I haven’t met and songs I haven’t heard and books I haven’t read. There are rainy mornings waiting for me, and sunny ones too.
One of these days I will coax the song birds to eat out of my hand.
I am here and that is enough.
I am here.
And so are you.
I love you.
Thanks for reading. It means the world to me. All my love.
She used to come over and fold laundry.
I was probably five or six. She’d come over every few days, sit in the living room, and fold baskets of laundry. With five kids under the age of 15, there was always laundry to be folded.
Sometimes she read books to us. Other times we played cards, mostly Skipbo.
I remember that her hands would tremble if they sat still too long, and so she liked to keep busy.
At church, on Sundays, she played the organ.
My older brothers would go over and mow her lawn in the summertime. I was jealous that they got to go see her more often than I did.
When she passed away, her family gave my parents the little white sedan she drove. They gave me one of her china dolls. And one of my brothers got the Skipbo cards.
But out of all the things I remember about her, I remember the laundry.
I have no memory of her asking if she could help. I remember her coming in, putting her coat aside, and diving in. When she ran out of laundry, she’d send us to go check and see if there was any more on the clothesline.
With the clothes folded and put back in the baskets to be put away, she seemed to feel like her job was done, and done well. She’d sometimes stay and read, or play games, but sometimes she would just leave after the laundry was folded.
I’ve always held onto that. She saw a need — what mother of small children doesn’t need help with the laundry? — and she helped out. Not once or twice, but consistently, for such a long time that I don’t remember when it started.
Being there when someone needs you is important, but sometimes it looks unexpected. Sometimes it looks like laundry baskets.
Originally published on Facebook in 2021.
(Note: this is about as “preachy” as I ever get. I’m not a historian or a Bible scholar, just a journalist who asks too many questions.)
My dad taught me, from an early age, to pay attention to what lens I am using to view the world. He plays a very annoying game called ‘Devil’s Advocate’ and makes me defend myself when I say a declarative statement, even if he agrees with me. He pushes me to explore all the perspectives I can find and explain my own, and weigh them out. It’s been really useful, given my day job.
Years of studying the Bible tells me that the Bible is viewing the world from a primarily masculine lens. There’s nothing wrong with that—it is part of the human story—but it doesn’t show the whole picture.
Did you know that the Bible you read today was carefully selected and arranged centuries ago by a large counsel of religious leaders, primarily men? I do believe that the Bible contains the Word of God, and that it was prayerfully and carefully chosen, but it’s not like God set up a printing press and personally autographed each copy.
(This is when I usually get called a heretic, but really: the history of the actual book you hold in your hands is a fascinating story and should be talked about more often.)
There is more to the human story than the words written in the Bible, and I have always wondered how many stories we’ve lost. On average, half of humanity is missing from the Bible. The stories are primarily about men and were primarily written by men. I studied Bible History for about fifteen years and to this day I can only name a dozen or so women. Their stories—my stories—are largely absent.
Mother Mary is, of course, the most well-known and the most frequently discussed. It’s Advent, leading up to the Christmas holiday, so her part of the story is open for discussion: but it seems only the verses in the Bible. The two books that discuss the immaculate conception and the birth of Christ were written by men, largely translated and selected by men. Nothing in Mary’s story is a man’s story.
For me, Mary’s story has more questions than answers.
Scholars believe that, given the time and culture in which her story took place, she was likely between the age of fourteen and sixteen.
Consider: a fourteen-year-old is engaged to be married when an angel of God appears and calls her ‘favored one’. The angel tells her that she has been chosen to bear the divine child; the embodiment of God in human form.
But take it farther. Explore the possibilities. Did Mary remember the story of Moses, when he begged for a chance to see the Divine Creator? Did she remember how God placed Moses in a cleft of the rock and only allowed him to see His back, otherwise he would die? Did she wonder if becoming the bridge between humanity and divinity would kill her?
Did she hesitate, knowing that conceiving a child before her marriage was consummated would shame her and her family, destroy her relationship with Joseph, and potentially ruin the life of this child?
Mary said yes. It’s a tiny little verse in Luke and again, it seems to me to only be a part of the story, but she said yes.
I’ve always felt that she DID have a choice. I’ve always felt that she could have said no and gone on with her normal life. But she said yes.
What was it like, telling Joseph? Joseph was a righteous man—I understand the verses to mean he was a kind man. He wanted to protect her from the shame and harm that would befall her if it became public information that she was pregnant out of wedlock, but he planned to ‘quietly’ send her away. An angel appeared to him in a dream and told him not to, and he listened in the morning, but imagine Mary’s feelings through that night.
During her pregnancy, did she have morning sickness? I have been told before that she would have had an easy pregnancy and birth, but the Bible is very clear that this was God made Flesh—this is where divinity and humanity reconnect. There is no real reason to believe that Mary’s pregnancy was anything other than a normal human pregnancy.
Did her back ache? Did her ankles swell?
Late-term, she had to do a road trip, with none of our modern comforts. I remember my mother’s struggles with traveling the month before the baby was born: frequent bathroom stops, constant adjustments and fidgeting to get comfortable, lots of naps and resting. What was it like for Mary?
Did she know that she was too close to her due date? Did she know when they left home that she might have to give birth in a strange city without her mother and sisters there? Did she know that she wouldn’t have her own midwife there? Did she pack swaddling clothes in her bag?
My understanding is that men weren’t involved in the labor and delivery at that time and in that culture. It was women’s work. Did Mary know that she may have to deliver this baby entirely on her own?
When did the contractions start? Were they rushing to Bethlehem to try and find shelter as she experienced the first pains of childbirth?
How long was she in labor? How long before the holy child was born?
He was holy, divine, but he was human too. Did he scream? Did she? How did she wash him clean?
A barn, even a three-sided shelter for sheep, is better than giving birth in the street. At least she could rest the baby in the feed trough with fresh sweet hay, and I’ve had enough farm experience to know that the animals generate warmth and barns are messy but not filthy–again, better than the streets.
Did he nurse? Did he latch on right away? Did her milk come in, or did they both lie there and cry in frustration?
How long did she rest in Bethlehem before she had to travel again? How many nights did she spend in that barn?
When he was a toddler, did he ever provoke her? Did she scold him and then see in his eyes the whole knowledge of the universe? Did he throw his food on the floor if he didn’t like the taste of it? Did he cry at night because of the weight of being human? Did she pace the floor, holding him close, and cry herself because she couldn’t calm him?
There is so much of the feminine story that is left untold and that means that part of the human story is left untold.
Why do so many men in the Bible hear and see angels in their dreams, while it seems that Mary essentially had an angel over for coffee and brunch?
For so many years I felt disconnected from the Creator because I experienced divinity in a very physical, tangible way—and God rarely seemed to embody physical form to interact with men in the Bible. In fact, the Bible is very specific about it at times. Men travel to holy places and sacred spaces to speak with God. I felt that meant I was interacting with God the wrong way: I interacted with Him with my hands, not my head. But it is clear that the angel came into the house where Mary was and spoke with her, face to face. Maybe, after all, I am living the part of the story that women have always lived? Maybe when God speaks with women, He comes and stands by the kitchen sink while they wash the dishes.
Every year when I hear Mary talked about in church, I am left holding these unanswered questions. At the same time I know the answers in my bones. I know this story better than any story I have ever read: it is my mother’s story and my grandmother’s story and the story of all the mothers who came before me. Women’s bodies remember things for generations: I was first a possibility while my mother was still in her mother’s womb. There have been four women in my family line in the last 125 years: me, my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother. Only four.
Mary reminds me that in the beginning, we were created human, and we were not just good—we were very good. Mary reminds me that this part of the story, the part where we get our hands dirty and our hearts broken, is so important that God came and experienced it, too.
Mary reminds me that it’s not wrong to be human and that being human is, in fact, part of my divine calling.
After a series of curveballs, I’m delighted to announce that my newest poetry collection, The Mountain and Me, will be released on August 28th, 2021.
This little book of poems and photos is near and dear to my heart as it touches on some of my personal struggles over the last few years.
This is, primarily, about my mountain. Mt. Abram is my safe place and my solace and the place where I feel most at home.
I can’t wait to share this with you all! I’ve been working on this collection for a couple years now, but in many ways I’ve been working on it for my entire life.
Pre-order signed copies on my website here: https://annielouisetwitchell.com/product/preorder-the-mountain-and-me/
They’ll get shipped out to you within two weeks of publication.
E-book copies will be available on Amazon.
With all my love,
Originally published on April 10, 2021
View the original post here.
In Maine, growing things have to fight to survive, and even harder to thrive. Old Mainers say that the only thing that grows here is rocks. My dad tells me sometimes about pulling rocks out of the hayfield every year when he and his brothers were kids. And me and my brothers grew up playing at my best friend’s house, perched on top of a glacial skree pile from when the last of the glaciers melted off from Canada, dragging rocks and gravel and sand in their wake.
But the rocks grow, and other things grow too in the gaps and spaces left behind. The trees climb up the mountains until the water runs out, and wild blueberries keep going past that up towards the summit. Way up there the moss grows, softened by rains and the snowmelt.
In roadside ditches as soon as the snow is gone, little yellow flowers turn their faces to the sunshine. The maple sap runs and flows and then leaf buds forms and spread into full-foliage.
In the hidden spaces in the woods, Jack stands in his pulpit, preaching to a congregation of ferns and blood root and trillium.
These are the soft spaces and the quiet places where old souls wander undisturbed.
Animals live here too, and most don’t want to see you or harm you. They are content to pass by like shadows in the night. The jays and crows are exceptions; they like to scream loudly and frequently, just because they can. Scaring the living daylights out of passersby is a fun hobby and I swear, they laugh at you if you jump.
Sometimes if you wander the woods you’ll find long stone walls running straight as an arrow through the trees. Covered in old leaves and half consumed by the forest, the stone walls remind you that sometimes, despite the hardship, people grow here in Maine.
The people here are rough around the edges, and it seems like even the babies come out looking a little weathered, and there’s a few bad apples in the bunch, but the people that grow in the rocky coastline and the equally rocky mountain ranges are most often, simply, “good people”.
They are my people.
There’s an ice breaker question I have seen many times that asks “Who would you want on your team if the world was ending?”
Often the answers are various fictional superheroes or celebrity figures. For a while that was my answer, too. “Captain America, obviously.”
My answer has changed.
I choose my brother, who comes to rescue me every single time I call him, and doesn’t ever complain.
I choose my neighbor, who plowed my driveway all winter and refused to be paid or even to take cookies, because he was “right there” and “it ain’t no trouble”.
I choose the two strangers in Phillips who came across my truck in a ditch one winter and, working together and with language as colorful as the sunset, pulled me out and set me back on my way.
I choose the people who don’t let me slip away unnoticed, who say my name when they greet me in passing. I choose the people who don’t know me but still nod acknowledgement and greeting. We are together in the same space and time for just a second, and it is good.
I choose my people.
This is my Maine. These are my people. They’re not perfect and they make me angry and hurt and sad sometimes, and lately I’ve been seeing things that I don’t recognize, traits that don’t seem to fit in very well. But under all the technology and civilization, this is still the woods. This is still Maine, and some things never will change.
Here, in the places where so much struggles to grow, kindness thrives. There are still good and kind people and I am blessed to be surrounded by so many of them.
Good evening friends!
I’ve spent the day tightening up security and removing thousands of spam accounts and posts from my website. These spam posts have been bogging down the site and I’m glad to have it cleaned up.
However, in the process of cleaning, some of my legitmate followers may have be inadvertently removed. If you find this is the case, please accept my deepest apologies. This was not my intention and I would love to see you again. You can follow the blog here:
By Annie Louise Twitchell
Author’s note: my best friend says this requires a tissue warning. Mom, you’d better listen.
These are fictional snapshots, but many are based on the stories I have heard from my communities over the last fifteen months. While I am a journalist, this is not journalism writing; this began as a way for me to let go of some of the stories I have carried in my heart for so long, but the stories are not mine to keep and I think it is time to share them.
The child is nestled underneath a heap of blankets in the corner of the couch, peering through the screen at her classmates she cannot join. Learning this way feels distant and disconnected but she tries anyway because Mom needs her to try.
Mom keeps calling Gram, as often as she can, but she can’t always get through. She used to visit every week and now they drive by the nursing home and wave out the car windows, knowing deep down that Gram can’t see them. Mom can’t stop crying. The child wonders if she will ever stop, and loses track of the lesson once again.
He pulls a covering up over his mouth and nose before climbing out of the cruiser and approaching the house. Another call. Another isolated and hurting individual.
He knocks on the door and the weary man shuffles to open it, dressed in a worn flannel robe. They stand in the in-between space created by the doorway and they talk — it seems like hours — until the man decides he does need help. He shuffles back inside and comes back with his shoes in one hand and a blank expression on his face.
“There’s no one here to tell where I’m going,” he mumbles, seeming lost and small. “There’s no one here.”
“I’m here,” the officer says in a quiet voice. “It’s going to be okay.”
The baby won’t stop screaming. There’s no more formula on the shelves and she’s hungry. The young mother feels ready to give up, sit down, and scream along with the baby. She takes a jug of milk to the checkout line and waits, six feet away from the next person.
A pair of bright eyes smile over a colorful floral mask as the older woman takes four cans of formula from her cart — already bought and paid for — and holds them out. “Here, sweetie,” she says. “I think you need it more than I do.”
She hasn’t hugged her husband or children in weeks. She works in the hospital with patients on ventilators and she lives in the in-law apartment over the garage. On her days off she sleeps, wishing she could forgot how much her patients are suffering. Wishing she could bring them back. Wishing it was different.
He fought overseas and now he’s fighting here at home, but this time his weapon is an N95 mask and a thousand crates of gloves and gowns and hand sanitizer, and his enemy is a microscopic virus.
He’s dropping off the last shipment of the day at a rural fire station. In the mountains, they’re the frontline defense. They’re the first ones on call and they need to have protection.
He meets the chief and they exchange a handful of sentences as they unload the truck, but mostly they let the silence fill the spaces between them. There is so much to say that it’s better to say nothing.
“Thank you,” the chief says as the soldier prepares to leave. “Drive safe.”
The soldier nods to him and climbs back into the truck. Everything that needed to be said has now been said.
She spends hours among the shelves, more time than her salary compensates for, but it’s better than sitting at home. She fills dozens of bags a week with a hand-picked selection of books for the people who would normally flood the library. She needs this as much as they do.
The dirt road is impassable with the school bus, but he has a few minutes extra in the schedule, so he parks at the bottom of the hill and carries the box of food through the mud to the house perched on top. The kids run to the door, screaming happily, and he sets the box on the porch. They’re tearing into the bags before he’s gone a hundred feet back towards the bus and a smile breaks out on his face.
She was laid off and the company only paid two weeks’ wages; not enough to make up for the loss of her husband’s income and not enough to pay for his cancer treatments, which are harder than ever now. She’s pinching pennies and counting dollars and praying that they can make it through until some form of relief comes through.
The cafe was their dream. When the people left, so did the money, and now they’re standing in the middle of their space making the hardest decision of their life: to try and stay afloat, or to fold. They don’t have many options and in a few weeks the virus has killed their dreams and crushed their hopes.
She’s been recovering from the abusive relationship and slowly learning to trust people again, and now she’s thrust back into a world of isolation and fear. It’s so hard not to let it drown her. It’s so hard not to give up. It’s so hard…
They’ve been bouncing around from home to home for years. She’s stubborn and overprotective, he’s autistic and nonverbal. They have to leave another home but there’s nowhere for them to go now.
This time it really does seem hopeless.
He’s tucked away in the office late almost every night, tracking the case counts and outbreaks and research, and trying to get the information out there. People want to know. People need to know.
She’s going mad, stuck at home all the time, but the boys are at very high risk and she can’t put them in danger. She can’t. She tries to stay connected through Facebook and phone calls but it’s not the same. The boys, too, are restless and hurting. They’re rays of sunshine; they’re not made to be cooped up in a box.
Normally he’d hang out with kiddos at school, watch their sports games, read books in class, join them for a game at recess, but he can’t right now so instead he answers every call for a birthday parade that he can, and does his best to give the kids a good day even in the middle of a sea of bad days.
He doesn’t know how to help. He’s not much good at talking on the phone and he doesn’t have much money to give, but he has time and tools and his hands, and he builds a mini food pantry and watches with quiet pride as the community pours in to fill it.
They’re here. They’ve been holding onto each other with everything they have and they’ve been fighting for each other every moment of the way.
The loss and grief will color their souls forever and they will remember what it felt like to be so alone and so powerless, but they will also remember the tiny sparks of light and the warmth of a smile and the knowledge that they are stronger together.
They are humanity.
They are us.