inside this diorama

Beauty is. We are driving back from my daughter’s birthday dinner at the Chop House on the far side of town. The roads are slick with iced dew from falling snow. On the way there, each of us chose a separate route from my house where we had played games and eaten Better Than Sex Anything cake. Dessert before dinner: Yes! My son had picked the highway across the Rims, my ex-husband had taken the river route and my daughter picked the road with the only overpass in town. And now, she’s taking me back to my house, over the sandstone cliffs, up through the creek valley and along the hills where she had once buried a time capsule she’d not recover for another five years.

Just as we cross the creek bridge, her boyfriend points out this is where he usually sees the deer. We slow down, flash our lights: no deer. We continue on. Beauty is: when something happens at the right time. When we reach the corner with the Ponderosa pine, we slow down again because this is where my daughter usually see the deer. We squint in the dark cab of her truck, peering between the trees. Bedded down under the trees, two does stare back at us. We pause; my daughter grins. We continue on.

Nothing can be done inside this diorama. From the moment of birth, babies move toward independence. And if a mother has done her job well, her child will become a well-adjusted, independent adult. And comes the day her child will return her mother to her own single doorstep with warm hugs and thanks-mom-I-love-you hollers. And this mother will pretend to step inside her darkened house, knowing her daughter will watch to make sure she gets in okay. But then she’ll step back outside, this mother, and listen to her daughter drive away. Headlights bouncing, red tail lights glowing.  As it should be, yes.

Beauty is: not being in control at all times.  This is something I read in Annie Liebovitz’s latest book, Pilgramage. Some of her favorite shots happened when she let go, she wrote.  I have this in my mind—this letting go. And I have in my coat pocket—my camera. And deep in the snow bank beneath my second-story bedroom window rise the withered stalks of my favorite yellow rose bush.

I pick my path through the deep snow, and kneel. Mittens off, macro setting on, I still my breath and focus on the shot. The world as I know it freezes, catches its breath and waits for Mother in a Red Coat to snap her shot. On the far side of the blue spruce pine centered in her tiny yard comes the sound of footsteps. One, two, stop. Three, four, stop. At first she wants to panic, thinking: robber, bad guy, thief. But then she realizes the  sound is dainty.  Dainty as in deer. And as long as she doesn’t move, the deer will stay to study her—they peer at her through the branches of the blue spruce—this Woman Knelt in Snow.


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

16 responses to “inside this diorama

  1. Such a beautiful post, the translation of a fleeting state of being into words, with photo. Beauty is also making peace with all the unknowns and unknowables, seeing their perfection. xo

    • redmitten

      marylinn, i so wanted to write “beauty is: accepting” but let it go unstated. as you said–it is about making peace with the unknowns and unknowables- that realization we aren’t and cannot be so in control. and in that comes the perfection you write about. not being totally proficient (annie liebovitz) is a good thing. i hadn’t realized until you said it that this post is filled with that fleeting sense of being. it can be unsettling, and yet we see our way through it time and again. so, at some point it is good to stop and embrace it. so good to hear from you.

  2. oh my. oh my goodness. please just keep writing these wonderful posts. oh my.

  3. The photograph is a work of art, truly it is. The words? Well, ‘Beauty is’… lets say.

    • redmitten

      the photo started as a good idea with a bad shot, bad lighting (using flash at night to take a shot covered in snowbank??) and so i set out to destroy it. and in destoying it, i started to notice the shot had a different story than the one i first had in mind. and regarding beauty: i live in an area of the state best known for visual beauty in its western portion. but i live right where west meets east and notice how many times people don’t feel the beauty of eastern montana’s open space. this is when i started to realize beauty is not limited to the visuals. thank you for your encouragement. i have a longer reply coming to you soon.

  4. Three cheers for the dainty sound of deer! If you hear that, it’s from a quiet world few of us experience often enough. Mmmm.

    • redmitten

      for this reason winter is my favorite season (until spring comes, which is a nasty winter filled with tricks). i like the slower pace deep snow demands from us. (and i realize i can say this easily because i am fortunate derby has the ability to not get stuck in my dead end street, a street that ordinary cars get stuck in during the winter.)

  5. Such a beautiful post. It reminds me of the moment in “Waiting For The Moon” when Gertrude Stein sees the deer and is utterly awe-struck.

  6. Kerry

    Beauty is indeed all of these things…happy and sad and profound. When I see my grown daughter and how lovely she has made her life, I know the true meaning of beauty.
    And on a clear summer morning, the deer see me before I see them. I stop and we both look at each other…magical beauty.

    • redmitten

      i agree- for me, there is no greater beauty than if/when we see our grown children making lovely their own lives.

      and as far as the deer seeing us first- i wonder if their sighting of us is as magical? do they go home and tell their children of the chance encounter of kerry the photographer crouching in the snow, snapping photos? (and by the way- we want/need more shots at ithaca if you are so inclined. we hope so!!)

  7. wuffda

    …and that’s where you see deer.

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