“Family of Things” 6×6, oil on canvas

Every time I do a 31 in 31 there comes a point where I hit a wall. I question work I once adored. I worry that, contrary to the stacks of paintings that have already collected and which stand firmly in evidence of my ability to create, that I will not be able to finish the 31 days. 

Yesterday was my wall. Brick, not too tall, just tall enough that scaling it would require some help. A rope maybe. Some sticky shoes like a cartoon where the character walks up the wall parallel to the ground.

And then that wall whispered to me, as it often does, the words from a Mary Oliver poem. “You don’t have to be good,” it said. “You don’t have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting…the world offers itself to your imagination.”

And I saw a photograph of geese saved in one of my pinterest folders, and even though the painting didn’t seem like it would turn out, I did it anyway, knowing I did not have to be good. Just present. Just a part of the family of things.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver




  1. Kay

    Love this poem; love the message!


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Written by Denise Hopkins

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