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March 3, 2021

I’ve been reading The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert MacFarlane. In it he shares two “poetically precise” terms from Hebridean Gaelic.

The first: “Eig” refers to “the quartz crystals on the beds of moorland stream-pools that catch and reflect moonlight, and therefore draw migrating salmon to them in the late summer and autumn.”

The second: “Rionnach maoim” means “the shadows cast on the moorland by cumulus clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day.”

Over breakfast with my husband I pulled out the book. “I have to read you these definitions,” I told him, and consequently, on our brief walk between breakfast and leaving for school, we brainstormed words in English that carry a similar poem of meaning. They’re hard to recognize. He thought perhaps “harvest moon”. I thought perhaps “aqua”.

All day now, I’ve been thinking of the reverse: poems of meaning for which I’d like there to be a word.

For starters, the lacy filigree of thin, finger-length twigs at the tips of branches when the trees are bare on a sunny day with a breeze, so the twigs look like they’re dancing in a pattern you can almost but not quite follow with your eyes. I’d like a word to describe that beauty.

There’s also the melancholy that comes upon me in late October and November just after twilight when I look up and see an airplane’s lights blinking across the dark sky. It’s a feeling of loneliness and loss, without actually being lonely or having lost anything. There should be a word for that.

And I need a term for a best friend from growing up who lives far away and we’re bad about staying in touch, so I don’t actually know what’s going on in her life at the moment, but we carry each other’s history in a way no current friends can know, and when we see each other I feel an ease and comfort that I still haven’t developed with current best friends.

Perhaps there should also be a term for someone who doesn’t know we should be best friends because we’ve never met, but I feel like I have because her slices of life are so vivid and give me such a sense of who she is that I know she would be my best friend if only we taught next door to each other. I’d like a word that conveys how much she means to me, how excited I am to read the next installment in her life and spend a few moments “visiting” with her.

Tonight I need a term different from “The End”, conveying that the writing may stop but my thinking will continue–and I hope ripple on through readers and their conversation partners further and further, until the ideas have grown and shifted beyond the tiny slice of life I offer now, in a poem of shared meaning.


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  1. All those missing words….you are right, our language has failed us at so many turns. That feeling of loneliness about a loss that doesn’t exist strikes me so hard, and without warning, as does the complications of maintaining and developing friendships as an adult. Once again, I find bits of myself in your slice that I wasn’t even thinking about, until I spent a few moments “visiting” with you.

  2. Such a delight!!! I love you have definitions for words that don’t exist. Each description had me nodding my head. Yes! I know that feeling! So lovely.

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