Field Guide

Today’s devotion was originally published on


Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
up to my neck in that most precious element of all,

I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather
floating on the tension of the water

at the very instant when a dragonfly,
like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,

hovered over it, then lit, and rested.
That’s all.

I mention this in the same way
that I fold the corner of a page

in certain library books,
so that the next reader will know

where to look for the good parts.

- Tony Hoagland


One way to think about a poem like this one is that it celebrates the commonplace, the ordinary moments of life: a dragonfly on a pigeon feather. And that’s all well and good — but Hoagland has another vision in mind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that if the stars came out only one night a century, that night would be considered an astounding spectacle, a wonder of the world, and all of us would stay up and behold them in breathless awe — and yet, there they are each cloudless night, no less miraculous for being so frequently visible.

What Hoagland calls “the good parts” are like that: they’re everywhere around us every day, and for that very reason, we tend to overlook them, or find them merely pleasant or charming. But in fact, they are sheer wonders, astonishments, glories to behold. Water really is “that most precious element of all.” A dragonfly really is a marvel, as is a feather, as is the tension on the still surface of a lake. As are you, and me, up to our necks in miracles, every moment of every day.

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