According to the ancients, parfumeurs, and Arab royalty, the old saying might as well go: “Worth its weight in whale waste”.

A news story today sparked a memory.


How about this magic moment? A couple in Lancashire in England found a lump of ambergris that is possibly worth AU$ 100,000. The couple are already in negotiations with prospective buyers from France and New Zealand.

Ambergris is the legendary ingredient in perfumes (in French, it means “grey amber”). When I walk the beach, I follow the smell of rotting fish and scan for greyish lumps. Don’t you?



Ambergris comes from the cured secretion of sperm whales.  The whale secretes a substance to heal its stomach from the scratches of the cuttlefish and squid beaks it swallows when feeding. This gets out through the gastrointestinal system and is left floating on the ocean for years. The floating part is what gives it its slightly salty and warm smell. It retains its scent for centuries, just like musk.

It’s hard not to fall in love with ambergris. Here is a solid lump of whale feces, weathered down—oxidized by salt water, degraded by sunlight, and eroded by waves — from the tarry mass to something that smells, depending on the piece and whom you’re talking to, like musk, violets, fresh-hewn wood, tobacco, dirt, Brazil nut, fern-copse, damp woods, new-mown hay, seaweed in the sun, the wood of old churches, or pretty much any other sweet-but-earthy scent.

Everyone loves ambergris, just not so much when it’s fresh. It’s smell is extremely fecal (think cow dung) and has no value for perfumery. But let it float on the ocean for years? Now you’ve got an evocative scent, an effulgent patina, and waxy texture.



So, naturally, I’m gonna have to wax poetic on ya’…..from the archives, my throwback Valentine love poem*.


Like the beachcombers

who found calcified remnants sweet smelling, waxy and gray,

coughed up by sperm whales, no less;

treasures of “floating gold”

prized by ancient Egyptians,

on the coast of Australia,

I look at you and see ambergris.


Well, fellow beachcombers, is it or isn’t it? If you see embedded squid beaks, book that private jet.

440px-Squid_beak_measuringimage-01Or give the grey lump a hot needle test. Heat a needle and touch it briefly to the surface. If it’s ambergris, the surface will melt instantly, turning to an oily, molten black residue and a small puff of musky smelling smoke will be emitted. Ah, the sweet smell of success.


Toni 4/14/16

*My blogging partner/poet Patty wrote a much love-lier Valentine poem here.

Poetry is the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. So says Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen says if he knew where the good songs came from he’d go there more often. All the poets and writers I know are on the hunt for that elusive place.


The Poet-turned-Pop Star says that poetry comes from a place that no one commands, that no one conquers. And yet, the poems come.





Poet Maureen Thorson decided to take up the challenge (modeled after National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo) and invited other poets to join her. Since then, the number of participants has grown larger every year, and many writers’ organizations ~ local, national and even international ~ host NaPoWriMo activities.


I’m celebrating here ~ at Poetic Asides, a website hosted by Robert Lee Brewer, senior editor at Writer’s Digest. It’s the 2015 April PAD Challenge, a poetic bacchanal. BYOP, of course.


The “PAD” stands for “poem-a-day.” So each and every morning, there’s a new poetry prompt. Brewer throws out a life preserver along with it ~ his own attempt at the prompt (wished for and welcome), then it’s my turn. And yours. There are plenty of poemming days left. Post as few or as many times as you like.


You can read the poetry, wallow in it, share it with your writing group, spread it across your social network. There are so many doors to open ~ start anywhere, walk ‘write’ in.

imagesBut if you want to be considered by a ream of genuine poet-judges for publication in the Poem Your Heart Out anthology, you need to post your poem in the comments. It’s free and easy ~ the prompts (open to space-warpingly vast interpretations) magically appear each morning.


Click here to join the fun.

Modern Poetry: Text Message Haiku

So, it’s now Day 12 of the April PAD Challenge and it’s been downright envibing so far. I am inspired by the poets, a neighborly, infectiously upbeat bunch. Last year, they gave me the idea to put some rocking’ glad rags on my iambs and start a brand new blog. Mental Crumbs~ in love with carbs and poetry gives my poems some stylin’ and profilin’ in honor of National Poetry Month.


I wonder if Leonard Cohen is appearing anywhere during National Poetry Month. His poetry is awe-inspiring, his words steady and lyrical. Cohen’s life is burning well. Everybody knows.

Toni 4/12/15


In her 79th year, poet Mary Oliver is still in love with life and still full of beans. It seems she and I are walking the same shore.


I recently discovered that Oliver left Provincetown and moved to Hobe Sound, a few miles south of me, to be near friends.

I go down to the shore in the morning

and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

I look to her for a celebration of the little things in nature. And the big things.


Ocean     (by Mary Oliver)

I am in love with the Ocean

Lifting her thousands of white hats

In the chop of the storm,

Or lying smooth and blue, the

Loveliest bed in the world.

In the personal life, there is

Always grief more than enough,

A heart-load for each one of us

On the dusty road. I suppose

There is a reason for this, so I will be

Patient, acquiescent. But I will live

Nowhere except here, by Ocean, trusting

Equally in all the blast and welcome

Of her sorrowless, salt self.

Mary and Molly 1

Molly Malone Cook, Oliver’s partner for over forty years, died of cancer in 2005.  In 2012, Oliver faced her own battle.


In Blue Horses, she writes with grace and gravity from her “platform of many years” and her recent triumph over cancer.

Oliver’s perception is acute.  She points out the wild and the quiet, what we all might see if we take the time and have the patience to truly look.

I wonder if we are both looking at the same double rainbow over our shared sea. If I meet her (some end-of-the-rainbow jackpot that would be) at the café in town or on a meander under the twisty-knotted banyan trees, I’ll say, Have you noticed this wonderful thing? 


It seems there’s always a message in her words just for me. But mostly, there’s just beauty.

Toni 2/24/15