Rete Mirabile
Twenty years ago I wrote about my mother’s memory loss. I am now close to the age she was when I became her caretaker. I worry occasionally about my own lost words, my own forgotten appointments and confusions.


Trees steady me. They lose their leaves but continue to stand tall.

Friends reassure me: they don’t sum me up by my lapses.

Birds steady and reassure me.

They appear carefree even in winter. They remind me of how to survive: not just by winging their way South but also by foraging near streams, by finding shelter in old nests and by fluffing their feathers and huddling together.

Writing about how birds survive in winter, I found this phrase: “Rete mirabile,” words for the special adaptation that keeps birds’ feet from freezing.

Rete mirabile means “wonderful net.” The words describe a fine, netlike pattern of arteries that interweaves warm blood from a bird’s heart with the veins carrying cold blood from its feet and legs.

Rete mirabile: a phrase that describes life-saving patterns. I’m writing about this now, hoping I’ll always remember.


Author's Comment

As I approach age 80, memories of my mother and how her memory failed her at age 83, make me vigilant about discovering and using descriptive language.  “Rete mirabile” is a buffer against loss: words thrown up into the air to be caught by others looking for ballast.


Eleanor Rubin is a printmaker and watercolor artist whose work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A book about her artwork, Eleanor Rubin: Dreams of Repair, with foreword by Howard Zinn, was published in Italy, 2011. To view images and more information: and

16 Comments on “Rete Mirabile

  1. How lovely. And how encouraging to those of us who lose words, forget names and get confused. Thank you.

  2. A beautiful theme, beautifully expressed
    lovingly, Maggie

    p.s I always thought your writing about your mother was one of the miracles of our writing class

  3. Beautifully said, Elly. I love the concept of “rete mirabile.” And, mirabile dictu, it’s a soothing thought during these crazy times.

    1. How fortunate I am to be able to reach you through my writing. I thank Persimmon Tree Magazine for carrying my words to my friends and to new readers near and far

  4. Dear Elly, my heart is filled with pride to know you,to be near you and read your wonderful writing which is always outstanding. Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts. I admire you so.

    1. I thank you for finding my writing here. I hope you come back to this website. It offers us a great deal. I’m pleased that you found my words “beautiful”especially since I admire your writing also

  5. Dearest Elly, you write so beautifully and we have become so aware and grateful that we are now part of this comforting “mash” or “net”. Although we do not see all your faces, we know that you are here and are all “actors » in this unusual play.
    Some of us are just tall trees, others have seen buds and new leaves. Let’s open the windows and listen to those birds while they are busy preparing for their next generation. We love you !

  6. May thanks for sharing your precious piece of sustenance, dear friend.
    With love, Roberta

  7. This is lovely, Elly. Thank you for sending this uplifting message. Stay safe and well.

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