A Sense of Place: Poems by Judy Baumgarten Mooney

Sunlight Has Broken Through the Gray
Sunlight has broken through the gray
Small patches of blue sky are there
Above the cliff.

I think I’ll take a walk
In snow and wind
To freshen my burst lungs
And try to come alive awhile.
Judy Baumgarten Mooney, 1981

Photo: Judy Baumgarten Mooney, circa 1975. Courtesy of Letitia Shields who wrote, “Everybody who knew her will be instantly drawn to this remembrance of her.  She gave this degree of intense focus and love to everyone she encountered.” Note the playpen and espadrille (click here) shoes, which indicate the 1970s as the decade the photo was taken.

Judy Baumgarten Mooney

Judy Buamgarten Mooney (1913-1985) first experienced Door County because of her parents, Dr. Martin D. and Mrs. Julia Hardin. They built a summer home on Dane Street in 1908.  She came to Ephraim every summer as a child and later each year as an adult. Ephraim pulled her back again and again.

“Maybe you had to leave in order to miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.” ― Jodi Picoult, from Handle with Care 

Judy wrote poems throughout her life, but was shy about sharing them. Her children described their mother’s writing process as “a need to punctuate some poignancy” or record something fleeting like “tiny houses seen from a train fifty years later.” (Quoted from the foreword in My Slice of Time: The Collected Poems of Judy Baumgarten Mooney, Woodwinds Press, 1986, published privately by the family.) Poetry aside, she was outgoing. Even so, those who knew her may be surprised to learn that she sang opera as a young woman. This explains her longtime support of the Peninsula Music Festival. She was also deeply involved in the hospice movement which began in the modern sense in London in 1948. Hospice was founded in the United States in 1971. By then, Judy’s children were grown and she had returned to school to earn a Masters Degree in Counseling. She soon founded a hospice in St. Louis and was doing the same in Door County at the time she penned “Sunlight Has Broken Through the Gray”. Photo: Judy Baumgarten Mooney, circa 1984. Courtesy of Letitia Shields.

Landscape, Imagery and Theme

One need not know anything about Judy, or what motivated her to write this particular poem, to appreciate the verse. Vividly sparse, this seven-line gem evokes a universal theme: living through deep grief and loss. Imagery related to landscape reveals the poem’s theme. Descriptions of nature are somber (“gray”) and arduous (“a walk in snow and wind”), yet hopeful. The poem’s narrative voice, called persona by academics, has chosen to “come alive again” after an unexpected (note the word “burst”) event. The persona sees scraps of blue sky emerging through ashen clouds “above the cliff.” This imagery of landscape moves the poem past deep grief after loss, towards hope.

According to daughter Tiggy (Letitia) Shields, Judy wrote the poem in winter, after travelling from St. Louis to Ephraim. Her husband had died and she wanted “to begin healing and clothe herself in memories” of a loving, thirty-eight year marriage. She was seeking solace in a “treasured place.” Ephraim was a familiar, safe harbor and thus was a healing landscape. Knowing the motivation for writing the poem enriches the reader’s understanding, but it’s not necessary to appreciate that this is quality writing. Nor is it necessary to recognize that sense of place provides a framework for the poem.

Sense of Place

Sense of place occurs when one has a strong attachment to a geographical location. Connecting to a place might start with a practical need, for example, coming to Door County to work as a timber cruiser during Wisconsin’s lumber era  (1890-1910).

Learn more about how social scientists describe sense of place by clicking here.

Attachment becomes emotional, even mystical, through meaningful experiences. When one feels a sense of place, be it a bustling city or a serene wilderness, there is a profound sense of belonging. Such a connection often leads individuals to actively preserve such places. People preserve places they love.








Photos from the EHF collections, left to right:
LEFT: Julia Hardin who sits right, Judy’s mother, celebrates at the Knudson House with Ida Seiler Sohns. 1955.
MIDDLE: One of Judy’s brothers (Parker, Adlai, or Martin) dives from the Carolina at the Anderson Dock. Circa 1920. Judy’s only sister,  Letitia Hardin, died in 1920 at age 22 at the resurgence of the Influenza Pandemic (February 1918 to April 1920)(click here).
RIGHT: Adlai Hardin stands next to the bear (“mko” in Potawatomi) he carved. Circa 1970. Hardin carved the replica of the entire pole (click here), including stylistic bands, that stands at the Peninsula State Park golf course.
BELOW: Historic postcard of the second Eagle Tower which replaced the original 1914 structure. Circa 1932.

The following poem, “Now When The Summer Comes” (1948), is just as remarkable as the “Sunlight” poem. Both incorporate physical touchstones of the Door Peninsula. Both reveal something about this place, and about ourselves. “Now When The Summer Comes” was written towards the beginning of Judy’s long marriage to Dr. Walter Baumgarten, Jr., after he had returned from serving in WWII.

Now When the Summer Comes
Now when the summer comes, and for a while
We live through all the haunts we knew when we were young,
We say, “Let’s climb the Tower tonight.”
And this we do.
The lake sprawls far below entwined by blacknesses
Which are the juts of land.
The forest stillness shatters
As an owl flies hooting through the dark.
The stars are magnified a hundred-fold in brightness,
When across the sky a meteor flings out
Its stream of silver hair we think
Our very breathing made it so.
You turn, and put your arms around me,
While on tiptoe I reach my arms about your neck.
Our eyes meet first,
And then our lips,
In full content and knowledge
Of each other’s love.
How far a cry this joy is from that earlier fierce anguish
We knew on this same Tower.
Instead of seeing you
My eyes look upward now into the sky
And meet the face of God.
For loving you, my own, is very near to praying.
Oh God, if in Thy wisdom Thou shouldst take
My husband from me ere his years are run,
Help me to cup my heart, like little children’s hands,
To hold the joy of life
As fresh as it is now.
Judy Baumgarten Mooney, 1948

Special thanks to Letitia Shields who provided biographical information and editorial guidance.

Thanks also to Linda Carey who first alerted me to the fact that Judy Baumgarten Mooney was a Hardin, and that Tiggy Shields was Judy’s daughter.

Submitted by Kathleen Harris, EHF Educator


2 thoughts on “A Sense of Place: Poems by Judy Baumgarten Mooney”

  1. So poignant to read about Judy after she has been gone from us for so long. She was a special person in so many ways.

  2. Jean Norton Eckrich

    How wonderful to see this post on Judy Baumgarten Mooney! We were neighbors on S. Dane and good friends of the family for many years from the early 1900’s on. I lovingly remember going to their house searching out the little fairy garden that was planted near the woods. Many mutual times were spent between our families being that the original Hardin’s were also friends of my grandparents and my folks, George H Norton, Jr., were also extremely active in the Peninsula Music Festival.
    Enjoy getting your publications!
    Jean E. Norton Eckrich

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