Somewhere in the dusty recesses of my noggin, the passage of these sultry summer days is being marked, and ever so wistfully. There's a cosmic clock ticking away in the background, and I find myself pondering the lessons held out by this golden interval that is passing away all too swiftly. The other three seasons of a northern calendar year are splendid of course, and there are surely other fine summers ahead, but this summer is waning, and its days are numbered. The summer solstice has just come and gone, and we are already sliding gently down the hill toward autumn, shorter days and longer nights.
Thoughts of coming and going are ever inscribed on summer's middling pages, and they're unsettling notions, making for restlessness and vague discontent, a gentle melancholy concerning the transience of all earthly things. A heightened awareness of suchness (or tathata) is a midsummer thing for sure, and for the most part, one goes gently along with the flow, breathing in and out, trying to rest in the moment and do the gardeny things that need doing.
Old garden roses are a perfect metaphor for the season and most bloom once in a calendar year, but what a show they put on when they do. Their unruly tangles of wickedly thorny canes and blue-green leaves wear delicate pink (for the most part) blooms with crinkled petals and golden hearts. Each rose is unique, and each is exquisite from budding until its faded petals flutter to earth like snowflakes. At midsummer, antique rose fragrance lingers in every corner of the garden, and every year I fall in love with old roses all over again. It is nothing short of a miracle that creatures so beautiful and fragile thrive this far north.
Once in a while, I catch a glimpse of the Great Mystery while hanging out in the garden, and that is surely what this old life is all about. I wish I didn't have to keep reminding myself of that, but then, there are my roses to remind me.
Friday, June 24, 2016
Thursday, June 23, 2016
These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips
These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares
These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl
This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out
This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky
This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it
The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world
Naomi Shihab Nye,
(from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems)
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
What else can one call a full moon that falls on the eve of the summer solstice, but the "Midsummer Moon"? This year, no other name will do.
Summer reigns in the northern hemisphere, and we focus our thoughts on Helios ascendant, not the quieter (but no less radiant) Lady Moon lighting our nights in a tapestry of twinkling stars. When June's full moon makes its appearance, we are tending our gardens and thinking ahead to autumnal rhythms of harvesting, gathering and storing, anything at all except winter, cold and long nights.
In the eastern Ontario highlands, corn and oats reach for the sky and fields of barley are "pinking up" nicely. The first grain harvest of the year is underway, and farm fields are freckled with bales of timothy (blue grass), alfalfa and sweet clover. Is there anything on the planet to compare with the fragrance of freshly cut clover?
Deer graze in the deep shadows along fence lines at dusk, and wild turkeys forage in high oak groves, gabbling their pleasure at the dainties on offer. Our cups are brimming over, but daylight will begin to wane this week, and cooler times will be on their way - we accept their coming of course, but for the moment, our musings are all wrapped up in warmth, sunlight flickering through old trees and birdsong in the overstory.
We also know this moon as the: Bass Moon, Big Mouth Moon, Big Summer Moon, Blackberry Moon, Bulbs Mature Moon, Columbine Moon, Corn Tassels Appear Moon, Dancing Moon, Duckling Moon, Dyan Moon, Egg Hatching Moon, Egg Laying Moon, Egg Moon, Eucalyptus Moon, Fatness Moon, Fish Spoils Easily Moon, Fishing Moon, Flowering Cherry Moon, Full Leaf Moon, Gardening Moon, Green Corn Moon, Hoeing Moon, Honey Moon, Hot Moon, Lady Slipper Moon, Leaf Dark Moon, Litha Moon, Lotus Moon, Lovers' Moon, Mead Moon, Middle of Summer Moon, Midsummer Brightness Moon, Midsummer Moon, Moon of Horses, Moon of Little Fawns, Moon of Making Fat, Moon of Planting, Moon of the Turtle, Moon When Green Grass Is Up, Moon When June Berries Are Ripe, Moon When the Buffalo Bulls Hunt the Cows, Moon When the Hot Weather Begins, Moon When the Leaves Are Dark Green, Moon When the Leaves Come out, Moon When They Hill Indian Corn, Oak Moon, Peony Moon, Planting Moon, Pomegranate Moon, Raspberry Moon, Ripening Moon, Ripening Time Moon, Sixth Moon, Sockeye Moon, Solstice Moon, Strawberry Moon, Strong Sun Moon, Summer Moon, Sun High Moon, Thumb Moon, Turning Moon, Watermelon Moon, Windy Moon.
Happy Litha, happy Midsummer. May the manifold blessings of light be yours.
Monday, June 20, 2016
Blinded Sphinx (Paonias excaecatus)
The Blinded Sphinx moth takes its name from prominent blue eye spots on each of its bright pink hind wings. When at rest, its hind wings and eye spots cannot be seen, hence the name.
These beautiful moths are nocturnal creatures and seldom seen by day. Like other adult members of the giant silk moth clan such as the Atlas, Cecropia, Luna, Polyphemus and Promethea moths, they lack mouth parts, and so they cannot feed. Unable to take in nourishment, they live for only a handful of days after emerging from their chrysalises, just long enough to find a mate and perpetuate their genetic material. It is sad to think that something so exquisite inhabits the earth for such a short time.
My sphinx perched on the door of the little blue house in the village this weekend. As it appeared in full daylight, I can only assume it was nearing the end of its brief but utterly sublime existence. Starting this paragraph, I wrote "My specimen perched..." then thought a creature so magnificent should be called by its proper name and not simply as a specimen, especially near the end of its allotted days. I addressed it as "sphinx" and thanked it for visiting me at a time when I desperately needed to see such a wonder.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
As the pen rises from the page between words, so the walker's feet rise and fall between paces, and as the deer continues to run as it bounds from the earth and the dolphin continues to swim even as it leaps again and again from the sea, so writing and wayfaring are continuous activities, a running stitch, a persistence of the same seam or stream.
Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
resting easy in saying yes to the world
Friday, June 17, 2016
Here we are on the Friday before Midsummer, the Summer Solstice or Litha. Sunday night is midsummer eve, and Monday is the longest day of the calendar year, the Sun poised at its zenith or highest point and seeming to stand still for a fleeting interval before starting down the long slippery slope toward autumn, and beyond that to winter. This morning's image was taken by the front gate of our Two Hundred Acre Wood in the Lanark highlands some time ago, and it is one of my favorites, capturing the essence of midsummer beautifully with tall trees and hazy sky in the background, golden daisies, purple bugloss and silvery meadow grasses dancing front and center.
This week's word has to be solstice of course, and it has been around since at least the thirteenth century, coming down to us from Middle English and Old French, thence the Latin sōlstitium, a combination of sōl (sun) and -stit/stat. Both stit and stat are variant stems of the verb sistere, meaning to make something stand still. Thus, solstice means simply "sun standing still". It is our little blue planet that is in constant whirling motion though, and not the lifegiving star at the center of our universe. The idea that the sun is in motion is a holdover from the ancient geocentric model (or Ptolemaic system), which held that Earth was the center of all things, and everything else in the cosmos revolved around it.
Whither has the year flown? Summer has just arrived, but it's all downhill from here, at least for six months or so. After Monday daylight hours will wane until Yule (or the Winter Solstice) around December 21 when they begin to stretch out again. Longer nights go along on the cosmic ride during the latter half of the calendar year, and that is something to celebrate for those of us who are moonhearts and ardent backyard astronomers. The Old Wild Mother strews celestial wonders by generous handfuls as the year wanes, spinning spectacular star spangled tapestries in the velvety darkness that grows deeper and longer with every twenty-four hour interval.
How does one go about marking this sunlit moment between the lighter and darker halves of the year? My notion of midsummer night skies as a vast cauldron of twinkling stars is appropriate and magical too. The eight festive spokes on the old Wheel of the Year are all associated with fire, but the summer solstice more than any other observance. Centuries ago, all Europe was alight on Midsummer eve, and ritual bonfires climbed high into the night from every village green.
According to Marian Green, midsummer festivities included morris dancing, games of chance and storytelling, feasting and pageantry and candlelight processions after dark. Prosperity and abundance could be ensured by jumping over Midsummer fires, and its embers were charms against injury and bad weather at harvest time. Embers were placed on the edges of orchards and fields to ensure good harvests, and they were carried home to family hearths for protection. Doorways were decorated with swags and wreaths of birch, fennel, St. John's Wort and white lilies.
My midsummer morning observance is simple and much the same as any other morning of the year, a little more thoughtful perhaps. I make it a point to be outside or near a window with a mug of Jerusalem Artichoke (or Earth Apple as it is called here) tea and watch the sun rise. There's a candle on the old oak table and a lighted wand of Shiseido incense (Plum Blossom) in a pottery bowl nearby. The afternoon holds a few hours of pottering in local flea markets with family and friends, a quiet meal as the sun goes down and night falls, a little stargazing and moon watching later. We cherish the simplicity of our small doings, and the quiet pleasure of being surrounded by kith and kin. This year, there is also serious medical stuff to think about.
Happy Midsummer to you and your clan this year, however you choose to celebrate (or not to celebrate) the occasion. May the sun light up your day from sunrise to sunset, and your night be filled with stars from here to there. May all good things come to you.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Needing one, I invented her—
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
Dear aunt, I'd call into the leaves,
and she'd rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,
and we'd travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker—
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish—and all day we'd travel.
At day's end she'd leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;
or she'd slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;
or she'd hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,
this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.
(from Twelve Moons, 1978)