Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday Ramble - Crepuscular

Crepuscular rolls trippingly off the tongue - it has a lovely ring to it, and the combination of consonants and vowels is such that one can wrap her mouth around the sounds like a good bit of saltwater toffee. This week's word comes to us through the good offices of the Latin crepuscul(um) meaning twilight or dusk, and it claims kinship with the Latin crepus/creper meaning murky or obscure. Believe it or not, there is no relationship with crepe (as in crepe paper or crepe rubber). That word hails from the Old French crespe and Latin crispus meaning curly. Crepuscular and crepe are birds of vibrant but differing plumage.

It's all about light and things liminal, about the enchanted interval between day and night. Crepuscular describes the magical hours at dawn and dusk when the hinterland between light and darkness is most visible, when the whole world seems to be bathed in a golden glow, and almost everything seems to be standing in a stronger light than it is at any other time of the day.

Best of all, there are are crepuscular rays now and again: beams of sunlight made visible by snow or ice in the atmosphere and appearing to radiate from a single point in the sky, usually the sun. The rays occur near sunrise and sunset, streaming through openings in the clouds and pouring themselves out over the earth like molten honey. As they pass through the vapor, the columns of sunlight are separated by darker shaded areas, and the effect is that of a dazzling solar wheel, simply breathtaking and beautiful beyond words.

The ancient Greeks referred to crepuscular rays as "sun drawing water", from their belief that sunbeams drew water into the sky - it was their "take" on natural processes of evaporation. There are a number of other names for this natural phenomenon which lights up the sky at sunrise and sunset: Buddha’s Rays, Cloud Breaks, Divine Light, Jacob's Ladder, Stairways to Heaven, Ropes of Maui (from the Maori creation tale in which the child goddess Maui Potiki snared the sun with ropes and tied it in place to make days grow longer)  Sun Wheels, Volumetric lighting (a graphic design term).

Once encountered, crepuscular twilights are never forgotten, and it is every photographer's dream to behold a real whopper while holding her camera. In this long old life, I have been lucky enough to look upon them in some wild and wonderful places, shining through ice on Baffin Island, spilling through towering cumulonimbus clouds on Lake Superior, in recent years streaming across a favorite lake in the Lanark highlands.  Painting their way across the burnished waters of my native place, the rays of light always seem like a road to me, and the road is a way home.  No doubt about it, November light is a treasure, and there are vibrant colors everywhere. How could I ever have thought otherwise?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thursday Poem - Thanksgiving

I have been trying to read
the script cut in these hills-
a language carved in the shimmer of stubble
and the solid lines of soil, spoken
in the thud of apples falling
and the rasp of corn stalks finally bare.
The pheasants shout it with a rusty creak
as they gather in the fallen grain,
the blackbirds sing it
over their shoulders in parting,
and gold leaf illuminates the manuscript
where it is written in the trees.
Transcribed onto my human tongue
I believe it might sound like a lullaby,
or the simplest grace at table.
Across the gathering stillness
simply this: “For all that we have received,
dear God, make us truly grateful.”

Lynn Ungar (from Blessing the Bread)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Seeing Through and Loving It

Is this place an ocean or a desert in winter? I am never sure which, but either way, there is always something to feast one's eyes on and capture with the lens. Old window panes, heaps of books, bowls of fruit and cups of tea, it's all good. Isn't a little uncertainty a good thing, every now and then?

Before the first snow of the season falls, I l wonder how I will survive without autumn's shapes and fiery colors, and I feel a vague anxiety contemplating the monochromatic weeks and months to come. Shame on me for harboring such morose and mutinous thoughts.  I should know better.

There are patterns here everywhere one looks, and they all have to do with liquid turnings and sparkling transformation: feathery patterns in river ice as it forms, glossy icicles suspended from trees along the shore, field grasses poking their silvery heads out of drifts, beads of water falling in the garden and freezing in midair, fallen leaves with snow crystals shining through. Everything my cronish eye alights on is food for eyes and lens and thought, a good thing since I am still not able to wander as far as I would like to.

Absent the vibrant and earthy colors dancing on my palette at other times of the year, winter's offerings are a commonwealth of swirling shapes and patterns, each and every one exquisite.  Even an egg yolk sun shining through a friend's kitchen window beguiles and enchants.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The true language of these worlds opens from the heart of a story that is being shared between species. For us to be restored to the fabric of this Earth, we are bidden to enter this tale once again through its many modes of telling, to listen through the ears of others to the mystery of creation, with its continually changing patterns, and to take part once again in the integral weave of the narrative. Might we not hear our true names if we learn to listen through the ears of Others? Through language, one can exchange one's self with other beings and in this way establish an ever-widening circle of existence.
Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Ramble - A Memory of Herons

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and Autumn River
Memory is a thirteenth century word, coming to us from the Middle English memorie, the Anglo-French memoire and the Latin memoria/memor meaning "mindful".  Further back are the Old English gemimor meaning "well-known", the Greek mermēra meaning "care", and the Sanskrit smarati meaning "that which is remembered". In the Vedas, the term smarati is used to describe teachings handed down by word of mouth from the ancients and never written out.
One of the late autumn entities that always tugs at my heartstrings is the last heron of the season, he or she haunting the shallows of Lanark rivers and lakes at twilight in solitary splendor and hoping for a few last minnows, frogs and/or water beetles to fuel the long trip south. It's a long arduous journey from here to there -  all the way to the southern states, Mexico, Honduras, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
I once wrote about an autumn morning in northern Ontario when the heron migration was in full swing, and the great birds gathered in predawn darkness to feed before flying onward. Hundreds stood side by side in the foggy waters of the Mississagi river near the town of  Iron Bridge (Algoma district), and as I crept along the shoreline for a better view, their silhouettes appeared one by one out of the mist. It was wild and absolutely magical.

There is enough enchantment in such tatterdemalion snippets to last many lifetimes, and I would like to retain the memory of that morning for the rest of my earthly days and beyond, no matter how many other mind scraps embrace the void somewhere along the road.  I've always loved the "Great Blues", and I revisit the scene often in my thoughts—it is always a place of peace and stillness.

For whatever reason, archaic English refers to a group of herons together, not as colony or a flock, but as "a sedge of herons".  Every summer I watch herons fishing in the shallows along Dalhousie Lake and think that if there were no other teachers about, I would be just fine with a sedge of herons to show me the way.  I don't usually think of a group of Great Blues as a sedge though.

For heron lovers who don't fly south in winter and stay here in the north, the right expression for a gathering of our favorite birds is surely "a memory of herons".

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday Poem - Praise Song

Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there's left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn't cracked. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it's all we have, and it's never enough.

Barbara Crooker

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Lush and Golden Alcove

Some trees in our woodland hold their turning in abeyance until November, and we are always happy to see them.  Great oaks often retain their bronzey leaves well into winter and so do a few maples.  One of our favorite maples puts on a magnificent golden performance at this time of the year, and we visit her to admire her one woman showing and say "thanks" for her efforts to brighten a faded and rather monochromatic interval in the turning of the seasons.

It has been a very windy autumn, and we were delighted to discover this week that the north wind has not yet stripped the tree's leaves away and left her standing bare and forlorn on the hill with her sisters. It (the wind, that is) has been doing its best, but Maple is hanging on in there.

Mother Earth (the Old Wild Mother or Gaia Sophia) is the greatest artist of them all, and I would be "over the moon" if I could photograph or paint something even the smallest scrip as grand and elemental and graceful as my tree is creating in her alcove. Every curve and branch and burnished dancing leaf is a wonder, and the blue sky is a perfect counterpoint.

Writing this, I remembered that as well as being an archaic word for a scrap or fraction of something, scrip also describes a small wallet or pouch once carried by pilgrims and seekers.  That seems fitting for this journey into the woods and our breathless standing under Maple in all her glory.  Oh to be counted a member of the sisterhood of tree and leaf...

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim. We all start out as pilgrims, wanting to journey and hoping to be transformed by the journey. But, just as it is impossible when listening to an orchestra to hear the whole of the symphony for very long before we are drawn to hear only the piano or the violin, in just this way, our attention to life slips and we experience people and places without being affected by their wholeness. And sometimes, feeling isolated and unsure, we change or hide what lives within in order to please or avoid others. The value of this insight is not to use it to judge or berate ourselves, but to help one another see that integrity is an unending process of letting our inner experience and our outer experience complete each other, in spite of our very human lapses. I understand these things so well, because I violate them so often. Yet I, as you, consider myself a pilgrim of the deepest kind, journeying beyond any one creed or tradition, into the compelling, recurring space in which we know the moment and are changed by it. Mysteriously, as elusive as it is, this moment—where the eye is what it sees, where the heart is what it feels—this moment shows us that what is real is sacred.
Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Ramble - Winter

This week's word comes from Old English wintr, thence the Proto-Germanic wentruz meaning "wet season", both originating in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) wed, wod or ud, meaning "wet" or "wind". There are possible ties to the Old Celtic vindo meaning "white", but that word always sounds more like the English "wind" to me.  The Old Norse vetr sounds like the present day "weather" and may indeed be its root. Cognates include the Gothic wintru, Icelandic vetur, Swedish vinte, Danish vinter and Norwegian vetter.

Wherever it hails from, the most common word for the long white season been around for centuries, and most cultures on this island earth have a word for it, at least those cultures in the northern hemisphere. The season occupies a singular place in our thoughts, dancing dramatically in a stronger light than its more temperate kin.  Those of us who live up here tend to predicate our activities in the other three seasons of the calendar year on making ready for it.

Because of the ferocity of northern winters, ancient Anglo-Saxons measured their calendar years from one winter to the next. In Old Norse, the word etrardag was used to designate the first day of the cold season, usually the Saturday between Oct. 10 and 16. For the Celts, winter began at Samhain (October 31) or All Hallows (November 1) and ended on Imbolc or Candlemas (February 1 or 2) when springtime arrived. Northern ancients were sure that the world as they knew it would come to an end after the most savage winter in history.  In the Edda of Norse mythology, the fimbulvetr (mighty winter) is one of the events that precedes the twilight of the gods, their last battle with the frost giants (led by Loki) and the destruction of the earth.

Ancient Celts celebrated the Winter Solstice on or about December 21, the longest night of the year.  From that date on, the light of the sun would return, a little more every day until the Summer Solstice in June. The legendary King Arthur was believed to have been born on the Winter Solstice in Castle Tintagel in Cornwall, and in recognition of that, Druids sometimes refer to the Winter Solstice as Alban Arthuan ("The Light of Arthur").

It all comes down to cosmic balance. We owe the lineaments of our existence in the Great Round to a tilt in the earth's axis as it spins merrily in space. When winter reigns here in the north, the happy lands south of the equator are cavorting in summer. I cling tenaciously to that thought in the depths of January.

When winter starts rattling the gate, I shiver and consider moving further south, but it isn't going to happen, and I do other things. I pile up books and music, collect canisters of tea, concoct fire breathing curries. Cumin, coriander and sambal oelak seem to wind up in almost every pot of "stuff" I put together between now and the end of April, and I may just come up with my own recipe for chili gelato this year. A local café serves one containing dark chocolate, hot chilis and a pinch of cinnamon, and it is to die for.

My cross country skis, snowshoes and mukluks are always ready for an outing. Winter is about fruitful darkness, rest and rebirth, but it also gifts us with the most brilliantly blue skies of the year by day and the most spectacular stars by night. It would be shameful to stay indoors by the fire and miss them. Although my rambles have to be brief this winter for health reasons, I will still be taking them.

To know the north woods and eastern Ontario highlands, one has to journey through them in winter, spend hours inhaling the fragrance of fresh snow and spruce, drinking in the shapes of sleeping trees with eyes and lens. She has to listen to snow falling on the bare branches, perhaps become a tree herself.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Thursday Poem - Instructions in Magick

You don’t need candles,
only the small slim flame in yourself,
the unrevealed passion
that drives you to rise on winter mornings
remembering summer nights.

You don’t need incense,
only the lingering fragrance
of the life that has gone before,
stew cooking on an open fire,
the good stars, the clean breeze,
the warmth of animals breathing in the dark.

You don’t need a cauldron,
only your woman’s body,
where so many of men’s fine ideas
are translated into life.

You don’t need a wand, hazelwood or oak,
only to follow the subtle and impish
leafy green fellow
who beckons you into the forest,
the one who goes dancing
and playing his flute
through imperial trees.

And you don’t need the salt of earth.
You will taste that soon enough.

These things are the trappings,
the tortoise shell, the wolf skin, the blazoned shield.
It’s what’s inside, the star of becoming.
With that ablaze, you have everything you need
to conjure up new worlds.

Dolores Stewart Riccio, from The Nature of Things
(reprinted here with the late poet's kind permission)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

November - Songs in a Different Key

Leaves crunching underfoot or rattling like sabres in in the wind, ice crystals limning cedar fence rails along the ridge, blowsy plumes of frosted field grasses on the edge of the western field—all are fine representations of the season and plangent leitmotifs in the windy musical work that is early winter.

The season marches onward, settling slowly, and with many deep sighs, into the subdued tints of early winter: soft bronzes, creams, beiges and silvery greys, small splashes here and there of winey red, burgundy, russet, a midnight blue almost iridescent in its sheen and intensity, but oh so fragile.

Highland frosts make themselves known as sugary drifts over old wood and on fallen leaves almost transparent in their lacy textures. An owl's artfully barred feather lies in thin sunlight under the fragrant cedars down by the spring and seems to be giving off a graceful pearly light of its own. The weedy residents of field and fen are cavorting in fringed and tasseled hats.

One needs another lens and tuning for winter, a different sort of vision, a song in a different key. The senses are performing a seasonal shift of their own, moving carefully into the consideration of things small, still and muted, but complete within themselves and perfect, even when they are cold and wet. There is light in the world, and she must remember that. Her camera, of course, never forgets.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Finding beauty in a broken world is acknowledging that beauty leads us to our deepest and highest selves. It inspires us. We have an innate desire for grace. It’s not that all our definitions of beauty are the same, but when you see a particular heron in the bend in the river, day after day, something in your soul stirs. We remember what it means to be human. 
Terry Tempest Williams

Saturday, November 04, 2017

The All Gathered Moon of November

November's full moon is usually the the second last of the calendar year, and it is a much colder moon than October's golden visitation. As is often the case at this time of year, I  briefly considered staying indoors last evening but wrapped up anyway, and Beau and I went out to the garden with tripod and camera and waited.  A little after seven there was Luna rising in the east, as round and smooth and lustrous as a great pearl.

Beau is still learning about his mum's passion for backyard astronomy and her full moon night activities, but he leaned comfortably against me and looked up, certain that whatever we were doing out in the cold after nightfall, it was something worth doing and he wanted to be part of it.

November's moon is about loss and remembrance, but it is about trust too - trust in the wild and elemental grace of existence and what I like to call "the great round" of our days and nights. Standing in our dark garden last evening, I remembered the gnarled box elder tree who once graced the southeast corner of the garden with her presence.  The old dear held the rising full moon in her arms for more than a century, but she has gone to her leafy reward and is flourishing somewhere else, perhaps even as a tree again.  I thought of Cassie and Spencer, of the kindred spirits and journeying companions who departed this plane of existence and have gone on ahead. Somewhere beyond the here and the now is a throng of dancing kindred spirits, and I smile when I think about it.

We also know this moon as the: Beaver Moon, Blood Moon, Buffalo Moon, Cold Begins Moon, Dark Moon, Deer Rutting Moon, Twelfth Moon, Falling Leaves Moon, Fog Moon, Freezing Moon, Frosty Moon, Geese Going Moon, Hunter's Moon, Large Tree Freeze Moon, Little Bear's Moon, Long Moon, Mad Moon, Moon of Cold, Moon of Fledgling Hawk, Moon of Freezing, Moon of Storms, Moon of the Falling Leaves, Moon of the Shaken Leaves, Moon of the Turkey and Feast, Moon the Rivers Begin to Freeze, Moon When All Is Gathered in, Moon When Deer Shed Antlers, Moon When Deer Shed Their Antlers, Moon When Horns Are Broken Off, Moon When the River Freezes, Moon When the Rivers Start to Freeze, Moon When the Water Is Black with Leaves, Mourning Moon, Moon of Much Poverty, Ring Finger Moon, Sacrifice Moon, Samoni Moon, Sassafras Moon, Snow Moon, Snowy Mountains in the Morning Moon, Trading Moon, Trail Moon, Tree Moon, White Frost on Grass & Ground Moon, White Moon, Whitefish Moon, Willow Moon, Winter Divided Moon, Yew Moon.

Among the many names for this month's moon, I am rather fond of Yew Moon and Moon of Falling Leaves, but for me, this will always be Christel's Moon.  My friend passed beyond the fields we know on November 1, 2011, and I still miss her.