October 24, 2014

Friday Ramble - Comfort

This week's word hails from the Middle English word comforten, meaning to make strong, and that word comes in turn from the Old French verb conforter, also meaning to strengthen. Both forms have their origins in a Latin compound consisting of com (prefix conveying intensity) and fortis meaning strong. To comfort is to soothe in time of affliction, to ease or relieve, and the noun form describes a feeling of ease, well-being and contentment. A comforter is someone who conveys such ease, although the word is used mostly now to describe a quilted bed cover - they're grand things to have on one's bed on cold winter nights.

Notions of comfort have at their core the idea of being uplifted and strengthened, and the strength is not brawn or brute force, but vitality, courage and fortitude.  One of the synonyms for strength in my thesaurus (one so far unplumbed here) is the word connection.  In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Estes wrote, "We are strong when we stand with another soul. When we stand with one another, we cannot be broken." Hold that thought close....

Mirabile dictu, comforts past can be revisited anywhere and any time in their radiant stillness: cafe-au-lait in a favorite local coffee shop, the village on late autumn mornings with villagers and trees appearing out of the mist as if by magic and disappearing again, a birch fire in the fireplace downstairs, the first snowfall of the season, the sonatinas of Scarlatti, heaps of reading material on the library table, my favorite teapot puffing clouds of chai scented steam into the air.  Then, there are rambles in Lanark with Himself and Spencer. There's a swath of shoreline on Dalhousie Lake where we watch migrating geese every year, and a special view from the edge of Highway 511 near Hopetown.  From it, one looks out across miles of rolling pine-clad ridges, and just being there expresses the Great Mystery in ways I can't begin to describe here. Wherever we find ourselves in the great wide world, there are trees.

One takes her comfort where she finds it.  In late October, days are short and dark, but now and then individual hours sparkle, and sometimes they sing like birds.

October 23, 2014

Thursday Poem - Unchurched

Autumnal sun streams through
these yellow maple leaves
translucent as stained glass.

The ground beneath my feet
is strewn with pine cones, acorns.
The random pattern of continuance.

Etched columns of pine and oak.
Incense of resin and fungi.
Great glacial stones for altars.

High winds and choirs of
minor breezes, the whispering hush.
It is the Sabbath. It is enough.

Dolores Stewart
from The Nature of Things
(printed here with the kind permission of the author)

October 21, 2014

Little Friend in the Road

 Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)
From its size and the length of its tail and wings, my little friend was a young male - he stood in the center of a gravel road in the Lanark highlands, vaguely aware that he ought to be doing something, but not sure what that something was.

His barred and dappled plumage was lovely, ranging from a deep rusty burgundy to cream and gray.  The coloring is a form of wild woodland camouflage, designed by nature to protect grouse from predators in their native habitat, the eastern Ontario highlands.  If the little guy lived in scrub or on the edge of open fields, he would have been much lighter in color.

In springtime, male grouse drum in the woods to define territory and attract a mate, but getting this close to one in any season is rare.  Ornithologists and field naturalists once thought that the grouse's courtship song is produced by drumming its wings against fallen logs, but it is not so.   The bird generates its "come hither" song by cupping its wings and whirring them rapidly back and forth in the air, hence its northern nickname of  "drummer bird". Striking the ground lightly with one's hand or foot sometimes prompts a grouse to start drumming in season.

This little guy had no idea that motor vehicles are hazardous, and he had no intention of leaving the road.  I had to get out the car and shoo him out of our way, then shepherd him over a rail fence and into a nearby field.  He made a small purring sound in thanks, and then he disappeared completely into a stand of withered milkweed.

October 19, 2014

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

... the roots of all living things are tied together. Deep in the ground of being, they tangle and embrace. This understanding is expressed in the term nonduality. If we look deeply, we find that we do not have a separate self-identity, a self that does not include sun and wind, earth and water, creatures and plants,and one another. We cannot exist without the presence and support of the interconnecting circles of creation, the geosphere, the biosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the sphere of our sun. All are related to us; we depend on each of these spheres for our very existence.
Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness

October 18, 2014

October 17, 2014

Friday Ramble - Falling Into the Fund of Things

In summer, one can watch adolescent sunflowers turning their brilliant heads to follow old Helios around the sky all day long. Young ones are flexible enough to do so, but mature flower heads face east toward the rising sun and do not move.

What seems to be a single sunflower bloom is actually a composite, a collection of over a thousand tiny florets arranged in a perfect spiraling sequence.  Each floret is inclined toward the next floret by approximately 137.5°,  and in mathematics, this is known as the golden angle.  The arrangement creates a series of interconnecting spirals in which the number of left oriented spirals and the number of right oriented spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers.

A lifelong fan of spirals, golden angles and Fibonacci sequences wherever they turn up, I'm always delighted to encounter another, and meeting a sunflower in any season is a happy thing. In these shortening October days, withered specimens of Helianthus annuus are downright wondrous in their earthy coloration, spikiness and sculptural complexity.  They're forthright in their determination to perpetuate their particular genetic brew and engender legions of progeny, mothering whole dynasties of mile-high stalks, fuzzy leaves and beaming golden faces when springtime rolls around next time.  It's something I try to remember in winter.

In "Enriching the Earth", Wendell Berry describes the earth's late autumn cycling as "slowly falling into the fund of things", and I am fond of the notion.  Going to seed in the last quarter of the year is a good thing, a fine thing, a natural and necessary thing, and every coin in nature's wild banking is kin.

Lacking the delicate coloration, complexity and elegance displayed by sunflowers peering over the fence and dispersing their abundant seed in October, if I can be said to resemble anything at all these days, it's a gnarled and twisty old ironwood tree in the forest.  Gorgeous things they are in their own way, and though I have no beauty of my own, I am happy to stand among them out in the leaf strewn wood.

October 16, 2014

Thursday Poem - This Time of Year


when the light leaves early, sun slipping down
behind the beech trees as easily as a spoon
of cherry cough syrup, four deer step delicately
up our path, just at the moment when the colors
shift, to eat fallen apples in the tall grass.
Great grey ghosts.  If we steal outside in the dark,
we can hear them chew.  A sudden movement,
they're gone, the whiteness of their tails
a burning afterimage.  A hollow pumpkin moon rises,
turns the dried corn to chiaroscuro, shape and shadow;
the breath of the wind draws the leaves and stalks
like melancholy cellos.  These days are songs, noon air
that flows like warm honey, the maple trees' glissando
of fat buttery leaves.  The sun goes straight to the gut
like a slug of brandy, an eau-de-vie.  Ochre October:
the sky, a blue dazzle, the grand finale of trees,
this spontaneous applause; when darkness falls
like a curtain, the last act, the passage of time,
that blue current; October, and the light leaves early,
our radiant hungers, all these golden losses.

Barbara Crooker, from Radiance