Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thursday Poem - January

Dusk and snow this hour
in argument have settled
nothing. Light persists,
and darkness. If a star
shines now, that shine is
swallowed and given back
doubled, grounded bright.
The timid angels flailed
by passing children lift
in a whitening wind
toward night. What plays
beyond the window plays
as water might, all parts
making cold digress.
Beneath iced bush and eave,
the small banked fires of birds
at rest lend absences
to seeming absence. Truth
is, nothing at all is missing.
Wind hisses and one shadow
sways where a window's lampglow
has added something. The rest
is dark and light together tolled
against the boundary-riven
houses. Against our lives,
the stunning wholeness of the world.

Betty Adcock from Intervale

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Sisterhood of Eye and Leaf

Little things leave you feeling restless in mid January. You ramble through stacks of gardening catalogues, plotting another heritage rose or three, new plots of herbs and heirloom veggies. You spend hours in the kitchen summoning old Helios with cilantro, fragrant olive oils and recipes straight from Tuscany. You burn candles and brew endless pots of tea, sunlight dancing in every china mug.

You play with filters, apertures and shutter speeds, entranced (and occasionally irritated) with the surprising transformations wrought by your madcap gypsy tinkerings. Camera in hand or around your neck, you haunt the woods, peering into trees and searching for a leaf somewhere, even a single bare leaf. You scan the cloudy evening skies, desperately hoping to see the moon, and you calculate the weeks remaining until the geese, the herons and the loons come home again.

It may not seem like it, but change is already on its way.  The great horned owls who reside on the Two Hundred Acre Wood are repairing their nest in an old beech tree about a mile back in the forest, and they are getting ready to raise another comely brood.  It makes me happy to think it is all happening again.

This morning, a single oak leaf was teased into brief flight by the north wind, and it came to rest in the birdbath in the garden.  A simple  thing perhaps, but the pairing of pumpkiny orange leaf and blue snow was fetching stuff indeed, and the leaf bore in its poignant wabi sabi simplicity an often and much needed reminder. This is the sisterhood of fur and feather, of snowbound earth and clouded sky, of wandering eye and dancing leaf.  Out of my small and frost rimed doings, a mindful life is made.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once, life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.
Barry Lopez

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Ramble - Winter's Abundance

It may seem odd to be writing about abundance in the depths of winter, but here we are the middle of January, and that is just what I am doing.

This week's word appeared in the 1400s, coming to us through Middle English and Old French, thence from the Latin abundāns, all meaning "full or overflowing".  There are lovely synonyms for the noun: affluence, bounty, fortune, plenty, plethora, profusion, prosperity, riches, wealth.  As adjectives, Roget offers us the aforementioned "full and overflowing", as well as lavish, ample, plentiful, copious, exuberant, rich, teeming, profuse, bountiful and liberal.

We use abundance (or abundant) to describe circumstances of fullness, ripeness and plenty, most often in late summer and early autumn as we weed and reap and gather in, turn the earth for next year's sowing, harvest the bounty of the season for consumption when the snow flies.

Winter's eye is as ardent as summer's, but it views the world through a different camera, taking in bare branches against the clouds, light falling across old rail fences, deep blue shadows across the snow, dead leaves dancing in the wind, the thousand-and-one worlds resting easy in glossy icicles down by the creek.  When sunlight touches them, the icicles are filled with blue sky and possibility, and they seem to hold the whole world in their depths. Cloaked in snow, bales of hay left in winter fields are  the coinage of summer passed, and they are eloquent reminders too. Each and every element cries out for attention, for patient eyes and a recording lens, for recognition, remembrance and a slender scrip of words. 

The long white season is about harvest and abundance too, but the gathering is inward, the abundance quieter and dappled with questions.  Around this time of the year, I find myself questioning the shape of my journeying - the slow progress across eastern Ontario's highlands with camera and notebook in hand, the sheaves of images captured or described and carefully archived, even the eyes with which this old hen is seeing the world. There are wonders to be encountered, even when one can't move about as much as she would like.  When she must remain indoors entirely, there are whole forests of memories to revisit.

We need to remember that questions are a part of the journey, and that they are a kind of harvesting too.  There is not the slightest chance that I will ever capture even a scrap of the snowy wonder and grandeur around me, and these days on the earth are numbered, but in the warm darkness of my questions and my uncertainty, I gather everything in and rejoice.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday Poem - At Sunrise

At sunrise on winter days
our trail is through newly fallen white,
  every footfall a waxing moon,

muffled footsteps rising
through snow-drowned spruces,
hearts beating along in time.

Goldenrod and milkweed,
great spruces weighted under snow,
all nod in early greeting.

Ghost choirs of summer grosbeaks
sing above our heads, icicles forming
along rooflines as we pass by.

Winter rounds the village out,
smoothing the contours of house and street,
spinning deserts out of snow.

In this morning softness, I know myself
at last—perfect, still and so complete
nothing abandoned or left behind.


Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Looking for the Light

I lurch awake before sunrise and make coffee, then lean against the counter and wait for early sunlight to make its way through the kitchen window, for the sun's rays to shine through the fence on the eastern perimeter of the garden.

Sometimes there is sunlight on these chill January mornings, but much of the time, there is not. Northern days begin to stretch out languorously at the beginning of a new calendar year, but we will be into February's middling pages before real change can be seen and felt in morning's trajectory through fences, windows and snow crowned shrubbery.

Winter skies are breathtaking before dawn, their deep blue shading gloriously to pink and gold and purple near the horizon, but the weather is, for the most part, very cold here all through the month of January and well into February. Thermometer readings of -38 degrees (Celsius) are not unusual. Whatever the thermometer says, there is a fine elusive old truth resting out there in the interstices between earth and sky at dawn, in the dance of light and shadow in the winter landscape.

On woodland rambles (still brief this year by necessity), I trace sharp lines of shadow in the snow with my eyes, measure the changes in their inclination from day to day. The shadows whisper that springtime is on its way, but they also make it clear we have a very long way to go before the greening season puts in an appearance. Until it does turn up, I will look for dancing motes of light in the world and within myself, and I will remember that deep within their dreaming roots, all trees hold the light.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

...For the greater part of human history, and in places in the world today, common resources were the rule. But some invented a different story, a social construct in which everything is a commodity to be bought and sold. The market economy story has spread like wildfire, with uneven results for human well-being and devastation for the natural world. But it is just a story we have told ourselves and we are free to tell another, to reclaim the old one.

One of these stories sustains the living systems on which we depend. One of these stories opens the way to living in gratitude and amazement at the richness and generosity of the world. One of these stories asks us to bestow our gifts in kind, to celebrate our kinship with the world. We can choose. If all the world is a commodity, how poor we grow. When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Friday, January 05, 2018

Friday Ramble - First of the Year

The Winter Solstice came and went, and light is slowly returning to the world. Our days are are growing longer, but the effects of December's turning are felt in their own good time, and it will be a while before we sense real change in the length of our days, notice a difference in the landscape.

January is the most bitter month here in the north, a time of snow and penetrating icy cold. It's always tempting to remain indoors and just curl up by the fire with mugs of tea and books, but we three need to be out in the Lanark woods now and again - snowy rambles there nourish and sustain us, and so we take them even on the coldest days in winter.  I carry a walking stick for treacherous areas on the trail, some sort of camera, binoculars, a notebook and pen, a thermos of tea and Beau's biscuits. It's a fair bit of weight to tote along with a toboggan of seed for the birds and apples for the deer, but we muddle through somehow.

"Crunch, crunch, crunch" went our mukluks a few days ago as we made our way along the trail to the bird feeders.  It was surely our imagination this early in the year, but the snow seemed brighter than it was a few days ago. Sunlight sparked through the trees, and everything glittered. The light was sublime. We felt as rich as old Croesus - as if every jeweler's vault on the planet had been looted and the glittering contents spilled out at our feet.

There was flickering movement in woodland hollows, and shadows seemed to waver and flow like quicksilver as the wind moved through the trees. Shapes seemed less attenuated, deeper and more intense, more blue.  Here and there, a sprig of frozen green poked out of the snow, and the color was a hopeful thing, one that not even the biting north wind could carry away in its gelid paws.

Resolutions this year??? No resolutions scrawled on paper or etched in stone, only the same old work in progress - trying to be fully present and paying attention, cultivating an intimate connection with my native woods and fields, getting out of my own way and letting the camera see what it will see, just breathing, in and out, in and out.  In the words of Surya Das, "There's nothing to do but remain in the view".

Thanks to the last year's health issues, long rambles are still on hold, but that is quite all right. Staying passionate and engaged, being right here and able to take this amazing world in, that is a beautiful, breathtaking gift.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Thursday Poem - Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Naomi Shihab Nye
(from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems)

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The Wolf Moon of January

Here we are on the first day of a new calendar year, and the first full moon of the year too. Not long ago, we leaned against the fence and photographed waves of departing geese against a rising autumn moon, and here we were again recently. The great birds were long gone of course, and their parting songs were only a faint echo on the wind.

January's moon is the coldest of the calendar year. We stoke the embers in our wood stoves and huddle by the hearth on long nights, brew endless pots of tea and stir cauldrons of soup, count sticks of firewood and kindling and hope another trip out to the woodshed is not needed, at least not for a while. We wrap ourselves up as best we can and take toboggans of nosh into the forest for the birds and the deer. On our wild jaunts, we look for the first signs that daylight hours are stretching out again, measure the incline, intensity and sharpness of the deep blue shadows falling across our trail as we crunch along. The north wind holds dominion over the Lanark highlands in winter, and it cuts like a knife.

During the last winter Olympics, an ad supporting the Canadian team proclaimed: "We are Winter” (“Nous sommes l'hiver”), and truer words were never spoken. Winter is something we do up here, and we do it very, very well.

On clear winter nights, timber wolves on our hill in Lanark raise their voices in song, and coyote clans on the other side of the Two Hundred Wood sing a magnificent harmony, the two choruses performing a descant that rises and falls in waves across the inky snow and travels for miles - it's almost Gregorian, a Kyrie eleison so gorgeous it gives us goosebumps and leaves us breathless every single time we hear it.

In only three or four weeks, great horned owls will be nesting in our woods again, and a few weeks after that, the maple syrup season will (hopefully) be starting in the highlands. Of such small and hopeful notions, our winter days are made.

We also know this January moon as the: After Yule Moon, Big Cold Moon, Buckeyes Ripe Moon, Carnation Moon, Center Moon, Ceremonial Initiate Moon, Cold Moon, Cooking Moon, Turning Moon, Earth Renewal Moon, First Moon, Frost in the Tepee Moon, Frozen Ground Moon, Great Moon, Great Spirit Moon, Greetings Maker Moon, Her Cold Moon, Hibiscus Moon, Holiday Moon, Ice Moon, Lakes Frozen Moon, Little Winter Moon, Long Moon, Man Moon, Midwinter Moon, Moon After Yule, Moon of the Bear, Moon of the Child, Moon of Darkness, Moon of Flying Ants, Moon of Life at It's Height, Moon of Strong Cold, Moon of Whirling Snow, Moon When Animals Lose Their Fat, Moon When Limbs of Trees Are Broken by Snow, Moon When Snow Drifts into Tipis, Moon When the Snow Blows like Spirits in the Wind, Moon When the Sun Has Traveled South, Moon When the Old Fellow Spreads the Brush , Moon When Wolves Run Together, Ninene Moon, No Snow in Trails Moon, Old Moon, Pine Moon, Plum Blossom Moon, Quiet Moon, Rivros Moon, Rowan Moon, Severe Moon, Snow Moon, Snow Thaws Moon, Snowdrop Moon, Snowy Path Moon, Strong Cold Moon, Sun Has Not Strength to Thaw Moon, Thumb Moon, Trail Squint Moon, Two Trails Moon, Weight Loss Moon, Whirling Wind Moon, White Waking Moon, Winter Moon, Winter's Younger Brother Moon

Always an admirer of wolves, I like the name "Wolf Moon", but I am also fond of "Great Spirit Moon" and "Earth Renewal Moon".

Monday, January 01, 2018

On the First Day of the Year

Happy New Year, may all good things come to you.

May there be light and abundance in your life,
robust health and sweet contentment.
May there be adventures and laughter,
May there be magic, all kinds of it.

May you find joy in your creations.
May all your lessons be gentle.
May fulfillment grace your life.
May there be peace on your journey.

Remember, this world is a richer place
because you are in it.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Joanna Macy writes that until we can grieve for our planet we cannot love it—grieving is a sign of spiritual health. But it is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday Ramble - Last of the Year

It seems right to start the last ramble of the year with sunlight falling across a bend in the Clyde river in the Lanark Highlands. The river is a meandering "old age" tributary, and she curves through woodlands, valleys and farm fields, carving deep channels and loving every turn along the way. A wild spirit, a veritable crone among waterways, she resists freezing, crooning and muttering and grumbling on her journey south to merge with the Mississippi in Bathurst township.

In winter, I find a sheltered perch on the bank and listen to the river as she sings underneath the ice.  Sometimes, she seems to be performing a duet with the wind, and there's a kind of Zen counterpoint at work, two unbridled entities utterly independent in their contours and rhythm, but meticulously interwoven and seamless in their harmonies.  Putting all notions of complex orchestration and conventional choreography aside, there's lovely music in the air on icy winter days. The sound of moving water has always been a leitmotif for me, and I often think that my existence can be measured in rivers, currents and intermittent streams rather than cocktails, jewelry, pairs of shoes and coffee spoons.

This is the right place to stand on the trailing edge of the calendar year. In springtime, I watched as willows on the farther shore leafed out and turned silvery green, then looked on a few weeks later as the river overflowed her banks and asserted her claim to the fertile fields on both sides.  In summer, I counted bales of hay and captured images of deer and wild turkeys feeding at dusk.  In autumn, I watched the sun go down over the same willows, so golden of leaf and limb that they seemed to be made of spun out of sunlight.  In the now, snow frosts every tree and branch, and the light shining through them dazzles my eyes.

This is where I came with Spencer to collect my thoughts when my husband (now in remission) was diagnosed with cancer some time ago, then after my own diagnosis last year.  It is where I came to replenish the energies and inner directives needed to get through big life stuff like chemo and radiation. It is where I came when my beloved friend Penny passed away last February, again when we put Spencer to sleep in June after osteosarcoma rampaged through his dear little metabolism like wildfire. Sometimes, we think we are unraveling, but the Clyde always works her magic, and she knits us back together again. With Himself and Spencer's baby brother Beau and the river on my side, I will get through.

Thank you for coming along on Friday rambles this year. May we share many more rambles in the shiny new year that is waiting for us around the bend.