Monday, February 19, 2018

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

For those of us who care for an earth not encompassed by machines, a world of textures, tastes and sounds other than those that we have engineered, there can be no question of simply abandoning literacy, of turning away from all writing. Our task, rather, is that of taking up the written word, with all of its potency, and patiently, carefully, writing language back into the land. Our craft is that of releasing the budded, earthly intelligence of our words, freeing them to respond to the speech of the things themselves – to the green uttering forth of leaves from the spring branches. It is the practice of spinning stories that have the rhythm and lilt of the local soundscape, tales for the tongue, tales that want to be told, again and again sliding off the digital screen and slipping off the lettered page to inhabit these coastal forests, those desert canyons, those whispering grasslands and valleys and swamps. Finding phrases that lace us in contact with the trembling neck-muscles of a deer holding its antlers high as it swims toward the mainland, or with the ant dragging a scavenged rice-grain through the grasses. Planting words, like seeds, under rocks and fallen logs – letting language take root, once again, in the earthen silence of shadow and bone and leaf.
David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday Ramble - Wishful Stirrings

Minute morsels of sunlight scatter like stars in the air, and a damp wind goes right to the bones, threatening to ossify one's whole metabolism, the parts not already frozen in place, that is. The situation is underwhelming to say the least, and I am not alone in my disgruntlement. When I tried to entice Beau into going outside a few minutes ago, he peered out into the garden, gave me a filthy look, turned his back on the door (and me) and trotted back to bed.

What to do? At times like these, exotic spices and culinary offerings from faraway places go dancing through one's sconce and clattering about in the pantry. The quick fix for such a day is frothy cappuccino or latte in a bright mug and a stack of favorite cookbooks. This morning's selection includes the works below, but others will certainly be added to the pile before I plunk myself down in the Morris chair to ponder and scheme. How many cookbooks can one female read at a go?

Beyond the Great Wall, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid 
Mangoes  & Curry Leaves,  Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid 
The Seductions of Rice, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, Claudia Roden
Arabesque, Claudia Roden
Everyday Greens, Annie Somerville
Fields of Greens, Annie Somerville
The Vegetarian Epicure (Vols 1 and 2) Anna Thomas
The Art of Simple Food (Vols 1 and 2), Alice Waters
The Food of Morocco, Paula Wolfert
Mediterranean Grains and Greens, Paula Wolfert

Rebecca Katz's gorgeous cookbooks are in a stack of their own - I am reading them from from cover to cover and savoring every mouthwatering recipe and vibrant image. The five volumes are a treasure trove of knowledge about using good food to battle cancer and remain cancer-free afterward, in maintaining a healthy mind and living a long and robust life. They are also a feast for body and soul. On days when I can't stand even looking at food, Rebecca's recipes delight the eyes and nudge my taste buds back to life. I can't praise her work enough, and there is a link to her online presence in my sidebar.

There is an Asian concoction on the horizon, something improvised and redolent of aromatic spices, and whatever I stir up will likely contain saffron or turmeric, chilis for sure,  perhaps pomegranate seeds, an anise star or two. Alas, the saffron is not my own.  We have grown autumn blooming crocuses for years and try to harvest our own saffron threads for winter culinary exercises, but squirrels love the stuff as much as we do and make off with the corms. Here I am again, pondering how to protect the colony of Crocus sativus sleeping under the deep snow in our garden. If I can just protect the little dears until they bloom in September...

Exotic culinary creations evoke sunlight and warmer climes, and they're welcome on a winter day when one can't run around outside with a camera, and even her canine soulmate refuses to go out. There is an element of ritual to this morning's activities to be sure - perhaps my saffron threads and wishful stirrings will be heard by Lady Spring, wherever she is hiding at the moment.  If not, well, the dazzling reds and oranges and yellows on my old wooden cutting board are almost indecently sumptuous, and they make my heart glad.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday Poem - Don't wait for something beautiful to find you.

Go out into the weather-beaten world
where straw men lean on frozen fields
and find the cardinal's scarlet flash of wing,
a winter heart, a feathered hope.

Without a camera or a memory,
we travel these old country roads,
turn corners like the pages of a book,
enchanted by the ordinary life

of fields and rocks and woods,
of small wild creatures stirring in the brush.
We take home pockets full of myths
and wonders seldom seen.

We will not give up easily,
Across the breakfast table
in our precarious nest,
we make those promises keep on going

that no one ever keeps.  And yet...
there is the cardinal again,
a finial on our old gray fence.
Red is for Valentines.

This morning's poem is reprinted with permission from Dolores Stewart's gorgeous volume of poetry, The Nature of Things.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Like Honey In One's Cup

A brisk north wind brushes snow away from ice on the river, and clouds of displaced snowflakes swirl through the air like confetti.  Light flickers through nearby trees and everything sparkles: river, snowdrifts, whiskery branches and frozen grasses. The scene is uplifting for a crotchety human in February. She longs for light, and the sunshine is a shawl across her shoulders as it comes and goes through the clouds—it's like honey in her cup.

Reeds fringe the river here and there, their raspy stalks waving in the wind and their stalwart toes planted in the frozen mud. The spikes outlined against the sky are pleasing shapes when one can actually see them, the artfully curling tops eloquent of something wild and elemental and alluring.  So too are the frosted fields, fences and trees over on the far shore.

We call riparian grasses bulrushes, or reedmace, cattails, punks or corndog grass.  We tuck them into floral arrangements, weave them into baskets, pound their rhizomes into flour, or sometimes (as she was doing this day) just perch on the shoreline and watch them crackle and sway in the wind. Members of genus typha are always pleasing, but most of all when they are just hanging out in the frozen waters of their native place.

In February, there are no caroling birds by the river, and there is silence for the most part, but this week, she remembered the river laughing in its exuberant springtime flowing, last summer's herons standing motionless in the reeds at sundown.  She smiled, thinking of Vladimir Nabokov's memoir, "Speak Memory". On another day, that might have been a good title for this post written in the gelid depths of winter with snow on the way.

The world around her is a manuscript written in wind and light. How on earth is she going to fit the sky, landscape and dancing snow into one 5 x 7 image?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Being naturalized to place means to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit. To become naturalized is to know that your ancestors lie in this ground. Here you will give your gifts and meet your responsibilities. To become naturalized is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Friday, February 09, 2018

Friday Ramble - Little Blue

She is weary of deep snow and icy cold, and sometimes, she is even a little tired of the color blue, no matter how intensely blue the sky is or snowdrifts or spruce trees or the cast iron crane out on the deck. Its migratory kin have been gone for months, but our splendid metal bird is frozen in place, and it is well and truly stuck until springtime rolls around again. I like looking at it.

There are some lovely words for blue in the English language: azure, beryl, cerulean, cobalt, indigo, lapis lazuli, sapphire, turquoise, ultramarine. She recites them like a litany under her breath as she looks out at her sleeping garden with mug in hand or breaks a trail into the woods.

Just when she decides that she is all wintered out and will not sketch another icicle or snap another photo of such things, another eloquent winter tableau presents itself to the eye. Something curved or fragile or delicately robed in snow shows up and begs rapt and focused attention.  Glossy bubbles dance in the icicles above a frozen creek in the Lanark highlands. Snow crystals adorn the evergreens over her head and turn them into jeweled wonders. As she walks, faded and tattered oak leaves flutter down to lie on the trail at her feet. Pine and spruce cones cast vivid blue shadows in pools of early morning sunlight.  Is there anything on the planet as fine as the scent of blue spruce boughs in February?

Small and perfect, complete within itself, each tableau conveys an elemental peace and balance, lowers the blood pressure and stills the breathing, returns her eyes and focus to simplicity and grace and assent. For a minute or two, pain subsides and balance returns. It is a miracle that she is standing here at all, and her fleeting interval on the edge of the woods has to be enough. It is enough, and it is much more than enough.

Worlds great and small everywhere, worlds within and worlds without, and every one is a wonder to behold and remember and love with her eyes. Surely, she can do this for a little while longer.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Thursday Poem - Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Above the Frozen Lake

It's the light that stops you right in your tracks on a cold day in the depths of February, blue sky and gauzy clouds, buttery winter sunlight shining through floating mist and the snowy spruces who guard the heights above the frozen lake. I call them the snow people and think of them as friends and kindred spirits.

What on earth can you say about this astonishing light? Is there a single word in the English language up to the task of describing something like this? At such times, perhaps the best thing one can do is say nothing at all, just get out of the way and let the camera do its thing.

All I could do that glorious morning was simply stand there with the snow people, wide-eyed and breathless and drinking in the honeyed light.  It was like being on top of the world, and I may have done a little glowing myself.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

What hope is there for individual reality or authenticity, when the forces of violence and orthodoxy, the earthly powers of guns and bombs and manipulated public opinion make it impossible for us to be authentic and fulfilled human beings? The only hope is in the creation of alternative values, alternative realities. The only hope is in daring to re dream one's place in the world -- a beautiful act of imagination, and a sustained act of self becoming. Which is to say that in some way or another we breach and confound the accepted frontiers of things.
Ben Okri

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Friday, February 02, 2018

Friday Ramble - Seeing Red

Beyond the window is an ocean of deep, pillowy white that goes on forever and ever. Weary of ice and snow, she longs to have her morning tea on the veranda, but she knows that she will not be doing that for months. Given the snowfall this winter, we may not see the garden until the end of April. A little bright color right about now would be grand, and it would vastly appreciated too.

While pottering about in a local organic market, a tin bucket of tulips catches her eye, and she scoops up a large bunch in assorted colors, carrying them home in her arthritic paws as tenderly as if they were fledgling birds.  The pinks, purples and yellows are fine stuff, but the scarlets are nothing short of amazing - they are attention grabbers of the first order.

Arrayed in an old glass vase (a flea market find last summer), the glossy blooms and bright green leaves don't just light up the day - they light up just about everything else too. A single bloom would be enough, but a whole bouquet is almost indecently sumptuous. What a way to bring in the month of February!

She resolves to keep a cauldron, a pot, a tin, a bucket, a vase or a tankard of something flowering near the southern window from now until spring. She thinks about how beautiful a single rose will look there come summer, and it seems to her that this is not just about a vase of tulips or a single rose, but about all the boundless gardens of the earth coming into riotous intoxicating bloom.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Courting the Imbolc Moon

Last evening's full moon was the second full moon of the year and the second in January, a blue moon as well as a super moon. I am calling it an "imbolc Moom" because it rose on the eve of Imbolc or Candlemas. There was also a full lunar eclipse (or blood moon).

Had we seen it, the lunar orb would have been a icy presence, framed by the vague shapes of snowy evergreens and attended by faint faraway stars. Capturing winter moons with one's lens and a slender scrip of words is always an uncomfortable business, and it is never a sure thing.  The day had been cloudy and several centimeters of snow had fallen, but Beau and I wrapped up warmly after dark and went outside with tripod and camera anyway. It's our way of "saying yes to the world", to the innate wildness of life in the Great Round of time, to grandeur in the starry, starry night over our heads. Alas, there was no moon to be seen, just clouds and more snow.  The spectacular eclipse which could be viewed in other corners of the globe was not visible here at all, even partially. As a super moon, a blue moon and a lunar eclipse all at the same time, one could have called last night's full moon a "super blue blood moon".

This lunar cycle has to be about owls.  Around the end of January, the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), claims a nest somewhere in the north woods with its lifelong mate and settles down to the arduous business of raising another unruly brood. The great "hornies" are among my favorite birds, and it's enchanting to hear a couple calling companionably to each other across the snowy woods in winter.  Northern residents to the core, the great owls thrive in cold climates, and the further one travels toward the Arctic, the bigger they grow. The Saw-whet Owl or sugar bird (Aegolius acadicus) is not far behind in its own courtship rituals, and neither are the other owls of the Lanark highlands. There is love and fertility in the air, among northern owls anyway. The rest of us are just trying to stay warm.

Winter life can be stressful for those who lack feathers and dine not on mice and voles.  Even great "hornies" sometimes have a difficult time finding food in deep snow, but they are adept winter hunters.  They are the most resilient of birds and muddle through. They must be resilient to be raising a family in the dead of winter in an old tree in the woods.

When the second moon of the calendar year comes around, hunger is well known in wild and snowbound places, but if we can manage to hang on for a few weeks longer, there are better (and warmer) times ahead.  Late February and March promise milder temperatures, relief and sweetness.  The sylvan alchemy of the maple syrup season will (hopefully) be in full swing when the next full moon makes its appearance.

We also know this moon as the: Ash Moon, Big Winter Moon, Bone Moon, Bony Moon, Budding Moon, Chestnuts Moon, Cold Winds Moon, Coyotes Frighten Moon, Crow Moon, Dark Red Calves Moon, Death Moon, Eagle Moon, Fish Running Moon, Frost Sparkling in the Sun Moon, Gray Moon, Horning Moon, Ice in River Is Gone Moon, Ice Moon, Index Finger Moon, Little Bud Moon, Long Dry Moon, Makes Branches Fall in Pieces Moon, Mimosa Moon, Moon of Ice, Moon of Purification and Renewal, Moon of Rabbit Conception, Moon of the Cedar Dust Wind, Moon of the Raccoon, Moon of the Frog, Moon, When Geese Come Home, Moon When Bear Cubs are Born, Moon When Spruce Tips Fall, Moon When Trees Pop, Moon When Trees Are Bare and Vegetation Is Scarce, Narcissus Moon, No Snow in Trails Moon, Owl Moon, Peach Blossom Moon, Pink Moon, Plum Blossom Moon, Primrose Moon, Quickening Moon, Raccoon Moon, Rain and Dancing Moon , Red and Cleansing Moon, Second Moon, Snow Crust Moon, Snow Moon, Solmonath (Sun Moon), Squint Rock Moon, Staying Home Moon, Storing Moon, Storm Moon, Sucker Fish Moon, Sucker Moon, Trapper’s Moon, Treacherous Moon, Violet Moon, Wexes Moon, Wild Moon, Wind Moon, Wind Tossed Moon, Winter Moon

As far as moon names go, I am fond of Quickening Moon, Wild Moon and Owl Moon, but this will always be Penny's Moon.

Happy Imbolc everyone, happy February!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

For Imbolc/Candlemas

Here we are on the last day of January and the eve of Candlemas or Imbolc. Strange to relate, this festival day in the depths of winter celebrates light and warmth, the stirring of green things within the earth, the burgeoning of new life and the beginning of springtime. Once called "Bride's day", the day is consecrated to Brigid, she who is loved as an Irish saint, but was revered as a goddess long centuries before she was canonized. Herself is a deity of fire and creativity, wisdom, eloquence and superb craftsmanship.  She is patroness of the forge and smithy, poetry and the healing arts, particularly midwifery. Hers are the candle, the hearth and the forge, and light is her special province.

We are made of light ourselves, and that makes us Brigid's children - creatures forged from the dust of stars which once lighted the heavens and ceased to exist billions of years ago. Within the radiant particles of our being are encoded the wisdoms of the ancient earth and all its cultures, the star knowledge of unknown constellations and "The Big Bang" which created not just our own precious world, but the whole cosmic sea in which it floats.

The stardust of which we are formed is essentially recycled matter, having assembled spontaneously into diverse life forms over and over again, lived and expired, then dissolved back into the stream of existence. In our time, “we” have been many things, worn many shapes and answered to many names. In this lifetime I exist as a tatterdemalion, specific and perhaps unique collection of wandering molecules called Catherine or Cate, but in previous incarnations, I was someone or something altogether different.

Buddhist teacher and deep ecologist Joanna Macy has written that since every particle in our being goes back to the first flaring of space and time, we are as old as the universe itself, about fifteen billion years. In other words, we are the universe, and it is us.

Merry Imbolc to you and your clan, happy Candlemas and St. Brigid's Day too. May the manifold blessings of Light be yours.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Morning in Bloom

Skies are leaden, and a fine murk wraps the village.  This is one of those mornings when the village seems to be dancing (or skating) on the edge of the world and the weather and not sure where it belongs. 

Adjectives like dark and sunless are evocative, but there are better words for and about such intervals: bosky, caliginous, cloudy, crepuscular, dark, dim, drab, dusky, gloomy, murky, nebulous, obfuscous, obscure, opaque, overcast, shadowy, somber, stygian, sunless, tenebrous, twilighted, umbral, vague, wintry.

What to do? With no light to speak of, this is not a good morning for wandering about with my camera and the peripherals that go with it, so far anyway. When Beau and I went out a few minutes ago, a cold raw wind teased the backs of our necks, and the matter of a longer morning walk was put aside for now. My furry son trotted back into the bedroom and curled up on the quilt in my warm spot.

Inside the little blue house in the village, I pull out a basket of Chinese flower teas gifted by my friend Caroline last autumn, then brew up a glass pot full.  As the dried blooms take in liquid and open out, the kitchen is filled with floral perfume, and home is summery all over again.  The glass pot and the contents of my cup are almost too arty to drink, and I take picture after picture.

There is an issue of Artful Blogging to "ooh and ahh" over today, the third Brandenburg concerto on the CD player, a box of art pens in splendid Mediterranean shades to play with.  There will be currant scones this morning, and for dinner this evening something fragrant and spicy (probably curried)  that sings and dances on the tongue.  There is room at the old oak table for everyone, and there are enough mugs and cups to go around too. On days like this, one simply does whatever she can do to light things up.