Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Breeze at Dawn

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
Rumi   
There's a refreshing coolness in the air at the beginning of day, a sense of fey surprises and unknown adventures waiting away out there, somewhere beyond the shining rim of it all. A few adventures would be appreciated this week as I wait for biopsies to be scheduled at the cancer clinic, for the results to be analyzed and the news (good or bad) to be delivered.

The serendipity meeting of fence and field and fog and tree in early morning could be a metaphor for life itself and our meandering earthly journey through it - so too, the nebulous horizon, violet skies, contrails and drifting wisps of cloud.  At this time of day, it is easy to get caught up in the sky over one's head, and I almost didn't see the orb weaver's web shimmering on the rail fence. It was a fine, arty construction and to miss it would have been a shame.

When I awakened before sunrise, the constellation Orion was cavorting in the southeastern sky, Capella higher up, Venus lower and to the east, Sirius hovering just above the horizon. Then rain clouds moved in, and the stars of early morning were hidden from view until (hopefully) tomorrow. Orion's appearance in the predawn sky in August is a harbinger of autumn, and it is something I always watch for. There were a few red leaves in the Lanark highlands last weekend, and the Virginia creepers on the fence by our gate are starting to turn - no doubt about it, seasonal changes are on their way.

Mornings like this one are grand though, and sometimes one needs them to start things off in late summer, especially when the projected temperature for the day is in the high thirties (Celsius) with humidity factored into the equation.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

... human spirit is one of the most striking realizations of wildness.  It is as eccentrically beautiful as an ice crystal, as liquidly life-generous as water, as inspired as air.  Kerneled up within us all, an intimate wildness, sweet as a nut.  To the rebel soul in everyone, then, the right to wear feathers, drink  stars and ask for the moon.  For us all, the growl of the primal salute.  For us all, for Scaramouche and Feste, for the scamp, tramp and artist, for the furious adolescent, the traveling player and the pissed-off gypsy, for the bleeding woman, and for the man in a suit, his eyes kind and tired, gazing with sad envy at the hippie chick with the rucksack.  For us all, every dawn, the lucky skies and the pipes.  Anyone can hear them if they listen: our ears are sharp enough to it.  Our strings are tuned to the same pitch as the Earth, our rhythms are as graceful and ineluctable as the four quartets of the moon. We are—every one of us—a force of nature, though sometimes it is necessary to relearn consciously what we have never forgotten; the truant art, the nomad heart.  Choose your instrument, asking only: can you play it while walking?
Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday Ramble - Abundance

I awaken early and trot out to the garden wearing a faded cotton caftan, straw hat and sandals, and carrying a mug of Earl Grey.  It's already wickedly hot out there, and the thin scrap of waning moon dancing overhead is obscured by a high gossamer heat haze.

The only sentient beings happy about the heat are the mindfully foraging bees and the ripening vegetables in village veggie patches: beans, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, chards and emerging gourds.  Are veggies sentient, and do they have Buddha nature?  You bet they do, and I suspect they converse among themselves when we are not listening. The zucchini vines (as always) are on the march and threatening to take over entire gardens, if not the whole wide world.

The tomatoes are always a marvel.  Scarlet or gold, occasionally purpled or striped, they come in all sizes and some surprising shapes. The first juicy heirloom "toms" of the season are the essence of feasting and late summer celebration as they rest on the sideboard: fresh-from-the-garden jewels, rosy and flushed and beaded with early morning dew. A wedge of Brie or Camembert, gluten-free bread, a sprinkling of sea salt and a few fresh basil leaves from the garden are all that is needed to complete both the scene and today's lunch. 

Oh honey sweet and hazy summer abundance....... That luscious word made its first appearance in the fourteenth century, coming down the years to us through Middle English and Old French from the Latin abundāns, meaning overflowing. The adjective form is abundant, and synonyms for it include:ample, generous, lavish, plentiful; copious; plenteous; exuberant; overflowing; rich; teeming; profuse; prolific, replete, teeming, bountiful and liberal.

Abundant is the exactly the right word for these days of ripeness and plenty, as we weed and reap and gather in, freeze things, chuck things into jars, "put things by" and store the bounty of summer for consumption somewhere way up the road.  Like bees and squirrels, we scurry about, hoarding the stuff in our gardens to nourish body and soul when temperatures fall and nights grow long.  For all the sweetness and abundance held out in offering, there is a subtle ache to these August days with their dews and hazes and ripening vegetables.  We love summer's heat, and these days are all too fleeting.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday Poem - Daily

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)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Back and Singing in the Trees

Dog-day Cicada (Neotibicen canicularis)
A cicada's song is the quintessential music of August, a sonorous vocal offering from a small jeweled being that emerges from the ground, sheds its nymph skin, climbs high into the light-filled trees and sings for a mere handful of days before expiring and returning to earth. It's a joyful and ecstatic element in the slow irrevocable turning of one season into another.

I often find abandoned cicada skins on the poplar trees in our Two Hundred Acre Wood, but I always feel blessed when I meet a newborn still clinging to its shell in all its pink and green splendor. Adults go dark within a few hours, but they retain lacy, darker green wings all the days of their lives. Only male cicadas sing, but oh, how they do sing.

Call it "cicada mind" and cherish the notion. Our task is one of cultivating just this kind of patience, acceptance, rapt attention and unfettered Zen sensibility, of embracing our allotted days fully and singing wherever we happen to be, then dissolving effortlessly back into the fabric of the world when the time comes.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Beautiful in Profile

Mourning cloak or Camberwell beauty (Nymphalis antiopa
The Mourning cloak (or Camberwell beauty as it is known in Britain) is one of the longest living butterfly species on the planet, and it is certainly one of the most powerful fliers, sometimes being found far from its range during migration.

I always forget how beautiful "cloaks" are when they are viewed from other angles. The butterfly is lovely with its dark plummy purple wings open wide, displaying a row of bright blue spots along the back edge and yellow fringes, but this member of the tortoiseshell (or anglewing) family is equally exquisite when seen with its wings folded. Every summer I am enchanted all over again when I see it in profile, my attention captured by its iridescence and complex overlapping scale structure.

There is much to be learned from looking at the great wide world from a different angle, now and then, and there are always surprises.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Humans are tuned for relationship. The eyes, the skin, the tongue, ears and nostrils—all are gates where our body receives the  nourishment of otherness.  This landscape of shadowed voices, these feathered bodies and antlers  and tumbling streams—these breathing shapes are our family, the beings with whom we are  engaged, with whom we struggle and suffer and celebrate.
David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Ramble - Tattered

This week's word comes to us from the Middle English tater and the old Norse tǫturr meaning rag or shred, and both words are cognate with the old English tætteca meaning more or less the same. Almost every culture on the planet possesses something like it - Low German has its tater, Old High German has zaeter, and the Icelandic form is töturr.  Originally, the word was a noun, but tatter seldom makes an appearance in modern parlance, and we cling to the past participle form with its implied verb. I have always been fond of the 16th century noun tatterdemalion, used to describe a person in raggedy clothing, someone who is unkempt, shabby and "down at the heels".

To be tattered is to be frayed and dilapidated, threadbare, all patches and blowing scraps,  worn and attenuated from long and honorable use in the service of life. That makes this week's word conceptual kin to wabi sabi (侘寂), the timeless Japanese aesthetic centered around notions of simplicity, transience and impermanence or mujo (無常).

Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic in embracing three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is ever finished, and nothing is perfect. Paradoxically, that which is tattered, transient, imperfect and incomplete is beautiful in its own way, resting easy in its natural state and suchness or tathātā.  There's the old koan of life popping up again and insisting that we work out its elemental truth. If I ever needed reminders, I have been on the receiving end of many in recent months as we worked our way through endless visits to doctors, cancer clinics and hospitals. And so it goes, we are all walking, talking, breathing haiku, here only for seventeen syllables, three lines.

It would be difficult to imagine anything lovelier than the White Admiral who came into our garden a few days ago. She danced and fluttered her way around in the sunlight, and there was joy in every movement of her faded and tattered wings. How can one fly in such a dilapidated state, let alone dance? She did, and when she came lightly to rest among the pines, she was perfect in every way. If I could have held the lady in my arms, I would have done just that - this frayed and tattered (but contented nevertheless) female was very glad to see her.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thursday Poem - August

Summer sings its long song, and all the notes are green.
But there’s a click, somewhere in the middle
of the month, as we reach the turning point, the apex,
a Ferris wheel, cars tipping and tilting over the top,
and we see September up ahead, school and schedules
returning. And there’s the first night you step outside
and hear the katydids arguing, six more weeks
to frost, and you know you can make it through to fall.
Dark now at eight, nights finally cooling off for sleep,
no more twisting in damp sheets, hearing mosquitoes’
thirsty whines. Lakes of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace
mirror the sky’s high cirrus. Evenings grow chilly,
time for old sweaters and sweatpants, lying in the hammock
squinting to read in the quick-coming dusk.
A few fireflies punctuate the night’s black text,
and the moonlight is so thick, you could swim in it
until you reach the other side.

Barbara Crooker,
from Selected Poems

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Barley Moon of August

Oh, for a perfect burnished full moon on an evening in late summer... After many years, the longing remains in all its foolish intensity - to be enfolded in something grand and gilded and luminous.

The late French conductor Pierre Boulez once said: Just listen with the vastness of the world in mind; you can't fail to get the message. Whatever happens to my gnarly old self and its molecules (starstuff) this time around, I like to think that a tiny scrap of the world's grace and grandeur and vastness will remain in my consciousness as I billow off into the great beyond like a scrap of linen liberated from the clothesline.  Let there be that and a few scattered images of the moon surrounded by stars and looking down on the earth, lustrous and blithe of countenance. Every night is a jeweled tapestry, and every lunar round is a wonder to the eyes and lens tracing her contours, mapping her mountains and valleys, wide mesas and dry seas, lingering on her glossy light.

Under the August moon, geese move back and forth between rivers and fields.  Deer and wild turkeys graze along farm fences, and coyote clans call across the hills in voices hinting at autumn. Moonlight turns trees in the woodland into throngs of interlaced fingers and their dancing leaves into flocks of nocturnal butterflies - it touches grasses with silver, transforms sleeping fields into rippling dunes and rolling oceans.  In its light, farm buildings, fences and windmills are stark shapes silhouetted against the darkness and far-flung stars.  There is something mysterious and bewitching about this month's moon, and for all the activity down here on earth, there is something plaintive and rather haunting too.  The barley harvest is about to begin in the highlands of eastern Ontario, and "Barley Moon" is the perfect name for the lady shining down on us all this month.

We also know the August moon as the: Acorns Ripening Moon, Berry Moon, Big Harvest Moon, Big Ripening Moon, Blackberry Moon, Blueberry Moon, Centáwen Moon, Claiming Moon, Coho Salmon Return to Earth Moon, Corn Is In Silk Moon, Corn Moon, Crest of Hill Moon, Cutter Moon, Dahlia Moon, Dispute Moon, Dog Days Moon, Drying up Moon, Eighth Moon, Elembivos Moon, End of Fruit Moon, Feather Shedding Moon, Flying Moon, Fruit Moon, Gathering Rice Moon, Geese Shedding Their Feathers Moon, Gladiolus Moon, Grain Moon, Green Corn Moon, Harvest Moon, Hazel Moon, Joyful Moon, Lammas Moon, Leaves Moon, Lightning Moon, Moon After Lugnasadh, Middle Moon, Moon of First Harvest, Moon of Freshness, Moon of Life at It's Height, Moon When Young Ducks Begin to Fly, Moon When All Things Ripen, Moon When Cherries Are Ripe, Moon When Elk Bellow, Moon When the Geese Shed Their Feathers, Moon When Indian Corn Is Edible, Much Heat Moon, Much Ripeness Moon, Mulberries Moon, Paper Bark Moon, Pear Blossom Moon, Plum Moon, Red Berries Gathered Moon, Red Moon, Ripe Berries Moon, Ripe Corn Moon, Rising Moon, Starts to Fly Moon, Still Green Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Tall Grass Moon, Thumb Moon, Vegetation Moon, Wode Moon, Wheat Cut Moon, Wild Rice Moon, Women's Moon, Wood Cutter’s Moon or Wort Moon.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are,
to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars,
to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love.
To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and
be perfectly understood.
Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Cooler On the Rocks

Northern green frog (Rana clamitans melanota)
or (Lithobates clamitans melanota)

Friday, August 04, 2017

Friday Ramble - Season

This week's word comes to us from the Middle English sesoun through the Old French seson and the Vulger Latin satio, meaning time of sowing or planting, all arising from the Latin serere, meaning to sow. Season shares its origins with the word seed, and both entities are concerned with fertility, fruitfulness and nourishment. The noun describes four divisions of the calender year as defined by designated differences in temperature, rainfall, daylight and the growth of vegetation: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

In earlier times, a season simply marked the interval within which an important hunting and/or agricultural activity was undertaken and completed i.e. the planting season, the harvest season, the hunting season, the dormant season. Each season is complete within itself whether viewed through the lens of the calendar year or the loving eyes of a crone and her camera rambling in the Great Round.  Each season is a cycle with its beginning (sowing), its center or middle (cultivation and nurturing) and its completion (harvest or reaping).

In much the same way, to season a broth or stew is to undertake a savory sowing of foodstuff with the seeds of taste and ambrosial fragrance. Be it the sowing, tending and reaping of one's vegetable garden or the careful addition of herbs and spices to a casserole, it's all about nurture and enjoyment.

On early morning August walks, a few yellowing maple leaves drift into our path and come to rest with soft whisperings on the dew spattered ground at our feet.  The sound is a pleasing susurrus that lingers long after we have rounded a corner and are turning toward home. Shallow puddles along our way hold the fallen leaves in blithe fellowship with sky and clouds reflected from above, and whenever we pause, we are standing in boundless sky.

September begins in  a few weeks, and no doubt about it, autumn is not far away. If you live in the north, the coming season is about apples, rain and falling leaves, and the words form a lovely rustling mantra (or litany) as we ramble in the village and through the Lanark highlands. It's all good. With sweet and spicy things we will season the autumn days to come.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Thursday Poem - From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee

Wednesday, August 02, 2017