Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Froth and Fragrance

One day there are no leaves on trees in the village at all, and the next day the same trees are fully leafed out, their voluptuous canopies alive with birds who dish out madrigals at sunrise and trip the light fantastic from branch to branch until the sun goes down. Their pleasure in the day and the season is obvious.

Crabapple trees, flowering almonds and plums seem to leaf out and flower overnight, and wonder of wonder, they are alive with madly buzzing bumbles, honey bees and wasps. Dusted with pollen from stem to stern, the little dears are in constant motion, ecstatic to be feeling sunlight on their wings and foraging for nectar on a balmy morning in May.

Here comes another fine northern summer of prowling about in gardens wild and domestic with trowel and hoe, camera and macro lens, drinking in light and gathering nectars of my own. Now and then, I will put down my gear and dance with the joyous bumble girls. Ungainly creature that I am, I hope no one is watching.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Looking at the heavens places me in time and space - and beyond them. Gazing at the stars, I look through heaven’s wrinkle; the light I see now represents their past, having traveled many years across space to reach my eyes here on earth; the light they are emitting now will be visible only in some future, years away.

I and all the other lives on Earth are connected to the stars, held together by gravity, the invisible glue that defines our universe, and bound elementally by a common material: stardust. This atomic grit of interstellar space paints dark clouds on the Milky Way, condenses itself into swirls of gravity-bound suns and planets, and provides the minerals bonded by the push and pull of electrical charges into the molecules that form our cells. Like stardust and the other materials of life itself, we are in constant motion, changing shape as we pass through our lives, and after the makings of our bodies break down and are recycled, rearranged into other forms of life.

The stars remind me of where I come from and who I am.

Susan J. Tweit, Walking Nature Home

Friday, May 13, 2022

Friday Ramble - Aestival

This week's word is one of my favorites, hailing from Middle English, Middle and Old French forms, thence the Late Latin aestīvālis and earlier Latin aestās meaning summer or summery. Both forms are cognate with the Sanskrit इन्द्धे (inddhé) meaning to light or set on fire. At the root of our wordy explorations this time around is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) form h₂eydʰ- meaning heat, fire or to burn.

In the science of zoology, aestival refers to the tendency of all living creatures to be rather sleepy and slow moving in the heat of summer, and botanists use the word to describe the arrangement of organs or components in a flower bud. I once thought that the word siesta (referring to a leisurely nap after lunch) was related, but I discovered a year or two ago that its roots are in the Latin sexta meaning the sixth hour of the day (midday).  The two words sound similar, but as far as I know, they are not related.

June is only two weeks away, and aestival is one of my favorite words for the brief greening season at the heart of the calendar year. Summer is a fine word too, but it doesn't hold a candle or even a tiny wooden match to the frothy perfumed magnificence of the golden season that reigns so briefly here in the sub-Arctic climes of Canada. Aestival says it all, and I love the shape of the word on my tongue.

After an unusually long, cold winter, things are heating up, and nectar gathering insects are starting to appear. Ornamental trees in the village (almond, cherry, crabapple and mock orange) are flowering, and the air is full of fluttering petals and sweet fragrance. On sunny mornings, the objects of our rapt attention are chock full of blissed out bees, bumbles and wasps. Beau and I stop to look at them, and it is a wonder we ever make it home in time for tea.

I say "aestival" and its sibilance summons up images of outdoor festivals and al fresco celebrations, shaggy gardens of scarlet poppies and towering purple lupins, trees filled with singing birds, bees in the orchard, roses sweeter than any vineyard potion, perfect sunsets across the lake shared with herons. It's all golden, and it's all good. Here comes June in all her glory, and we (Beau and I) are so ready.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Thursday Poem - For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes, 
of statistics
lie before us.
The steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together,
learn the flowers,
go light.

Gary Snyder, from Turtle Island

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Wordless Wednesday - Sweet

Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana)

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Music of What Happens

Around the corner, three song sparrows are trilling their hearts out from a rooftop.  Their pleasure in the day and the season is echoed by a construction worker a few doors away belting out Doug Seeger's “Going Down to the River” as he installs drywall in the old Victorian house on the corner.  The door of the place is wide open, and his rendering of the gospel classic is somewhat off key, but it's a right soulful crafting and fine stuff indeed.

This morning, the crows left me a gift in the birdbath, a dead field mouse with its entrails spilled out and floating forlornly around in limp spaghetti-ish circles.  Not the way one would like to start the day, and I returned to the deck and held my nose firmly over the aromatic mug of Italian dark roast waiting for me there. Later I donned rubber gloves, scrubbed out the birdbath and refilled it with clean water. The crows will return with new booty tomorrow, and we will commence clean up operations all over again.

Tulips are starting to bloom, and in every shade of the rainbow, but it is the reds that dazzle truly - the blooms are almost incandescent in the early sunlight and so bright they hurt one's eyes. Frilly daffodils and scarlet fringed narcissus nod here and there, and violets sprinkle the garden in deep purple and creamy white. A neighbor's bleeding heart bush is covered with tiny green buds swaying to and fro on artfully arching stems. The magnolia trees in the village are flowering and rain fragrant petals like snow, their perfume lingering everywhere. Wonder of wonders, the first few bumble girls of the season have arrived, just in time to partake of the crabapple blossoms that will be out in a day or three. When Lady Spring finally shows up here, she hits the ground running.

What a splendid trip this season is, and how much there is to feast one's eyes on: blue skies, trees leafing out, wildflowers popping up everywhere, bird feeders in the garden full of cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, grosbeaks, song sparrows and goldfinches. If I were to stop and take photos of every splendid thing I see on morning walks (and everything is splendid at this time of the year), I might not get home again for weeks.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

There is a fundamental reason why we look at the sky with wonder and longing—for the same reason that we stand, hour after hour, gazing at the distant swell of the open ocean. There is something like an ancient wisdom, encoded and tucked away in our DNA, that knows its point of origin as surely as a salmon knows its creek. Intellectually, we may not want to return there, but the genes know, and long for their origins—their home in the salty depths. But if the seas are our immediate source, the penultimate source is certainly the heavens… The spectacular truth is—and this is something that your DNA has known all along—the very atoms of your body—the iron, calcium, phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and on and on—were initially forged in long-dead stars. This is why, when you stand outside under a moonless, country sky, you feel some ineffable tugging at your innards. We are star stuff. Keep looking up.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Saturday, May 07, 2022

First Lily of the Woods

Trout Lily or Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium americanum)

Friday, May 06, 2022

Friday Ramble - Enough Already

This week's word dates from well before the year 900, having its origin in the Middle English enogh, and Old English genōh. Both forms are cognate with the German genug, Gothic ganohs and  Old Norse nōgr, all meaning reached or sufficient. The Old English form geneah (it suffices) and Sanskrit naśati (reaches or reaching) are kindred words. At the end of this week's wordy explorations are the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) forms *h₂eh₂nóḱe (has reached, attained) and h₂neḱ (to reach).

Roget gives us other words for the same thing, or nearly the same thing: abundant, adequate, ample, full, sufficient, suitable, acceptable, bountiful, comfortable, competent, complete, copious, decent, enough already, plentiful and satisfying.  Frugal and frugality are modern kin, and one of these days, they will turn up in a wordy ramble.

In The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the WorldLewis Hyde makes good arguments for embracing the commonwealth aspects of our existence and sharing them freely, drawing upon the values espoused by old gift giving cultures and their relation to art and community. His focus is on imagination, creativity and intellectual property, but there are insights relevant to the pandemic times that have turned our existence into islands and cloisters and hollows. I am currently rereading Hyde's The Gift and Trickster Makes This World and enjoying them as much as I did the first few times around.

Immerse yourself in Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, also the writings of Barry Lopez and Terry Tempest Williams. Leaf through Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. If you can find a copy in your local library or online, read Hestia Come Home, by Jerrilee Cain. One of these mornings, there will be a reading list of such works here - perhaps even several, Such is the lot of one who spends much of her time with her nose firmly planted in volumes and tomes and folios, when she is not knee deep in the veggie patch, that is. Perhaps I can drag a chair out to the garden and read aloud to the Romas and leeks and kale, the roses and herbs?

In cultivating the power of enough, we use what we have been given with grace and respect. We partake of a wild and earthy fruitfulness, a careful abundance, a bone-deep ethic of universal stewardship. We walk through this world rooted and knowing our places in it as the good stewards, artists and creators we were meant to be. The writers mentioned here today say it much better than I ever could.

We need to be kinder to each other. We need to tread lightly on the earth. We need to whittle down our demands on a world strained almost beyond its regenerative powers by excess, greed and contempt. Something's gotta give.

Why are there so few words in the English language for "read" and "reading"? It's a sin and a tragedy and a crying shame that bookish pursuits are so shabbily treated. 

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Thursday Poem - Invisible Work (for Mother's Day)

Because no one could ever praise me enough,
because I don’t mean these poems only
but the unseen
unbelievable effort it takes to live
the life that goes on between them,
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago,
who said, “It’s hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces for dinner,
and there’s no one
to say what a good job you’re doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache."
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
when all the while,
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried
by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work that stitches up the world day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden
tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe
and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows,

our loneliest labors under the moon.

There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world’s heart.
There is no other art.

Alison Luterman, from The Largest Possible Life

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Violets Are For Love

My departed soulmate's favorite spring flowers were the violets in our garden, and they were his mother Nan's favorite too. Every year, he waited for them to bloom and feasted his eyes on them when they did. He would bend and inhale their delicate fragrance, then smile at me and say that violets are for love.

When I discovered our violets were flowering yesterday, I plunked myself down on the steps nearby and had a good cry. I don't weep gracefully, and I probably looked like Hades as I sat there, blubbering and sniffling and wailing and sore of heart. Beau curled against me as closely as he could, trying to comfort me as he always does at such times.

And so it goes... the violets are just being violets and doing what violets are meant to do on this earth, but they feel like a message from my soulmate, and I miss the man so. This morning it is raining, and their days are numbered, but oh, how they bloom in their appointed time, spring in and spring out. Violets are for love, and love goes on.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Friday, April 29, 2022

Friday Ramble Before Beltane (May Day)

Saturday is the eve of Beltane (or May Day) in the northern hemisphere, the eve of Samhain in lands below the equator. As we in northern lands drift from winter into springtime, our kindred in the south are moving from summer into autumn. 

It has been a long winter here in the eastern Ontario highlands, and it will be another week until colonies of bloodroot are up and blooming in our forest, but early specimens lift their gold and white heads in protected nooks here and there in the woods.  In other years, wild yellow orchids were in bloom right about now, but it will be a while before they put in an appearance, soon to be followed by trout lilies, columbines and hepatica.

Bloodroot flowers are simply breathtaking, and the shy white blooms with their golden centers are dear to my heart, something of a seasonal marker. Encountering this one glowing softly in its flickering, stone-warmed alcove, I felt like kneeling and kissing the good dark earth where the flower made its home—it was that perfect. Ignoring my protesting knees, down I went in the dead leaves and stayed there for quite a while, nose to nose with the little wonder and happy as one elderly clam can be. Getting up again was quite an undertaking.

The interval was one of the wild epiphanies I love so much, especially in springtime when the north woods are just coming to life.  Call it a moment of kensho, one of those fleeting intervals of quiet knowing and connection that I like to call "aha" moments. Forget the fancy stuff - this is the ground of my being. As long as I can spend time with trees and rocks and wildflowers, I can handle the big health "stuff", most of the time anyway. Add lakes, loons, cormorants, herons and sunsets to the equation, please. Also geese, trumpeter swans and cranes.

May there be light and blooming in your own precious life this Beltane, may there be warmth in your corner of the great wide world. May all good things come to you at this turning in the Great Round of space and time.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Thursday Poem - In Passing

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom:

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious

Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Coming to Light

Perhaps a better title for this morning's offering would be "in the pink". All over the village, trees are putting out frizzy offerings and doing their best to green up after a long winter, albeit a spring that is ambivalent about showing up and hanging around for a while.

Gardening in the village traditionally begins on the long weekend in May, but nights are still cool, and spring planting may be a little late this year. Caution in such matters is in order - there have been years when killing frosts and snow storms at the end of May turned our hopeful undertakings into exercises in futility. Tucking the baby kales, tomatoes, leeks and herbs into their earthy homes may have to wait a while, better to play things safe than have to bury one's cherished veggie children before their time.

There are blooming squill in the garden at the moment, and day lilies are coming up, but tulips and daffodils are just getting started and won't be out for several days. In the meantime, there are all these lovely frowsy trees in the hedgerow to snap photos of, and their colors are absolutely fabulous in morning light. We grab our gloves and mufflers, turn up our collars against the wind, and off we go.

For some reason or other, Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" came to mind this morning as we were setting out. Goddess only knows why.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Small Wonders

Siberian squill or wood squill (Scilla siberica)

Friday, April 22, 2022

For Earth Day

Let the Old Wild Mother (Earth) speak for herself this morning, softly, greenly and lit from within. As Zen master Shunryu Suzuki wrote: “The world is its own magic.”

The tiny rowan (mountain ash) emerging from a cedar stump way back in the Lanark woods is a perfect expression of the luminous beauty and indwelling grace of the living world in which we spend our allotted days. 

Earth Day ought to be every day of the year, not just today. We should give thanks for the abundance all around us, and we should be loving stewards of our planet.

Thank you, Mama, from the bottom of this tattered old heart.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Thursday Poem - You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

William Stafford (from The Way It Is)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

And so it goes...

And so it goes... the established routines of staying home and doing things like baking, laundry, gardening and yard work, taking long rambles with Beau in early morning before our favorite haunts are tenanted by unleashed dogs and their thoughtless owners, by sleepy walkers, bemused gawkers and weekend warriors.

Nights are still cold here, but early mornings are perfect for wandering, and we seldom encounter anyone else on our rambles. In the overstory, grosbeaks start their day with a song, and woodpeckers tap-tap-tap on nearby trees. Geese fly overhead between the river and farm fields, now and then, a solitary heron, a bittern or a great northern diver (loon) in graceful flight. This morning, a cormorant flew over our heads on its way north.

Seen through the trees, the flickering sunlight is grand “stuff”, and it has a warm, buttery, quality. Greenery is coming up everywhere through last autumn's fallen leaves, and there are delicate ferns and budding trout lilies near the creek, trillium leaves (white and red), sprigs of hepatica, striped claytonia and tiny wild hyacinths. When we pass her grove, I greet the Beech Mother and give her a pat. I'd give her a hug, but she is a grand old tree and my arms are not long enough to go all the way around her.

Beau and I go slowly along together, and the light is a shawl on our shoulders, one woven by the Old Wild Mother in shades of green and gold. There is so much to see in the woods and fields right now―it is a wonder we ever get anywhere at all.