Friday, January 28, 2022

Friday Ramble Before Imbolc

Here we are, only a few days away from the end of January and the beginning of a new month. Next Tuesday, February 1st, is the eve of the Celtic festival of Imbolc (or Candlemas). Strange to relate, this day of gladness in the depths of winter celebrates light and warmth, the gentle stirring of green things within the earth, the burgeoning of new life and the beginning of springtime.

The first day of February is also called the Féile Bride (Festival of St. Brigid) or "Bride's Day", and it is consecrated to Brigid, honored during the common era as an Irish saint, but revered as a goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann long centuries before she was canonized. Brigid is a deity of fire and creativity, wisdom, eloquence and craftsmanship. She is patroness of the forge and the smithy, poetry, fertility and the healing arts, especially midwifery. Light is her special province, and hers are the candle, the hearth and the blacksmith's shop. It's always about the light.

We are made of light ourselves, and that makes us Brigid's children - sentient creatures forged from the dust of stars which lighted the heavens, then went supernova and ceased to exist billions of years ago. Within the radiant motes of our beings and consciousness are encoded the wisdoms of ancient earth, the star knowledge of countless unknown constellations and "The Big Bang" which created not just our own precious world, but the whole cosmic sea in which it floats. I love the notion that we were hatched in a supernova, the dazzling, luminous, powerful (and astonishingly beautiful) explosive event that takes place at the end of a star's existence. A long ago exploding star was our mother. How cool is that? 

We are recycled matter, our dancing particles having assembled spontaneously into diverse life forms over and over again, lived and expired as those life forms, then dissolved back into the stream of existence. We have been many things, have worn many shapes and answered to many names. This time around, I am a tatterdemalion collection of molecules called Catherine or Cate, but in other incarnations, I was someone or something completely different. 

Happy Imbolc to you and your clan. May the manifold blessings of Light be yours at this turning in the Great Round.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Thursday Poem - The Road

Here is the road: the light
comes and goes then returns again.
Be gentle with your fellow travelers
as they move through the world of stone and stars
whirling with you yet every one alone.
The road waits.
Do not ask questions but when it invites you
to dance at daybreak, say yes.
Each step is the journey; a single note the song.

Arlene Gay Levine
(From Bless the Day: Prayers and Poems to Nurture Your Soul)

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

What the River Sang

A few rays of winter sunlight find the stream bed in the woods with its drifts of meringue snow, its gloss of ice and exposed current of stones.

In May, there were small rippling waterfalls and gurgling musics all the way along the little hillside river, and I passed many happy (and soggy) hours engaged in the activity known in my clan as "tuning the waterfalls". Fetchingly shod in wellies and carrying a rusty hoe, I traveled the waterway every week or two, removing dead leaves, twigs and other debris so the water could sing on its journey down the hill and through the woods to the beaver pond on the other side of the Two Hundred Acre Wood. Birds sang in the overstory as I worked, the cascade sparkled, and sunlight flickered through the old trees.  The river told me wonderful stories as I splashed about.

Tuning waterfalls is a Zen kind of activity, and an exercise in mindfulness for sure. One has to be truly in the moment and engaged in the exercise at hand, the simple uncluttered (or uncluttering) matter of helping the river sing. She has to stop hoeing occasionally to receive instructions from the water, and she has to listen carefully to what it is saying. One never removes all the fallen leaves, pebbles and sticks; a few must remain as grace notes in the wild hillside symphony.  As Wendell Berry wrote:

There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say "It is yet more difficult than you thought." This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
In the depths of this icy winter, the river on my hill in the Lanark highlands is silent, but I can still hear it singing over the stones as it did in May. For this ever baffled and oft impeded elderly female, that is a fine old thing.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

In the past, I have been a cloud, river and the air. And I was a rock. I was the minerals in the water. This is not a question of belief in reincarnation. This is the history of life on earth.

Thich Nhat Hanh, 
11 October 1926 – 22 January 2022

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Friday, January 21, 2022

Friday Ramble, Canvas, Orchestra and Chorus

The thermometer is hovering around -30 (Celsius) this morning, and a rowdy north wind cavorts across the roof, rollicking and blustering through the sleeping trees and shrubberies in the garden, making frozen oak branches ring like bells. Icicles embellishing the eaves behind the house are abstract glossy confections, streaked with gold and silver and filled with tiny bubbles. Exuberant gusts dislodge pine needles, brittle twigs and shards of ice that skate blithely across roof shingles, then plummet clattering over the eaves into the deep snowdrifts wrapping the house.

Advised to remain indoors, I slip outside for a few minutes anyway and snap photos of nearby trees and icicles, chimneys and sky. Wrapped up and looking for all the world like a yeti (or an abominable something anyway), I stand in the garden and capture a few images, try to figure out how in the world I can describe everything, the perfect light, the burnished hues of the icicles, the emeralds of the evergreens, the blues and violets of the snow, the buttery siding on my neighbor's kitchen wall, the scarlet of a male cardinal as it flies into the cedar hedge.

The icicles communicate the colors and shapes of the day without any help from me at all. They rattle, chatter and chime, sing Gilbert and Sullivany duets with the wind occasionally (mostly bits from Iolanthe), pretend they are tubular bells at other times or recite epic stanzas from the Poetic Eddas. The Norse elements of their performance are apt - at times it has been cold enough here for Ragnarök, and we sometimes wonder if this isn't the Fimbulwinter, the walloping winter to end them all.

With all the elemental performances on offering this morning, no words, or at least not many words, are needed from this old hen. I can just stand here in a snowdrift with the camera, get out of its way (and my own way) and let it see the world without trying to impose my perspective on its thoughtful and loving journey.

Out of the blue, a thought comes as I turn to go back inside. It is the images that are capturing me this morning, and not me capturing them. It's a Zen thing.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Thursday Poem - Snowy Night

Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into 
the world, in which
 a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried
over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.

Mary Oliver 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Monday, January 17, 2022

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

No matter what the universe has in store, it cannot take away from the fact that you were born. You’ll have some joy and some pain, and all the other experiences that make up what it’s like to be a tiny part of a grand cosmos. No matter what happens next, you were here. And even when any record of our individual lives is lost to the ages, that won’t detract from the fact that we were. We lived. We were part of the enormity. All the great and terrible parts of being alive, the shocking sublime beauty and heartbreak, the monotony, the interior thoughts, the shared pain and pleasure. It really happened. All of it. On this little world that orbits a yellow star out in the great vastness. And that alone is cause for celebration.

Sasha Sagan, For Small Creatures Such as We

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Friday, January 14, 2022

Friday Ramble, Abundance

It may seem odd to be writing about abundance in the depths of winter, but here we are in 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 some 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 growing season and store it for consumption when the snow flies.

Winter's eye is as ardent as autumn's, but it views the world with a different camera, taking in evergreens against the clouds, the light falling across old rail fences, deep blue shadows across 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 white, 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 sprinkled with questions. Around this time of the year, I find myself considering the shape of my journey, the slow progress through the field and forest and fen with camera and notebook, the sheaves of images captured and carefully archived, even the eyes with which this old hen is seeing the world. There are wonders to be encountered in winter, even when I can't move about much and must remain indoors. There are whole forests of memories to revisit.

Questions are part of the journey, and they are a kind of harvesting too. While I will never capture more than a scrap of the snowy grandeur around me, that is quite all right. These days on the earth are numbered, and so be it. In the warm darkness of my questions and uncertainty, I gather everything in and rejoice.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Thursday Poem - Instructions in Magick

You don’t need candles,
only the small slim flame in yourself,
the unrevealed passion
that drives you to rise on winter mornings
remembering summer nights.

You don’t need incense,
only the lingering fragrance
of the life that has gone before,
stew cooking on an open fire,
the good stars, the clean breeze,
the warmth of animals breathing in the dark.

You don’t need a cauldron,
only your woman’s body,
where so many of men’s fine ideas
are translated into life.

You don’t need a wand, hazelwood or oak,
only to follow the subtle and impish
leafy green fellow
who beckons you into the forest,
the one who goes dancing
and playing his flute
through imperial trees.

And you don’t need the salt of earth.
You will taste that soon enough.

These things are the trappings,
the tortoise shell, the wolf skin, the blazoned shield.
It’s what’s inside, the star of becoming.
With that ablaze, you have everything you need
to conjure up new worlds.

Dolores Stewart, from The Nature of Things
(reprinted with the late poet's kind permission)

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

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 your pocket or hanging around your neck, you haunt the woods, peering into trees and searching for a leaf somewhere, even a single bare leaf. You scan 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.

On so cold a morning, it seems almost unthinkable, but life affirming change is already on its way. The great horned owls who reside on the Two Hundred Acre Wood are refurbishing their nest in an old oak tree about a mile back in the forest, and they are getting ready to raise another comely brood. The couple have been returning to the same nursery for years. In the spring there will be another family of baby hornies in the woods, and it makes me happy to think it is happening again.

This morning, a single tattered oak leaf was teased into flight by the north wind and came to rest in a corner of the garden. A trifling thing perhaps, but the pairing of golden leaf and blue snow was fetching stuff indeed, and my 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, and I belong to it. Out of my small, mundane and ice rimed doings, an ardent, thankful life is made.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Sunday, January 09, 2022

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 08, 2022

Friday, January 07, 2022

Friday Ramble, First of the Year

The Winter Solstice came and went, and light is slowly returning to the world. Northern days 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 January, it is tempting to remain indoors and curl up in the warm with a mug of tea and a book, but Beau and I need to be out in the woods now and again, however short our stay on cold days. Rambles nourish and sustain us, and there is always something to see when we are out and about. I carry a walking stick for treacherous areas on the trail, a camera (sometimes just my cell phone), a notebook and pen, a flask of tea and Beau's biscuits.  There is always a pocket full of seed for the birds and a few apples for other woodland creatures. All in all, it's a fair bit of weight to carry, but we are used to doing it, and we don't think of the stuff we are carrying as a burden.

"Crunch, crunch, crunch" went our mukluks a few days ago as we made our way along the trail. It was surely our imagination this early in the year, but the snow seemed brighter than it had been a few days ago. Sunlight sparked through the trees, and everything glittered. The light was sublime. We felt 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 alcoves and hollows; shadows shifted and rippled and flowed like water as squalls gusted through the bare, whiskery trees. The shadows seemed deeper and more intense, more blue.  Here and there, a sprig of frozen evergreen 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. I always wonder why there are not more words in the English language for such blustery air currents.

Resolutions this year??? In this year of plague, uncertainty and sequestering, my heart is not in making resolutions, and there won't be any lofty aspirations scrawled on paper or etched in stone this time around.  There will be just the same old work in progress, Beau and I lurching onward together, breathing in and out, in and out, in and out. That will have to be enough, and we are OK with that.

In the words of Osaka Koryu, when we breathe in, we will breathe in the whole universe. When we breathe out, we will breathe out the whole universe. We will  go along together, paw in paw, and we will simply keep putting one foot in front of the other. As always on our walks, we will talk with the great trees and look for the light.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

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 05, 2022

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Longing for Light

I lurch awake before sunrise and make tea, then lean against the counter and wait for rays from the rising sun to make their way through the south facing kitchen window, slanting in from the east. Sometimes there is sun to be seen, but often there is not at this time of year, just dark scudding clouds and murk.

Northern days are lengthening as a new calendar year begins, but they do so very slowly, only a few minutes a day. We are on February's middling pages before change can be seen and felt in morning's touch through the windows at dawn.

There is a fine elusive old truth resting out there in the interstices between earth and sky at sunrise, in the flickering dance of light and shadow. On rambles in the woods, I trace shadows in the snow with my fingers and measure the difference in their inclination from day to day. The shadows whisper that springtime is already on its way, but they also say that it will be quite a while until the season actually shows up and stays.

January skies can be breathtaking before dawn, their vivid central blue transitioning gloriously to rose and gold and purple near the horizon, but temperatures down here on the sleeping earth are bitterly cold and windy, and they chill a body to the bone. So mote it be. Until spring appears, I will look for dancing motes of light in the great wide world, and within myself. I will gaze at the great trees and remember that deep within their dreaming roots, my sisters cradle the light. It's always about the light.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

You really don't have to lose everything and travel to a remote valley to discover that the world is always rushing forward to teach us, and that the greatest thing we can do is stand there, open and available, and be taught by it. There is no limit to what this cracked and broken and achingly beautiful world can offer, and there is equally no limit to our ability to meet it.

Each day, the sun rises and we get out of bed. Another day has begun and bravely, almost recklessly, we stagger into it not knowing what it will bring to us. How will we meet this unpredictable, untamable human life? How will we answer its many questions and challenges and delights? What will we do when we find ourselves, stumble over ourselves, encounter ourselves, once again, in the kitchen?

Dana Velden, Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Kitchen Meditations
and Inspired Recipes from a Mindful Cook

Saturday, January 01, 2022

On the First Morning of the Year

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.
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 31, 2021

Haud Hogmanay, Happy New Year

Wishing you abundance, cheer and rude good health in the shiny new year about to begin, wishing you many a festive beaker (or a noggin or a dram) too. Be warm and safe this evening, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing. Mind yourself!

Let us remember the bright spirits who left us in the last year or three and went on ahead to recce the sunny woodland trails on the other side. Let us give thanks for them being in our lives and send them our love when we raise our glasses. Let us give thanks for each other too. Community matters, matters more than ever in this plague year.

Be wise, be wild, be merry and light of heart. Walk in peace, and may there be many fine adventures on the road ahead of you. May every cup you hold next year contain a star or two and have a little light dancing in its depths. May all good things come to you and your clan (or tribe) in 2022. Blessed be.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

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)