Friday, August 19, 2022

Friday Ramble - Consider

This week's word is one of my favorite words in the whole English lexicon, in part because of the notions of careful thought, deliberation and balance enfolded in it, but mostly because of its splendid celestial origins.

Think Vincent Van Gogh and his gorgeous "Starry Starry Night". Our word hails from around 1350 CE, tracing its origins through the Middle English consideren and the Latin considerare, both meaning "in the company of the stars", thence the Latin sidus/sideris meaning a star or cluster of stars. At the beginning of it all is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root form *sweid meaning to shine. Other English words like constellation and sidereal are kin, the first describing a group of stars, and the latter meaning simply "starry" and by extension, celestial or heavenly.

Small wonder that we are given to considering, at least in the original sense of the word. Forged from the dust of ancient stars, we are probably never more true to ourselves or more in tune with our fundamental natures and inner light than when we are engaging in the liminal act of considering something thoughtfully. In doing so, we move away from the mundane and profane and intuitively toward a bone deep and authentic connection with the cosmic dimension from which we emerged, and of which we are such miniscule components. Dancing motes in the eye of the infinite are we.

It's one thing to consider one's origins on a cold clear night when she can almost reach up and touch the moon and stars. It's another thing entirely to do so in late summer or early autumn when the sky is filled with clouds from here to there, and she can hardly see hand or lens, let alone sunlight, moonlight, stars or meteor showers. Who doesn't love a good haze or fog though, and days and nights on the cusp of the seasons dish up some splendid, atmospheric murks. It is important to remember that even when we can't see them, our starry kin are right up there over our heads and shining down on us. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote:

"We find lingering evidence of archetype in the images and symbols found in stories, literature, poetry, painting, and religion. It would appear that its glow, its voice, and its fragrance are meant to cause us to be raised up from contemplating the shit on our tails to occasionally traveling in the company of the stars."

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Thursday Poem - Scenic Route

(For Lucy, who called them "ghost houses.")

Someone was always leaving
and never coming back.
The wooden houses wait like old wives
along this road; they are everywhere,
abandoned, leaning, turning gray.

Someone always traded
the lonely beauty
of hemlock and stony lakeshore
for survival, packed up his life
and drove off to the city.
In the yards the apple trees
keep hanging on, but the fruit
grows smaller year by year.

When we come this way again
the trees will have gone wild,
the houses collapsed, not even worth
the human act of breaking in.
Fields will have taken over.

What we will recognize
is the wind, the same fierce wind,
which has no history.

Lisel Mueller
(From Alive Together)

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Little Singers in the Trees

An annual cicada's song is the music of August, a sonorous vocal offering from jeweled beings who emerge from the ground, shed their nymph skins, climb high into the light-filled trees and sing for a 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.

Only male cicadas sing but oh how they do sing, vibrating the complex abdominal membranes called tymbals over and over again to generate a raspy tune that will attract a mate. I have a lot to learn about identifying cicadas, but I think this one may be the bigger Linne's cicada rather than a Dog-day cicada. Whichever one it was, my little visitor was absolutely gorgeous.

I often find abandoned cicada shells on poplar trees in the Two Hundred Acre Wood but always feel fortunate when I encounter a newborn in all its pastel green splendor, sometimes still clinging to its discarded self. Imagos (adults) darken as their new exoskeletons harden and wings expand, but there is a fair bit of variation in coloration. Some will retain greenish wings all the days of their lives.

For the last week or two, Beau and I have been rescuing cicadas from sidewalks and roads and moving them to safe perches in or near mature trees where they will not be trampled by pedestrians, bicycles or moving cars. On early walks, we keep an eye out for them and always encounter at least two or three before we arrive home again.

Evenings, I take my mug of tea out to the garden and listen to cicada serenades before the sun goes down, and I shall be sad when I go outside one night, and there are no cicada songs to be heard.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Sunday, August 14, 2022

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 13, 2022

Friday, August 12, 2022

Friday Ramble - 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 - a yearning to be enfolded in something grand and gilded and luminous, and way up there among the stars.

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 dancing leaves into flocks of nocturnal butterflies - it touches grasses with silver, turns 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. This was the last supermoon of 2022, and what a glorious moon it was.

In other years I would be standing outside in the wee hours of the morning to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower. Debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, the Perseids are the most spectacular meteor shower of the year, named for the event's apparent radiant (the point from which the meteors seem to originate) in the constellation Perseus. The shower is peaking, but it is difficult to see this year because of the moon which will dominate the sky for several nights to come. I may go out for a spot of meteor gazing tonight anyway - I have been doing it for many years. 

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.

There are many names for August's full moon, but my own favorites are: Ripening Moon, Blackberry Moon, Corn Moon and Women's Moon.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

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

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

All the World in My Cup

A pure wind envelops my body.
The whole world seen in a single cup.
Kokan Shiren

Some mornings, my cup seems to hold all of existence in its depths. I fall in love with my tea and its earthenware vessel, with the battered oak table on which they rest, with the whole wide world and the deep blue space in which it floats, with my kitchen window and this shambolic, tattered old life, all over again.

Then I sit down in front of the computer to write about the experience, and I simply can't get the words together to describe how I feel. I manage one or two clumsy paragraphs, and that is all I can do - I craft a rapt little bowl of meager and woefully inadequate words to describe something vast and beautiful, something sentient and breathing and boundless and inexpressible. Emaho!

Monday, August 08, 2022

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Saying Yes to the World

The bigness of the world is redemption.

Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.

Being able to travel in both ways matters, and sometimes the way back into the heart of the question begins by going outward and beyond. This is the expansiveness that comes literally in a landscape or that tugs you out of yourself in a story.....

 Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Friday, August 05, 2022

Friday Ramble - the Red and the Purple

It's a ordinary summer morning here, and another scorching day is crackling in the wings. I'm up early and standing on the deck with a mug of dark roast. Beau and I feast our eyes on the sun coming up through the heat haze, the red and purple tomatoes ripening on the vine in our veggie patch. We watch murmurations of starlings cavorting in the garden, the rhythmic swaying in the cedar hedge that betrays the coy presences of the village squirrels. Typical early August vignettes and happenings.

If this day has a shape, that shape is still to reveal itself, and in the interim, the luminous heat has me feeling nebulous and woolly of intellect (if I can be said to possess any intellect at all), a tad acerbic and even downright crotchety. Questions, questions, questions..... How does one tune out the slippery peevish voice that asks the same old questions day after day, silence the inner hag who presents them, over and over again? She grumbles and thinks longingly of cool fall mornings.

Far from my buzzing beaver pond and its native water lilies, I pick up my tattered copy of John Daido Loori's beautiful "Zen of Creativity" and Joanna Macy's eloquent "World as Lover, World as Self" and read for a while. I resolve not to ignore the questions buzzing around in my sconce or shun the old harpy asking them, but to acknowledge them both and just sit here in silence, breathing in and out for a while. I remember a few words from Joanna Macy, and they are a powerful reminder of what these days, and fact all days are about or should be about.

"We have received an inestimable gift. To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe—to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it—is a wonder beyond words. And it is, moreover, an extraordinary privilege to be accorded a human life, with this self-reflexive consciousness which brings awareness of our own actions and the ability to make choices. It lets us choose to take part in the healing of our world."

Reading the words is one thing - remembering them and putting them into practice is something else again. This old hen needs reminding, and she needs it often.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

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

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Will you step into my parlor?

Female goldenrod spider (Misumena vatia)
Lovely things, these early pages in August, the lambent mornings with their high, clear light and gossamer clouds from here to there.

There are a few cicadas singing in the garden, but not quite as many there were a week or two ago. I collect the mortal husks of those who have expired and inter them in a corner of the garden. It is something I do every year, saying thanks as I tuck them lovingly into the good dark earth with an old teaspoon.

August brings heavy dews, and a little after dawn, our roses are dappled with moisture and glistening. Several blooms are being used by spiders like this female goldenrod spider to hide and pounce on unsuspecting beetles and flies. The little dears can have all the Japanese beetles they want.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Happy Lammas/Lugnasadh

Happy Lammas, happy August, everyone!

Sunday, July 31, 2022

For Lammas (or Lugnasadh)

Here we are on the last day of July, and this is the eve of Lammas, sometimes called Lughnsadh, LĂșnasa, Calan Awst, "First Harvest" or "Loaf Mass". The festival celebrates summer, farming and harvesting, particularly the gathering, milling and putting by of grains and cereals.

Humans have gathered and consumed grains and cereals since Neolithic times, and the beginning of domestic grain cultivation is an important moment in our evolution. It marks the transition from an ancient, nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of farming and settlement. Sickles, sheaves, stooks, mill wheels and grinding stones are common motifs in almost every culture on island earth.

Gods and goddesses? Oh yes, our festival has a veritable throng of harvest gods: Lugh, Tammuz, Osiris, Adonis and Attis to name a few. Then there is Dionysus or Bacchus -  the grapey god is in a class all by himself, deity of vineyards and harvesting, wine making, drunken revelry and ritual madness.  He stands at the gate between summer and autumn, and his magical tavern with its ever turning mill wheel and rapture inducing brews is the stuff of legend. According to folk tales, its doorway can be entered from any street in the great wide world if one is in the right frame of mind.

According to Irish mythology, the festival was created by Lugh in honor of the goddess Tailtu (his foster mother), who perished from exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for cultivation. August 1 is also associated with other harvest goddesses like Demeter, Persephone, Ceres, Bridget, the Cailleach, Selu, Nokomis (the Corn Mother) and Freya, who is sometimes known as the Lady of the Loaf.

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, August 1st is called "the feast of first fruits". Loaves of bread were baked with grain from the first harvest and placed on church altars, to be blessed and later to be used in simple charms and rustic enchantments.  Tenant farmers presented grain to their landlords, and a tithe (one tenth of a farm's yield) was given to the local church. Farmers delivered their portion to parish tithe barns, and a number of the elegant brick and stone structures survive today.

Tim Powers' fabulous The Drawing of the Dark always comes to mind around this time of year. The book is full of harvest and brewing metaphors, and it's a rollicking good read. The main characters are King Arthur (reborn as an aging Irish mercenary named Brian Duffy), a sorcerer called Aurelius Aurelianus (the legendary Merlin himself), and the Fisher King. Dionysus and his magical tavern put in an appearance, and they're in good  company - the woodland god Pan, Gambrinus (medieval King of Beer), Finn MacCool, Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, Odin, Thor and Hercules also show up. There's a whole shipload of Vikings sworn to defend the ancient brewery at the heart of the story and stave off Ragnarok and other mythical creatures too numerous to mention. For some time, the book was only available in paperback, but a hardcover edition was published a few years ago, and one of these days, I shall treat myself to a copy.

The first day of August marked the beginning of the harvest season for the ancients, but it also marked summer's end, and so it is for moderns. There are still many warm and sunny weeks before us, and it is difficult to believe that summer is waning, but it is doing just that. Our days are growing shorter.  

We've come a long way from our early "hunting and gathering" days, but traces of old seasonal rites remain here and there. When I arrived in Lanark county years ago, I learned that Lammas festivities are alive and well in the eastern Ontario highlands. They are called céilidhs or "field parties", and the attendees are unaware of the origins for the most part, but all the festival trappings are there: bonfires, corn, grilled munchies and fresh baked bread, wine and beer, music, storytelling, dancing and merrymaking in abundance. Once in a while, there is even a formal harvest observance.

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, invisibly, inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Friday, July 29, 2022

Friday Ramble - In the Great Blue Bowl of Morning

I awaken to skies that would make an impressionist painter feel like dancing, to Canada geese singing in unison as they fly up from the river and out into farm fields to feed. This year's progeny sing loudest up there in the great blue bowl of morning. Their pleasure in being alive and aloft mirrors my own as I watch them with a mug of tea, eyes shielded from the rising sun with a sleepy hand.

Below the sweeping strokes of vibrant color painted across the eastern sky are trees, hydro poles, rooflines and village streets, trucks and cars in rumbling motion, early runners in the park, commuters with lunch bags, bento boxes and briefcases headed downtown to another day at their desks.

On our morning walk, Beau and I paused by a neighbor's fish pond to watch the white and scarlet koi finning their way around in circles, and while there, we noticed that the first fallen maple leaves of the season had already drifted into the pool, making eddies and swirls and perfect round spirals on the glossy surface. No need to panic, it's not an early autumn, just summer heat setting a few leaf people free to ramble.

If only I could actually paint skies as magnificent as these... I can't, and the camera will have to do, but what my lens "sees" is absolutely sumptuous, and I am content with my morning opus. Sky blue, rose, gold, violet and scarlet lodge in my wandering thoughts, and on the way home, I think about throwing a bunch of clay bowls and glazing them in perfect sunrise colors. Emaho!

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Thursday Poem - For This One Day

Let fall from our hands
the busy pages and works.
Walk in the sunlight
and read the holy book of earth
leaf by cloud, wave by wing.
Listen by moonlight
to wind and cricket, owl and wolf.
In the smooth skin of stones,
in the flowing heart of trees,
in the gathering ocean,
we will know each other again
for the first time.

Dolores Stewart Riccio

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

The earth offers gift after gift—life and the living of it, light and the return of it, the growing things, the roaring things, fire and nightmares, falling water and the wisdom of friends, forgiveness. My god, the forgiveness, time, and the scouring tides. How does one accept gifts as great as these and hold them in the mind?

Failing to notice a gift dishonors it, and deflects the love of the giver. That's what's wrong with living a careless life, storing up sorrow, waking up regretful, walking unaware. But to turn the gift in your hand, to say, this is wonderful and beautiful, this is a great gift—this honors the gift and the giver of it. Maybe this is what [my friend] Hank has been trying to make me understand: Notice the gift. Be astonished at it. Be glad for it, care about it. Keep it in mind. This is the greatest gift a person can give in return.

Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Cooler By the Pond

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Friday, July 22, 2022

Friday Ramble - July's Ticking Clock

Somewhere in the dusty recesses of my noggin, the passing of these sultry summer days is being marked, and ever so wistfully. The clock of the seasons is ticking away in the background, and I find myself pondering the shape of the golden interval that is ebbing all too swiftly. The other three seasons of a northern calendar year are splendid of course, and there are surely other fine summers ahead, but this summer is waning, and its days are numbered. The summer solstice has come and gone, and we are sliding gently down the hill toward autumn, shorter days and longer nights.

Thoughts of coming and going are ever inscribed on summer's middling pages, and they're unsettling notions, making for restlessness and vague discontent, a gentle melancholy concerning the nature of time, what is falling away and the transience of all earthly things. A heightened awareness of suchness (or tathata) is a middle-of-the-summer thing for sure. For the most part, one goes gently along with the flow, breathing in and out, trying to rest in the moment and do the gardeny things that need doing.

Old garden roses are a perfect metaphor for the season. Most bloom once in a calendar year, but what a show they put on when they do. Their unruly tangles of wickedly thorny canes and blue-green leaves wear delicate pink (mostly) blooms with crinkled petals and golden hearts. Each rose is unique, and each is exquisite until the moment when its faded petals flutter to earth like snowflakes. For several weeks after Midsummer, their fragrance lingers in every corner of the garden, and when I come into the house after pruning and deadheading, their perfume clings to my gardening gear. My departed soulmate loved old roses, and every year I still fall in love with them too. It is nothing short of a miracle that creatures so beautiful and fragile thrive this far north.

Once in a while, I catch a glimpse of the Great Mystery while I am hanging out in the back yard, and that is surely what this old life is all about. I wish I did a better job of remembering that and keeping everything in perspective, but forgetting now and then is quite all right - the garden reminds me, especially the roses.