Saturday, January 28, 2023

Friday, January 27, 2023

Friday Ramble - The Sisterhood of Eye and Leaf

Little things leave you feeling restless in late 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 hand or 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.

It may not seem like it, but change is already on its way. The great horned owls who reside on the Two Hundred Acre Wood are repairing their nest in an old beech tree about a mile back in the forest, and they are getting ready to raise another comely brood. It makes me happy to think it is all happening again.

This morning, a single oak leaf was teased into brief flight by the north wind and came to rest in a corner of the garden. The day's first gift was not bleached or tattered, so it must have been resting in the depths of the cedar hedge for some time. A simple thing perhaps, but the pairing of pumpkiny orange leaf and blue snow was fetching stuff indeed.

The dear little folio bore in its poignant wabi sabi simplicity a much needed reminder. This is the sisterhood of fur and feather, of snowbound earth and clouded sky, of wandering eye and dancing leaf. Out of small and ice rimed doings, a mindful life is made.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Thursday Poem - The Moment

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Margaret Atwood,
from Morning in the Burned House

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

What the River Sings

A few rays of winter sunlight fall across the stream bed in the woods with its drifts of meringue snow, glossy 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". Shod in wellies and carrying a rusty hoe, I wandered 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. I have to be in the moment and completely engaged in the exercise at hand, the simple uncluttered (or uncluttering) matter of helping the river sing. I have to stop hoeing occasionally to receive instructions from the water, and I have to listen carefully to what it is saying. I never remove all the fallen leaves, pebbles and sticks; a few must remain as grace notes in the wild hillside symphony. Wendell Berry said it best.

"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 winter, the river on my hill in the Lanark highlands is frozen and silent, but I can still hear it singing over the stones last May. For this ever baffled and oft impeded elderly female, that is a fine old thing.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you'd think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise. We are alive against the stupendous odds of genetics, infinitely outnumbered by all the alternates who might, except for luck, be in our places.

Even more astounding is our statistical improbability in physical terms. The normal, predictable state of matter throughout the universe is randomness, a relaxed sort of equilibrium, with atoms and their particles scattered around in an amorphous muddle. We, in brilliant contrast, are completely organized structures, squirming with information at every covalent bond. We make our living by catching electrons at the moment of their excitement by solar photons, swiping the energy released at the instant of each jump and storing it up in intricate loops for ourselves.

We violate probability, by our nature. To be able to do this systematically, and in such wild varieties of form, from viruses to whales, is extremely unlikely; to have sustained the effort successfully for the several billion years of our existence, without drifting back into randomness, was nearly a mathematical impossibility.

Add to this the biological improbability that makes each member of our own species unique. Everyone is one in 3 billion at the moment, which describes the odds. Each of us is a self-contained, free-standing individual, labeled by specific protein configurations at the surfaces of cells, identifiable by whorls of fingertip skin, maybe even by special medleys of fragrance. You'd think we'd never stop dancing.

Lewis Thomas,The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Friday, January 20, 2023

Friday Ramble - January's Performing Arts

The thermometer hovers a little below zero this morning, and snow fell overnight, crunching pleasingly underfoot. A rowdy north wind cavorts across the roof and rollicks through sleeping trees and shrubberies in the garden, making the frozen oak branches ring like bells. The exuberant gusting dislodges pine needles, brittle twigs and shards of ice that skate across roof shingles, then plummet clattering over the eaves into the deep snowdrifts wrapping the little blue house in the village. 

Advised to remain indoors for a few days longer, 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 embellishing the eaves behind the house are abstract glossy confections streaked with gold and silver and filled with tiny bubbles, communicating the colors and shapes of this day all by themselves and 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 particularly appropriate - at times it has been cold enough here for Ragnarök, and we sometimes wonder if this is the Fimbulwinter, the walloping winter to end them all.

With all the elemental performances being given this morning, no words, or at least not very 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 on its thoughtful and loving journey.

Out of the blue, a thought comes as I turn to go back inside before anyone notices that I am no longer in there, but rather out here. It is the images that are capturing me this morning, and not me capturing them. It's a Zen thing.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Thursday Poem - Here is 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 Wishing You Well: Prayers and Poems for Comfort, Healing and Recovery)

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Cold Evening and Roof Adorned

Winter days and evenings are what one makes of them. It is cold and icy here, and there are drifts of deep blue snow everywhere, not ideal for rambling by any means. Our activities will be restricted for a few days after surgery anyway, so that is not an issue. At least, there are a few more minutes of blessed sunlight every day.

What to do??? Since I am not allowed to shovel snow, throw firewood around, vacuum or do any heavy lifting, there are books to read, gardens to plot, recipes to research, afternoon naps to take and some fine woolgathering to do. Ditto various mulled offerings, dear little cups of espresso, mugs of tea, fruity glasses of this and that with sunlight in their depths. Does anyone else use the word woolgathering these days?  

Winter sunsets are breathtaking, and they are cause for celebration. Beau and I watch them unfold, and we are reasonably contented. One of us (me) hurts a fair bit, but we are, by and large, happy with our lot. 

It is not that the world will be smaller for the next while - it is just that the Old Wild Mother is hugging us both to her a little more more closely.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Sequestered - Week 143 (CXLIII)

The proper title for this morning's blog offering should probably be "Invoking Summer". That would be far more apt than just "Sequestered".

On a cold evening in January, an aromatic beaker of hibiscus tea with orange and apple slices (both a little over the hill), cinnamon sticks and anise plus a few other favorites from the spice cupboard like cloves and sweet cardamom.

There is summer in every cup, and it's the perfect potion for recovering  from surgery.  No mulled wine here alas, but it lightens my heart and makes me glad.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

To hope is to gamble. It's to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk. I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Friday, January 13, 2023

Friday Ramble - Wintry Abundance

It may seem odd to be writing about abundance in the depths of winter, but here we are 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 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, abounding, generous, plenteous, 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 season for consumption when the snow flies.

Winter's eye is as ardent as autumn's, but it views the world in a different way, taking in evergreens against the clouds, morning light falling across old wooden 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, the round 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 graced with lambent questions. Around this time of the year, I find myself questioning the shape of my journeying - the slow progress across eastern Ontario's highlands with camera and notebook in hand, the sheaves of images captured or described and carefully archived, even the eyes with which this old hen is seeing the world. There are wonders to be encountered, even when one can't move about as much as she would like. Because of some big life stuff, I won't be doing much rambling in the next month or two, but there are whole forests of memories to revisit.

Questions are a part of the journey, and they are a kind of harvesting too. There is not the slightest chance that I will ever capture even a scrap of the snowy wonder and grandeur around me, and these days on the earth are numbered, but in the warm darkness of my questions and my uncertainty, I gather everything in and rejoice.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Thursday Poem - At Sunrise on Winter Days

At sunrise on winter days, our trail unfolds
through freshly fallen white, and every unhurried
footfall crafts another waxing moon,

the sound of our muffled steps rising
through hedges and snow-drowned spruces,
three hearts beating together in perfect time.

Frozen goldenrod and milkweed fronds,
great trees weighted down by the season,
all incline their heads in greeting.

Ghost choirs of last summer's grosbeaks
sing above our heads, and phantom starlings
dance along roof lines as we pass by.

Winter rounds the sleeping village out,
smooths the contours of house and street,
spins flowing deserts out of snow.

In morning softness, we know ourselves
at last—perfect, still and so complete
nothing abandoned or left behind.

Cate (me)

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Winter Mornings Are Made of This

I lurch awake before sunrise and make coffee, then lean against the counter and wait for early sunlight to make its way through the kitchen window, for the sun's rays to shine through the fence on the eastern perimeter of the garden.

Sometimes there is sunlight on these chill January mornings, but much of the time there is not. Northern days begin to stretch out languorously at the beginning of a new calendar year, but we will be into February's middling pages before real change can be seen and felt in morning's trajectory through old wooden fences, frosted windows and snow crowned shrubbery.

Winter skies are breathtaking before dawn, their deep blue shading gloriously to pink and gold and purple near the horizon, but the weather is, for the most part, cold here all through the month of January and well into February. Thermometer readings of -38 degrees (Celsius) have not been unusual for this corner of the world in years past. Whatever the thermometer has to say about the matter this time around, there is a fine elusive old truth resting out there in the interstices between earth and sky at dawn, in the dance of light and shadow in the winter landscape.

On woodland rambles (still brief, alas), I trace sharp blue lines of shadow in the snow with my eyes, measure the changes in their inclination from day to day. The shadows whisper that springtime is on its way, but they also make it clear we have a very long way to go before the greening season puts in an appearance. Until it does turn up, I will look for dancing motes of light in the world and within myself, and I will remember that deep within their dreaming roots, all trees hold the light.

Monday, January 09, 2023

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective. Exactly how they do this, we don’t yet know. But what we see is the power of unity. What happens to one happens to us all. We can starve together or feast together.

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

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Friday, January 06, 2023

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 boots 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 bare 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??? With all the pain and suffering in the great wide world, 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 05, 2023

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 04, 2023

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Thawing, Light, the Shapes of Things to Come

Clear blue sky, sunlight and snow receding in the woods… We are in the midst of a baffling, early January thaw here, and even the birds are confused by such unseasonal toings and froings.

Not so the pines and cedars and spruces in the woods. They still wear cornices of snow and sport throngs of dear little cones that will become whole forests of tiny evergreens next spring. As always, they are assisted in their journey to treehood by legions of village squirrels who shred the cones and scatter seed everywhere.

On our morning walk, I wore my waxed cotton canvas jacket with a sweater under it, and I was toasty warm. Beau actually declined to wear his parka, an unheard of state of affairs for January. The weather will not last of course, and we are surely in for icy cold and deep snow somewhere up the trail, but the light is returning by golly, and we can do this.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

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 better
place because you are in it.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Haud Hogmanay, A Guid New Year

Wishing you abundance, cheer and rude good health in the shiny new year about to begin, many a festive beaker (or a noggin or a dram) too. Be happy this evening, be warm, be safe, wherever you are. Rejoice in brightness returning to our world. 

May every cup you hold in your hands this year contain a star or two and have a little light shining in its depths. May there be fine adventures on the road ahead. May all good things come to you and your clan (or tribe) in 2023.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Friday Ramble - Last of the Year

It seems right to start the last ramble of the year with sunlight shining through fog along the Clyde river on a December morning. The Clyde is an old tributary, curving sinuously through woodlands, valleys and farm fields in the eastern Ontario highlands, carving deep channels as she goes and loving every bend along the way. A wild spirit and a veritable crone among waterways, she resists freezing as long as possible, muttering and grumbling on her way south to merge with the Mississippi river in Bathurst township. In some places the river is scarcely wider than a creek, but she has attitude right from her beginning place in Clyde Lake to her journey's end.

In winter, I find a sheltered perch on the bank and listen to the river singing under the ice. Sometimes, she seems to be performing a duet with the wind, and there is a kind of Zen counterpoint at work, two unbridled entities independent in their contours and rhythm, but meticulously interwoven and seamless in their harmonies. Putting all notions of complex orchestration and conventional choreography aside, there's lovely music in the air on icy winter days. The sound of moving water has always been a leitmotif for me, and I often think that my existence can be measured in rivers, currents and intermittent streams rather than boozy potions, jewelry, pairs of shoes and coffee spoons.

This is the right place to be on the trailing edge of the calendar year. In springtime, I watched as willows on the far shore leafed out and turned silvery green, then looked on a few weeks later as the river overflowed her banks and asserted her claim to the fertile fields on both sides. In summer, I counted bales of hay and captured images of deer and wild turkeys feeding at dusk. In autumn, the sun went down over the same willows, so golden of leaf and limb that they seemed to be spun out of sunlight or stars. In the now, snow frosts every tree, and the light shining through them dazzles my eyes.

This is where I came to collect my thoughts when my soulmate was diagnosed with cancer, then after my own cancer diagnosis a while later. It is where I came when my friend Penny passed beyond the fields we know and when we gently assisted our canine companion Spencer across the rainbow bridge after osteosarcoma had ravaged his dear little metabolism. It is where I came when Irv passed away three years ago from pancreatic cancer. His passing still hurts, and I miss him so much.

The river is where I have always come to replenish the energies and inner directives needed to get through big life stuff like surgery, chemo and the nasty side effects that go along for the ride. Alas, there will be more of that in the new year. There are times when I hardly recognize the frazzled female drooping along the shoreline, but the river knows me, and she welcomes me with open arms. Whenever I am unraveling, the Clyde works her magic, and she knits me back together again. With Beau, family, a loving circle of sisters and kindred spirits and the river on my side, I will get through somehow.

Thank you for coming along on Friday rambles this year. May we share many more rambles in the shiny new year that is waiting for us around the bend.