Saturday, September 24, 2022

Friday, September 23, 2022

Friday Ramble - Stillness

Ah, sweet stillness... it's an old word dating from before 900CE, coming to us through the Middle English stilnesse and Old English stilnes, both describing a state in which one is quiet, peaceful, balanced and motionless. There is also the Old Saxon (and Old High German) stilli, the Dutch stollen meaning "to curdle", and Sanskrit sthānús meaning "immobile". At the beginning of it all is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *stel ni or stel meaning "to put, stand, put in order".

It's difficult not to think about stillness at a time of year when wild cousins are about to head south or find nice warm caves and sleep until springtime rolls around again. Birds like geese, loons and the great herons fly south for the winter. Bears, frogs, hedgerows and old trees hibernate and dream their way through the long white season.

Implicit in this week's word are notions of tranquility, rest and connection, an inclusive flowing that takes in our befuddled human selves and the cosmos around us. The late John Daido Loori, a renowned photographer as well as a Zen abbot, wrote that every other creature on the face of the earth knew how to be quiet, but that humans seemed to have lost the ability to "simply be present in the stillness that is the basis of our existence." The mundane world is one (by and large) of noise, haste and stress, and we need stillness now and then if we are to complete our earthly journeys without going completely bonkers.

If this place is about anything at all, it is about stillness. Woodland wanderings, sheaves of mediocre photos, wordy meanderings in the wee hours of the morning, all are merely shaky efforts to be still and be present, located in every breath I take, rooted and at home in the part of the world where I was planted this time around. Geri Larkin calls the process "stumbling toward enlightenment" and that is what it is—slowly tottering toward a place of joyous being that evades description and feels just like home. She also wrote that it is our job in life to dance with our whole breath, our whole body, the whole world, the whole universe. As rough going as this part of the journey is at times, there is joy around here, and there is a fair bit of dancing (mostly just lurching about) too.

Once in a while, something luminous shows itself in a few bars of music, through a cluster of trees or as a dancing presence between one raindrop and the next. Call it kensho or momentary enlightenment—there's elemental magic at work at such times. It's being in tune with clouds and water and hillsides strewn with rainbow-colored leaves. It's Vivaldi's The Four Seasons or Bach's Cello Suite No.1 on the CD player as the day begins and aromatic mugs of Earl Grey at sundown. It's a pocket full of acorns and my red shawl, the blue pottery bowl of Macintosh apples on the sideboard, rosy and fragrant and a perfect expression of autumn in all her glory. I can almost hear the little dears singing, and I suspect they trip the light fantastic when I am not looking.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Thursday Poem - Mabon

Ephemeral truce.
The dark begins
its long winning streak.
But for now
in this disheveled garden
a riot of blowsy flowers
hangs on like a chorus
of aging show girls
still with a few good kicks.
The air is ripe
with seedy perfume
and pleasant lies,
the pomegranate shared
between two mouths.
This is our second harvest,
the corn, the squash,
the reconstructed
memories of summer.
Ceres, comfort us with apples,
with grapes and the wine of grapes.
Wheaten breads are baked
in the shape of the sun.
We savor them
with honey.
It will be a long time
before this golden
moment comes again.

Dolores Stewart Riccio

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Equinox (Mabon) Thoughts

It seems as though summer has just arrived, but here we are again, nearing the autumn equinox. Cooler mornings, late night rains, heavy dews and falling leaves after months of blistering heat and humidity, can it be?

The autumn equinox is often observed on September 21st, but the astronomical coordinate this time around is the day after tomorrow, Thursday, (September 22nd). Whichever day one chooses to observe it, the fall equinox is a pivotal cosmic hinge, one which has worn many names down the centuries: Mabon, Harvest Home, Second Harvest, the Feast of Ingathering and Alban Elfed, to name just a few.

Mabon is the most commonly used name, perhaps rooted in the god's status as the male fertilizing principle in Welsh mythology. Ceres, Demeter, John Barleycorn, Lugh or Persephone are other contenders for a tutelary deity presiding over autumn harvest rites, but I am fond of the "Great Son" of the Mabinogion, sometimes thought to be a companion of Arthur's Round Table.

In the old Teutonic calendar, the autumn equinox marked the beginning of the Winter Finding, a ceremonial interval lasting until Winter Night on October 15, also the date of the old Norse New Year. For moderns, the date marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. In Christian tradition, the day is associated with St. Michael the Archangel—his feast takes place a few days from now on September 25 and is known (for obvious reasons) as Michaelmas. The autumn blooming Michaelmas daisy with its purple petals and golden heart is one of my favorite wildflowers. South of the equator, seasonal cycles are reversed, and the vernal equinox is approaching (Ostara).

The autumn equinox is about abundance and harvest, but most of all, it is about balance and equilibrium—one of two astronomical coordinates in the whole year when day and night are perfectly balanced in length for a brief interval. Like all the old festivals dedicated to Mother Earth, it is a liminal or threshold time, for we are poised between two seasons, summer and autumn.

One holds out hopeful thoughts for the autumn equinox, that skies overhead will be brilliantly blue and full of singing geese by day, that trees and vines and creepers will be arrayed in crimson and cinnamon and burnished bronze, that a splendid golden moon will be visible against a blanket of stars by night.

An autumn wreath graces our door, and pots of chrysanthemums grace the threshold. Sometimes the pots are adorned by leaves falling from the old oak nearby. The tree is our guardian, the wreath and "mums" a nod to the season and a tribute of sorts. Oak, fallen leaves, wreath and blooms are cheerful things, conveying a benediction on anyone who knocks at the door or passes by in the street.

Autumn tugs at my heart, and I end up sorting through sheaves of archived images looking for the right image for Mabon, am never sure I have found it. Leaves, clouds, geese, herons??? It is always about the light, and autumn light is fabulous. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate (or not celebrate) the occasion, a very happy Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home, or Mabon. May all good things come to you.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Sunday, September 18, 2022

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, September 17, 2022

Friday, September 16, 2022

Friday Ramble - For Every Mighty Oak

For every mighty oak, there was once an acorn that held its ground.

It's autumn, and every jacket, vest, sweater and pair of trousers in my wardrobe has acorns in its pockets, offerings from red and white oaks, pin oaks and bur oaks. 
The towering mother trees on the Two Hundred Acre Wood are magnificent beings, and after many years of rambling, they have become sisters and old friends. On sunny days, I find a comfortable seat among them, and we have some of the most comforting, thoughtful and enlightening conversations ever.

Pockets without acorns rattling around in their depths enshrine other offerings, pine and spruce cones, black walnuts, butternuts, beech nuts, bitternut and shagbark hickory nuts. I can never resist gathering acorns, seeds, cones and nuts when I am in the woods, adore their shapes, their colors, their textures, their fragrance, the season of their fruiting. The season is one of entelechy, of becoming, of once and future trees. In the words of Robert Bringhurst,

"Seeds and seed capsules, in nature, are unfailingly elegant. Form not only follows function in these structures; it chases it around, like a mouse with a moth or a cat with a mouse. Immense amounts of information and nutrition are routinely housed in spaces handsome far beyond necessity and compact beyond belief."
Robert Bringhurst, The Tree of Meaning, Language Mind and Ecology

Turning pockets inside out this week before chucking everything into the washing machine, I realized that there has been a whole forest riding around with me, and it made me grin from ear to ear. No need to pine for my tree sisters when I am away from the woods - they are right here with me.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Thursday Poem - September Mosaic

Before we come with rakes and crackling
energy to clean it up,
the backyard is precisely
as the dog prefers it -- left alone,
a natural selection
of leaf, stick, bone, pod, seed, and stone.

But we are cosmic instruments
of music and disturbance, only
animals by half,
and will not let the season bleed
its shifting earth designs
of stone, bone, leaf, stick, pod, and seed.

Some earthscapes rearranged
are gardens, or hillsides
shorn to make a path for wired poles
or graveyards stiff with grief
or clearcut forests. Let me take care
of seed, stone, pod, bone, stick, and leaf.

Let me recall the universe
is breathing in my breath, it plays
its tune in me, it dreams my being --
an unnamed, unrecorded god
becoming conscious as I am
of leaf, seed, stick, stone, bone, and pod.

I am a painting made of sand and pollen.
Structure and spirit
are my codes. Nothing of life
is random or a trick
I draw myself a part of all
with pod, leaf, bone, seed, stone, and stick

The circle of the seasons turns
and never comes back quite the same.
Fertile impulses in time
will overgrow the patterns I have sown,
return to animal wilderness
of stick, pod, stone, leaf, seed and bone.

Let me be glad
new seasons bud from stick and leaf,
new forces split a pod and spill the seed,
new rhythms rise from stone and bone.

Dolores Stewart, (from Doors to the Universe)

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

That Splendid Harvest Moon

September's moon is my favorite in the whole turning year. It is also (above all others), the one I can't describe or take a good photo of, no matter how extensive my preparations and meticulous my labors. Every year, I potter out to a good vantage point set up camera, telescope and tripod, check everything out and wait for night to fall. The moon rises, and I stand breathless in the darkness trying to capture her with my lens, clinging to a scant handful of woefully  inadequate words to describe the most beautiful moon of the year. Bearing witness to this month's full moon is a personal seasonal rite, and if I had to brew up a name of my own for it, that name would be "Hallelujah Moon".

I once described the matter as something of a cosmic joke, the business of standing outside on September full moon nights and taking photo after photo but never a good one. Well, here we are again, another glorious Harvest Moon has gone by, and another sheaf of mediocre images has been captured. It brings to mind the Zen teaching tale in which an elderly monk on his deathbed was asked to describe his journey through life and replied cheerfully, "just one mistake after another..."

Saturday night's full moon was impressive, but in the greater scheme of things, it doesn't matter how my efforts turned out, and I should remember that - it was just being there that mattered. I was delighted to be around for another glorious harvest moon, and I hope to be around for many more. The moon rose, and we (Beau and I) stood out in the darkness together, watching her and knowing we were right where we should be. As we packed up our stuff to come indoors later, we couldn't help thinking that such magnificence deserved a gesture of some kind, a chorus, a chant or a benediction - something grander and more luminous than our rickety bows and sighs of contentment.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

The act of "seeing" for photography is of course like entering—no, not an other element but another facet of the same element, another vocabulary, visual this time, responding to the same abiding and indefinable source of art. "Every tool carries with it the spirit by which it was created", Heisenberg says in his Physics and Philosophy.

This spirit reveals a unity of expression deep enough to take in diversity—whether from one art to another or from one image to the next. Macro photography gets you so close to daily sights and objects that they change their shape and yield a mystery. A paperweight can produce a phantom. Ten inches of sand on a lakeshore can become cloud and coast and water. Water itself, close up, will offer anything from quicksilver, to amoebas, to knots and knurls of wood, to molten lava. The patterns and transformation prove endless.

Padma Hejmadi, from Room to Fly, A Transcultural Memoir 

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Friday, September 09, 2022

Friday Ramble - The Gold and the Purple

September days are warm and sunny for the most part, but nights are cooler, and we have already retrieved flannel sheets and patchwork quilts from the cedar chest downstairs. No doubt about it, daylight and the calendar year are waning, and the northern world is slowly turning its attention toward the long white season.

At this time of the year, one craves color, not just any old color but shades dazzling, intoxicating and downright riotous. Velvety taupe and cream milkweed pods disclosing dancing silks and casting their fate to the wind are all very well, but I need brightness before the snow flies, and hallelujah, here it is, barges of it.

Think bronze chrysanthemums, burgundy sedums and fall blooming asters, scarlet maple leaves, russet oak and golden birch, creepers in purple and crimson. Think autumn nights when the sun goes down in flames over lakes and rivers in the Lanark highlands. Think cold clear mornings when one's breath sparkles in the air and early light turns the awakening world to gold, erasing for a few moments the shifting ephemeral boundaries between land and water and sky.

In the garden behind the little blue house, my roses offer several hopeful buds, and Michaelmas daisies are coming into flower. When the day warms up, each and every swaying bloom wears a jeweled bumble, a honey bee or a wasp, sometimes a tiny goldenrod spider lying in wait for its next meal too. If only I could capture everything with my lens or find the right words to describe it...

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Thursday Poem - At the road's turning, a sign

Stranger, you have reached a fabulous land―
in winter, the abode of swans,
magnolia buds and black leaves

secretly feeding the earth―
memory snaked into tree roots.

In spring, you will feel life changes
bubble up in your blood like early wine,
and your heart will be lighter than
the flight of gossamer pollen.

Stranger, in summer, you will drink deeply
of a curious local wine,
fortified with herbs cut with a silver knife
when the moon was new.
Who knows what freedoms
will dazzle your path like fireflies?

And I promise you, in the fall
you will give up the search and know peace
in the fragrance of apple wood burning.
You will learn how to accept love
in all its masks, and the universe
will sing here more sweetly than any other place

Dolores Stewart

There is not a day goes by when I don't think of my departed friend. She was a gifted storyteller, and a fine poet. I miss her so much.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

September, Taking Wing

It's the first Tuesday in September, and village children are off to school, walked all the way there (or just to the bus stop) by proud parents, big sisters and brothers, and family pets. I have known many of the kids since they traveled around the neighborhood in prams, and here they are going off to school. Dear me, how time flies...

The youngsters wear jackets and sneakers in confetti colors, carry backpacks and lunch boxes in pink, turquoise and lime green, tote pint-sized umbrellas patterned in flowers or bunnies or polka dots. They bloom like pint-sized peonies out in the street, and watching from the windows, I feel like doing a little blooming too.

Only a short distance away, other brightly arrayed offspring have hatched out in village hedgerows, and they are strengthening their wings for the long journey south that will begin in a week or two. When the newly hatched monarch butterflies alight on Michaelmas daisies in the garden, the combination of orange, purple and gold is dazzling. Every butterfly is a stained glass jewel, a wild, vivid and breathtaking wonder.

There are vibrant colors everywhere I look in early September, and they are a sumptuous treat for these old eyes. It doesn't matter whether the riotous tints are on Virginia creepers, monarch butterflies, coneflowers or tiny raincoats - they invite me to kick up my heels and dance.

Monday, September 05, 2022

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

As the pen rises from the page between words, so the walker's feet rise and fall between paces, and as the deer continues to run as it bounds from the earth and the dolphin continues to swim even as it leaps again and again from the sea, so writing and wayfaring are continuous activities, a running stitch, a persistence of the same seam or stream.
Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Friday, September 02, 2022

Friday Ramble - Drifting

On cooler September mornings, the village is a mysterious place. The earth is warmer than the air above it, the meeting of the two elements turning otherwise mundane landscape features into otherworldly entities, fey and luminous. Autumn is just over the hill, comfortable in her tenure of mist, rain, wind and madcap tumbling leaves.

There is nothing like a good fog, and September dishes up some splendid atmospheric murks. Mist swirls around everything, draping the whiskery trees, smoothing hard edges and rounding the contours of house and street. The north wind scours foliage from the old trees near home, and it rustles pleasingly underfoot as Beau and I go along on our early walks. Irv loved this time of the year, and he is always with us. If we listen carefully, we can sometimes hear Cassie and Spencer pottering along beside us too, their happy feet doing a kind of scuffling dance through the falling leafy treasure.

Out of the pearly gray and sepia come sounds now and again. Birds converse in hedgerows and geese move unseen among the clouds, singing as they pass over our heads. Doors open and close as sleepy residents collect their morning papers. There is the soft growling of automobiles and the rumble of buses, the muffled cadence of joggers gliding through the park, the footsteps of commuters heading downtown to work. Once in a while, there is the whistle of a faraway train, just a faint echoing in the air.

The academic year has already begun at some schools in the village, and on morning walks, Beau and I see children on their way to class, walked there by parents and siblings, sometimes the family dog, and once or twice, the family cat. The kids chatter like young birds, as brightly plumed as finches in their rainbow leggings and anoraks, carrying umbrellas and backpacks almost as big as they are. Nearing home, raindrops beat a staccato rhythm on roofs, and little rivers sing through the eaves. Taken all together, our early outings are uplifting and downright symphonic.
On such mornings, the world seems boundless, brimming with lucent, floating Zen possibility, soil and trees and sky and mist giving tongue in a language that is wild and compelling. Part of me is curled up in a slow breathing meditation, counting my breaths, in and out, in and out. Other parts are out there drifting along in the fog with my companions and happy to be doing so. It's all good. Happy September!

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Thursday Poem - Assurance

You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightening before it says
its names—and then the clouds' wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles—you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head—
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

William Stafford, (from The Way It Is


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

And there in the woods...

Spotted Jewelweed or Touch-Me-Not
(Impatiens capensis)

There is a whole thicket of these colorful critters flowering along the creek in the woods, and we (Beau and I) were happy to find them in bloom this past weekend.

Jewelweed is a wild North American herbal with known medicinal benefits, and it has been widely used by indigenous groups for centuries. They used infusions made with the leaves to treat measles and fevers, poultices of bruised stems for the pain and itching of skin ailments like poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. Jewelweed contains compounds which neutralize uroshiol, the chemical causing contact dermatitis. The plant is a fine, effective and illustrious addition to one's wild medicine chest.

Jewelweed is also an important nectar source for hummingbirds, and they are usually about when it is in bloom. When the hummers reach into the bell-shaped blooms with their long beaks and brush up against nearby seed pods, the drupes explode, propelling their freight some distance into the air, hence the common name, Touch-Me-Not.

Although an annual, jewelweed is persistent and prolific. For years, I cultivated it in my garden, and because of its exploding seed pods, the plant came up everywhere. Keeping it in check was quite an undertaking. Having said that, I have just harvested seeds from the thicket in the woods and am about to give the species another try. It is cheerful stuff, and I like the freckled faces on the flowers when the plants are in bloom. In addition to being a "tried and true" wild medicinal, jewelweed also provides nourishment for hummers, bees and other insects, and that makes it a clear winner in my book.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

I don’t think there is anything as powerful as an active heart. And the activists I know possess this powerful beating heart of change. They do not fear the wisdom of emotion, but embody it. They know how to listen. They are polite when they need to be and unyielding when necessary. They remain open, even as they push boundaries and inhabit the margins, understanding eventually, the margins will move toward the center. They are tenacious, informed, patient, and impatient, at once. They do not shy away from what is difficult. They refuse to accept the unacceptable. The most effective activists I know are in love with the world.

Terry Tempest Williams

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Friday, August 26, 2022

Friday Ramble - And So It Begins

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
On our morning walks, there are tell tale signs everywhere that seasonal changes are on their way. Wildflowers are going to seed, and the foliage along our way looks faded and a little tired. The persistent strands of Virginia creeper wrapping old wooden fences and stone walls and draping themselves around trees and shrubs were brilliantly  green only a few days ago, and this morning, one or two are starting to look more like Yule (or Christmas) paper, dappled red and green and silvery blue in the early light. Where stones and bricks get direct sunlight during the day and retain their heat at night, creepers will hang on to their summer greens for quite a while longer, but they too are thinking about changing.

The margins of oak leaves are lightly touched with the splendid rosy bronze they wear in September and early October before falling to earth, and beech leaves are already edged in coppery red and cognac. Of course, it could simply be the heat setting such changes in motion and not an early autumn. One of of my forestry references identifies our native beeches as being of the species called simply "common beech". To my mind, there is nothing common about the great beeches on our Lanark hill with their majestic height, silvery bark, dense foliage and rounded crowns. The trees are magnificent, and how I do love them.

Part of me wants to dance about and applaud the cooler temperatures to come, the burnished, glorious colors about to come into their own. Another part, as much as I love the harvest season and Samhain (or Halloween), is dismayed at the thought of an early autumn this time around. Fall should not arrive until September 21st at the earliest, and then it is allowed to hang about until the end of November.

Please Mama, not yet... Let there be several more weeks of sun and warmth and gentle breezes, no ingathering and cold nights for a while longer.