Saturday, January 18, 2020

Friday, January 17, 2020

Friday Ramble - Winter 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, teeming, profuse, bountiful and liberal.

We use the word abundance (or the adjective, abundant) 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 lies at the end of our labors but we try not to think of it at all.

Winter's eyes are as ardent as those of summer and autumn, but they view the world differently, taking in frosted evergreens against the clouds, the light falling across old rail fences, deep blue shadows on snow, bleached and tattered 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 great round bales of hay abandoned in winter fields are the currency of summer passed, and they are not simply photo opportunities but eloquent reminders of seasons passed. Each and every element cries out for attention, for patient eyes and a recording lens, for recognition, remembrance and a slender scrip of words, for connection and perhaps for love.

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 year, I find myself querying the shape of my journeying, the slow passage across the eastern Ontario highlands with camera and notebook in hand, the sheaves of images captured and carefully archived, even the eyes with which this old hen is seeing the world. This year, of course, there is melancholy to my musings. The bright spirit with whom I did my wandering for so many years is no longer beside me, at least in the flesh. Beau and I hold him in our thoughts, and we go on.

Big life stuff, emotional ups and downs, questions and more questions—all 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 good dark earth are numbered, but in the warm darkness of my questions and my uncertainty, I gather everything in and rejoice.

Abundance is tea and cookies with an old friend. It's a ramble in the woods on snowshoes, a good book or three on the library table. It's a cauldron of soup simmering on the back of the stove, a bowl of oranges on the sideboard, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) on the sound system. Small things perhaps and not exciting, but they are good and comforting things.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Thursday Poem - Prayer

May I never not be frisky,
May I never not be risque.

May my ashes, when you have them, friend,
and give them to the ocean

leap in the froth of the waves,
still loving the moment,

still ready, beyond all else,
to dance for the world.

Mary Oliver, from Evidence

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Coming to Light

Weariness of the long white season and its gelid trappings notwithstanding, occasionally there are surprises. Now and then, something poignant and engaging appears in the midst of our endless shoveling, heaving and scraping. Whatever it is, it grabs our attention and stops us right in our tracks, a tiny discarded running shoe, a pine cone, a tattered swath of ribbon, frozen weeds.

Pleasing bits of gnarly plant magic poking their heads out of the snow are unexpected, and they are always delightful to see. Withered and desiccated remnants of last summer, they're powerful reminders of its warmth and light, its glorious coloration and fragrance, and they awaken something within.

The dried fronds, wands and seed heads coming back into the light of day have curving, sinuous shapes and just a hint of the vibrant hues they once wore, and they are signs that winter is "getting old". We perch in towering snowdrifts, think about springtime and nesting owls, of maple syrup gathering, snowdrops and songbirds. We (season and humans) rattle and creak and carry on.

Perceptions totter, wither, fade and take on strange shapes in late winter, and we need reminders of the earth's own magic and capacity for infinite change, in this case a strand of last summer's common tansy with flowing arty curves against a background of deep blue snow.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once, life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.
Barry Lopez

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Friday, January 10, 2020

Friday Ramble - January's Performing Arts

A rowdy north wind cavorts across the roof, rollicking through sleeping trees and shrubberies in the garden, making the 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 across roof shingles, then plummet clattering over the eaves into the shallow 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 wonderfully pebbled snow 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 this day perfectly without any help from me at all. They rattle, chatter and chime, sing Gilbert and Sullivany duets with the wind (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 occasionally 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 09, 2020

Thursday Poem - The Greatest Grandeur

Some say it’s in the reptilian dance
of the purple-tongued sand goanna,
for there the magnificent translation
of tenacity into bone and grace occurs.

And some declare it to be an expansive
desert—solid rust-orange rock
like dusk captured on earth in stone
simply for the perfect contrast it provides
to the blue-grey ridge of rain
in the distant hills.

Some claim the harmonics of shifting
electron rings to be most rare and some
the complex motion of seven sandpipers
bisecting the arcs and pitches
of come and retreat over the mounting
hayfield.

Others, for grandeur, choose the terror
of lightning peals on prairies or the tall
collapsing cathedrals of stormy seas,
because there they feel dwarfed
and appropriately helpless; others select
the serenity of that ceiling/cellar
of stars they see at night on placid lakes,
because there they feel assured
and universally magnanimous.

But it is the dark emptiness contained
in every next moment that seems to me
the most singularly glorious gift,
that void which one is free to fill
with processions of men bearing burning
cedar knots or with parades of blue horses,
belled and ribboned and stepping sideways,
with tumbling white-faced mimes or companies
of black-robed choristers; to fill simply
with hammered silver teapots or kiln-dried
crockery, tangerine and almond custards,
polonaises, polkas, whittling sticks, wailing
walls; that space large enough to hold all
invented blasphemies and pieties, 10,000
definitions of god and more, never fully
filled, never.

Pattiann Rogers, from Firekeepers

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

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, very cold here all through the month of January and well into February. Thermometer readings of -38 degrees (Celsius) are not unusual for this corner of the world. Whatever the thermometer says, 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 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 look for dancing motes of light in the world and within myself, and I remember that deep within their dreaming roots, all trees hold the light

Monday, January 06, 2020

Sunday, January 05, 2020

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 04, 2020

Friday, January 03, 2020

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.

January is a bitter month here, a time of snow and penetrating icy cold. It's tempting to remain indoors and just curl up by the fire with mugs of tea and books, but Beau and I need to be out in the woods now and again, however short our stay - the rambles nourish and sustain us, and we take them even on the coldest days in winter.  I carry a walking stick for treacherous areas on the trail, a camera of some sort, binoculars, a notebook and pen, a thermos of tea and Beau's biscuits.  There is seed for the birds, apples and cedar for the deer - we take along shears to cut that. It's a fair bit of weight to carry up into the woods, 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 to the bird feeders.  It was surely our imagination this early in the year, but the snow seemed brighter than it was 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 hollows, and shadows seemed to waver and flow like quicksilver as the wind moved through the trees. Shapes seemed less attenuated, deeper and more intense, more blue.  Here and there, a sprig of frozen green 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.

Resolutions this year??? We are still reeling from Irv's death a few weeks ago, and we are trying to reimagine life without our soulmate, a painful, bewildering and heartsick undertaking. A friend (Waverly Fitzgerald) passed away on December 13, and another friend passed away a few days ago. We grieve for them too. My heart is not in making resolutions, and there won't be any resolutions scrawled on paper or etched in stone this time around, just the same old work in progress, breathing in and out, in and out. That will have to be enough.

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 keep putting one foot in front of the other. As always on our walks, we will talk with the trees and look for the light.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Thursday Poem - Winter Light

It's a milkiness poured from
a great glass bottle,
a carafe of blanc de blanc, iced,
a light shot with pale gold,
opalescent blue,
the distillation of pearl . . . .
In this icy light, the ghostly fronds
of ice ferns cover the glass,
as the sky descends,
erasing first the far blue hills,
the cornfield hatch-marked with stubble,
coming to our street— the sky flinging itself
down to the ground.
And the earth, like a feather bed,
accumulates layer on layer. . . .
The snow bees are released from their hive,
jive and jitter, sting at the blinds.
Down here, under this glazed china cup,
the minor fracas of our little lives
is still under the falling flakes.
And the great abalone shell of the sky
contains us, bits of muscle, tiny mollusks.
These winter nights
are never black and dense,
but white, starlight
dancing off the land.
And then the luminous dawns,
the pearled skies full of hope
no matter what else we know.

Barbara Crooker

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

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.

Let us remember the bright, beloved and courageous spirits who left us this year and went on ahead. Let us give thanks for them being in our lives and send them our love when we raise our glasses.

May every cup you hold this year contain a star or two and have a little light 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 2020.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, that you may take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last. Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

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