Saturday, December 05, 2020

Friday, December 04, 2020

Friday Ramble - Counting Winter's Bounty

Over and over again, the village freezes and thaws. Every puddle in the park seems to be talking to the sky, sometimes clouded and grey, sometimes clear and blue. Encountering sunlight is always engaging this late in the year, particularly in a pool of melt water.

It is mild enough for Beau and I to be outdoors for hours, and we potter along at a snail's pace, talking with the trees (especially the beech mother in the park), listening to crows conversing over our heads, counting cones on the old pines in the woods.

This morning we returned home with our pockets full of fragrant seed bearers in all shapes and sizes, happier with our gathered abundance than we would have been with bags of glittering coin. My companion has no pockets of his own of course, and he makes use of mine.

Long walks cannot uproot our grief, but they soothe aching hearts in some small measure. We walk for miles, and the beloved who has gone on ahead is never far from our thoughts. Wherever he journeys, we send him our love. May his trail be easy and filled with light.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Thursday Poem - Waiting Game

Just as it seems the weather could not be
greyer or more dismal than November,
December comes along with wreaths of frost
and hangs on every tree the ragged crepe

of black leaves mourning for the wasted year.
But I have seen these funerals before,
and so I think of you, my dear old love,
of breathing ground, of sleeping roots and bulb,

the simple garden of our gathering years.
No matter now how fast and furious
the bitter dark comes on, I am not fooled.
I've witnessed resurrection every spring.

The winter birds are round and boisterous,
jousting for seeds at feeders with snow hats,
The ice man melts his fingers on their hearts,
Small miracles with wings beguile us now.

Dolores Stewart Riccio

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Now We Are Two

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of my husband's passing from pancreatic cancer. Irv took his last  breath and departed the earth at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2019 as I held him, and it seems like only yesterday that he left us. 

To say that life has been painful without my soulmate is understating things and then some. Grief and sadness are here for keeps, and I am getting used to that, albeit slowly. I loved Irv more than life itself, and I always will. It is difficult to wrap my mind around the notion of years of life without him, and flourishing without him is probably not in the cards. Just surviving is hard work.

For many years, I was married to a guy who had a razor-sharp mind, a dry wit, a fine sense of irony and a great laugh. The world was an endless source of delight and wonder to him, and he never wearied of its grandeur and its beauty. He was passionate about trees, rocks and rivers, fields and fens, birds, bugs and woodland critters, sunrises and sunsets, full moons and starry nights. He loved this island earth deeply, and he loved rambling its wild places. Ramble we did, hand in hand and all over the place, packs on our backs, notebooks in our pockets and our beloved doggy sidekicks trotting along with us. I could not have had a more wonderful companion if I had written him into being myself, and I could not believe my good fortune. I look back on our life together with amazement and gratitude.

Now it is Beau and I who wander the eastern Ontario highlands together, in the flesh anyway. Cassie and Spencer traveled beyond the fields we know some time ago, but they are here with Irv, and all three are walking right along with us. There will be five of us on the snowbound trail this winter, but some of us won’t need snowshoes or leave paw prints in the white stuff.

I stroke Beau's silky ears and hold him close. I keep putting one foot in front of the other and breathing in and out. I tell myself that Irv is no longer in pain, and that I will learn to live with this broken heart. There is a small measure of comfort in knowing that we will walk these hallowed hills forever, and that our canine companions will be with us. A fine untrammeled wildness dwells in our blood and bones, all of us.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Advent Sun Wreath Circle, Week 1

I dedicate this year's Advent Sun Wreath Circle to my soulmate, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer on this day last year, November 30, 2019. 
May there be light on your journey always, my love. Beau and I miss you so much.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

What we need, all of us who go on two legs, is to reimagine our place in creation. We need to enlarge our conscience so as to bear, moment by moment, a regard for the integrity and bounty of the earth. There can be no sanctuaries unless we regain a deep sense of the sacred, no refuges unless we feel a reverence for the land, for soil and stone, water and air, and for all that lives. We must find the desire, the courage, the vision to live sanely, to live considerately, and we can only do that together, calling out and listening, listening and calling out.

Scott Russell Sanders, Writing from the Center

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Calling the Sun Home

Herons, geese and loons have departed for warmer climes, and waterways in the eastern Ontario highlands are freezing over, little by little. Skies are grey and cloudy for the most part, and weather forecasts often have the word snow in them somewhere. In early morning, an icy north wind rattles the eaves of the little blue house in the village and sets the whiskery trees in motion.

When night falls, I pull draperies closed and shut out the gloom beyond the windows, taking refuge and much pleasure in small seasonal rites. I brew pots of tea (one after the other) and stir mugs of hot chocolate. I experiment with recipes for curries and paellas, sketch and read, plot gardens for next year (more roses and herbs, perhaps a Medicine Wheel garden), craft grand and fabulous schemes which will probably never see the light of day. I do a little dancing from time to time, but my efforts are closer to lurching than they are to anything else.

Hallelujah, we are nearing the end of November, and in a few weeks, days will begin to lengthen again. It will be some time until we notice a real difference, but at least we will be on our way - for that reason, Yule just may be my favorite day in the whole turning year. When it arrives, there will be celebrations and silliness, candles, music and mulled cider to drive away the darkness and welcome old Helios back to the world. He is still here of course - it's the earth's seasonal wobble that makes him seem more distant than he actually is at this time of the year.  We and our planet are the ones in motion, not the magnificent star at the center of our universe.

Beginning tomorrow and until Yule, I will light a candle at dusk every Sunday in a practice called the Advent Sun Wreath Circle, four weeks and four candles, a fifth festive candle to be lit on the eve of the Winter Solstice. Now in its sixteenth year, the observance was crafted by the late Helen Farias, founder of the Beltane Papers. Helen passed beyond the fields we know in 1994, and her creation was carried on, first by Waverly Fitzgerald and since 2004 by Beth Owl's Daughter.  Waverly passed away last December, but I think she will be with us in spirit.

Tomorrow night, I will join with a circle of friends and kindred spirits in far flung places, with companions like Beth, Joanna Powell Colbert and many others. I am not so wise myself, but that is quite all right. Together we will honor the earth and her fruitful darkness, and we will call the sun home. This has been a difficult year. May there be light ahead for all of us.

Magpie creature that I am and ever a passionate collector of seasonal lore, I am very interested in your own "before Yule" practices.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Friday Ramble - Embracing Winter Mind

Ice is everywhere on the trailing edges of a calendar year, and eyes and camera linger lovingly on it. We are spending much of our time indoors at the moment, but it is astonishing what can be seen right from a window, any old window, on a chilly winter morning.

Ice glosses trees in the village and sparkles on window panes. Here and there, it forms cornices, dangling artlessly from eaves, roofs and wind bells. Glossy as hard candy, it sheathes roads and cobblestones at first light.  When the winter sun touches it, the strata reveal themselves as lacy blankets draped over streets, sleeping hills and fields, as crystalline fronds of grass and glassy ferns poking out of autumn's detritus. Lovely stuff, in an urban setting or glittering on branches in the snow-drowned countryside.

Whole worlds cavort and hum within icicles, and there is graceful symmetry in their shapes, their transparent suspension. I wake up and get the message once in a while, but not often enough. The few seconds between me "seeing" something and the click of the camera shutter are a particle of kensho, a tiny window in which the mundane world falls away, leaving elegant bones, radiant stillness and breathtaking beauty. It's an interval out of time, no "me", no lens, no frosted leaf or icicle - we are all one entity, breathing in and out together. Such moments are everywhere if we have the eyes to see them and the wits to pay attention. Sometimes, they are lifesavers.

Everything has a story to tell. Tales from the trailing edges, liminal intervals and seasonal turnings of our lives help us to learn and grow, to exercise the wonder and connection that is our birthright. All this simply from contemplating a few icicles dangling outside the kitchen window? I am adrift in winter mind. It always seems to happen around this time of the year.

Winter's fruitful darkness is a doorway through which we pass to ready ourselves for an exuberant blooming somewhere up the trail. Beyond these dark turnings at the postern of the old calendar year, light, warmth and wonder await us.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thursday Poem - Messenger (For Thanksgiving)

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

 Mary Oliver

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Monday, November 23, 2020

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding
that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds
still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday Ramble - Winter

This week's word comes from Old English wintr, thence the Proto-Germanic wentruz meaning "wet season", both originating
in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) wed, wod or ud, meaning "wet" or "wind". There are possible ties to the Old Celtic vindo meaning "white", but that word always sounds more like the English "wind" to me. The Old Norse vetr sounds like the present day "weather" and may indeed be one of its root forms. Cognates include the Gothic wintru, Icelandic vetur, Swedish vinte, Danish vinter and Norwegian vetter.

The most common words for the long white season have been around for a very long time, and most cultures on this island earth have one. The season occupies a singular place in our thoughts, dancing dramatically in a stronger light than its more moderate kin. Those of us who live in the north tend to predicate our activities in the other three seasons of the year on making ready for it.

Because of winter's ferocity, early Anglo-Saxons measured their calendar years from one winter to the next, and they reckoned their ages by the number of winters they had weathered. In Old Norse, the word vetrardag designated the first day of winter, usually the Saturday which fell between Oct. 10 and 16. Northern ancients were sure that the world as they knew it would come to an end after the most savage winter in history.  In the Eddas, the fimbulvetr (mighty winter) precedes the twilight of the gods, their last battle with the frost giants (led by Loki) and the destruction of the earth.

For the Celts, winter began at Samhain (October 31) or All Hallows (November 1) and ended on Imbolc or Candlemas (February 1 or 2) when springtime arrived. The Winter Solstice on or about December 21 marked  the longest night of the year, and it was a rowdy celebration. From that day onward, the light of the sun would return, a little more every day until the Summer Solstice in June. The legendary King Arthur was believed to have been born on the Winter Solstice in Castle Tintagel in Cornwall, and Druids sometimes refer to the Winter Solstice as Alban Arthuan ("The Light of Arthur").

It all comes down to cosmic balance. We owe the timely trappings of our brief existence in the Great Round to a tilt in the earth's axis as it spins merrily in space. When winter reigns here in the north, the happy lands south of the equator are cavorting in summer. I cling tenaciously to that thought in the depths of frozen January, that somewhere in the world it is warm and sunny, perfect beach weather and no parkas required.

Winter gifts us with the most brilliantly blue skies of the calendar year by day, with stargazey expanses of wonder by night. There is nothing to compare with the sun shining through frosted trees on a cold morning, with the sound of falling snow in the woods, with darknesses when the moon and stars seem so close one can almost reach up and touch them. We are made of star stuff, and that means the twinkling motes over my head are kin. That is truly cool.

When winter begins, I always consider moving further south, but it isn't going to happen. Instead, I pile up books and music for the long nights and accumulate tea. I stir curries, make bread and ponder the rows of jams and pickles in the pantry. I ready skis, snowshoes and boots for treks in the woods. By necessity, my rambles will be brief this winter, but I will still be taking them.

To know the north woods, one has to wander through them in winter, spend hours tracing the shapes of sleeping hills and trees with eyes and lens. She has to listen to snow falling among them and perhaps become a tree herself.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Thursday Poem - Thanksgiving

I have been trying to read
the script cut in these hills—
a language carved in the shimmer of stubble
and the solid lines of soil, spoken
in the thud of apples falling
and the rasp of corn stalks finally bare.

The pheasants shout it with a rusty creak
as they gather in the fallen grain,
the blackbirds sing it
over their shoulders in parting,
and gold leaf illuminates the manuscript
where it is written in the trees.

Transcribed onto my human tongue
I believe it might sound like a lullaby,
or the simplest grace at table.
Across the gathering stillness
simply this: “For all that we have received,
dear God, make us truly grateful.”

Lynn Ungar from Blessing the Bread 


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is - and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful.

In the end, or rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.

Mark Helprin, Winter's Tale

(One of the most beautiful books ever written)

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Friday, November 13, 2020

Friday Ramble - Edgy

This week's word has been around since the eleventh century, making its way down to us through the Middle English egge, the Old English ecg, the Old French aiglent and the Old Germanic ecke, all meaning "corner". It is also related to the Latin acer meaning "sharp", and the Greek akmē meaning "point". At the root of it all is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root ak- meaning "sharp, rising to a point, piercing." Kindred words in the English language include acacia, accipter, acropolis, acerbic, acid, acrid, acumen, acupuncture, acute, eager, ester, exacerbate, hammer and selvedge as well as eglantine (or sweetbriar), an old world rose known for its thorns.

An edgy time is this, for the old Celtic year has passed away, and we are a few days past the threshold of a brand new year, in the north a chilling contraption of fallen leaves and freezing earth, short days, darkness, frost and wind.

The eastern Ontario highlands always seem empty at this time of the year and rather lonesome. Except for Canada geese and an intrepid heron or two, migratory birds have departed for warmer climes, and the lake seems still and empty. Most of our wild forest kin are already hibernating or are thinking about doing it.

On trips into the woods, the long shadows falling across our trail have edges as sharp as the finest examples of the blade smith's craft. The earth under our boots is firm, leaves are crunchy, and puddles along our way are rimed with ice. For all the emptiness, frost and morning sunlight change the Two Hundred Acre Wood into something rich and elegant and inviting: glittering weed fronds artfully curved and waving in the fields, milkweed sculpted into pleasing shapes, bare trees twinkling like stars, the margins of blackberry leaves rosy and sparkling with frost crystals. The air is fragrant with cedar, spruce and pine.

These weeks always seem chthonic to me. That engaging word with its bewildering arrangement of vowels and consonants springs from the Greek khthonios, meaning "of the earth", and it is usually employed in describing subterranean matters and deities of the underworld.  When we use the adjective to describe something, we are focusing on what is deeper or within, rather than that which is apparent at first glance or resting on the surface. Implicit in the adjective are notions of rest, sleep, fertility and rebirth - mortality and abundance coexisting and enfolding each other in a deep embrace.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Thursday Poem - Come to Dust

Spirit, rehearse the journeys of the body
that are to come, the motions
of the matter that held you.

Rise up in the smoke of palo santo.
Fall to the earth in the falling rain.
Sink in, sink down to the farthest roots.
Mount slowly in the rising sap
to the branches, the crown, the leaf-tips.
Come down to earth as leaves in autumn
to lie in the patient rot of winter.
Rise again in spring’s green fountains.
Drift in sunlight with the sacred pollen
to fall in blessing.
                                    All earth’s dust
has been life, held soul, is holy.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Monday, November 09, 2020

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World dreams are essential to the psyche, so wildness is to life.

We are animal in our blood and in our skin. We were not born for pavements and escalators but for thunder and mud. More. We are animal not only in body but in spirit. Our minds are the minds of wild animals. Artists, who remember their wildness better than most, are animal artists, lifting their heads to sniff a quick wild scent in the air, and they know it unmistakably, they know the tug of wildness to be followed through your life is buckled by that strange and absolute obedience. ('You must have chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star,' wrote Nietzsche.) Children know it as magic and timeless play. Shamans of all sorts and inveterate misbehavers know it; those who cannot trammel themselves into a sensible job and life in the suburbs know it.

What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quintessence, pure spirit, resolving into no constituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary.

Jay  Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Friday, November 06, 2020

Friday Ramble - Fifteen

On Sunday morning, clocks in the little blue house in the village turned back an hour, and Daylight Saving Time waved goodbye until next year. The departure of DST also marked fifteen years of pottering about in cyberspace, fifteen long years of logging on in the morning, posting an image or two and sometimes muttering along for a few paragraphs, occasionally spilling coffee on the keyboard. There are times when I can't believe I had the cheek to set this "book of days" up in the first place, let alone do the blogging thing faithfully for fifteen years in a row. There are other times when I look at stuff I posted here years ago and am absolutely appalled. Yuck.

However lacking they are, and they are certainly that, these are my morning or artist pages, and chances are they will remain pretty much as they are in the coming year. There may be a bit of font and banner tinkering now and again, but that is all. I don't foresee any significant changes to this place, and I expect blogging life will simply go on as it has been doing so far, photos and scribblings and bits of poetry.

To say the last year has been difficult is an understatement and then some. In late November last year, my soulmate passed away after a ferocious battle with pancreatic cancer, and life without him is rough going. I can't even begin to express how much I loved the man and still do, how much I miss him. Within a few months of Irv's passing, three friends also passed away from cancer, and I miss them too. There are times when I feel as if I am just clinging to the wreckage and paddling madly to stay afloat. Thank goodness for family, for cherished friends far and near, for beautiful darling Beau. I could not have gotten here without them, without all of you.

Some times are easier than others, but every day, Beau and I ramble with notebook and camera. We wander along at our own pace, watching oak leaves rain like honey in the autumn woods and morning fogs enfold the eastern Ontario highlands. We feast our eyes on the sun going down like a ball of fire over the river, on skies alight with winter stars and lustrous moons that seem almost close enough to reach up and touch. My soulmate is always with us in spirit, resting easy in the pocket of my tatty old jacket - he loved rambling and was usually the first person out the door.

The road goes ever on, and there is magic everywhere if we have the eyes to see it, the wits to acknowledge it, to show respect and say thank you. The small adventures of our journeying will continue to make their way here and get spilled out on the computer screen mornings with a bad photo or two and a whole rucksack of wonder. The world is a beautiful place, and I am starting to realize that sometimes an image says everything that needs to be said, all by itself, no words needed from this Old Thing.

Mary Oliver says it best:

The years to come – this is a promise –
will grant you ample time

to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.
(excerpt from Terns)

In another poem called It Was Early, she wrote that sometimes one needs only to stand wherever she is to be blessed, and that is something I try to keep in mind as Beau and I totter about. Thank you for your kind thoughts and healing energies, your comments and cards and letters, for journeying along with me this year. You are treasured more than you know, and if my fingers were working, I would write each and every one of you.