Monday, March 08, 2021

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Belonging so fully to yourself that you're willing to stand alone is a wilderness—an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can't control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it's the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.

Brené Brown

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Friday, March 05, 2021

Friday Ramble - Patience

As I started off on the Friday ramble this week, the word that came to mind was patience, although I have already written about that word.

This week's offering has its roots in the Middle English pacient, the Middle French patient and the Latin word pati, all meaning to undergo something, to suffer through, get through, or put up with something and do it with grace and dignity - no whining, screaming or going completely off one's nut. It's a fine old word for someone who aspires to authenticity or enlightenment, but it's not a word for wimps and sissies, and true patience is anything but limp, indecisive or docile. Sometimes, it requires bags of forbearance and not a little cussing.

By now, the snow should be vanishing from the Lanark highlands, and there should be budding wildflowers in the woods. Alas, recent storms brought subzero temperatures, deep snow and bitterly cold winds. There will be no wildflowers in our forest for several weeks, and there are times when I wonder if springtime will ever come.

What is one to do??? I pick up my camera or paint brush, brew a pot of tea, pummel bread, stir up a fiery curry, go walkabout with Beau, curl up in my favorite chair with a good book. I just breathe, in and out, in and out, in and out.

For some reason, the elegant keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and the Bach preludes (Glenn Gould) tuck everything back into place, and so does listening to Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik or Die Zauberflöte. Grieg's Holberg Suite works wonders too, and in recent weeks I have also been listening to Sibelius.
 
Beau and I dream about the sun rising and setting in the highlands, about frozen cattails rattling their bones along the shore of our favorite lake. We remember listening to the wind in the bare trees, leaning against the old rail fence and watching last autumn's desiccated leaves whirl through the air like confetti. We cling to the fragile hope that springtime will show up any day now.

I am learning that patience is a wild and fierce emotion, and that being patient with one's own self is the hardest thing of all.  Spirit Rock's Jack Kornfield says, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”  I may get there one of these lifetimes, but I have a very long way to go.

This morning's image is a bloodroot capture from some time ago. In early spring, the blooms emerge from the earth and dead leaves of my favorite place in the world, and they glow like little suns in the woods. Colonies of sanguinaria canadensis are absolute perfection, and they leave me breathless when I encounter them. They were my late soulmate's favorite flower, and we loved looking at them together. This will be my second spring without him, and I miss him so much.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Thursday Poem - Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Cantrip for Invoking Spring

We wait for temperatures to rise, for the deep snow in the garden to melt and reveal the rich dark earth of our outdoor sanctuary. We wait for sunlight to warm the quiet southern alcoves where snowdrops, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus and tulips are waiting patiently underground to rise up and bloom in all the colors of a northern rainbow.

We wait for Canada geese to come back and fill the skies with their jubilant songs of homecoming, for blue herons to return to their reedy haunts, for great northern loons to call across the lake at dusk. We wait for the eastern Ontario highlands to come alive, wildflowers carpeting the woodlands and rocky hills where we spend our happiest hours, rambling (or rather lurching) along. Homecoming, how I love that word.

Enough was enough on a bitterly cold, snowy morning in early March, and something had to be done. We pottered off to a local market and returned home a while later with tulips in scarlet, orange, mauve and bright pink. 

From their place near a sunny, south facing window, the blooms dazzle our eyes. They fill the little blue house with their vibrant hues and heady perfume, and they are a perfect cantrip for invoking springtime. If only we could share their color and fragrance with you personally this morning - they are fabulously sumptuous.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Wilderness is a form of sophistication, because it carries within it true knowledge of our place in the world. It doesn't exclude civilization but prowls through it, knowing when to attend to the needs of the committee and when to drink from a moonlit lake. It will wear a suit and tie when it has to, but refuses to trim its talons or whiskers. Its sensing nature is not afraid of emotion: the old stories are full of grief forests and triumphant returns, banquets and bridges of thorns. Myth tells us that the full gamut of feeling is to be experienced.

Martin Shaw, A Branch From the Lightening Tree

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday Ramble - On the Cusp of March


Several inches of snow fell here this week, and flinging white stuff out of the driveway, front walk and threshold was the first order of most days. The deck and stairs at the back of the little blue house needed to be cleared too, and I also keep a circular track clear in the yard for Beau to run around. In many places the snow is much deeper than he is tall, and my lovely boy disappears from view entirely when he is outside and making energetic use of his exercise circuit.

The waxing moon was a presence in the sky at nightfall, and temperatures were well below zero overnight. As I looked though my kitchen window around three o'clock this morning, I could hear the north wind rattling the chimney, cavorting across the roof shingles and gamboling merrily through the eaves.

Snow dusted every surface at sunrise, and there was snapping and crackling as winter birds danced from twig to brittle twig among the bare shrubberies and did a little chilled singing to greet the day. Objects in the garden are submerged in deep snow, but hillocks of white stuff mark their location, looking for all the world like pointed Chinese hats. Along the roof line, icicles take shape, dwindle in the sunlight and form again against the blue, morning sky.

Now and then, we have balmy, brilliant days in late February and early March, but for the most part we lurch between winter and spring, grey skies from here to there, winds out of the north, snow and ice pellets, now and again freezing rain. We wandered in the woods for a while this week, but after only a few shutter clicks, my fingers were blue, and back into heavy gloves they went.

Wonder of wonders, a gnarly old willow down by the creek was putting up lovely furry catkins in its protected alcove, and the icicles below it cradled tiny branches and fragile scraps of green. Snow blanketed everything in my favorite clearing, but the little stream at my feet was running free and singing, its waters dark and glossy and filled with radiant possibility. Willow, song and flow are still percolating in my thoughts this morning as I write, a day or two later.

A gallimaufry of seasonal images and motifs, but not uncommon in my native place, and I am quite all right with the state of things. It's always about the light, and there is light everywhere I look, in icicles and trees full of snowy stars, in thawing streams and fuzzy little willow buds. Perhaps springtime is not far off. I cling to the thought and turn my collar up against the gelid wind.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Thursday Poem - Winter


WINTER, a sharp bitter day
the robin turns plump against the cold
the sun is weak
silver faded from gold
he is late in his coming and short in his stay
Man, beast, bird and air all purging, all cleansing,
earth already purified awaits the rite of spring
Her bridal gown a virgin snow and frosts in her hair
A snowdrop by the road today bowed gracefully
and high upon the wing up in the sparkling nothingness,
a lone bird began to sing
Can gentle spring be far away?

Tommy Makem

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Monday, February 22, 2021

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It's our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blankets out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. Imagine the books, the paintings, the poems, the clever machines, the compassionate acts, the transcendent ideas, the perfect tools. The fierce defense of all that has been given. Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world. In return for the privilege of breath.

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

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Friday, February 19, 2021

Friday Ramble - Cauldrons of Light and Sweetness

It remains one of my favorite intervals in the whole turning year - the cold sunny days in late winter or early springtime when the north gears up for the maple syrup season.  The Lanark woods are full of sugar bird (saw-whet owl) songs. Clouds of smoke and steam rise from wooden sugar shacks tucked in among the old trees, and the enchanting fragrance of boiling maple sap is everywhere.

The sylvan alchemy in progress is wild and sweet, and the homely metaphor of cauldrons, cooking pots and cast iron maple syrup kettles is dear to me. I still have the battered Dutch oven I carried while rambling the continent many years ago, stirring soups, potions and stews by starlight and watching as sparks went spiraling into the inky sky over the rim of my old pot.  The motes of light rising from its depths were stars too, and they were a perfect counterpoint to the constellations dancing over my head.

These days, there's a stockpot bubbling away on the stove in my kitchen. There's a rice cooker, earthenware bean pots and and a crock pot or two. In the cupboard are unglazed earthenware tagines and cast iron casseroles by Staub and Le Creuset in bright red. A small three-legged incense bowl rests on the table in my study.
 
In late February, early March and April, there are the sugar camps of friends in the Lanark Highlands. Miles of collecting hose in confetti colors are strung from maple to maple, and evaporators send fragrant plumes into the air. Tin sap pails and spouts are fixed to trees, and antique syrup cauldrons boil over open fires to demonstrate how maple syrup was made in times past.

The word cauldron comes from the Middle English cauderon, thence from the Anglo-Norman caudiere and the Latin caldāria, the latter meaning “cooking pot” and rooted in the adjective calidus meaning warm or “suitable for warming”. At the end of the trail is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root kelə meaning simply “warm”.  Calendar, calorie, chafe, chiaroscuro, claim, clamor, class, clear, council, hale, haul and lee are kin. So is caldera, the term geologists use to describe the massive crater formed when a volcano's magma chamber is emptied by a massive eruption or the chamber's roof collapses. The largest volcanic caldera on earth is the vast Yellowstone Caldera in northern Wyoming which is actually composed of four overlapping basins.

The night that gifts us with stars and enfolds us gently when the sun goes down is a vast cauldron or bowl.  Somewhere in the darkness up there, Cerridwen is stirring her heady cosmic brew of knowledge, creativity and rebirth, her magical kettle simmering over a mystic cook fire. From her vessel, the bard Taliesin once partook of a single drop and awakened into wisdom and song. We're all vessels, and one of the best motifs for this life is surely a pot or cauldron, one battered, dented and well traveled, but useful and happy to be so, bubbling and crackling away in the background (sometimes in the foreground), making happy musics and occasionally sending bright motes up into the air.

And so it is with this old hen when her favorite wild places begin to awaken. Notions of alchemy bubble away gently. Sparks fly upward, images of pots and cauldrons cosmic and domestic whirl about in her thoughts. She simply could not (and would not) be anywhere else. Please Mama, let springtime begin soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Thursday Poem - Straight Talk From Fox


Listen says fox it is music to run
over the hills to lick
dew from the leaves to nose along
the edges of the ponds to smell the fat
ducks in their bright feathers but
far out, safe in their rafts of
sleep. It is like
music to visit the orchard, to find
the vole sucking the sweet of the apple, or the
rabbit with his fast-beating heart. Death itself
is a music. Nobody has ever come close to
writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot
be told. It is flesh and bones
changing shape and with good cause, mercy
is a little child beside such an invention. It is
music to wander the black back roads
outside of town no one awake or wondering
if anything miraculous is ever going to
happen, totally dumb to the fact of every
moment's miracle. Don't think I haven't
peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons
making love, arguing, talking about God
as if he were an idea instead of the grass,
instead of the stars, the rabbit caught
in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought
home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is
responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not
give my life for a thousand of yours.

Mary Oliver, from Redbird

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Monday, February 15, 2021

Sunday, February 14, 2021

For Valentine's Day

My soulmate and I usually didn't do anything lavish or opulent for Valentine's Day, and that was just fine with us.

I would create a card for him with one of my photos or graphic designs, brew a special pot of tea, carve something into a piece of fruit, make tiny cookies in heart shapes. We shared a single piece of scrumptious (organic) dark chocolate and then went for a long walk in the snowy woods with our beloved canine companions, first Cassie, then Spencer, then (and now) Beau.

There were no special declarations of love on February 14th. We told each other so every day, and we were content with the way this day unfolded. No frilly gestures and lovey-dovey professions were needed. We knew how we felt about each other, how good we were together, how amazingly blessed we were to have found each other so many years ago.

Irv traveled on ahead several months ago, but there is a handmade card on his bureau as always. I carved a heart on a McIntosh apple and put it on the old oak table with a pot of Darjeeling and his favorite cookies. Beau and I will take a long walk in the woods, and my soulmate will be with us, but he won't leave any tracks in the snow. I will tell him I love him as I did every day when he was here on earth, and as I still do every single day.

Wishing you deep and everlasting love too.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Friday, February 12, 2021

Friday Ramble - Wishful Stirrings

Another frigid winter morning (-27 degrees), motes of sunlight scattering like stars in the cold air, snow everywhere, a wind that goes right to the bones and makes a valiant effort to flash freeze one's metabolism, the parts not already frozen, that is. Underwhelming to say the least, and I am not alone in my disgruntlement. When I tried to entice Beau into going outside a few minutes ago, he looked into the garden, gave me a filthy look, then turned his back on the door (and me) and trotted back to bed.

At times like these, exotic spices and culinary offerings from faraway places go dancing through my sconce, clattering their cymbals and shaking their tambourines in the depths of the pantry. How to begin? The day's opening gambit is a sumptuous beaker of Logdriver espresso (strong enough to walk on) and a stack of cookbooks. So far, the selection includes the works below, but others will be added to the heap before I plunk myself down in an old oak mission chair to sip and ponder and scheme.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace, Tamar Adler
The Buddhist Chef: 100 Simple Feel-Good Recipes, Jean-Philippe Cyr 
First We Eat, Eva Kosmos Flores
The Heart of the Plate, Mollie Katzen
Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables, Joshua McFadden
The Greens Cookbook, Deborah Madison
Arabesque, Claudia Roden  
Fresh India, Meera Sodha
Everyday Greens, Annie Somerville
The Vegetarian Epicure (Vols 1 and 2) Anna Thomas
Finding Yourself in the Kitchen, Dana Velden
The Art of Simple Food (Vols 1 and 2), Alice Waters
The Food of Morocco, Paula Wolfert
The Breath of a Wok, Grace Young
Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, Grace Young

Rebecca Katz's cookbooks are in a stack of their own. Dipping into them, I savor every mouthwatering recipe and vibrant image. All five are a treasure trove of information on using good food to battle cancer and get through chemotherapy, to maintain a healthy mind and live a long and robust life. They are also a feast for body and soul. On days when I can't stand even looking at food, Rebecca's books delight the eyes and nudge my taste buds back to life.

Whatever comes together in the kitchen this morning, it will be something impromptu and redolent of aromatic spices. My stirrings will likely contain saffron, perhaps a few pomegranate seeds, an anise star or two.

Just seeing a dish of saffron threads always cheers me up, and I wish I had enough hair to tint that fabulous color. Since I don't, I painted the front door of the little blue house in the village the precise scarlet of a bowl of saffron threads.  For years, my soulmate and I cultivated autumn blooming crocuses in our garden and dreamed of harvesting our own saffron threads, but local squirrels love the stuff as much as we do and were always making off with the corms. Here I am (again) pondering how best to protect Crocus sativus when I plant it again this fall. Barbed wire, an electric fence? 

The day's culinary adventures will conjure sunlight and warmth and comfort.  All three are welcome on a deep freeze day when one can't wander about with a camera for fear of going base over apex on a patch of sneaky ice, and her canine companion won't go out. There is an element of ritual to this morning's activities - perhaps my saffron and wishful stirrings will be noticed by Lady Spring wherever she is. If not, the dazzling reds and golds are almost indecently sumptuous, and they make my heart glad.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Thursday Poem - Don't Wait for Something Beautiful to Find You

Go out into the weather-beaten world
where straw men lean on frozen fields
and find the cardinal's scarlet flash of wing,
a winter heart, a feathered hope.

Without a camera or a memory,
we travel these old country roads,
turn corners like the pages of a book,
enchanted by the ordinary life

of fields and rocks and woods,
of small wild creatures stirring in the brush.
We take home pockets full of myths
and wonders seldom seen.

We will not give up easily,
Across the breakfast table
in our precarious nest,
we make those promises keep on going

that no one ever keeps.  And yet...
there is the cardinal again,
a finial on our old gray fence.
Red is for Valentines.

Dolores Stewart

This morning's poem is reprinted with permission from Dolores Stewart's gorgeous volume of poetry, The Nature of Things.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Monday, February 08, 2021

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.

Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees