Saturday, June 23, 2018

On the Rocks


Northern green frog (Rana clamitans melanota)
or (Lithobates clamitans melanota)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Midsummer's Ticking Clock

Somewhere in the dusty recesses of my noggin, the passage of these sultry summer days is being marked, and ever so wistfully.  The cosmic clock is ticking away in the background, and I find myself pondering the lessons held out by this golden interval that is passing away all too swiftly.

The other three seasons of a northern calendar year are splendid of course, and there are surely other fine summers ahead, but this summer is waning, and its days are numbered. The summer solstice has just come and gone, and we are sliding gently down the hill toward autumn, shorter days and longer nights.

Thoughts of coming and going are ever inscribed on summer's middling pages, and they're unsettling notions, making for restlessness and vague discontent, a gentle melancholy concerning the transience of all earthly things.  A heightened awareness of suchness (or tathata) is a midsummer thing for sure, and for the most part, one goes gently along with the flow, breathing in and out, trying to rest in the moment and do the gardeny things that need doing.

Old garden roses are a perfect metaphor for the season. They bloom once in a calendar year, but what a show they put on when they do, unruly tangles of wickedly thorny canes and blue-green leaves wearing delicate pink (for the most part) blooms with crinkled petals and golden hearts.

Each rose is unique, and each is exquisite until its faded petals flutter to earth like snowflakes. Around midsummer, fragrance lingers in every corner of the garden, and every year I fall in love with old roses all over again. It is nothing short of a miracle that creatures so beautiful and fragile thrive this far north.

Once in a while, I catch a glimpse of the Great Mystery while hanging out in the garden, and that is surely what this old life is all about.  I wish I didn't have to keep reminding myself of that, but then, there are my roses to remind me.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday Poem - Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honored among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honored among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.


Dylan Thomas

Perhaps the most exquisite summer poem ever written, pure magic from the first word to the last. Happy Midsummer, happy Solstice, happy Litha to you and yours!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Midsummer Thoughts

Here we are a few days before Midsummer, the Summer Solstice or Litha. Tomorrow night is midsummer eve, and Thursday is the longest day of the calendar year, the Sun poised at its zenith or highest point and seeming to stand still for a fleeting interval before starting down the long slippery slope toward autumn, and beyond that to winter. This morning's image was taken by the front gate of our Two Hundred Acre Wood in the Lanark highlands some time ago, and it is one of my favorites, capturing the essence of midsummer beautifully with tall trees and hazy sky in the background, golden daisies, purple bugloss and silvery meadow grasses dancing front and center.

Whither has the year flown?  It fells as though Summer has just arrived, but it's all downhill from here, at least for six months or so.  After Thursday, daylight hours will wane until Yule (or the Winter Solstice) around December 21 when they begin to stretch out again.  Longer nights go along on the cosmic ride during the latter half of the calendar year, and that is something to celebrate for those of us who are moonhearts and ardent backyard astronomers. The Old Wild Mother strews celestial wonders by generous handfuls as the year wanes, spinning spectacular star spangled tapestries in the velvety darkness that grows deeper and longer with every twenty-four hour interval.

How does one mark this sunlit moment between the lighter and darker halves of the year? The notion of midsummer night skies as a vast cauldron of twinkling stars is appropriate and magical too.  The eight festive spokes on the old Wheel of the Year are all associated with fire, but the summer solstice more than any other observance. Centuries ago, all Europe was alight on Midsummer eve, and ritual bonfires climbed high into the night from every village green.

According to Marian Green, midsummer festivities included morris dancing, games of chance and storytelling, feasting and pageantry and candlelight processions after dark.  Prosperity and abundance could be ensured by jumping over Midsummer fires, and its embers were charms against injury and bad weather at harvest time.  Embers were placed on the edges of orchards and fields to ensure good harvests, and they were carried home to family hearths for protection.  Doorways were decorated with swags and wreaths of birch, fennel, St. John's Wort and white lilies.

My midsummer morning observance is simple and much the same as any other morning of the year, a little more thoughtful perhaps.  I try to be outside or near a window with a mug of Jerusalem Artichoke (or Earth Apple as it is called here) tea and watch the sun rise.  There's a candle on the old oak table and a lighted wand of Shiseido incense (Plum Blossom) in a pottery bowl nearby. The afternoon holds a few hours of pottering in the village, a quiet meal as the sun goes down, a little stargazing and moon watching later. We cherish the simplicity of our small festive doings, and the quiet pleasure of being surrounded by kindred spirits.

Happy Midsummer to you and your clan this year, however you choose to celebrate (or not to celebrate) the occasion.  May the sun light up your day from sunrise to sunset, and your night be filled with stars from here to there.  May all good things come to you.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

There is no mystery in this association of woods and other worlds, for as anyone who has walked the woods knows, they are places of correspondence, of call and answer. Visual affinities of color, relief and texture abound. A fallen branch echoes the deltoid form of a stream bed into which it has come to rest. Chrome yellow autumn elm leaves find their color rhyme in the eye-ring of the blackbird. Different aspects of the forest link unexpectedly with each other, and so it is that within the stories, different times and worlds can be joined.
Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places

Saturday, June 16, 2018

First Roses

William Baffin Climbing Rose
Hybrid Kordesii (Rosa x 'William Baffin)
 'William Baffin' was developed in Ottawa by Agriculture Canada at the Central Experimental Farm, and it is one of the hardiest roses ever created. The Explorer rose program later moved to Morden, Manitoba.

Vigorous and very resistant to disease, 'Baffin' dishes out gorgeous pink blooms all summer long, and it is hardy to zone 3 with little or no special treatment or winter protection. Given a wall or a trellis to climb, it will happily reach ten feet in height and almost that in width. Hallelujah, this is a rose that loves living in the north and flowers extravagantly until frost.

I found this specimen at an end-of-season sale three years ago and it looked so lonely and forlorn in its corner that I just had to adopt it and bring it home. Now it lives where I can see it from my bedroom window, and this summer it will be joined by two other breathtaking Explorer roses, 'John Franklin' and 'David Thompson'. I can hardly wait.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Ramble - Enoughness

The adjective form of this week's word dates from before the year 900, having its origin in the Middle English enogh, and Old English genōh; both are cognate with the German genug, Gothic ganohs and  Old Norse nōgr.  The Old English geneah (it suffices) and Sanskrit naśati (reaches or reaching) are kindred words.

Roget gives us the following: abundant, adequate, ample, full, sufficient, suitable, acceptable, bountiful, comfortable, competent, complete, copious, decent, enough already, plentiful and satisfying.  Frugal and its noun form frugality are modern kin and words I sometimes use in conversation.

If you haven't already read Lewis Hyde's The Gift, Trickster Makes This World or Common As Air, think about it. In Hyde's view, to cultivate enoughness is see things a little (or a lot) differently, to make use of the gifts we have been given, to appreciate what we already have and embrace the non-commercial (or commonwealth) aspects of our creativity. We need to tread lightly on the earth, reduce our ecological footprint, lessen our demands on a world strained almost beyond its regenerative powers by human excess, greed, cruelty and contempt. Is the cup of our earthly days half empty or half full? It's up to us.

Cultivating enoughness, we use what we have been given with grace, respect and thanksgiving.  We partake of a wild and earthy fruitfulness, a careful abundance and an ethic of universal stewardship. We walk through this world rooted and knowing our place in it, live as the good stewards, artists and creators we were meant to be. Lewis Hyde says it a lot better than I ever could.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday Poem - Directions

The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.

But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.

Billy Collins,
(from The Art of Drowning)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Golden Treasure in the Woods

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper
(Cypripedium parviflorum var pubescens)
It's a time of the year when one signs in in the morning, looks at her photographic efforts from the last few days and decides to say as little as possible.  The photos say it all without her help, and the best thing she can do is be silent.  Let them speak, or sing in their own voices, in all their green, gold and rusty perfection.

I doesn't matter that she has been looking at wild orchids for years and capturing them with her lens whenever she encounters them. Every year, they are simply magnificent and beyond expression.  They are absolutely perfect, beyond perfect, and her little net of words is woefully inadequate. She will just sit here and look at them with her mouth open. Like WOW...

Monday, June 11, 2018

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.

We know so very little about this strange planet we live on, this haunted world where all answers lead only to more mystery.

Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Lupins and Early Light

I can never walk past a stand of lupins without thinking of the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch in which a bumbling highwayman named Dennis Moore (played by John Cleese) steals lupins from the rich and tries to give them to the local peasantry. Alas, Moore's efforts are met with derision by the people he is trying to hand his purloined florals to, and they demand other things instead, like Titian paintings, Venetian silver and art glass.

This morning's lupins live in the abandoned garden behind a small brick bungalow in the village.  The elderly woman who lived in the little house had a wonderful garden surrounded by high hedgerows, and the garden could not be seen from the street.  It always reminded me of the secret garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. There were fruit trees and blackberries and hawthorns, antique lupins in blue, purple, pink and cream, coneflowers, cornflowers, daisies, phlox, peonies and hostas.  The place was full of birds and bumbles in the summer, and it was an oasis of serenity. I loved visiting.

The house was sold a few months ago, and its owner has moved into an assisted living community. The property will be bulldozed this summer, and the lot filled up with townhouses, no green space involved whatsoever.  My friend's fabulous garden will soon to be a thing of the past.

This summer I am thinking of my friend and her fabulous garden rather than comedy sketches, and I am feeling a little blue. Some of her lupins, cornflowers, peonies and hostas will be coming home to my own garden this weekend, and I shall think of her whenever I see them.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Friday Ramble - Holding the Sun Within

Oh, how they hold the sun within, these gloriously yellow gerbera blooms. Kin to dahlias, daisies, marigolds, calendulas, coneflowers, chrysanthemums, zinnias, and the great towering sunflowers, they drink in summer's morning light and store it within the frilly tutus of their lavish petals. 

Little earthbound suns, they dish out abundance like honey, and even the old garden roses behind them are moved and uplifted by their frothy golden magnificence, by their almost imperceptible swaying movement, by the soft, sighing music of their duet with the wind.

Now and then, I falter as all living creatures must from time to time. On dreary days, I mourn the paucity of light in the world beyond my windows and find myself filled with vague longings and a gentle melancholy.

Then I remember how my garden loves the light in summer, and I am renewed by the remembrance, do a little blooming of my own within. If I could only take in light and store it as flowers do in their season - I am working on it.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Thursday Poem - For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
The steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together,
learn the flowers,
go light.

Gary Snyder, from Turtle Island

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Jester's Cap and Bells

Canadian columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

In the Pink

Swamp Butterfly Weed, also called Swamp Milkweed,
Rose Milkweed and White Indian Hemp
(Asclepias incarnata )
On a recent walk in the Lanark Highlands, I recorded pages of blooming "stuff" in my field notebook and pulled it out this morning for another look - not a shabby gathering for just a brief ramble in the woods, fields and fens of the Two Hundred Acre Wood and along the beaver pond.

Anemone (Canada, Rue, Wood), Bird's-foot Trefoil, Black Mustard, Bladder Campion, Boneset, Brown-eyed Susan, Buttercup, Cardinal Flower, Catnip, Chicory, Clover (tall yellow and white, short  pink, white and purple), Cohosh (Blue and Black), Common Milkweed, Crown Vetch, Daisy Fleabane, Dandelion, Day Lily, Deptford Pink, Elderberry, Everlasting Pea, Fragrant Water Lily (white), Hawkweed (orange and yellow), Heal-All, Hedge Bindweed, Honeysuckle, Lambs Quarters, Large Yellow Lady's Slipper, Leafy Spurge, Milkweed, Miterwort, Motherwort, Oxeye Daisy, Pickerelweed, Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrot), Red Baneberry, Rose Mallow, Shrubby Cinquefoil, Sow Thistle, Snakeroot, Spatterdock, St. John's Wort, Swamp Butterfly Weed (Swamp Milkweed), Thimbleberry, Thimbleweed, Toadflax, Tufted Vetch, Turkish Mullein, Vipers Bugloss, Vervain, Virgin's Bower (Wild Clematis), Wild Basil, Wild Bergamot, Wild Cucumber, Wild Parsnip, Yarrow, Yellow Goatsbeard

Such exercises are never simple laundry lists, but an expression of the abundance on offer here in summer, an appreciation too of what Mother Earth holds out to us in her own good time and seasons - they're also powerful reminders of what a special place this little blue planet is.

Most of the species listed this morning provide shelter and sustenance for wild cousins, munching for the furry and nectar for the winged.  Always of particular interest is milkweed which draws Monarch and Viceroy butterflies and serves as nurseries for their eggs and caterpillars.  Stands of kindred Swamp Butterfly Weed near the pond sport bright pink buds, and they sport dragonflies and damsel flies as do the silvery spatterdock leaves a little further out.

The tall water grasses along pond and stream were in ceaseless windy motion this week, a panoramic blur of dancing emerald green that made focusing a sometime thing.  A family of wood ducks detached themselves from the reeds and flew away protesting to splash down in the center with much quacking, beyond the loving scrutiny of eyes and lens. A few swallowtails fluttered in the distance, and the air over the water was full of iridescent dragonflies. It's all good, even if the deer flies and mosquitoes were out and about in profusion.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Dragonfly in the Wind

Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura)

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The world is its own magic.
Shunryu Suzuki