Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Wolf Moon and Eclipse (Not)

She rises before sunrise and brews up a lovely mug of espresso in the DiLongi, then lurches into the study to write a blog post.

There are one or two recent photos she thinks are OK, but she can't for the life of her figure out what to say about them. The words simply do not come. For someone who spends so much time with her nose in a book and thinking about word origins, the absence is a shocking state of affairs.

Perhaps the cold has something to do with it, could her brain have frozen over? When she and Beau ventured outside for the first time this morning, dark clouds obscured the sky, and the thermometer registered a balmy -38 degrees Celsius, a temperature just about as cold when expressed in Fahrenheit degrees. It snowed all night, and there is at least a foot of snow in the driveway and on the cobblestones at the front of the house.

She wishes she and her companion had been able to see the full moon and total lunar eclipse on Sunday evening, that skies had been clear and they had been able to gaze on all the splendiferous red up there in the darkness. There were dark clouds from here to there, and they saw it not. Shucks.

One thing about this winter - the village is growing some fabulous icicles. When sunlight shines through them, they shimmer and dazzle, and they seem to hold the whole universe within. One can almost forget what a nippy undertaking it is, this glacial business of trying to capture them with a camera.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Wild Geese (for Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver
(September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday Ramble - Wintery 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 abundance (or abundant) to describe circumstances of fullness, ripeness and plenty, most often 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's eye is as ardent as autumn's, but it views the world with a different camera, taking in evergreens against the clouds, the light falling across old rail fences, deep blue shadows across snow, dead 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, bales of hay left in winter fields are  the coinage of summer passed, and they are eloquent reminders too. Each and every element cries out for attention, for patient eyes and a recording lens, for recognition, remembrance and a slender scrip of words. 

The long white season is about harvest and abundance too, but the gathering is inward, the abundance quieter and dappled with questions.  Around this time of the year, I find myself questioning the shape of my journeying - the slow progress across eastern Ontario's highlands with camera and notebook in hand, the sheaves of images captured or described and carefully archived, even the eyes with which this old hen is seeing the world. There are wonders to be encountered, even when one can't move about as much as she would like.  When she must remain indoors entirely, there are whole forests of memories to revisit.

We need to remember that questions are a part of the journey, and that they 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 earth are numbered, but in the warm darkness of my questions and my uncertainty, I gather everything in and rejoice.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Thursday Poem - The Snowman

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
 In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens, from Harmonium

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wordless Wednesday - On the Fence

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Like Honey in Her Cup

The north wind brushes snow away from ice on the river, and clouds of displaced snowflakes swirl through the air like confetti.  Light flickers through nearby trees and everything sparkles: river, snowdrifts, whiskery branches and frozen grasses. The scene is uplifting for a crotchety human in January. She longs for light, and the sunshine is a shawl across her shoulders as it comes and goes through the clouds and the mist over the river—it's like honey in her cup.

Reeds fringe the river here and there, their stalwart toes planted in the frozen mud, and their withered stalks swaying in the wind. The spikes outlined against the sky are pleasing when one can actually see them, their artfully curling tops eloquent of something wild and elemental and engaging. So too are the frosted fields, fences and trees on the far shore, the cobalt hues of snow and sky, the diaphanous veil of cold mist hanging over everything.

We call the wetland plants bulrushes or reed mace, cattails, cat-o'-nine-tails or swamp sausages.  We tuck them into floral arrangements, weave them into baskets, pound their rhizomes into flour, make paper out of them, or sometimes (as she was doing this day) just perch on a shoreline and watch them crackle and flutter in the wind. Members of genus typha are always pleasing, but most of all when they are hanging out in the frozen waters of their native place.

There are no caroling birds by the river, and there is silence for the most part, but this week, she remembered the river laughing in its exuberant springtime flowing, last summer's herons motionless in the reeds at sundown.  She smiled, thinking of Vladimir Nabokov's memoir, "Speak Memory". On another day, that might have been a good title for this post written in the icy depths of winter.

The world around her is a manuscript written in wind and light. How on earth is she going to fit sky, wind, landscape and dancing snow into one 5 x 7 image?

Monday, January 14, 2019

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World


...For the greater part of human history, and in places in the world today, common resources were the rule. But some invented a different story, a social construct in which everything is a commodity to be bought and sold. The market economy story has spread like wildfire, with uneven results for human well-being and devastation for the natural world. But it is just a story we have told ourselves and we are free to tell another, to reclaim the old one.

One of these stories sustains the living systems on which we depend. One of these stories opens the way to living in gratitude and amazement at the richness and generosity of the world. One of these stories asks us to bestow our gifts in kind, to celebrate our kinship with the world. We can choose. If all the world is a commodity, how poor we grow. When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become.

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

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Ramble - January's Performing Arts

The thermometer hovers around -30 (Celsius) this morning, and 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 snowdrifts wrapping the house.

Advised to remain indoors until a persistent and annoying fever abates, 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 occasionally (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 have wondered 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 10, 2019

Thursday Poem - January

Dusk and snow this hour
in argument have settled
nothing. Light persists,
and darkness. If a star
shines now, that shine is
swallowed and given back
doubled, grounded bright.
The timid angels flailed
by passing children lift
in a whitening wind
toward night. What plays
beyond the window plays
as water might, all parts
making cold digress.
Beneath iced bush and eave,
the small banked fires of birds
at rest lend absences
to seeming absence. Truth
is, nothing at all is missing.
Wind hisses and one shadow
sways where a window's lampglow
has added something. The rest
is dark and light together tolled
against the boundary-riven
houses. Against our lives,
the stunning wholeness of the world.

Betty Adcock from Intervale

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

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

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

We are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

Elizabeth GIlbert

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Friday, January 04, 2019

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 we three need to be out in the Lanark 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 cut cedar for the deer. 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 rich as old Croesus - 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??? No resolutions scrawled on paper or etched in stone, only the same old work in progress - trying to be fully present and paying attention, cultivating connection with my native place, getting out of my own way and letting the camera see what it will see, just breathing in and out, in and out. In the words of Osaka Koryu, when I breathe in, I will breathe in the whole universe. When I breathe out, I will breathe out the whole universe.

Thanks to ongoing health issues, long rambles are still in abeyance, but that is quite all right. Being right here and able to take this amazing world in, that is a breathtaking gift.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Thursday Poem - You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around.

William Stafford