Friday, October 22, 2021

Friday Ramble - Hibernate

This week's word offering comes to us from the Latin hībernātus, past participle of the verb hībernāre (to spend the winter) and the noun hiems (snowstorm, winter), both related to the Greek cheimá (winter) and Sanskrit hima (cold, frost or snow). All of the above likely originated in the Proto Indo-European (PIE) root forms ghei-, ghi-, and ghimo- meaning snow or winter. Our word is kin to the mightiest mountains on earth - the name of the Himalayan mountain range is a combination of the Sanskrit hima (snow) and alaya (abode), meaning "the abode of snow" in that language.

Many birds in the northern hemisphere migrate south, and other species of wildlife go dormant during winter. We refer to the process as hibernating. Bears exhibit an elegant and impressive physiology as they hibernate through the long white season in their leaf-strewn dens. Squirrels, prairie dogs, groundhogs and hedgehogs also den up when temperatures fall, sleeping until temperatures in their native place rise and food becomes available again. Northern frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes and turtles are also masters of the art of hibernation.

Humans "do" hibernation too, and we do it in various ways. Some of us migrate to warmer climes to escape ice and snow and cold, but many of us simply withdraw from the outside world to warm dens of our own. Our protocols for getting through winter are highly personal. We retrieve shawls, sweaters and gloves from cedar chests, accumulate stacks of books, tea, munchies and music. We kindle fires in fireplaces, pull the draperies closed and surround ourselves with things that are warm, embracing, spicy and redolent of quiet comfort. For me, a big mug of tea and a favorite shawl in deep, earthy red chenille are the right stuff.

I buy more cookbooks between now and springtime, make endless pots of tea and pummel bread dough, listen to classical music and jazz, pose still life camera compositions on tables and window sills, pile up leaning towers of reading material. The books brought home are usually hardcovers - there is something uplifting about holding the real thing in one's hands, the way its thick creamy paper feels, the smell of the ink, the shapes of the illustrations and the typefaces used. I can get totally caught up in the color of a morning cup of tea, and I have to resist the temptation to add cinnamon sticks, anise stars and peperoncino to anything I brew or stir up in the kitchen. In October and November, it is is almost impossible to pass trees, hedgerows and drifts of fallen leaves without getting utterly lost in their golds and reds and bronzes.

Hibernation also means wandering around with a camera in the cold, trying to capture the light of the sun as it touches clouds, contrails and migrating geese, sparks across frost dappled fields, farm buildings and old rail fences. It's a meditative process holding out stillness and tantalizing glimpses of something wild, elusive and elemental. Ice, frost, snow and the paucity of light notwithstanding, it's all good, and something to be treasured. Every view is a wonder and no two images are ever the same, even when they were captured in exactly the same place.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Thursday Poem - Unchurched

Autumnal sun streams through
these yellow maple leaves
translucent as stained glass.

The ground beneath my feet
is strewn with pine cones, acorns.
The random pattern of continuance.

Etched columns of pine and oak.
Incense of resin and fungi.
Great glacial stones for altars.

High winds and choirs of
minor breezes, the whispering hush.
It is the Sabbath. It is enough.

Dolores Stewart, from The Nature of Things
(reprinted here with the late poet's kind permission

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you'd think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise. We are alive against the stupendous odds of genetics, infinitely outnumbered by all the alternates who might, except for luck, be in our places.

Even more astounding is our statistical improbability in physical terms. The normal, predictable state of matter throughout the universe is randomness, a relaxed sort of equilibrium, with atoms and their particles scattered around in an amorphous muddle. We, in brilliant contrast, are completely organized structures, squirming with information at every covalent bond. We make our living by catching electrons at the moment of their excitement by solar photons, swiping the energy released at the instant of each jump and storing it up in intricate loops for ourselves.

We violate probability, by our nature. To be able to do this systematically, and in such wild varieties of form, from viruses to whales, is extremely unlikely; to have sustained the effort successfully for the several billion years of our existence, without drifting back into randomness, was nearly a mathematical impossibility.

Add to this the biological improbability that makes each member of our own species unique. Everyone is one in 3 billion at the moment, which describes the odds. Each of us is a self-contained, free-standing individual, labeled by specific protein configurations at the surfaces of cells, identifiable by whorls of fingertip skin, maybe even by special medleys of fragrance. You'd think we'd never stop dancing.

Lewis Thomas,The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Friday, October 15, 2021

Friday Ramble - Memory

This week's word has been around since the thirteenth century, coming to us from the Middle English memorie, the Anglo-French memoire and the Latin memoria/memor meaning "mindful".  Further back are the Old English gemimor meaning "well-known", the Anglo-Saxon gemunan meaning "to bear in mind", the Greek mermēra meaning "care", and the Sanskrit smarati meaning "that which is remembered". In the Vedas, the word smarati is used to describe teachings handed down orally from the ancients and never written out. At the beginning of this week's wordy adventure is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root form (s)mer- meaning to keep something in mind.

One of the late autumn entities that always tugs at my heartstrings is the last heron of the season, he or she haunting leaf-strewn shallows in solitary splendor and hoping to find a few fish, frogs and water beetles to fuel the long trip south. It's an arduous journey from here to there -  all the way to the southern states, Cuba, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela, and the Galapagos Islands. Consuming a few omega-rich meals before starting out on such a long voyage is a sensible thing to do.

I have already written here more than once about a long ago autumn morning in northern Ontario when the heron migration was in full swing. The great birds had gathered in predawn darkness to feed before flying onward, and hundreds stood almost side by side in the foggy waters of the Mississagi river near the town of Iron Bridge. As we moved along the shoreline, their silhouettes appeared one by one out of the mist, and it was breathtaking. It was wild magic of the finest kind.

There is enough enchantment in such tatterdemalion snippets to last many lifetimes, and I would like to retain the memory of that morning for the rest of my earthly days and beyond, no matter how many other mind scraps embrace the void somewhere along the road. I've always loved the "great blues", and I revisit the scene often in my thoughts, always a place of tranquility and stillness. We need as many peaceful places as we can find in these troubling times.

For whatever reason, archaic English refers to a group of herons together, not as colony or a flock, but as "a sedge of herons".  Every summer I watch herons fishing in the shallows along Dalhousie Lake and think that if there were no other teachers about, I would be just fine with a sedge of herons to show me the way.  

I don't usually think of a group of Great Blues as a sedge though. For those of us who love Ardea herodias and stay home in winter rather than flying south, the right expression for a gathering of our favorite birds is surely "a memory of herons". In the depths of the long white season, we think of them and smile.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Thursday Poem - October

October.  Its brilliant festival of dry
and moist decay.  Its spicy, musky scent.
The church's parking lot deserted
except for this one witness,
myself, just resting there.

Somewhere a radio plays Flamenco.
A spotlight of sunshine falls on the scattered debris.
Blood-red and gold, a perfect circle of leaves
begins to whirl,
slowly at first, keeping the pattern,
clicking against the blacktop
like heels and  castanets,
then faster, faster, faster. . .
round as a ruffle, as the swirling
skirts of an invisible dancer.
Swept off into the tangled woods
by the muscular breeze.
The hoarse cheering of crows.

Inside the dark empty church,
long cool shadows, white-painted wood,
austere Protestant candles thriftily snuffed,
Perhaps a note on the altar,
Gone dancing. Back on Sunday

Dolores Stewart, from The Nature of Things

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Season of Last Things

This is the season of last things, and how poignant they are in their shapes and colors, in every fiber of their joyous and unfettered being.

The last antique roses are blooming in our garden, and the last ripening tomatoes cling to their vines in the veggie patch. The last wild grapes of the season dangle in village hedgerows, soon to be picked by frugal villagers and turned into jelly and wine. Scarlet Virginia creepers wrap old wooden fences in the village, and the last crimson berries sway on our hawthorn, most of them already carried off by birds and squirrels. Maple, oak and beech leaves flutter through the air like birds, coming to rest on veranda railings and the chilly dark earth below in the garden.

I love autumn, but this season always takes some getting used to, and I am working on it again this time around. There have been many farewells to departing (or hibernating) wild kin in the last week or two, and I have tried to remember to say thanks to the myriad entities who enriched our lives this year and are now passing away. Bees, bumbles, dragonflies and cicadas - wherever they alight in their journey, and whoever or whatever they come to be the next time around, may they all be well and happy.

At first light, local hedgerows wear strands of spider silk, shimmering and strung with pearls of dew. I remember an October day a few years ago when a neighbor rang my doorbell a few minutes after sunrise, wide-eyed, breathless and ecstatic. While walking her dogs in a nearby field, she had discovered a vast orb weaver's web, several feet wide and beaded with tiny drops of condensation from one end to the other.  I just had to come out and see it, had to capture it for her with the Pentax and my macro lens.
My friend has health issues now, and she resides in an assisted living community in the village. I think of her whenever I pass the cedar hedge where we once stood shivering in the early light, entranced by a weaving spider's exquisite creation. We were as happy that cold morning as two hoary old clams can ever be.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

When we plant a tree we are planting ourselves. Releasing dolphins back to the wild, we are ourselves returning home. Composting leftovers, we are being reborn as irises and apples. We can "think like a mountain," in Aldo Leopold's words, and we can discover ourselves to be everywhere and in everything, and we can know the activity of the world as not separate from who we are but rather of what we are. The practice of the "nonlocal self" means that when we work for the restoration of the rain forest, we are restoring our "extended" self.

Joan Halifax Roshi, The Fruitful Darkness

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Friday, October 08, 2021

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) ak- meaning "sharp". Kindred words in the English language include 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 is passing away, and we stand on 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 a few intrepid herons, migratory birds have departed for warmer climes, and our favorite lake seems still and empty. Most of our wild forest kin are already hibernating or are thinking about doing it.

On rambles in 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; puddles along our way are sometimes rimed with ice. For all the emptiness after birds migrate and woodland creatures drift into hibernation, frost and morning sunlight change our native place into something rich and elegant and inviting: glittering weed fronds artfully curved and waving in the fields, milkweed sculpted into arty  shapes, trees twinkling like stars, the edges of blackberry leaves rosy and sparkling with dew or 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. In using the word to describe something, we focus on what is deeper or within, rather than that which is apparent at first glance or merely 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, October 07, 2021

Thursday Poem - This Time of Year

when the light leaves early, sun slipping down
behind the beech trees as easily as a spoon
of cherry cough syrup, four deer step delicately
up our path, just at the moment when the colors
shift, to eat fallen apples in the tall grass.
Great grey ghosts. If we steal outside in the dark,
we can hear them chew. A sudden movement,
they're gone, the whiteness of their tails
a burning afterimage. A hollow pumpkin moon rises,
turns the dried corn to chiaroscuro, shape and shadow;
the breath of the wind draws the leaves and stalks
like melancholy cellos. These days are songs, noon air
that flows like warm honey, the maple trees' glissando
of fat buttery leaves. The sun goes straight to the gut
like a slug of brandy, an eau-de-vie. Ochre October:
the sky, a blue dazzle, the grand finale of trees,
this spontaneous applause; when darkness falls
like a curtain, the last act, the passage of time,
that blue current; October, and the light leaves early,
our radiant hungers, all these golden losses.

Barbara Crooker, from Radiance

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

October, Alight

In the village, scarlets, plums and golds are creeping into view, their emergence out of summer's dusty greens motivated by cooler evenings and gently ruffling winds at nightfall. When Beau and I potter off in the morning, our favorite hedgerows are arrayed in confetti hues, and there are glossy coins of dew everywhere.

In summer, a small gasp of koi or nishikigoi (錦鯉, "brocaded carp") makes its home in the shaded pond underneath this Japanese maple, but the fish have been moved to indoor tanks for the winter, and the pond is a different place. I didn't know until a while ago that a colony of koi is called a gasp, and I like the idea, fitting since I seem to spend most of my time gasping at the splendor of the natural world at this time of year. Beau and I visit the maple and her pond on our morning walks until all her leaves have fallen, and the calm waters below her branches are covered with snow.

As often as we witness the turning of the seasons and the vivid entities coming into being, the transition of the village from emerald and jade to October's brilliant hues always takes us by surprise. Autumn transformations are magics of a wilder kind, and I can't imagine living this old life without being among them and watching as they flare and swirl and dance, blithely remaking the world in stunning elemental colors.

In October, northern light dazzles the eyes, and it lingers lovingly on everything it encounters in its journey across the eastern Ontario highlands. I wish I could paint everything it touches, and come to think of it, that is just what my lens is doing. All I do is stand here breathless and hold the camera. The lens does the rest.

Monday, October 04, 2021

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

I don’t think there is anything as powerful as an active heart. And the activists I know possess this powerful beating heart of change. They do not fear the wisdom of emotion, but embody it. They know how to listen. They are polite when they need to be and unyielding when necessary. They remain open, even as they push boundaries and inhabit the margins, understanding eventually, the margins will move toward the center. They are tenacious, informed, patient, and impatient, at once. They do not shy away from what is difficult. They refuse to accept the unacceptable. The most effective activists I know are in love with the world.

Terry Tempest Williams

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Friday, October 01, 2021

Friday Ramble - Autumn

This week's word comes to us through the Middle English autumpne and the Old French autompne, thence the Latin autumnus. The Latin form may hail from even older Etruscan forms, the first part of autumnus (autu) originating in the Etruscan root autu or avil meaning year, and the second part (mnus) coming from menos meaning loss, minus, or passing. There we have it. At the end of our wordy adventures is the burnished but wistful thought that another year is ebbing. Another circling in what I like to call simply, "the Great Round," the natural cycle of our existence, is drawing to a close.

September is about harvest and abundance, but it is about balance too. The Autumn Equinox on September 22 was one of the two times in this year when day and night are balanced in length. On that day, (also called Mabon or "Harvest Home"), the sun seems to pass over the equator on a journey southward, moving steadily away from us who live above the 49th parallel. Things are actually the other way around of course, and it is the earth and her unruly children who are in motion. Between the Midsummer Solstice and the Winter Solstice, our planet's northern hemisphere tilts away from the radiant star at its center, and we stalwart northerners go along for the ride.

The magnificent constellations of winter are starting to appear, and the dome of night is a treasure trove of deep sky wonders, a gift for stargazey types like this Old Thing. Last night, a tapestry of stars covered the sky from here to there, and Jupiter and Saturn dazzled in the southern sky, borrowing light from the sun and acting for all the world as if they were stars, not planets. The waning moon was not visible until after midnight.

This morning, Beau and I were out in the garden before sunrise, and it was cold. Orion, our favorite autumn constellation, was clearly visible in the south. Sirius, brightest of all stars, twinkled below and slightly beyond the hunter's right foot, and the red giant Alderbaran danced above his left shoulder. The moon was a fragile crescent, high in the predawn darkness, When the sun rose, the stars vanished and every roof in the village was sewn with sequins of dew. With mornings like this, can one feel anything except rich as Croesus and jubilant in spirit?

On early walks, a few falling leaves drift around our ankles and make a fine rustling music. Earthbound foliage on the trail is going transparent and turning into stained glass in splendid buttery colors. We pause to look at all the wonders around our feet, and it's a wonder we ever get anywhere at all. When I stopped to look at a leaf in our path this morning, Beau looked up at me curiously. I started to say that I was looking for a perfect leaf, then stopped and started the sentence over again. Pristine, unblemished and golden, or faded, tattered and torn, every single autumn leaf is perfect, just as it is.

Happy October everyone!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Thursday Poem, Song of Autumn

In the deep fall
don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

Mary Oliver

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

And so it goes...

These late September mornings are beyond "cool', downright chilly in fact, and a warm jacket is often needed for morning walks and working in the garden. Sometimes, gloves, scarf and woolly hat are required too, also an umbrella. My hair is very short right now, and I no longer look like a hedgehog when I come inside and take my hat off.

At sunrise, northern skies are cobalt blue with strokes of gold and inky mauve thrown in for good measure. Because of the past summer's unusual heat and humidity, trees in the village are turning slowly this time around, and we are still waiting for breathtaking autumn displays of scarlet and bronze and gold to begin. Everything else is slow this year too, and McIntosh apples and gourds have yet to put in an appearance in local markets. I dream of apples right from the orchard and freshly pressed cider.

The morning air is rich with the fragrance of fallen crabapples and walnuts. In my garden, a few heirloom tomatoes are still ripening and the herbs are going to seed, but the kale continues to deliver profusions of curly green leaves. Nearby, the roses offer what may be the last magnificent blooms of the season, although (hopeful creatures that they are) they continue to bring forth delicate pink buds. Most of the buds will not make it to full blooming before the first frost, but the roses are budding anyway, something that always gives me pause for thought. The Autumn Joy sedum in the corner is moving from silvery green to rose and thence to vibrant burgundy, and it wears a blissed out throng of nectar gathering insects, bees, bumbles, hoverflies and potter wasps.

I ramble the garden watching the slow early movements of awakening bumble bees, and I know with a touch of sadness that one of these mornings we will awaken to frost, and there will be no little sisters doing their buzzing nectar dance in the garden behind the small blue house in the village. The merry sisterhood who graced our garden all summer long will have passed away and returned to the earth. Their queen will spend the winter resting underground and mother a new community in the spring.

I shall miss my little sisters, and as I move from plant to plant this morning, I bend and thank them, each and every one.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Ultimately, to live an enchanted life is to pick up the pieces of our bruised and battered psyches, and to offer them the nourishment they long for. It is to be challenged, to be awakened, to be gripped and shaken to the core by the extraordinary which lies at the heart of the ordinary. Above all, to live an enchanted life is to fall in love with the world all over again. This is an active choice, a leap of faith which is necessary not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of the wide, wild Earth in whose being and becoming we are so profoundly and beautifully entangled.

Sharon Blackie, The Enchanted Life, Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Friday, September 24, 2021

Friday Ramble - Taking the Sky Road Home

Only in September and October do sunsets like this come along, ground mist creeping through fields and around trees, light and sky and clouds like something out of a Maxfield Parrish painting. The clouds look like trails one could walk along, and they remind me of the title I once gave a photo, "Taking the Sky Road Home".

Fog and ground mist are common entities at sunrise and nightfall here in autumn, gossamer mantles of condensed moisture created by the earth's slow breathing and floating along, just above the surface of field and fen. We humans (and our animal kin) are cloud-breathing dragons, generating mists and fogs as we take air into our lungs and let it out again; trees breathe in and out too. As above so below, earth, sky, trees and sentient beings breathing in and out together. It's a notion dear to this old heart.

We call visible murky stuff "fog" when it reduces visibility to less than 1,000 metres, and we call it "mist" when we can see further than 1,000 meters through it. One can make out farm buildings way in the distance in the second photo, so the stuff here is mist rather than fog, and a right fine mist it is, nebulous and smoky.

I might have been anywhere in the world, but I was leaning against a fence in the eastern Ontario highlands on a cool night in late September, the collar of my jacket turned up against the wind. Resting easy in the moment, I looked on as another day drew to a close, taking photo after photo and hoping that one or two would turn out. The clouds, the setting sun, the gauzy veils of condensation floating just above the earth, all were too beautiful for words, so why was I trying to describe them?

The sun slid below the horizon, another autumn day folded up like an umbrella, and the stars came out. A brief interval this, but perfect in every way...

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Thursday Poem - Assurance

You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightening before it says
its names—and then the clouds' wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles—you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head—
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

William Stafford