Tuesday, August 03, 2021

The World in My Cup

A pure wind envelops my body.
The whole world seen in a single cup.
Kokan Shiren
Some mornings, my cup seems to hold the whole world in its depths. I pour a beaker, look down and fall in love with the tea and the steam rising in ardent curls from it. I fall in love with the earthenware vessel and the wooden surface on which it rests, with the whole wide world and the infinite blue space in which it floats, with my kitchen window and this tattered old life, all over again.

Then I sit down in front of the computer to write about the feeling, and I cannot get the words together to describe it. What to do? I take a deep breath and scribble a rapt but meager little bowl of words, try to describe something vast and beautiful, something sentient and breathing and boundless and inexpressible. Who would have thought a simple cup of tea could enfold such wonders? Emaho!

Monday, August 02, 2021

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Friday, July 30, 2021

Friday Ramble Before Lammas

Here we are at the end of July, and tomorrow is the eve of Lammas, sometimes called Lughnsadh, LĂșnasa, Calan Awst, "First Harvest" or "Loaf Mass". The festival celebrates summer, farming and harvesting, particularly the gathering, milling and putting by of grains and cereals.

Humans have gathered and consumed grains and cereals since Neolithic times, and the beginning of domestic grain cultivation is an important moment in our evolution. It marks the transition from an ancient, nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of farming and settlement. Sickles, sheaves, stooks, mill wheels and grinding stones are common motifs in almost every culture on island earth.

Gods and goddesses? Oh yes, our festival has a veritable throng of harvest gods: Lugh, Tammuz, Osiris, Adonis and Attis to name a few. Then there is Dionysus or Bacchus -  the grapey god is in a class all by himself, deity of vineyards and harvesting, wine making, drunken revelry and ritual madness.  He stands at the gate between summer and autumn, and his magical tavern with its ever turning mill wheel and rapture inducing brews is the stuff of legend. According to folk tales, its doorway can be entered from any street in the great wide world if one is in the right frame of mind.

According to Irish mythology, the festival was created by Lugh in honor of the goddess Tailtu (his foster mother), who perished from exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for cultivation. August 1 is also associated with other harvest goddesses like Demeter, Persephone, Ceres, Bridget, the Cailleach, Selu, Nokomis (the Corn Mother) and Freya, who is sometimes known as the Lady of the Loaf.

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, August 1st is called "the feast of first fruits". Loaves of bread were baked with grain from the first harvest and placed on church altars, to be blessed and later to be used in simple charms and rustic enchantments.  Tenant farmers presented grain to their landlords, and a tithe (one tenth of a farm's yield) was given to the local church. Farmers delivered their portion to parish tithe barns, and a number of the elegant brick and stone structures survive today.

Tim Powers' fabulous The Drawing of the Dark always comes to mind around this time of year. The book is full of harvest and brewing metaphors, and it's a rollicking good read. The main characters are King Arthur (reborn as an aging Irish mercenary named Brian Duffy), a sorcerer called Aurelius Aurelianus (the legendary Merlin himself), and the Fisher King. Dionysus and his magical tavern put in an appearance, and they're in good  company - the woodland god Pan, Gambrinus (medieval King of Beer), Finn MacCool, Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, Odin, Thor and Hercules also show up. There's a whole shipload of Vikings sworn to defend the ancient brewery at the heart of the story and stave off Ragnarok and other mythical creatures too numerous to mention. For some time, the book was only available in paperback, but a hardcover edition was published a few years ago, and one of these days, I shall treat myself to a copy.

The first day of August marked the beginning of the harvest season for the ancients, but it also marked summer's end, and so it is for moderns. There are still many warm and sunny weeks before us, and it is difficult to believe that summer is waning, but it is doing just that. Our days are growing shorter.  

We've come a long way from our early "hunting and gathering" days, but traces of old seasonal rites remain here and there. When I arrived in Lanark county years ago, I learned that Lammas festivities are alive and well in the eastern Ontario highlands. They are called céilidhs or "field parties", and the attendees are unaware of the origins for the most part, but all the festival trappings are there: bonfires, corn, grilled munchies and fresh baked bread, wine and beer, music, storytelling, dancing and merrymaking in abundance. Once in a while, there is even a formal harvest observance.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Thursday Poem - Aunt Leaf

Needing one, I invented her—
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.

Dear aunt, I'd call into the leaves,
and she'd rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,

and we'd travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker—
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish—and all day we'd travel.

At day's end she'd leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float back

scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;

or she'd slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;

or she'd hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,

this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.

Mary Oliver
(from Twelve Moons, 1978)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Radiant Daughters of the Sun

Jerusalem Artichoke or Earth Apple (Helianthus tuberosus)

Monday, July 26, 2021

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

I build a platform, and live upon it, and think my thoughts, and aim high. To rise, I must have a field to rise from. To deepen, I must have bedrock from which to descend. The constancy of the physical world, under its green and blue dyes, draws me toward a better, richer self, call it elevation (there is hardly an adequate word), where I might ascend a little – where a gloss of spirit would mirror itself in worldly action. I don’t mean just mild goodness. I mean feistiness too, the fires of human energy stoked; I mean a gladness vivacious enough to disarrange the sorrows of the world into something better.

It is one of the great perils of our so-called civilized age that we do not acknowledge enough, or cherish enough, this connection between soul and landscape—between our own best possibilities, and the view from our own windows. We need the world as much as it needs us, and we need it in privacy, intimacy, and surety.

Mary Oliver, from “Home” in Long Life: Essays and Other Writings

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Friday, July 23, 2021

Friday Ramble - Season

This week's word comes to us from the Middle English sesoun through the Old French seson and the Vulgar Latin satio, meaning time of sowing or planting, all arising from the Latin serere, meaning to sow. Season shares its origins with the word seed, and both entities are concerned with fertility, fruitfulness and nourishment. The noun describes four divisions of the calender year as defined by designated differences in temperature, rainfall, daylight and the growth of vegetation: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

In earlier times, a season simply marked the interval within which an important hunting and/or agricultural activity was undertaken and completed i.e. the planting season, the harvest season, the hunting season, the dormant season. Each season is complete within itself whether viewed through the lens of the calendar year or the loving eyes of a crone, her canine companion and her camera rambling in the Great Round. Each season is a cycle with its beginning (sowing), its center or middle (cultivation and nurturing) and its completion (harvest or reaping).

In much the same way, to season a broth or stew is to undertake a savory sowing of foodstuff with the seeds of taste and ambrosial fragrance. Whether it is the planting, tending and reaping of one's garden or adding fresh herbs to a bowl of rice and veggies, it's all about nourishment, appreciating the earth's gifts and paying attention.

On early morning walks, heavy dew sparkles on field grasses and glistens on the wildflowers in nearby hedgerows. Buttery maple leaves drift into our path and come to rest at our feet, their early transition and swooping airborne dance set in motion by one of the hottest summers in recent memory. The sound is a pleasing susurrus that lingers long after we have rounded a corner and are turning toward home. Shallow puddles along our way hold fallen leaves in blithe fellowship with the sky and clouds and trees reflected from above. When we pause, we are standing in boundless sky.

August is only a few days away, and there is no doubt about it, autumn is not far off. If you live in the north, the coming season is about apples, rain and falling leaves, and the words form a lovely rustling mantra (or litany) as we ramble around the village and through the woods of the Lanark highlands. It's all good. With sweet and spicy things we will season the autumn days to come.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Thursday Poem - Daily

These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares

These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl

This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out

This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky

This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it

The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world

Naomi Shihab Nye, 
(from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems)

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Bumble Girl in the Purple

Common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens),
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Monday, July 19, 2021

Sunday, July 18, 2021

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, July 17, 2021

Friday, July 16, 2021

Friday Ramble - In the Great Blue Bowl of Morning

We (Beau and I) awaken to skies that would make an impressionist painter feel like dancing. Drifting clouds are backlit by the rising sun, and below them, flocks of Canada geese are singing in unison as they fly up from the river and out into farm fields to feed. This year's progeny sing loudest up there in the great blue bowl of morning. Their pleasure in being alive and aloft is contagious, and I watch them with a mug of tea, eyes shielded from the rising sun with a sleepy hand. 

There are dazzling pools of sunlight in the garden, deep shaded alcoves of shadow under the trees that are several degrees cooler than the open spaces. Chiaroscuro mornings in July and August remind me of the artist Jean Parrish's words, that when she painted she tried to mirror the way light sculptures the earth, the way shadows fall. Oh yes, Nature (the Old Wild Mother) is the most fabulous artist of them all.

Below the sweeping strokes of vibrant color painted across the eastern sky are trees, hydro poles, rooflines and village streets, trucks and cars in rumbling motion, early runners in the park, commuters with lunch bags, bento boxes and briefcases headed downtown to another day at their desks. There are not as many commuters out and about as there were a year or two ago. After working from home for several months during COVID19, many office workers have decided to continue doing it.

On an early morning walk, Beau and I paused by a neighbor's fish pond to watch the white and scarlet koi finning their way around in circles, and we noticed that the first fallen maple leaves of the season had already drifted into the pool, making eddies and swirls and perfect round spirals on the glossy surface. No need to panic, it's not an early autumn, just this summer's dry heat setting a few leaf people free to ramble.

If only I could actually paint skies as magnificent as these... I can't, and the camera will have to do, but what my lens "sees" is absolutely sumptuous, and I am content with my morning opus. Sky blue, rose, gold, violet and scarlet lodge in my wandering thoughts, and on the way home, I think about taking up pottery again, about throwing a bunch of clay bowls and glazing them in perfect sunrise colors. Emaho!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Thursday Poem - Epiphany

 Lynn Schmidt says
     she saw You once as prairie grass,
     Nebraska prairie grass,

she climbed out of her car on a hot highway,
leaned her butt on the nose of her car,
looked out over one great flowing field,
stretching beyond her sight until the horizon came:
vastness, she says,
responsive to the slightest shift of wind,
          full of infinite change,
          all One.

She says when she can't pray
She calls up Prairie Grass.

Pem Kremer

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Monday, July 12, 2021

Sequestered 68 (LXVIII)

A bowl of mint leaves, fresh from the garden.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, invisibly, inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Friday, July 09, 2021

Friday Ramble - Sticky

Sticky is a fine word for July, for our puckish "toing and froing" between sunshine and rain, steamy heat during the day and pleasantly cool temperatures at night, weathers moderate and weathers extreme. This summer is a glue pot or a very "sticky wicket" at the best of times. Having said that, it was cool and rainy overnight, and my garden looks much happier this morning for its ablutions. We so needed the rain.

This week’s mucilaginous word offering hails from the Old English stician  meaning “to pierce, stab, transfix”" as well as “to adhere, be embedded, stay fixed or be fastened”. Then there are the Proto-Germanic stik, Old Saxon stekan, Dutch stecken, Old High German stehhan and German stechen all meaning much the same thing.  Most of this week's word kin are rooted in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) form steig meaning "to affix, point or be pointed".  The Latin instigare (to goad) and stinguere (to incite or impel), the Greek stizein (to prick or puncture) and Old Persian tigra (sharp or pointed) are cognates, and for some strange reason, so is the Russian stegati (to quilt).

Early mornings here are lovely times for walks or hanging out in the garden. By ten, Beau and I are usually happy to be indoors and looking out, rather than actually being out. At twilight, off we go again, and we potter around the village, peering into trees for ripening plums and little green acorns, for wildflowers blooming unseen in the leafy depths of hedgerows like diffident summer jewels.

On early walks, hedgerows are festooned with spider webs, and the strands of silk are strung with beads of pearly dew, looking for all the world like fabulous neck ornaments. The webs are, for the most part, the work of an orb weaver known as the writing spider, corn spider or common garden spider (Argiope aurantia). Artfully spun from twig to twig, the spider's creations are sublime.  No two are the same, and they are often several feet from one edge to the other.

Peering at a web one morning this week, I remembered a friend in the neighborhood (now moved away) who used to "do" web walks with me and occasionally rang the doorbell at sunrise when she discovered a real whopper and just had to share it. I thought too of the metaphor of Indra's jeweled web and how we are all connected in the greater scheme of things. Emaho! Sticky or not, it's all good.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Thursday Poem - Evening

The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven and one that falls;

and leave you not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion
of what becomes a star each night, and rises;

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

Rainer Maria Rilke
(translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

A Daylily By Any Other Name

Orange Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)

Why give such glorious creatures other names like ditch lily, railroad lily, roadside lily, outhouse lily, and wash-house lily? Such wonders deserve better monikers, names redolent of summer and warmth, sweetness and vibrant color.

Sun worshipers of the highest order, daylilies don't bother to open in cloudy weather. The flowers last for only a day or three, but what a show they put on in the garden, their spires rising from cool spinneys of arching green leaves, each crowned by gracefully swaying blooms with expansive golden hearts.

Dragonflies love daylilies, and at first light, it is not uncommon to see every lily in our garden wearing a dragonfly -  the little dears are waiting for the sun to warm their wings and grant them the power of unfettered flight. Could there be there a better place to do such a thing than a daylily in bloom?

Monday, July 05, 2021