Monday, August 20, 2018

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

You really don't have to lose everything and travel to a remote valley to discover that the world is always rushing forward to teach us, and that the greatest thing we can do is stand there, open and available, and be taught by it. There is no limit to what this cracked and broken and achingly beautiful world can offer, and there is equally no limit to our ability to meet it.

Each day, the sun rises and we get out of bed. Another day has begun and bravely, almost recklessly, we stagger into it not knowing what it will bring to us. How will we meet this unpredictable, untamable human life? How will we answer its many questions and challenges and delights? What will we do when we find ourselves, stumble over ourselves, encounter ourselves, once again, in the kitchen?

Dana Velden, Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Kitchen Meditations
and Inspired Recipes from a Mindful Cook

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Friday, August 17, 2018

Friday Ramble - Consider

This week's word is one of my favorite words in the whole English lexicon, in part because of the notions of careful thought, deliberation and balance enfolded in it, but mostly because of its splendid celestial origins.

Think Vincent Van Gogh and his gorgeous "Starry Starry Night". Consider hails from around 1350 CE, tracing its origins through the Middle English consideren and the Latin considerare, both meaning "in the company of the stars", thence the Latin sidus/sideris meaning a star or cluster of stars. At the beginning of it all is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root form *sweid meaning to shine. Other English words like constellation and sidereal are kin, the first describing a group of stars, and the latter meaning simply "starry" and by extension, celestial or heavenly.
Small wonder that we are given to considering, at least in the original sense of the word. Forged from the dust of ancient stars, we are probably never more true to ourselves or more in tune with our fundamental natures and inner light than when we are engaging in the liminal act of considering something.  In doing so, we move away from the mundane and profane and intuitively toward a bone deep and authentic connection with the cosmic dimension from which we emerged, and of which we are such miniscule components. Dancing motes in the eye of the infinite are we.

It's one thing to consider one's origins on a cold clear night when she can almost reach up and touch the moon and stars. It's another thing entirely to do so in late summer or early autumn when the sky is filled with clouds from here to there, and she can hardly see hand or lens, let alone sunlight, moonlight or stars. Who doesn't love a good haze or fog though, and days and nights on the cusp of the seasons dish up some splendid, atmospheric murks. It is important to remember that even when we can't see them, our starry kin are right up there over our heads and shining down on us. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote: 

"We find lingering evidence of archetype in the images and symbols found in stories, literature, poetry, painting, and religion. It would appear that its glow, its voice, and its fragrance are meant to cause us to be raised up from contemplating the shit on our tails to occasionally traveling in the company of the stars."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Thursday Poem - From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Wordless Wednesday - Early Gold

In the Great Blue Bowl of Morning

She awakens to skies that would make an impressionist painter feel like dancing, to Canada geese 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 mirrors her own as she watches them with a mug of tea, eyes shielded from the rising sun with a sleepy hand.

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 and briefcases headed downtown to another day at their desks.

On their early walk, she and Beau pause together by a neighbor's fish pond to watch the white and scarlet koi finning their way around in circles, and they notice that the first fallen maple leaves of the season have already drifted into the pool, making eddies and swirls and perfect round spirals on the surface. No need to panic, it's not an early autumn, just the dry heat of August setting the leaf people free to ramble.

If only (she muses to herself) she could actually paint a sky as magnificent as this.  She can't, and the camera will have to do, but what her lens "sees" is absolutely sumptuous, and she is content with the morning's opus.  Sky blue, rose, gold, violet and scarlet lodge in her wandering thoughts, and on the way home, she considers borrowing a potter's wheel, throwing a whole bunch of clay bowls and glazing them in perfect sunrise colors. Emaho!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

When I was young, and even more foolish than I am today, I believed that one had to travel far and wide in order to seek truth, divine reality, or whatever you call it. I believed that truth would most likely be found in the world’s so-called sacred places. Yet the fact is that truth is everywhere; it knows no religious, cultural, temporal, or ethnic bounds. Truth is the perfect circle. Its center is everywhere; its circumference stretches into infinite space. The land on which we stand is sacred, no matter where we stand.

Lama Surya Das, Awakening to the Sacred

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Friday, August 10, 2018

Friday Ramble - August Musics

You try, really try, to describe something that is quite beyond description. Are you aware that it is so? You are indeed, but you try to describe it anyway and make a complete shambles of the exercise. This morning's sky has no need of a old hen with her camera and notebook, but I just have to say something.

Morning skies in August are intense happenings, early sunlight burnishing clouds into brilliance and lighting up contrails against skies that often as not have a touch of violet in them.  Sometimes, everything up there looks like stained glass.  There are high fluffy streaks from horizon to horizon, strands of light touching everything with copper and oro pallido - the pale lustrous gold that only visits the world at the beginning of day (although Tuscan skies sometimes held such wonders in late afternoon when I was a student there many years ago).

You need a large brush to paint such sweeping confetti colored expanses, lenses that can take in the great wide world from here to there.  My camera carrying exercises are still brief, but I am already thinking of acquiring another lens or two, more tubes of  scarlet, gold and indigo for my paint box.

What a show the cosmos puts on when Beau and I go out to greet these August mornings together. Barefoot, I sip my tea and try to capture a few images. My companion looks up at the sky and all around, his eyes round in wonder and his expressive tail waving like a metronome.  Flocks of Canada geese are flying up from a night on the river and out into farm fields to feed; there is wave upon wave of happy honking as they pass over our heads. Their joyous, almost symphonic presence among the clouds is a clear indication that summer is waning. For all that, there is magic everywhere, and there is music.

Late summer mornings in the north have always been like this, full of light and texture and color and sound. This is the traditional music of August, "the music of what happens" as the season draws to a slow and honeyed close. How amazing it all is, how full of wonder, and how fleeting. My image and little net of words are woefully inadequate, but they will do.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Thursday Poem - August

Summer sings its long song, and all the notes are green.
But there’s a click, somewhere in the middle
of the month, as we reach the turning point, the apex,
a Ferris wheel, cars tipping and tilting over the top,
and we see September up ahead, school and schedules
returning. And there’s the first night you step outside
and hear the katydids arguing, six more weeks
to frost, and you know you can make it through to fall.
Dark now at eight, nights finally cooling off for sleep,
no more twisting in damp sheets, hearing mosquitoes’
thirsty whines. Lakes of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace
mirror the sky’s high cirrus. Evenings grow chilly,
time for old sweaters and sweatpants, lying in the hammock
squinting to read in the quick-coming dusk.
A few fireflies punctuate the night’s black text,
and the moonlight is so thick, you could swim in it
until you reach the other side.

Barbara Crooker,
from Selected Poems

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Little Singers in the Trees

An annual cicada's song is the quintessential music of August, a sonorous vocal offering from jeweled beings who emerge from the ground, shed their nymph skins, climb high into the light-filled trees and sing for a handful of days before expiring and returning to earth. It's a joyful and ecstatic element in the slow irrevocable turning of one season into another.

I often find abandoned cicada shells on poplar trees in the Two Hundred Acre Wood but always feel fortunate when I encounter a newborn in all its pastel green splendor, sometimes still clinging to its discarded self. Imagos (adults) darken as their new exoskeletons harden and wings expand, but there is a fair bit of variation in coloration. Some will retain greenish wings all the days of their lives.

Only male cicadas sing but oh how they do sing, vibrating the complex abdominal membranes called tymbals over and over again to generate a raspy tune that will attract a mate. I have a lot to learn about identifying cicadas, but this one may be the bigger Linne's cicada rather than a Dog-day cicada. Whichever it was, my little visitor was absolutely gorgeous.

Call it "cicada mind" and cherish the notion. Our task is one of cultivating just this kind of patience, acceptance, rapt attention and unfettered Zen sensibility, of embracing our allotted days fully and singing wherever we happen to be, then dissolving effortlessly back into the fabric of the world when the time comes.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe 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, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Will you step into my parlor?

Female Goldenrod Spider (Misumena vatia) and Antique Rose

Friday, August 03, 2018

Friday Ramble - Following the Sun

In summer, young sunflowers track the sun around the sky all day long. When they grow up, the blooms face the rising sun, and they no longer move in what is, to me anyway, summer's most engaging dance. When I drove by a field of sunflowers a few days ago and found they had turned their backs and were all facing east, I tried not to take it personally, but part of me was wistful.  The kids were all grown up and ready to leave home.

It's all a matter of circadian rhythms (or the circadian clock), an internal 24 hour cycle that regulates our gnarly metabolisms and keeps us tune with the natural world according to the hours of light and darkness in our environment. The word circadian comes from the Latin circa (about) plus diem (a day), and most living things have circadian clocks of some kind. Circadian protocols tell us when we should sleep, prompt bears, bats and squirrels to go into hibernation, advise trees to lose their leaves and withdraw into themselves for the winter, let birds and butterflies know it is time to migrate. The science of circadian rhythms is called chronobiology, and it is lovely stuff indeed.

Fledgling sunflowers drink the sun's warmth to fuel their journey to maturity and turn their heads to follow it. As they mature, they take in more light, heating up early in the day and releasing a heady fragrance that attracts legions of pollinating insects like butterflies and bees and ensures future generations of sunflowers.  Grownups have fulfilled their prime motivation (dynamic purpose) and attained their highest and most complete expression. They have done what they were put here on earth to do, and they no longer need to follow the sun.

Members of the helianthus family are amazing. What seems at first glance to be a single sunflower is actually a whole community of flowers, a collection of more than a thousand tiny florets arranged in a perfect spiraling sequence. Each floret is inclined toward the next floret by approximately 137.5°, a measurement known in mathematics as the golden angle. The arrangement creates a breathtaking series of interconnecting spirals in which the number of left oriented spirals and the number of right oriented spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. It's arty, scientific and just plain beautiful.

A lifelong admirer of spirals, golden angles and Fibonacci sequences whenever and wherever they turn up, I'm always delighted to come across another one in my rambles.  Finding a few sunflowers in someone's garden is a happy thing, and discovering a whole field along a quiet country road is dazzling. It boggles my mind to think that such glorious creatures are blooming without anyone around to admire and appreciate them.

In autumn, faded sunflowers are wondrous in their imposing stature, earthy coloration, spikiness and sculptural complexity. Determined to engender legions of progeny and perpetuate their particular genetic brew, they birth thousands of seeds every autumn, mothering whole dynasties of towering stalks, fuzzy leaves and beaming golden faces that will appear when springtime rolls around next time. In the depths of winter I try to remember that somewhere, legions of tiny, unborn sunflowers are sleeping and dreaming under Himalayan heaps of snow.

In "Enriching the Earth", Wendell Berry describes the earth's cycling as "slowly falling into the fund of things", and I am fond of the notion. Going to seed is a good thing, a fine thing, a natural and necessary thing. Every coin in nature's wild unruly banking is kin, whatever its size, shape or denomination.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Thursday Poem - One Song

After Rumi
A cardinal, the very essence of red, stabs
the hedgerow with his piercing notes;
a chickadee adds three short beats,
part of the percussion section, and a white-
throated sparrow moves the melody along.
Last night, at a concert, crashing waves
of Prokofiev; later, the soft rain falling
steadily and a train whistle off in the distance.
And today, the sun, waiting for its cue,
comes out from the clouds for a short sweet
solo, then sits back down, rests between turns.
On the other side of the world, night’s black
bass fiddle rosins its bow, draws it over
the strings, resonates with the breath
of sleepers, animal, vegetable, human. 
All the world breathes in, breathes out.
It hums, it throbs, it improvises.  So many voices.
Only one song.

Barbara Crooker

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Happy Lammas

How swiftly summer days pass.  Here we are again at the end of July and the eve of Lammas, sometimes called Lughnsadh, LĂșnasa, Calan Awst, "First Harvest" or "Loaf Mass". Tomorrow's festival celebrates summer, farming and harvesting, particularly the gathering, milling and putting by of grains and cereals.

Humans have gathered and consumed wild grains 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 (dying and rising) gods: Lugh, Llew Llaw Gyffes, Tammuz, Osiris, Adonis and Attis to name a few. John Barleycorn is the corn king god who sacrifices himself for the Land and next year's harvest. Then there is Dionysus or Bacchus—the grapey god is in a class all by himself as deity of vineyards and the grape harvest, patron of wine making, drunken revelry and ritual madness.  His magical tavern with its ever turning mill wheel and rapture inducing brews is the stuff of legend, and 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 and receptive to the idea.

According to Irish mythology, the festival was created by Lugh as a funeral feast and athletic competition in honor of his foster mother Tailtiu, a Fir Bolg earth goddess who perished from exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for cultivation. August 1 is 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.

Tithe barn, Charleston Manor
In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the first day of August is called "the feast of first fruits". During the middle ages, loaves were baked with grain from the first harvest and placed on church altars to be blessed and later used in simple charms and rustic enchantments.  Tenant farmers presented freshly harvested grain to their landlords, and a tithe (one tenth of a farm's yield) was given to the local church at the same time. Farmers delivered their portion to designated tithe barns, and a surprising number of the elegant stone structures survive today.

A book that always comes to mind around this time of the year is Tim Powers' fabulous The Drawing of the Dark. The novel is chock full of mythic metaphors related to grain harvesting and the brewing of beer, 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 (actually 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 shipload of Vikings sworn to defend the ancient brewery at the heart of the story and stave off Ragnarok, and there are mythical creatures too numerous to mention. For years the only available edition of the book was paperback, and I've owned at least three copies, but a hardcover edition was finally published a few years ago, and I treated 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.  It's time to give some thought to pickling and preserving the contents of our orchards and gardens for the darker times to come. 

We've come a long way since our early days as a hunting and gathering species, but traces of old seasonal rites remain here and there. When I arrived in Lanark county years ago, I learned that Lughnasadh festivities are alive and well in the eastern Ontario highlands.  They may be called cĂ©ilidhs 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 even a formal observance.

 Blessings of the harvest to you, happy August!