Sunday, June 13, 2021

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, June 12, 2021

Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday Ramble - Golden

Large Yellow Lady Slipper
(Cypripedium parviflorum var pubescens) 

I sign on here in the morning, look at my photographic efforts, utter a silent "meh" and decide to say (or write) as little as possible. That seems to be happening more often than it used to.

Sequestered safe at home, I plunk myself down in front of the computer with a mug of tea and skim the early news. I cringe. I think about what is happening in the great wide world and am left speechless by horror, by sorrow and outrage. It isn't just the pandemic, but the hatred, barbarity and deliberate cruelty of recent human doings. How can we be doing this to each other? I can't find words for what is going on, or at least not the right words.

As I write, lady slippers are blooming in the Lanark highlands as they have for time out of mind. In their flickering alcoves, the orchids sing a capella in their own lilting voices, a testament to wildness and belonging and community. Whole hillsides of nodding golden beauty express the indwelling incandescent spirit of the living earth without any help at all from This Old Thing. Wild orchids are comforting and a balm to this world weary spirit.

My departed soulmate and I loved our wild orchid colony and watched over them for many years, protecting them from being eaten by deer and trampled by bears. Every year, I would lie down in the grass nearby and marvel at their perfection, have long conversations with them and capture them with my lens whenever I visited. In the midst of global disease and rampant human brutality, here they are again in all their golden perfection.

Events on the world stage have broken us wide open, and they compel us to confront aspects of our humanity that we would rather not acknowledge, let alone address. The orchids are a reminder of what it means to be human, and I am grateful for their counsel. Time to get to work.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Thurdsday Poem - When I Am Wise

When I am wise in the speech of grass,
I forget the sound of words
and walk into the bottomland
and lie with my head on the ground
and listen to what grass tells me
about small places for wind to sing,
about the labor of insects,
about shadows dank with spice,
and the friendliness of weeds.

When I am wise in the dance of grass,
I forget the name and run
into the rippling bottomland
and lean against the silence which flows
out of the crumpled mountains
and rises through slick blades, pods,
wheat stems, and curly shoots,
and is carried by wind for miles
from my outstretched hands.

Mary Gray
from Wild Song: Poems of the Natural World

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

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 those he is trying to hand his purloined florals to, and they demand other things like Titian paintings, Venetian silver and art glass.

This morning's lupins used to 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 fences and high hedgerows, and it could not be seen from the street.  The enclosure always reminded me of the secret garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. There were fruit trees, blackberries and hawthorns, antique lupins in blue, purple, pink and cream, daisies, coneflowers, cornflowers, old roses, phlox, peonies and hostas. The place was full of songbirds and bumbles in summer, and it was an oasis of serenity. I loved visiting.

My friend moved into an assisted living community some time ago, and her dear little brick house was listed for sale, its enchanted garden bulldozed by a local developer in an orgy of destruction. Now she has passed away, and her fabulous creation is a thing of the past. The property will be filled with townhouses in the near future, and no trees, gardens and green space will remain. There will be nary a hint that once a magical space existed here.

When I remember Sadie, I feel a little blue. A few of her plants now have homes in my own garden, and I think of her whenever I tend her children. What is remembered lives.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Turn off the lights. Go outside. Close the door behind you.

Maybe rain has fallen all evening, and the moon, when it emerges between the clouds, glows on the flooded streets and silhouettes leafless maple trees lining the curb. Maybe the tide is low under the docks and warehouses, and the air is briny with kelp. Maybe cold air is sinking off the mountain, following the river wall into town, bringing smells of snow and damp pines. Starlings roost in a row on the rim of the supermarket, their wet backs blinking red and yellow as neon lights flash behind them. In the gutter, the same lights redden small pressure waves that build and break against crescents of fallen leaves.

Let the reliable rhythms of the moon and tides reassure you. Let the smells return memories of other streets and times. Let the reflecting light magnify your perception. Let the rhythm of rushing water flood your spirit. Walk and walk until your heart is full.

Then you will remember why you try so hard to protect this beloved world, and why you  must.

Kathleen Dean Moore, from Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Seeing Red

Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale)

Friday, June 04, 2021

Friday Ramble - Earth

Earth is a good word for pondering in this shaggy season as we cultivate our gardens and tend the sweet beginnings of the harvest to come.  All things, or at least most things, arise from the earth and return to it in time, us included.

Our word dates from before 950 CE, and it comes to us through the good offices of the Middle English erthe, the Old English eorthe; the German Erde, Old Norse jǫrth, Danosh jord and the Gothic airtha, all springing from the Ancient Saxon eard meaning soil, home, or dwelling. All forms are likely related to the Latin aro, meaning to plough or turn over. Way back is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) form *h₁er- meaning ground, soil, land or place.

When we say "earth", we are most likely thinking of the ground under our feet, of garden plots, orchards, wooded hills, city parks, farm fields and shadowed arroyos.  We may be thinking of wild plums, oak leaves, weeping willows, of the seeds and sleeping roots below our feet, the granite bones of our little blue planet and the fiery heart beating way down deep in its molten core.

We almost never consider ourselves as elements in the same story, but blood and bones, root and branch, rivers and rocks, we are part of a vast elemental process, a cosmic web. Befuddled strands in the web that we are, most of the time we forget that we are part of anything at all. 

Once in a while, the simple truth that we are NOT separate shows up and insists we pay attention. It happens while we are dangling half way up a rock face or seated in a pool of sunlight under a tree in the woods, stretched out on a hill somewhere under the summer stars, or standing on the shore of a favorite lake at sunset. A good sunset or a starry, starry night does it for me every time, and occasionally it even happens while I am parked in the waiting room of my local cancer clinic. Moments of kensho (見性) can't be predicted, and nor should they, but I have noticed that they often show up right when I need them.

There we are with our feet planted in the dirt and our heads in the clouds, not a lofty thought in sight, and out of the blue a scrap of elemental knowing puts in an appearance. In that moment, we know beyond a doubt that we are part of all this and right where we should be. We belong here, our roots, branches, star stuff and every dancing particle - we belong here as much as rivers, mountains, acorns, wild salmon and sandpipers do. Dirt, clouds and stardust, it's all good.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Thursday Poem - Mother Rain


Mother rain, manifold, measureless,
falling on fallow, on field and forest,
on house-roof, low hovel, high tower,
downwelling waters all-washing, wider
than cities, softer than sisterhood, vaster
than countrysides, calming, recalling:
return to us, teaching our troubled
souls in your ceaseless descent
to fall, to be fellow, to feel to the root,
to sink in, to heal, to sweeten the seas.

Ursula K. Le Guin, from So Far So Good

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Let There Be Red

June would not be June without clay pots and planters of red geraniums (cranesbills) blooming on the thresholds of houses in the village. 

Beau and I have noticed on our early morning walks that while many of this year's offerings are attended by purple petunias and marigolds as in other summers, there are also splendid coleuses in rainbow shades, sometimes all four things in the same pot and at the same time. My gypsy soul craves spectacular coleus strains like "Dragon Heart, "Kingswood Torch" and "Chocolate Covered Cherry", and I have to find a place in the garden for more of them. Ditto some of the more arty specimens of trilcolor amaranth about this year.

The geraniums on the cobblestones in front of the house are a long standing tradition, and every year, I think of their ancestors who graced our threshold in summers past and greeted everyone who came to the door. I remember their shape, their color, their texture, their green and rather peppery fragrance. They were perfect in every way, and I thank them.

Happy June, everyone!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday Ramble - Falling

And so it goes . . . One day, the old crabapple is bare and forlorn, the next day it wears a multitude of tiny leaves. Almost overnight, the tree is covered with magenta blooms and buzzing with throngs of ecstatic, blissed-out bumbles, bees and wasps. Dusted with pollen from stem to stern, the little dears are in constant motion, ecstatic to be feeling sunlight on their wings and gathering nectar on a balmy morning in May.

Little by little, the flowers fade to a fine dusty pink. Along comes a summer breeze, and the crabapple symphony is over for another year. Fragile petals drift through the air like windblown confetti, coming to rest on hedges, gardens and verandas, on statuary and birdbaths, on pergolas and fountains, on one elderly gardener wearing a tattered straw hat and carrying a trowel.

Lilacs in the village are flowering now, and when we (Beau and I) stepped outside last evening around ten, the night air was filled with their heady purple fragrance. In a few days, they too will fade and fall to earth like confetti, nourishment for the summer wonders still to come.

Here's another summer of prowling about with camera and macro lens, of drinking in light and gathering my own store of nectar... Now and then, I will put down my photo gear and dance with the lighthearted bumble girls. Ungainly creature that I am, I hope no one is watching.

How sweet it all is, how fleeting and poignant, and just a little sad.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Thursday Poem - Invisible Work


Because no one could ever praise me enough,
because I don’t mean these poems only
but the unseen
unbelievable effort it takes to live
the life that goes on between them,
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago,
who said, “It’s hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces for dinner,
and there’s no one
to say what a good job you’re doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache.
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
when all the while,
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried
by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work that stitches up the world day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden
tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe
and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows,
our loneliest labors under the moon.

There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world’s heart.
There is no other art.

Alison Luterman

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World


This is weft and the weave of story for me. The endless lyrical emerging of the earth’s tremendous thinking and the humbling required to simply bear witness to it. And the extraordinary day, when for an hour or so you realise that you too are being witnessed.

Martin Shaw, Scatterlings: Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Friday, May 21, 2021

Friday Ramble - Aestival

This week's word is one of my favorites, hailing from Middle English, Middle and Old French, thence the Late Latin aestīvālis and earlier Latin aestās meaning summer or summery. Both forms are cognate with the Sanskrit इन्द्धे (inddhé) meaning to light or set on fire. At the root of our wordy explorations  is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) form h₂eydʰ- meaning heat, fire or to burn.

In the science of zoology, aestival refers to the tendency of all living creatures to be rather sleepy and slow moving in the heat of summer, and botanists use the word to describe the arrangement of organs or components in a flower bud. I once thought that the word siesta (referring to a leisurely nap after lunch) was related, but I discovered a year or two ago that its roots are in the Latin sexta meaning the sixth hour of the day (midday).  The two words sound similar, but as far as I know, they are not related.

June is only a week or so away, and this week's word is one of my favorites for the brief greening season at the heart of the calendar year. Of course, summer is a fine word too, but somehow or other, it doesn't hold a candle or even a tiny wooden match to the frothy perfumed magnificence of the golden season that reigns so briefly here in the sub-Arctic climes of Canada. Aestival says it all, and I love the shape of the word on my tongue.

After an unusually long, cold winter, things are warming up, and nectar gathering insects are starting to appear. Ornamental trees in the village (almond, cherry, crabapple and mock orange) are flowering, and the air is full of fluttering petals and sweet fragrance. Beau and I stop to look at them, and it is a wonder we ever make it home. On fine sunny mornings, the objects of our rapt attention are chock full of ecstatic bees, bumbles and wasps.

I say "aestival" and its sibilance summons up images of outdoor festivals and al fresco celebrations, shaggy gardens of scarlet poppies and towering purple lupins, trees filled with singing birds, bees in the orchard, roses sweeter than any vineyard potion, perfect sunsets across the lake shared with stately herons. It's all golden, and it's all good. Here comes June in all her glory, and we (Beau and I) are so ready.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Thursday Poem - Questions Before Dark


Day ends, and before sleep
when the sky dies down, consider
your altered state: has this day
changed you? Are the corners
sharper or rounded off? Did you
live with death? Make decisions
that quieted? Find one clear word
that fit? At the sun's midpoint
did you notice a pitch of absence,
bewilderment that invites
the possible? What did you learn
from things you dropped and picked up
and dropped again? Did you set a straw
parallel to the river, let the flow
carry you downstream?

Jeanne Lohmann
(from The Light of Invisible Bodies)

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World


Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Saturday, May 15, 2021