Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Small Wonders

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
(Papilio canadensis)
There have not been many swallowtails on the Two Hundred Acre Wood so far this year, and I did a spirited, wobbly dance on the weekend when a single glorious specimen flew past my freckled nose and alighted in a dense thicket of thorny blackberry canes near the trail into the deep woods - in my excitement, I almost dropped the camera.

A few minutes later, a single cicada started to broadcast its call for a mate from somewhere higher on the ridge, then another and another and another. Again and again, its tymbal muscles contracted and relaxed, the vibrations forming notes in what is, to me anyway, summer's most resonant and engaging musical score.  Time stood still as I listened to that poignant and hopeful chorus.

There are moments one remembers in the depths of winter, and this was one of them.  How sweet it was to listen to the season's first cicadas rumble and rasp in the trees over my head, to stand and watch small wonders flutter and swoop through fields on stained glass wings. Life simply doesn't get any better than this, and it doesn't get any wilder either.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Stained Glass Guest

Monarch butterfly (or Wanderer)
Danaus plexippus

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

I am a child of the Milky Way. The night is my mother. I am made of the dust of stars. Every atom in my body was forged in a star. When the universe exploded into being, already the bird longed for the wood and the fish for the pool. When the first galaxies fell into luminous clumps, already matter was struggling toward consciousness. The star clouds of Sagittarius are a burning bush. If there is a voice in Sagittarius, I’d be a fool not to listen. If God’s voice in the night is a scrawny cry, then I’ll prick up my ears. If night’s faint lights fail to knock me off my feet, then I’ll sit back on a dark hillside and wait and watch. A hint here and a trait there. Listening and watching. Waiting, always waiting, for the tingle in the spine.

Chet Raymo, The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday Ramble - Abundance

I awaken early and trot out to the garden wearing a cotton caftan, straw hat and sandals, and carrying a mug of Earl Grey.  It's already wickedly hot out there, and the sky is obscured by a high gossamer heat haze. Bees are already surfing for nectar in the oregano patch and humming about their appointed work.

The only sentient beings happy about this July heat are the blissfully foraging bees, flowering herbs and the ripening vegetables in village veggie patches: beans, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, chards and emerging gourds. Most vegetables show a little restraint, but the zucchini vines (as always) are on the march and threatening to take over entire gardens, if not the whole wide world. Are veggies sentient, and do they have Buddha nature?  You bet they do, and I suspect they have long mindful conversations when we are not listening.

Villagers are an eccentric bunch when it comes to gardening. One neighbor is growing squash on her veranda, and another has planted cabbages and corn in her flower beds. The guy around the corner is cultivating every known variety of hot pepper in reclaimed plastic storage bins. The tubs are lined up along the sidewalk and driveway in front of his house, and the place looks like a jungle. He is not growing anything but peppers, and his enthusiasm is admirable - he plans to pickle each and every one.

Tomatoes are always a marvel.  Scarlet or gold, occasionally purpled or striped, they come in all sizes and some surprising shapes. The first juicy heirloom "toms" of the season are the essence of feasting and celebration as they rest on the sideboard: fresh-from-the-garden jewels, rosy and flushed and beaded with early morning dew. A wedge of Brie or Camembert, gluten-free crackers, a sprinkling of sea salt and a few fresh basil leaves are all that is needed to complete both the scene and today's lunch.

Oh honey sweet and hazy summer abundance....... That luscious word made its first appearance in the fourteenth century, coming down the years to us through Middle English and Old French from the Latin abundāns, meaning overflowing. The adjective form is abundant, and synonyms for it include:ample, generous, lavish, plentiful; copious; plenteous; exuberant; overflowing; rich; teeming; profuse; prolific, replete, teeming, bountiful and liberal.

Abundant is the exactly the right word for these days of ripening and plenty, as we weed and water and gather in, chuck things in jars, pickle up a storm and store summer's bounty to consume somewhere way up the road.  Like bees and squirrels, we scurry about, preserving the contents of our gardens to nourish body and soul when temperatures fall and nights grow long.  For all the sweetness and abundance held out in offering, there is a subtle ache to such times with their dews and hazes and maturing vegetables.  These days are all too fleeting.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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 10, 2019

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

The Old Guy in the Garden

He sits in a sunny alcove in the garden under a canopy of old rose and buckthorn leaves. Birds serenade him in early morning, and rabbits visit him at nightfall. Bumbles and dragonflies buzz around him, spiders knit him into their webs, and sometimes butterflies land on him. There is a steady rain of maple keys, leaf dust and pine needles from the trees over his head.

Our old guy looks as though he is carved from stone, but he is actually made of polyresin, and he weighs only a pound or two. I discovered him in the window of a thrift shop years ago, purchased him for a dollar and carried him home where he now presides over a leafy enclave in the garden from early April until late October. Since I am not supposed to pick up or carry anything weighing more than five pounds, the big garden Buddha will have to stay in the garden shed until I am able to cart him outside myself and park him in his special place. This Hotei is not alone though - a polyresin crane in a fetching shade of blue lives nearby.

Often called the "Laughing Buddha", the original Hotei was a wandering 10th-century Chinese Buddhist monk thought to be an incarnation of Maitreya, the Buddha still to come. In Asian cultures, he represents abundance and contentment, is the protector of children, and for some strange reason, he is also the patron of bartenders. On his back, there is a bottomless bag of food, drink and coins which he shares with those in need, and his name actually means "Cloth Sack" in Chinese. Sometimes he holds a fan which has the power to grant wishes, and he is usually holding a mala (Buddhist rosary). Ours has no fan, but he is holding a mala in one hand, and he seems to be reciting a mantra. One of these days, I would like to find a statue of Kuan Yin for the garden too.

No matter what kind of day I am having, Hotei's grin makes me smile, and that is something beyond price, thrift shop origins or no.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

When the journey you are presently on seems to be over, remember that there is no real end. There may be new journeys ahead; there may be journeys-within-journeys.  There is always something new to learn, always another gift to be be brought out into the world. Embrace each new cycle; welcome every twist and turn. It is how we know we are alive.
Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Friday, July 05, 2019

Friday Ramble - Flaming Amazement

Ah, sweet July, great rounds of baled hay in the eastern Ontario highlands, deer and wild turkeys feeding under the trees at dawn and dusk, shadows stretching long skinny fingers across farm fields at the end of the day, the setting sun viewed through strands of ripening timothy, alfalfa and tall white bush clover...

The shadows slanting across pastures lengthen, grow sharper and deeper as days become shorter, and as if to compensate for waning daylight hours, our northern sunsets turn intense: crimson, fiery gold, inky blue and purple skies, perfect molten light and technicolor clouds.

The evening sun flames amazement as it drops below the horizon. I've always loved the words "I flamed amazement", spoken by the playful spirit Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest - they seem just right for an evening in early July when the setting sun is putting on a fine show. Is there magic?  Oh yes...

Beau and I lean against a fence along the edge of the western field at sunset, and my camera and lens can scarcely take in all the riches on offer.  The setting sun dazzles the eyes, and the waxing moon is as lustrous as a great cosmic pearl; she seems lit from within. I know the moon has no light of her own and borrows it from the sun, but it always seems otherwise at this time of the year.

Health stuff or no health stuff, just how lucky can one old hen be? The fabulous sundown light is enough to make one swoon in delight.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Thursday Poem - Directions

The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.

But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.

Billy Collins,
(from The Art of Drowning)

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

A Lily By Any Other Name

Orange Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
Why give such gorgeous creatures names like ditch lily, railroad lily, roadside lily, outhouse lily, and wash-house lily? Outhouse lily? Such blooms deserve better, more elegant monikers, names redolent of summer, sunlight and warmth, sweetness and vibrant color.

Sun worshipers of the highest order, daylilies don't open in cloudy weather and remain tightly furled. The flowers last for only a day, 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 for the daylilies in our garden to be wearing dragonflies -  the little dears are waiting for the sun to warm their wings and grant them the power of unfettered, swooping flight. Could there be there a better place to warm up than a lily in bloom? I think not.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

For those of us who care for an earth not encompassed by machines, a world of textures, tastes and sounds other than those that we have engineered, there can be no question of simply abandoning literacy, of turning away from all writing. Our task, rather, is that of taking up  the written word, with all of its potency, and patiently, carefully, writing language back into the land. Our craft is that of releasing the budded, earthly intelligence of our words, freeing them to respond to the speech of the things themselves – to the green uttering forth of leaves from the spring branches. It is the practice of spinning stories that have the rhythm and lilt of the local soundscape, tales for the tongue, tales that want to be told, again and again sliding off the digital screen and slipping off the lettered page in inhabit these coastal forests, those desert canyons, those whispering grasslands and valleys and swamps. Finding phrases that lace us in contact with the trembling neck-muscles of a deer holding its antlers high as it swims toward the mainland, or with the ant dragging a scavenged rice-grain through the grasses. Planting words, like seeds, under rocks and fallen logs – letting language take root, once again, in the earthen silence of shadow and bone and leaf.
David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Friday, June 28, 2019

Friday Ramble - For the Roses

One just has to love creatures so lavishly endowed. Summer's roses are glorious creatures in their time of blooming, be their flowering an interval lasting a few weeks or one lasting all season long. All artful curves and lush fragrance, velvety petals and fringed golden hearts, the blooms are lavishly dappled with dew at first light, and they're a rare treat for these old eyes as the early sun moves across them. If we are fortunate, there will be roses blooming in our garden until late autumn, and we three hold the thought close.

The word rose hails from the Old English rose, thence from the Latin rosa and the Greek rhoda. Predating these are the Aeolic wrodon and the Persian vrda-, and at the beginning of it all, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) form wrdho- meaning "thorn or bramble". Most of our roses have thorns to reckon with, and none more so than this offering.

The exquisite David Austin rose (Heritage) is visible from our bedroom window, and seeing it first thing in the morning, we find ourselves falling in love with roses all over again. The blooms are particularly lovely as they mature, gracefully poignant as they fade and wither and dwindle, their petals tattering, falling away and fluttering to the earth like perfumed confetti.

Bumbles and their kindred love roses, and they spend their sunlight hours flying from one bloom to another, burrowing deep into the centers and kicking their pollen bedecked legs in rapture. The air is filled with their whirring wings and happy, buzzing musics.

There's a bittersweet and poignant aspect to one's thoughts in late June, and I remember feeling the same way last year around this time. Here we are again, pottering down the luscious golden slope to autumn and beyond.My pleasure in the season and a gentle melancholy seem to be all wrapped up together in falling rose petals and blissed out bumblebees.

I call it wabi sabi () and embrace the feelings when they arise—they are elemental expressions of  transience, impermanence and the suchness (tathata) of all things. How sweet this season is, roses, thorns, bumbles and all.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thursday Poem - To the 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