Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Restless in January

Little things leave you feeling restless in late January and early February, more than ever in this year of plague and sequestering. You ramble through stacks of gardening catalogues and plot another heritage rose or three, design new plots of herbs and heirloom veggies. You spend hours in the kitchen pummeling bread dough and stirring cauldrons of soup, summoning old Helios with cilantro, fragrant olive oils and recipes straight from Tuscany. You burn candles and brew endless pots of tea, sunlight dancing in every china mug.

You play with filters, apertures and shutter speeds, entranced (and occasionally irritated) with the surprising transformations wrought by your madcap gypsy tinkerings. Camera around your neck, you float through the woods, peering into trees and searching for a leaf somewhere, even a single bare leaf. You scan cloudy evening skies, desperately hoping to see the moon, and you calculate the weeks remaining until the geese, the herons and the loons come home again.

It may not seem like it, but change is already on its way. The great horned owls who reside on the Two Hundred Acre Wood are repairing their nest in an old oak tree about a mile back in the forest, and getting ready to raise another comely brood in their refurbished nursery. It comforts me to think it is all happening again, that there will be wee owls in our woods in a few weeks.

This morning, a single maple leaf was teased into brief flight by the north wind, and it came to rest in the birdbath in the garden. A simple thing to be sure, but the pairing of golden leaf and blue snow was fetching stuff indeed. In its poignant wabi sabi simplicity, the little scrap of leathery foliage cradled an often and much needed reminder. This is the sisterhood of fur and feather, of snowbound earth and clouded sky, of wandering eye and dancing leaf.  Out of our small and frost rimed doings, a mindful life is made.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.

Robert Farrar Capon, from Between Noon & Three:
Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Friday, January 22, 2021

January's Performing Arts

A rowdy north wind cavorts across the roof, rollicking through sleeping trees and shrubberies in the garden, making the frozen oak branches ring like bells. Icicles embellishing the eaves behind the house are abstract glossy confections, streaked with gold and silver and filled with tiny bubbles. Exuberant gusts dislodge pine needles, brittle twigs and shards of ice that skate across roof shingles, then plummet clattering over the eaves into the shallow snowdrifts wrapping the house.

Plague protocols notwithstanding, I slip outside for a few minutes and snap photos of nearby trees and icicles, chimneys and sky. Wrapped up and looking for all the world like a yeti (or an abominable something anyway), I stand in the wonderfully pebbled snow in the garden and capture a few images, try to figure out how in the world I can describe everything, the perfect light, the burnished hues of the icicles, the emeralds of the evergreens, the blues and violets of the snow, the buttery siding on my neighbor's kitchen wall, the scarlet of a male cardinal as it flies into the cedar hedge.

The icicles communicate the colors and shapes of this day perfectly without any help from me at all. They rattle, chatter and chime, sing Gilbert and Sullivany duets with the wind (mostly bits from Iolanthe), pretend they are tubular bells at other times or recite epic stanzas from the Poetic Eddas.  The Norse elements of their gelid performance are particularly appropriate - at times it has been cold enough here for Ragnarök, and we occasionally wonder if this is the Fimbulwinter, the walloping winter to end them all.

With all the astonishing elemental performances being given this morning, no words are needed, or at least, not very many words are needed from this old hen in her tatty parka. I can just stand here in a snowdrift with the camera, get out of its way (and my own way) and let it see the world without trying to impose on its thoughtful and loving journey.

Out of the blue, a thought comes as I turn to tiptoe surreptitiously back inside before anyone notices that I am no longer in there, but rather out here.  It is the images that are capturing me this morning, and not me capturing them.  It's a Zen thing.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Thursday Poem - Instructions in Magick

You don’t need candles,
only the small slim flame in yourself,
the unrevealed passion
that drives you to rise on winter mornings
remembering summer nights.

You don’t need incense,
only the lingering fragrance
of the life that has gone before,
stew cooking on an open fire,
the good stars, the clean breeze,
the warmth of animals breathing in the dark.

You don’t need a cauldron,
only your woman’s body,
where so many of men’s fine ideas
are translated into life.

You don’t need a wand, hazelwood or oak,
only to follow the subtle and impish
leafy green fellow
who beckons you into the forest,
the one who goes dancing
and playing his flute
through imperial trees.

And you don’t need the salt of earth.
You will taste that soon enough.

These things are the trappings,
the tortoise shell, the wolf skin, the blazoned shield.
It’s what’s inside, the star of becoming.
With that ablaze, you have everything you need
to conjure up new worlds.

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Monday, January 18, 2021

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Existential loneliness and a sense that one’s life is inconsequential, both of which are hallmarks of modern civilizations, seem to me to derive in part from our abandoning a belief in the therapeutic dimensions of a relationship with place. A continually refreshed sense of the unplumbable complexity of patterns in the natural world, patterns that are ever present and discernible, and which incorporate the observer, undermine the feeling that one is alone in the world, or meaningless in it. The effort to know a place deeply is, ultimately, an expression of the human desire to belong, to fit somewhere.

The determination to know a particular place, in my experience, is consistently rewarded. And every natural place, to my mind, is open to being known. And somewhere in this process a person begins to sense that they are becoming known, so that when they are absent from that place they know that place misses them. And this reciprocity, to know and be known, reinforces a sense that one is necessary in the world.

Barry Lopez
(1945 - 2020)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday Ramble - Rattle and Hum

It is still dark outside, and through the window comes the clatter of the wind across the roof with its cargo of frozen twigs, the sound of small icicles falling on the deck, trees in the garden shaking their snow garments loose in a long slow dance. Light snow is falling, but the descending white stuff makes no sound, at least from in here. In the kitchen, there is the burble and hiss of the De'Longhi espresso machine, the rattle and hum of the refrigerator in the corner.

By rights, there should be the sound of a toaster too, but it will be a while until I can even think about toast. This is a "bang up" month for migraines, and I have awakened with a whopper - thought about doing prescription meds when I opened my eyes but opted for a beaker of industrial strength espresso instead. The stuff in my cup approaches the consistency of solid propellant rocket fuel and could be dispatched with a fork. Steam rises in arty curls from the surface, and a splendid creamy froth rings its shores. The fragrance of freshly ground Logdriver Espresso (local, fair trade, organic) from Bridgehead Coffee Roasters is ambrosial. So too are the deep velvety beans in their canister. Am thinking about drawing pictures in the foam.

Why is it my thoughts always turn to Paris when the weather is like this? With badass beaker in hand, I look through my rainy day "stash" of Cavallini rubber stamps, vintage postcards, tattered greeting cards and notebooks - the little ones with maps of France, fleurs-de-lis, French postage stamps, the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower gracing their covers.

When the migraine has drowned in my espresso sea, I will curl up in a comfortable corner and read something in French, perhaps the latest Fred Vargas. Yup, I can do this.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Thursday Poem - The Greatest Grandeur

Some say it’s in the reptilian dance
of the purple-tongued sand goanna,
for there the magnificent translation
of tenacity into bone and grace occurs.

And some declare it to be an expansive
desert—solid rust-orange rock
like dusk captured on earth in stone
simply for the perfect contrast it provides
to the blue-grey ridge of rain
in the distant hills.

Some claim the harmonics of shifting
electron rings to be most rare and some
the complex motion of seven sandpipers
bisecting the arcs and pitches
of come and retreat over the mounting

Others, for grandeur, choose the terror
of lightning peals on prairies or the tall
collapsing cathedrals of stormy seas,
because there they feel dwarfed
and appropriately helpless; others select
the serenity of that ceiling/cellar
of stars they see at night on placid lakes,
because there they feel assured
and universally magnanimous.

But it is the dark emptiness contained
in every next moment that seems to me
the most singularly glorious gift,
that void which one is free to fill
with processions of men bearing burning
cedar knots or with parades of blue horses,
belled and ribboned and stepping sideways,
with tumbling white-faced mimes or companies
of black-robed choristers; to fill simply
with hammered silver teapots or kiln-dried
crockery, tangerine and almond custards,
polonaises, polkas, whittling sticks, wailing
walls; that space large enough to hold all
invented blasphemies and pieties, 10,000
definitions of god and more, never fully
filled, never.

Pattiann Rogers, from Firekeepers

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Monday, January 11, 2021

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Myth is promiscuous, not dogmatic. It moves like a lively river through swarthy packs of reindeer, great aristocratic families, and the wild gestures of an Iranian carpet seller. Myth is not much to do with the past, but a kind of magical present that can flood our lives when the conditions are just so. It is not just the neurosis of us humans trying to fathom our place on earth, but sometimes the earth actually speaking back to us. That's why some stories can be hard to approach, they are not necessarily formed from a human point of view.

Martin Shaw, A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace of Wildness

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Friday, January 08, 2021

Friday Ramble - A Little Blue

Weary of winter and sequestering, I am even a little tired of the color blue at times, no matter how intensely blue the sky is or snowdrifts or spruce trees or the cast iron crane out in the garden. Its migratory kin have been gone for months, but our splendid metal bird is frozen in place, and it is well and truly stuck in place until springtime rolls around again. I simply like looking at it.

There are some lovely words for blue in the English language: azure, beryl, cerulean, cobalt, indigo, lapis lazuli, royal, sapphire, turquoise, ultramarine, to name just a few. I recite them like a litany under my breath as I look out at our sleeping garden with mug in hand or break a trail into the woods.

Just when I decide that I am all wintered out and will not sketch another icicle or frame another photo of such things, another eloquent winter composition presents itself to the eye. Something curved or fragile or delicately robed in snow shows up and begs rapt and focused attention. Glossy bubbles dance in the icicles above a frozen creek in the Lanark highlands. Snow crystals spark on the evergreens over my head and make them blaze like diamonds. As I lurch along, faded and tattered oak leaves flutter down to lie on the trail at my feet. Pine and spruce cones cast vivid blue shadows in pools of early morning sunlight.  Is there anything on the planet as fine as the scent of snowy blue spruce boughs in January? Look closely, and every needle is wearing stars.

Small and perfect, complete within itself, each entity conveys an elemental peace and equilibrium, lowers the blood pressure and stills the breathing, returns my eyes and focus to simplicity and grace and just plain old being here. For a minute or two, my pain recedes and balance returns. It is a miracle that I am standing here at all, and these fleeting moments in the garden, the park or on the edge of the woods have to be enough. They are enough, and they are more than enough.

Worlds great and small everywhere, worlds within and worlds without, and every one is a wonder to behold and remember and love with my eyes and patient recording lens. Surely, I can do this for a little while longer.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Thursday Poem - At Sunrise on Winter Days

at sunrise on winter days, our trail unfolds
through freshly fallen white, and every unhurried
footfall crafts another waxing moon,

the sound of our muffled steps rising
through hedges and snow-drowned spruces,
three hearts beating together in perfect time.

frozen goldenrod and milkweed fronds,
great trees weighted down by the season,
all incline their heads in greeting.

ghost choirs of last summer's grosbeaks
sing above our heads, and phantom starlings
dance along roof lines as we pass by.

lady winter rounds the village out,
smooths the contours of house and street,
spins flowing deserts out of snow.

in morning softness, we know ourselves
at last—perfect, still and so complete
nothing abandoned or left behind.


Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Winter Mornings Are Made of Light

I lurch awake before sunrise and make coffee, then lean against the counter and wait for early sunlight to make its way through the kitchen window, for the sun's rays to shine through the fence on the eastern perimeter of the garden.

Sometimes there is sunlight on these chill January mornings, but much of the time, there is not. Northern days begin to stretch out languorously at the beginning of a new calendar year, but we will be into February's middling pages before real change can be seen and felt in morning's trajectory through old wooden fences, frosted windows and snow crowned shrubbery.

Winter skies are breathtaking before dawn, their deep blue shading gloriously to pink and gold and purple near the horizon, but the weather is, for the most part, very cold here all through the month of January and well into February. Thermometer readings of -38 degrees (Celsius) are not unusual for this corner of the world. Whatever the thermometer says, there is a fine elusive old truth resting out there in the interstices between earth and sky at dawn, in the dance of light and shadow in the winter landscape.

On woodland rambles (still brief, alas), I trace sharp lines of shadow in the snow with my eyes, measure the changes in their inclination from day to day. The shadows whisper that springtime is on its way, but they also make it clear we have a very long way to go before the greening season puts in an appearance. Until it does turn up, I look for dancing motes of light in the world, and I remember that deep within their dreaming roots, all trees hold the light

Monday, January 04, 2021

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Sunday, saying Yes to the World

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break, and all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

L.R. Knost

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Friday, January 01, 2021

Friday Ramble - First of the Year

The Winter Solstice came and went, and light is slowly returning to the world. Northern days are growing longer, but the effects of December's turning are felt in their own good time, and it will be a while before we sense real change.

January is a bitter month here, a time of snow and penetrating icy cold. It's tempting to remain indoors and just curl up by the fire with mugs of tea and books, but Beau and I need to be out in the woods now and again, however short our stay - the rambles nourish and sustain us, and we take them even on the coldest days in winter.  I carry a walking stick for treacherous areas on the trail, a camera of some sort, binoculars, a notebook and pen, a thermos of tea and Beau's biscuits.  There is seed for the birds, apples and cedar for the deer - we take along shears to cut that. It's a fair bit of weight to carry up into the woods, but we are used to doing it, and we don't think of the stuff we are carrying as a burden.

"Crunch, crunch, crunch" went our mukluks a few days ago as we made our way along the trail to the bird feeders.  It was surely our imagination this early in the year, but the snow seemed brighter than it was a few days ago. Sunlight sparked through the trees, and everything glittered. The light was sublime. We felt as if every jeweler's vault on the planet had been looted and the glittering contents spilled out at our feet.

There was flickering movement in woodland hollows. Shadows rippled and flowed like quicksilver as the wind moved through the trees. Shapes seemed less attenuated, deeper and more intense, more blue.  Here and there, a sprig of frozen evergreen green poked out of the snow, and the color was a hopeful thing, one that not even the biting north wind could carry away in its gelid paws. 

We are still mourning the passing of our soulmate a year ago and trying to reimagine life without him, a painful and bewildering undertaking. One friend (Waverly Fitzgerald) passed beyond the fields we know on December 13, 2019, another friend journeyed onward two weeks later, and a third departed a few months ago. All four succumbed to cancer after battling it like the courageous warriors they always were. There has been too much suffering and death in the world, and we grieve for those who departed, but we also give thanks for the gift of having known them.

Resolutions this year??? In this year of plague, uncertainty and sequestering, my heart is not in making resolutions, and there won't be any lofty aspirations scrawled on paper or etched in stone this time around.  There will be just the same old work in progress, lurching onward together, breathing in and out, in and out, in and out. That will have to be enough.

In the words of Osaka Koryu, when we breathe in, we will breathe in the whole universe. When we breathe out, we will breathe out the whole universe. Beau and I will  go along together, paw in paw, and we will simply keep putting one foot in front of the other. As always on our walks, we will talk with the great trees and look for the light. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Happy New Year, Happy Hogmanay!

Wishing you abundance, cheer and rude good health in the shiny new year about to begin, wishing you many a festive beaker (or a noggin or a dram) too. Be warm and safe this evening, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing.

Let us remember the bright, beloved and courageous spirits who left us in the last year or three and went on ahead. Let us give thanks for them being in our lives and send them our love when we raise our glasses. Let us give thanks for each other too. Community matters.

Be wise, be wild, be blessed, be merry. Walk in peace, and may there be fine adventures on the road ahead. May every cup you hold this year contain a star or two and have a little light dancing in its depths.  May all good things come to you and your clan (or tribe) in 2021.

Thursday Poem - Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Tuesday, December 29, 2020