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!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

We sleep, allowing gravity to hold us, allowing Earth — our larger Body — to recalibrate our neurons, composting the keen encounters of our waking hours (the tensions and terrors of our individual days), stirring them back, as dreams, into the sleeping substance of our muscles. We give ourselves over to the influence of the breathing earth. Sleep, we might say, is a habit born in our bodies as the earth comes between our bodies and the sun. Sleep is the shadow of the earth as it falls across our awareness. Yes. To the human animal, sleep is the shadow of the earth as it seeps into our skin and spreads throughout our limbs, dissolving our individual will into the thousand and one selves that compose it—cells, tissues, and organs taking their prime directives now from gravity and the wind—as residual bits of sunlight, caught in the long tangle of nerves, wander the drifting landscape of our earth-borne bodies like deer moving across the forested valleys.
David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Buck Moon of July

July's full moon is the second of the four "gathering" moons that grace the interval between June and September. The Summer Solstice has passed and daylight hours north of the equator are already waning.  It is still summer by any definition we can come up with, and it's a festive time - skies (hopefully) vividly blue and flooded with sunshine by day, deep violet and star spangled by night.

Images captured on full moon nights sometimes resemble paintings when they are uploaded into the computer, and no matter how often that happens, it always comes as a surprise.  There is something about the velvety dome of a fine summer night that lends itself to lofty thoughts of journeying and adventures, to broad and sweeping brush strokes, to sky sailing galleons, airborne dragon boats and hot air balloons.  Being out under a summer moon conveys a sense of wonder, grandeur and connection with the universe that is hard to describe in words - as the late Carl Sagan wrote so eloquently:

"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we've learned most of what we know. Recently, we've waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."

Not long ago, I scribbled a note to myself, a sticky mauve reminder to remember Carl Sagan's words and the star stuff within.  They are comforting on days when health concerns seize the upper hand and leave me feeling somewhat fragile, crotchety and despondent.  The other uplifting thing to do (of course) is to mount a macro lens on the camera, grab notebook and pencil and go out to the woods. Cassie and Spencer are still with us in spirit, but now it is Beau who is rambling along with us and learning to love the Two Hundred Acre Wood.

We also know this magical moon as the: Blackberry Moon, Blessing Moon, Blueberry Moon, Claim Song Moon, Corn Moon, Crane Moon, Daisy Moon, Fallow Moon, Feather Moulting Moon, Flying Moon, Grass Cutter Moon, Ground Burning Moon, Hay Moon, Heat Moon, Horse Moon, Humpback Salmon Return to Earth Moon, Hungry Ghost Moon, Index Finger Moon, Larkspur Moon, Lightning Moon, Little Harvest Moon, Little Moon of Deer Horns Dropping off, Little Ripening Moon, Loaf Moon, Lotus Flower Moon, Meadow Moon, Manzanita Ripens Moon, Mead Moon, Midsummer Moon, Middle Moon, Middle of Summer Moon, Moon Before Lammas, Moon of Claiming, Moon of the Young Corn, Moon of Fledgling Hawk, Moon of Much Ripening, Moon of the Home Dance, Moon of the Middle Summer, Moon of Ripeness, Moon When Cherries Are Ripe, Moon When the Buffalo Bellow, Moon When People Move Camp Together, Moon When Limbs of Are Trees Broken by Fruit, Moon When Squash Are Ripe and Indian Beans Begin to Be Edible, Moon When Ducks Begin to Malt, Mountain Clover Moon, Peaches Moon, Raspberry Moon, Red Berries Moon, Red looming Lilies Moon, Return from Harvest Moon, Ripe Corn Moon, Ripening Moon, Rose Moon, Salmon Go up the Rivers in a Group Moon, Seventh Moon, Smokey Moon, Strong Sun Moon, Summer Moon, Sun House Moon, Warming Sun Moon, Water Lily Moon, Wattle Moon, Wort Moon.

As names go, I am fond of Blessing Moon, Blackberry Moon and Meadow Moon, but this year, Heat Moon says it best.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Friday Ramble - Season

This week's word comes to us from the Middle English sesoun through the Old French seson and the Vulger 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 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. Be it the sowing, tending and reaping of one's vegetable garden or the careful addition of herbs and spices to a casserole, it's all about nurture and enjoyment.

On morning walks, 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 after we have rounded a corner and are turning toward home. Shallow puddles along our way hold the fallen leaves in blithe fellowship with the sky and clouds reflected from above. When we pause, we are standing in boundless sky.

August is about to begin, and there is no doubt about it, autumn is not far away. 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 Lanark highlands. It's all good. With sweet and spicy things we will season the autumn days to come.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Thursday 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