Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Magic doesn't sweep you away; it gathers you up into the body of the present moment so thoroughly that all your explanations fall away: the ordinary, in all its plain and simple outrageousness, begins to shine -- to become luminously, impossibly so. Every facet of the world is awake, and you within it.

David Abram, Becoming coming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Friday, November 15, 2019

Friday Ramble - Winter

This week's word comes from Old English wintr, thence the Proto-Germanic wentruz meaning "wet season", both originating in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) wed, wod or ud, meaning "wet" or "wind". There are possible ties to the Old Celtic vindo meaning "white", but that word always sounds more like the English "wind" to me. The Old Norse vetr sounds like the present day "weather" and may indeed be one of its root forms. Cognates include the Gothic wintru, Icelandic vetur, Swedish vinte, Danish vinter and Norwegian vetter.

The most common words for the long white season have been around for a very long time, and most cultures on this island earth have one. The season occupies a singular place in our thoughts, dancing dramatically in a stronger light than its more moderate kin. Those of us who live in the north tend to predicate our activities in the other three seasons of the year on making ready for it.

Because of winter's ferocity, early Anglo-Saxons measured their calendar years from one winter to the next, and they reckoned their ages by the number of winters they had weathered. In Old Norse, the word vetrardag designated the first day of winter, usually the Saturday which fell between Oct. 10 and 16. Northern ancients were sure that the world as they knew it would come to an end after the most savage winter in history.  In the Eddas, the fimbulvetr (mighty winter) precedes the twilight of the gods, their last battle with the frost giants (led by Loki) and the destruction of the earth.

For the Celts, winter began at Samhain (October 31) or All Hallows (November 1) and ended on Imbolc or Candlemas (February 1 or 2) when springtime arrived. The Winter Solstice on or about December 21 marked  the longest night of the year, and it was a rowdy celebration. From that day onward, the light of the sun would return, a little more every day until the Summer Solstice in June. The legendary King Arthur was believed to have been born on the Winter Solstice in Castle Tintagel in Cornwall, and Druids sometimes refer to the Winter Solstice as Alban Arthuan ("The Light of Arthur").

It all comes down to cosmic balance. We owe the timely trappings of our brief existence in the Great Round to a tilt in the earth's axis as it spins merrily in space. When winter reigns here in the north, the happy lands south of the equator are cavorting in summer. I cling tenaciously to that thought in the depths of frozen January, that somewhere in the world it is warm and sunny, perfect beach weather and no parkas required.

Winter gifts us with the most brilliantly blue skies of the calendar year by day, with stargazey expanses of wonder by night. There is nothing to compare with the sun shining through frosted trees on a cold morning, with the sound of falling snow in the woods, with darknesses when the moon and stars seem so close one can almost reach up and touch them. We are made of star stuff, and that means the twinkling motes over my head are kin. That is truly cool.

When winter begins, I always consider moving further south, but it isn't going to happen. Instead, I pile up books and music for the long nights and accumulate tea. I stir curries, make bread and ponder the rows of jams and pickles in the pantry. I ready skis, snowshoes and boots for treks in the woods. By necessity, my rambles will be brief this winter, but I will still be taking them.

To know the north woods, one has to wander through them in winter, spend hours tracing the shapes of sleeping hills and trees with eyes and lens. She has to listen to snow falling among them and perhaps become a tree herself.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Thursday Poem - Sometimes I am Startled Out of Myself,

like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.

Barbara Crooker, from Radiance

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Morning in Bloom

Skies are leaden, and a fine murk wraps the village.  Snow fell overnight and everything is shrouded in white, houses, cars, trees and streets. This is one of those mornings when the village seems to be dancing (or skating) on the edge of the world and the weather and not quite sure where it belongs. 

Adjectives like dark and sunless are evocative, but there are better words for such intervals: bosky, caliginous, cloudy, crepuscular, dark, dim, drab, dusky, gloomy, murky, nebulous, obfuscous, obscure, opaque, overcast, shadowy, somber, stygian, sunless, tenebrous, twilighted, umbral, vague, wintry.

With no light to speak of, this is not a morning for wandering about with camera and peripherals, so far anyway. When Beau and I went out a few minutes ago, an icy wind teased the backs of our necks, and the matter of a longer morning walk was put aside for now. My furry son trotted back into the bedroom and curled up in my warm spot. A single eye peered mournfully at me from behind the patchwork when I entered the room to console him with a tummy rub.

What to do? Upright, but not quite awake, I pulled a canister of Chinese flower tea  out of the pantry and brewed up a pot. As the dried blooms took in liquid and opened out, the kitchen filled with perfume, and home was summery all over again. Vessel, beaker and contents were almost too arty to drink, and I took image after image, posing them on the kitchen counter, on the old oak table in the dining room, on a wooden platter, a bamboo mat. The teapot and cup posed cheerfully, sending up little clouds of fragrant steam and giving breathy sighs now and then. Small wonders amuse small minds on a snowy morning in November.

There is a stack of art books to prowl through, and there is a little Mozart on the CD player (Die Zauberflöte). There is a folio of lovely creamy paper and a box of art pens in splendid Mediterranean shades to play with.  There will be scones this morning, and for dinner this evening, there will be something fragrant and spicy that sings and dances on the tongue. There is room at the table for everyone, and there are enough mugs and cups to go around too, mismatched of course. On days like this, one does whatever she can do to light things up.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

...as dreams are essential to the psyche, so wildness is to life.

We are animal in our blood and in our skin. We were not born for pavements and escalators but for thunder and mud. More. We are animal not only in body but in spirit. Our minds are the minds of wild animals. Artists, who remember their wildness better than most, are animal artists, lifting their heads to sniff a quick wild scent in the air, and they know it unmistakably, they know the tug of wildness to be followed through your life is buckled by that strange and absolute obedience. ('You must have chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star,' wrote Nietzsche.) Children know it as magic and timeless play. Shamans of all sorts and inveterate misbehavers know it; those who cannot trammel themselves into a sensible job and life in the suburbs know it.

What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quintessence, pure spirit, resolving into no constituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary.

Jay  Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Friday, November 08, 2019

Friday Ramble - Fourteen Years On

On Sunday morning, clocks in the little blue house in the village turned back an hour, and Daylight Saving Time waved goodbye until next year. The departure of DST also marked fourteen years of pottering about in cyberspace, fourteen years of logging on in the morning, posting an image or two (occasionally three), sometimes muttering along for a few paragraphs, once in a while spilling coffee on the keyboard. There are times when I can't believe I had the audacity to set this "book of days" up in the first place, let alone do the blogging thing faithfully for fourteen years in a row. There are other times when I look at stuff I posted here years ago and am absolutely appalled. Yuck.

These are my morning or artist pages, and chances are they will remain pretty much as they are in the coming year. There may be a bit of font and banner tinkering now and again, but that is all. I don't foresee any significant changes to this place, and I expect life will simply go on as it has been doing so far.

We three will meander along at our own pace, watching morning fogs enfold the eastern Ontario highlands and oak leaves rain like honey in the autumn woods, feasting our eyes on skies alight with winter stars, on the sun going down like a ball of fire over Dalhousie Lake on the trailing edge of the year.

It has been two years since my friends, Penny and Dolores, passed beyond the fields we know, and our sweet Spencer crossed the rainbow bridge the same year. I think of all three every day, and I still miss them. It is Beau who wanders along with us now, and our boy is a wonderful companion, a treasure.

Big big life stuff (the ongoing health issues) notwithstanding, it's grand to be here and all wrapped up in what we call simply, "the Great Round".  Some days are easier than others, but every morning, the small adventures of our journeying will continue to make their way here and get spilled out on the computer screen with a bad photo and a whole rucksack of wonder. Mary Oliver says it best:

The years to come – this is a promise –
will grant you ample time

to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.
(excerpt from Terns)

In another poem called It Was Early, she wrote that sometimes one needs only to stand wherever she is to be blessed, and that is something I try to keep in mind as I totter about in the village and the Lanark highlands. Thank you for your kind thoughts and healing energies, your comments and cards and letters, for journeying along with me this year. You are treasured more than you know, and if my fingers were working, I would write each and every one of you.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Thursday Poem - At the road's turning, a sign

Stranger, you have reached a fabulous land―
in winter, the abode of swans,
magnolia buds and black leaves

secretly feeding the earth―
memory snaked into tree roots.

In spring, you will feel life changes
bubble up in your blood like early wine,
and your heart will be lighter than
the flight of gossamer pollen.

Stranger, in summer, you will drink deeply
of a curious local wine,
fortified with herbs cut with a silver knife
when the moon was new.
Who knows what freedoms
will dazzle your path like fireflies?

And I promise you, in the fall
you will give up the search and know peace
in the fragrance of apple wood burning.
You will learn how to accept love
in all its masks, and the universe
will sing here more sweetly than any other place

Dolores Stewart

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

A Later Shade of Gold

And so it goes... Many trees in the Lanark highlands have already lost their leaves and fallen asleep in their leaf-strewn alcoves, but others are just starting to turn now. Still others hold their turning in abeyance until late in November, and we are always happy to see them on our rambles.

Whole hillsides of lacy tamarack are gold, and their foliage dazzles the eyes. When I remember their splendor in the depths of winter, the memory will leave me close to tears and hankering for a long trip on foot into the forests north of Lake Superior. No, not this year, perhaps next year...

Butternut trees on our hills are always the first to drop their leaves, but the great oaks along the trail into the deep woods retain their bronzey leaves well into winter, and native beeches are still wearing a delightful coppery hue. One of our favorite old maples puts on a magnificent golden performance at this time of the year, and we attend her one woman show with pleasure. While in her clearing, we remember to say thanks for her efforts to brighten a subdued and rather monochromatic interval in the turning of the seasons.

It has been a windy autumn, and we were delighted to discover this week that the north wind has not plucked Maple's leaves and left her standing bare and forlorn on the hill with her sisters. It (the wind, that is) has been doing its best, but the tree is standing fast. I would be "over the moon" if I could photograph or paint something even the smallest scrip as grand and elemental and graceful as Maple is creating in her alcove. Every curve and branch and burnished dancing leaf is a wonder, and the blue sky is a perfect counterpoint.

Writing this, I remembered that as well as being an archaic word for a scrap or fraction of something, scrip also describes a small wallet or pouch once carried by pilgrims and seekers.  That seems fitting for this journey into the woods and our breathless standing under Maple in all her golden glory.  Oh, to belong to the woodland sisterhood of tree and leaf...

Monday, November 04, 2019

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

You cannot buy the revolution.
You cannot make the revolution.
You can only be the revolution.
It is in your spirit or it is nowhere.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Friday, November 01, 2019

Friday Ramble - Memory

This week's word has been around since the thirteenth century, coming from the Middle English memorie, Anglo-French memoire and Latin memoria/memor meaning "mindful".  Further back are the Old English gemimor meaning "well-known", the Anglo-Saxon gemunan, the Greek mermēra meaning "care", and the Sanskrit smarati meaning "that which is remembered" - in the Vedas, the word smarati is used to describe teachings handed down orally from the ancients and never written out. At the beginning of it all is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root form (s)mer- meaning to keep something in mind.

One of the late autumn entities that always tugs at my heartstrings is the last heron of the season, he or she haunting leaf-strewn shallows in solitary splendor and hoping to find a few fish, frogs and water beetles to fuel the long trip south. It's an arduous journey from here to there -  all the way to the southern states, Mexico, Honduras, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Galapagos Islands. Having a few omega-rich meals before starting out is a very good thing.

I have written once or twice here about a long ago autumn morning in northern Ontario when the heron migration was in full swing. The great birds had gathered in predawn darkness to feed before flying onward, and hundreds stood side by side in the foggy waters of the Mississagi river near the town of Iron Bridge. As I crept along the shoreline, their silhouettes appeared one by one out of the mist. It was breathtaking, and it was magical.

There is enough enchantment in such tatterdemalion snippets to last many lifetimes, and I would like to retain the memory of that morning for the rest of my earthly days and beyond, no matter how many other mind scraps embrace the void somewhere along the road.  I've always loved the "Great Blues", and I revisit the scene often in my thoughts, always a place of tranquility and stillness. We need as many peaceful places as we can find in these troubling times.

For whatever reason, archaic English refers to a group of herons together, not as colony or a flock, but as "a sedge of herons".  Every summer I watch herons fishing in the shallows along Dalhousie Lake and think that if there were no other teachers about, I would be just fine with a sedge of herons to show me the way.  I don't usually think of a group of Great Blues as a sedge though.

For those of us who stay home and don't fly south in winter, the right expression for a gathering of our favorite birds is surely "a memory of herons".

Happy November, everyone!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Merry Samhain/Halloween/Hallows

Bright blessings to you and your clan!

Thursday Poem - All Hallows Eve

Night of the void between the worlds,
night when the veil between the worlds is stirring, lifting,
when the old year shrivels and fades, and the new year has not yet begun,

when light takes the form of darkness,
when the last light sinks into darkness like spilled water,
disappears in the leaves, in the hot secret runs of earth underneath.

when grandmothers rise like mist,
the silent grandmothers with soft tongues of fog in the ear,
claiming nothing for themselves, nor complaining that they were abandoned,

when children go out clothed in darkness,
the children with sweet orange lips slip among whispers,
go out with wavering candles among crosses and mossy eyes in stone,

when children go out in the mist,
the children tasting of candy, of carelessly spilled dreams,
the children like faraway stars flaming into the soft folds of darkness.

Dolores Stewart
from Doors to the Universe

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Late Autumn, Songs in a Different Key

Leaves crunching underfoot or rattling like sabres in in the wind, ice crystals limning cedar fence rails along the ridge, blowsy plumes of frosted grasses along the perimeter of the western field, stands of frozen reeds along the pond—all are fine representations of the season, plangent leitmotifs in the windy musical work that is late autumn. At this time of the year, the Two Hundred Acre Wood is an Aeolian harp, a vast musical instrument that only the wind can play.

The season marches onward, settling slowly, and with deep sighs, into the subdued tints of early winter: soft bronzes, creams, beiges and silvery greys, small splashes here and there of winey red, burgundy, russet, a midnight blue almost iridescent in its sheen and intensity, but oh so fragile.

Frosts in the eastern Ontario highlands make themselves known as sugary drifts over old wood and on fallen leaves almost transparent in their lacy textures. An owl's artfully barred feather lies in thin sunlight under the fragrant cedars down by the spring and seems to be giving off a graceful pearly light of its own. The weedy residents of field and fen cavort in fringed and tasseled hats.

One needs another lens and tuning for late autumn and early winter, a different sort of vision, a song in a different key. The crone's senses are performing a seasonal shift of their own, moving carefully into the consideration of things small, still and muted, but complete within themselves and perfect, even when they are cold and wet and tattered. She couldn't hold a tune for all the tea in China, but she hums to herself and Beau as she goes along.

There is light in the world, even in these dark times, and she has to remember that. Her camera and lens never forget, and out in the woods, they drink in light like nectar. She is thankful that they do and that they remind her of the world's indwelling grace at every turning along the trail.