Tuesday, March 19, 2019

For the Vernal Equinox

Tomorrow marks the Vernal Equinox or Ostara, one of two times in the calendar year (the other being the Autumn Equinox or Mabon) when the Earth and her unruly children hover in perfect balance for a brief interval. Humans had nothing to do with this day - it's a pivotal astronomic point ordained by the heavens, by the natural order of things in this magnificent cosmos where we live out our days, spinning like tops in the Great Round of space and time.

If I lived further south, tomorrow might be a day of greening and enchantment, a day when Eostre, the old Teutonic goddess of greening and fertility, wanders wild places with her arms full of spring blooms, bestowing blessings on everything she sees. Flowers would spring up in her footsteps as she passed, and she would be attended by hares, her special animal,. The air would be filled with birdsong, the heady fragrance of rich dark earth and wild springtime herbs.

Alas, the only snowdrops blooming here at the moment are those in a glass jar here in my study. It will be several weeks until Lady Spring makes an appearance in the northern landscape, but rumors of her imminent presence and the arrival of the greening season persist. It has been a long winter this time around, and Eostre can't show up to soon for me. Our winter birds feel the same. Every feathered visitor to our sleeping garden seems to be declaring its lofty status as a messenger from the sacred, a harbinger of abundance and new life.

Last night Beau and I went outside into the garden for a few minutes, and a cold going it was. As we shivered in the star spangled darkness and looked up, it seemed to us that this month's waxing moon bears more than a passing resemblance to a great cosmic egg, a perfect expression of this turning of the wheel with its verdant motifs of warmth, light and new life coming into being.

There is blooming in our thoughts this day, but it is too cold for outdoor celebrations. I will spend a few minutes outside this evening, perhaps light a celebratory candle on the deck, but the festivities are indoors for the most part.  There will be grilled salmon, risotto, a salad of tangy spring greens and a bottle of Chablis on the old oak table this evening. All are welcome.

Happy Ostara, Happy Spring, Happy Equinox! Bright blessings to one and all!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Shining a Light in the Darkness

"What hope is there for individual reality or authenticity, when the forces of violence and orthodoxy, the earthly powers of guns and bombs and manipulated public opinion make it impossible for us to be authentic and fulfilled human beings? The only hope is in the creation of alternative values, alternative realities. The only hope is in daring to redream one's place in the world -- a beautiful act of imagination, and a sustained act of self becoming. Which is to say that in some way or another we breach and confound the accepted frontiers of things."
Ben Okri

For the last several days, I have been trying to string words together to express my grief about the atrocities in New Zealand, and I have failed. Others do this better than I. The fierce and eloquent Terry Tempest Williams made an appearance here yesterday, and this morning's offering is from Ben Okri. The incandescent Ursula K. Le Guin's words will probably turn up here this week too. We are all poorer for her departure from this plane of existence last year.

We carry on. No matter how dark and brutal things get, we light our candles and butter lamps and lanterns and carry on. We shine our little beacons into the dark corners where evil festers, and we call the beast by its true name.  We summon the fiend into the light of day and expose it in all its grotesque hideousness.

We carry on. We dare to imagine a world where such unspeakable things do not happen. We work to make that world so by our thoughts and words and deeds.

We carry on. We do not give up, ever.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

I want to write my way from the margins to the center. I want to speak the language of the grasses, rooted yet soft and supple in the presence of wind before a storm. I want to write in the form of migrating geese like an arrow pointing south toward a direction of safety. I want to keep my words wild so that even if the land and everything we hold dear is destroyed by shortsightedness and greed, there is a record of participation by those who saw what was coming. Listen. Below us. Above us. Inside us. Come. This is all there is."
Terry Tempest Williams, from Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday Ramble - Just Passing Through

Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus)  
The Bohemian Waxwing passes through the village in October as it heads south to its winter habitat and again in mid-to-late March when it flies back to its summer breeding grounds in the boreal forests of the far north.

Traveling in madcap flocks, Bohemians stop along their way to fill up on berries, cherries and other fruit, and their appearance makes me smile, a fine thing indeed this year. The birds fly in circles around the old crabapple tree, gleefully dance from branch to branch, make crude comments to the nearby crows and starlings, laugh at their own jokes and pelt each other with frozen crabapples.

I thought these rowdy visitors were Cedar Waxwings until I noticed their peachy colored faces, rufous (red) undertail coverts and white wing streaks, also their scarlet-tipped secondaries, often a little harder to see. By the time they departed, the old crabapple was bare, and there were bits of frozen "crabs" all over the front yard. In came the crows and made short work of the leavings.

Bohemians are seasonal harbingers, and their appearance in the front yard in March often means that springtime is on its way.  This year, perhaps they should have waited for a few weeks - we still have a long way to go.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thursday Poem - Benneacht (Blessing), For St. Patrick's Day

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

© John O'Donohue. All rights reserved
(from Echoes of Memory)

It has been several years since John O'Donohue passed away, but his benediction is perfect for this week with its notions of homecoming, moonlight, calm waters and comfort.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Birch Mother in the Wind

Paper birch, also called white birch and canoe birch
  (Betula papyrifera)  
Here we are on the cusp between winter and springtime, weary of ice and snowdrifts, craving light and warmth.  It is still below freezing much of the time, an icy wind scouring the bare trees and making the branches ring like old iron bells.  Perhaps that is to be expected, for springtime is a puckish wight this far north, and after appearing, she sometimes disappears for days and weeks at a time.

For all that, March days have a wonderful way of quieting one's thoughts and breathing rhythms, bringing her back to a still and reflective space in the heart of the living world.

I sat on a log in the woods a few days ago, watching as tattered scraps of birch bark fluttered back and forth in the north wind. The lines etched in the tree's paper were words written in a language I could almost understand when my breath slowed and my mind became still. When the morning sun slipped out from behind the clouds, rays of sunlight passed through the blowing strands and turned them golden and translucent, for all the world like elemental stained glass.

When I touched the old tree in greeting, my fingers came away with a dry springtime sweetness on them that lingered for hours. I tucked a thin folio of bark in the pocket of my parka and inhaled its fragrance all the way home.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

... when we begin to tell stories, our imagination begins to flow out through our eyes and our ears to inhabit the breathing earth once again. Suddenly, the trees along the street are looking at us, and the clouds crouch low over the city as though they are trying to hatch something wondrous. We find ourselves back inside the same world that the squirrels and the spiders inhabit, along with the deer stealthily munching the last plants in our garden, and the wild geese honking overhead as they flap south for the winter. Linear time falls away, and we find ourselves held, once again, in the vast cycles of the cosmos -- the round dance of the seasons, the sun climbing out of the ground each morning and slipping down into the earth every evening, the opening and closing of the lunar eye whose full gaze attracts the tidal waters within and all around us.

David Abram, Storytelling and Wonder

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Friday, March 08, 2019

Friday Ramble - Getting through March, sheepishly

March came in like a lioness, and then the lioness stepped away for a few days. Within her brief absence, plucky birds paired off amorously, and local starlings sang merrily, pretending they were robins. For a while it looked as if there would be a short maple syrup run.  For a handful of days, I dared to entertain thoughts of springtime - gardening magazines, agricultural annuals, nursery catalogs and seed packets bloomed on every surface in the little blue house in the village.

No halycon days for us this week. We are back to winter: frigid days and icy nights, the north wind blowing heaps of snow against the door of the garden shed, shiny new icicles dangling from rafters, clouds of blowing snow, earth and desiccated grasses vanishing after a fleeting emergence out of the white stuff. Snowdrifts are three or four feet deep in places, and local geese, loons and herons are going to be very late coming home this year.

What is one to do at such times?  I drink copious amounts of espresso and tea. In the middle of the night, I plot new beds of roses to be dug (hopefully) next month, research heirloom vegetables, lay out the design for another quilt on this computer. I cultivate forbearance and don't look out the window when snow falls again, hoping ardently that Lady March will get her act together and morph into a lamb, darn it.

At the end of winter, one becomes a tad maudlin.  When a friend in the Lanark Highlands told me this week that spring lambs are about to be born in her magnificent old log barn, I could have cried. Poor wee beasties, coming into the world in such circumstances.

Enough is enough already.  Rain would be fine, and it is easier stuff to shove than snow. One thing about the weather though - night skies have been fabulous: flaming sunsets and moons one can almost reach up and touch, planets dancing in the sky at dusk, dippers of starlight strewn by handfuls from vast, streaming cosmic cauldrons. What a show, what a trip!

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Thursday Poem - Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Winter's Return

A fragile scrap of waning moon rose early this morning and was visible for a minute or two before clouds rolled in. Temperatures were several degrees below zero overnight, and as I looked at the moon though my kitchen window, I could hear the north wind cavorting across the roof shingles and cantering briskly through the eaves of the little blue house in the village.

There was a dusting of fresh snow at sunrise, the sound of snapping and crackling as winter birds danced from twig to brittle twig among the bare shrubberies and did a little chilled singing to greet the day. Our birdbaths have yet to emerge from the deep snow in the garden, but hillocks of white stuff mark their location, looking for all the world like pointed Chinese hats.

Now and then, there are balmy, brilliant blue days in early March, but we are back to winter for the next few days, leaden skies from here to there, bitter winds out of the north, snow and ice pellets, sometimes freezing rain. We wandered in the woods for a while this weekend, but after only a few clicks, my fingers were blue, and back into heavy gloves they went.

Wonder of wonders, the gnarly old willows down by the creek were putting up lovely furry catkins in their protected alcove, and the icicles below them cradled tiny branches and fragile scraps of green. Snow blanketed everything in my favorite woodland clearing, but water in the little stream at my feet was running free and singing. Willows and song and flow are still percolating in my thoughts this morning, a day or two later.

A strange blending of seasonal images and motifs perhaps, but this is what my native place looks like at this time of the year, and I am quite all right with it. There is light in the icicles, in thawing streams and fuzzy little willow buds. I cling to the thought and turn my collar up against the gelid wind.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

What we need, all of us who go on two legs, is to reimagine our place in creation. We need to enlarge our conscience so as to bear, moment by moment, a regard for the integrity and bounty of the earth. There can be no sanctuaries unless we regain a deep sense of the sacred, no refuges unless we feel a reverence for the land, for soil and stone, water and air, and for all that lives. We must find the desire, the courage, the vision to live sanely, to live considerately, and we can only do that together, calling out and listening, listening and calling out.

Scott Russell Sanders, Writing from the Center

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Friday, March 01, 2019

Friday Ramble - Stirring Things Up

Another icy morning, motes of sunlight scattering like stars in the cold air, an icy wind that goes right to the bones and makes a valiant effort to flash freeze one's whole metabolism, the parts not already frozen, that is. Underwhelming to say the least, and I am not alone in my disgruntlement. When I tried to entice Beau into going outside a few minutes ago, he peered out into the garden, gave me a filthy look, turned his back on the door (and me) and trotted back to bed.

At times like these, exotic spices and culinary offerings from faraway places go dancing through one's sconce, clattering their cymbals and shaking their tambourines in the pantry. The opening gambit is an espresso strong enough to walk on and a lovely stack of cookbooks. This morning's selection includes the works below, but others will be added to the pile before I plunk myself down in the Morris chair to sip and ponder and scheme.

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace, Tamar Adler
Beyond the Great Wall, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
1000 Indian Recipes, Neelam Batra
The Heart of the Plate, Mollie Katzen
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison
Yum and Yummer, Greta Podleski
Arabesque, Claudia Roden
Everyday Greens, Annie Somerville
The Vegetarian Epicure (Vols 1 and 2) Anna Thomas
Finding Yourself in the Kitchen, Dana Velden
The Art of Simple Food (Vols 1 and 2), Alice Waters
The Food of Morocco, Paula Wolfert
Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, Grace Young

Rebecca Katz's cookbooks are in a stack of their own. Dipping into them, I savor every mouthwatering recipe and vibrant image. All five are a treasure trove of information on using good food to battle cancer and get through chemotherapy, on maintaining a healthy mind and living a long and robust life. They are also a feast for body and soul. On days when I can't stand even looking at food, Rebecca's books delight the eyes and nudge my taste buds back to life.

It will be an Asian concoction this morning, something improvised, serendipity and redolent of aromatic spices. Whatever is stirred up will likely contain saffron or turmeric, perhaps pomegranate seeds, an anise star or two. Just seeing a dish of saffron threads always cheers me up. We have cultivated autumn blooming crocuses in our garden for years and tried to harvest saffron threads, but squirrels love the stuff as much as we do and always make off with the corms. Here I am again, pondering how best to protect the colony of Crocus sativus sleeping under the snow. If I can just protect the little dears until they bloom in September...

The day's culinary adventures will conjure sunlight and warmth and comfort.  All three are welcome on a day when one can't wander about with a camera for fear of going base over apex on sneaky ice, and her canine soulmate refuses to go out. There is an element of ritual to this morning's activities - perhaps my saffron threads and wishful stirrings will be noticed by Lady Spring wherever she is hiding. If not, the dazzling reds and oranges and yellows are almost indecently sumptuous, and they make my heart glad.

Happy March everyone!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Thursday Poem - The Moment

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Margaret Atwood,
from Morning in the Burned House

Wednesday, February 27, 2019