Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

. . . I don't know what gladness is or where it comes from, this splitting open of the self. It takes me by surprise. Not an awareness of beauty and mystery, but beauty and mystery themselves, flooding into a mind suddenly without boundaries. Can this be gladness, to be lifted by that flood?

This is something that needs explaining, how light emerges from darkness, how comfort wells up from sorrow. The Earth holds every possibility inside it, and the mystery of transformation, one thing into another. This is the wildest comfort.

Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday Ramble - Waspish

 American Pelecinid Wasp (female)
(Pelecinus polyturator)
The lady looks dangerous, but there is no need for concern. She is a placid creature, and not malignant at all. The glossy curling appendage is actually an ovipositor, used to deposit her daughter eggs on underground beetle larva.
American pelecinids are sometimes called scorpion flies, but they are not related to either scorpions or true scorpion flies, and they don't have stingers. As adults, they feed on nectar and are important pollinators of fruit trees and wildflowers, a role they share with other wasps, bumbles, honey bees and hoverflies. They have a particular fondness for late blooming goldenrod, and that is where I encounter them from time to time, but these are the first images I have ever been able to capture. There was a strong north wind in the field that morning, and I was surprised that any of my clumsy efforts turned out.

Wasps of this species reproduce parthenogenetically, and they do not need males for procreation, a proliferation strategy that probably originated in the general scarcity of male pelecinids in the northern hemisphere. Obviously, the same strategy also serves to perpetuate the rarity of males of the species. Early pelecinid specimens have been found preserved in amber, and males seem to have been just as scarce in ancient times as they are now.

Of the three species in the genus, ours is the only one that reproduces without a mate. Lacking a male parent, the offspring are all female of course, exact copies (or clones) of the mother's genetic matrix. Scientists studying American pelecinid populations think that the genetic variations necessary for the survival of the species may be provided by mutation, including the birth of a male now and then. Male pelecinids are rare indeed, and if you encounter one of these exquisite creatures in the wild, chances are it is female. Not needing an ovipositor, the males have much shorter tails.

Encountering this female in a stand of goldenrod a few days ago, I was happy to make her acquaintance. She was beautiful, and I loved her expression.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Thursday Poem - This Time of Year

when the light leaves early, sun slipping down
behind the beech trees as easily as a spoon
of cherry cough syrup, four deer step delicately
up our path, just at the moment when the colors
shift, to eat fallen apples in the tall grass.
Great grey ghosts.  If we steal outside in the dark,
we can hear them chew.  A sudden movement,
they're gone, the whiteness of their tails
a burning afterimage.  A hollow pumpkin moon rises,
turns the dried corn to chiaroscuro, shape and shadow;
the breath of the wind draws the leaves and stalks
like melancholy cellos.  These days are songs, noon air
that flows like warm honey, the maple trees' glissando
of fat buttery leaves.  The sun goes straight to the gut
like a slug of brandy, an eau-de-vie.  Ochre October:
the sky, a blue dazzle, the grand finale of trees,
this spontaneous applause; when darkness falls
like a curtain, the last act, the passage of time,
that blue current; October, and the light leaves early,
our radiant hungers, all these golden losses.

Barbara Crooker, from Radiance

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

View From the Shore

A perfect autumn morning it was, water, sky and silvery morning light, drifting fog and reeds almost invisible in its embrace, maples reddening and aspens going gold on the far shore. The rocks and hills away in the distance were smudges, but I didn't need to see them or capture them with my lens. I remembered them from other years, and I could see them in my mind's eye.

What more does one need on the trailing edge of a day on October's middling pages than this? A heron in the shallows would be grand, a loon or two calling from the center, a paddling of quackers or a skein of geese? Perhaps an eagle describing majestic circles in the sky overhead?

No, everything that matters is already here.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Joanna Macy writes that until we can grieve for our planet we cannot love it—grieving is a sign of spiritual health. But it is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Friday, October 04, 2019

Friday Ramble - Edgy

This week's word has been around since the eleventh century, making its way down to us through the Middle English egge, the Old English ecg, the Old French aiglent and the Old Germanic ecke, all meaning "corner". It is also related to the Latin acer meaning "sharp", and the Greek akmē meaning "point". At the root of it all is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) ak- meaning "sharp". Kindred words in the English language include acerbic, acid, acrid, acumen, acupuncture, acute, eager, ester, exacerbate, hammer and selvedge as well as eglantine (or sweetbriar), an old world rose known for its thorns.

An edgy time is this, for the old Celtic year is passing away, and we stand on the threshold of a brand new year, in the north a chilling contraption of fallen leaves and freezing earth, short days, darkness, frost and wind.

The eastern Ontario highlands always seem empty at this time of the year and rather lonesome. Except for Canada geese and a few intrepid herons, migratory birds have departed for warmer climes, and the lake seems still and empty. Most of our wild forest kin are already hibernating or are thinking about doing it.

On trips into the woods, the long shadows falling across our trail have edges as sharp as the finest examples of the blade smith's craft. The earth under our boots is firm, leaves are crunchy, and puddles along our way are rimed with ice. For all the emptiness, frost and morning sunlight change the Two Hundred Acre Wood into something rich and elegant and inviting: glittering weed fronds artfully curved and waving in the fields, milkweed sculpted into pleasing shapes, bare trees twinkling like stars, the margins of blackberry leaves rosy and sparkling with frost crystals. The air is fragrant with cedar, spruce and pine.

These weeks always seem chthonic to me. That engaging word with its bewildering arrangement of vowels and consonants springs from the Greek khthonios, meaning "of the earth", and it is usually employed in describing subterranean matters and deities of the underworld.  When we use the adjective to describe something, we are focusing on what is deeper or within, rather than that which is apparent at first glance or resting on the surface. Implicit in the adjective are notions of rest, sleep, fertility and rebirth - mortality and abundance coexisting and enfolding each other in a deep embrace.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Thursday Poem - October

October.  Its brilliant festival of dry
and moist decay.  Its spicy, musky scent.
The church's parking lot deserted
except for this one witness,
myself, just resting there.

Somewhere a radio plays Flamenco.
A spotlight of sunshine falls on the scattered debris.
Blood-red and gold, a perfect circle of leaves
begins to whirl,
slowly at first, keeping the pattern,
clicking against the blacktop
like heels and  castanets,
then faster, faster, faster. . .
round as a ruffle, as the swirling
skirts of an invisible dancer.
Swept off into the tangled woods
by the muscular breeze.
The hoarse cheering of crows.

Inside the dark empty church,
long cool shadows, white-painted wood,
austere Protestant candles thriftily snuffed,
Perhaps a note on the altar,
Gone dancing. Back on Sunday

Dolores Stewart, from The Nature of Things

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Village, Scarlet and Bokeh

In the village, scarlets, plums and deep inky blues are creeping into view, their emergence out of summer's dusty greens motivated by cooler evenings and gently ruffling winds at nightfall. There are rumors of frost in the village, and when Beau and I potter off in the morning, there are glossy coins of dew everywhere. No frost yet though...

In summer, a small gasp of koi or nishikigoi (錦鯉, "brocaded carp") makes its home in the shaded pond underneath this Japanese maple, but the fish have been moved to indoor tanks for the winter, and the pond is a different place, still and silent. I didn't know until recently that a colony of koi is called a gasp. Beau and I visit the maple and her pond on our morning walks until all her leaves have fallen, and the waters below her branches are covered with snow.

As often as I witness the turning of the seasons and the vivid entities coming into being, the morphing of the village into deeper and more intense hues is always enchanting. It takes us (and the camera) by surprise each and every year. Autumn transformations are magics of a wilder kind, and I can't imagine living this old life without being among them and watching as they flare and swirl and dance, blithely remaking the world in stunning elemental colors.

Northern light dazzles the eyes, and it lingers lovingly on everything it touches in its journey across the eastern Ontario highlands at this time of the year. I wish I could paint everything it touches. Come to think of it, that is just what my lens is doing. All I do is hold the camera and point it.  Happy October!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Ultimately, to live an enchanted life is to pick up the pieces of our bruised and battered psyches, and to offer them the nourishment they long for. It is to be challenged, to be awakened, to be gripped and shaken to the core by the extraordinary which lies at the heart of the ordinary. Above all, to live an enchanted life is to fall in love with the world all over again. This is an active choice, a leap of faith which is necessary not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of the wide, wild Earth in whose being and becoming we are so profoundly and beautifully entangled.
Sharon Blackie, The Enchanted Life, Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday Ramble - Going for the Gold

It's the reds that grab our attention in September and October. When maple trees in the Lanark highlands turn, its gorges, hills and quiet coves are ablaze with color. Other trees are dazzling in their own right, but their earthier hues are always upstaged by the riotous, cavorting red maples.

There is an elemental chemistry at work in the woods. In summer, the green pigment in leaves (chlorophyll) helps converts sunlight into energy in the elegant chemical process called photosynthesis. (That word comes from the Greek  phōs meaning "light", and suntíthēmi meaning "putting together".) Trees retain the carbon dioxide extracted during photosynthesis and use it to manufacture nourishment, together with water taken in through their roots. Oxygen extracted at the same time is released back into the earth's atmosphere for us to breathe.  It's a wild and earthy magic of the very finest kind, trees and sentient beings all breathing in and out together and sharing the bounty of light. That there is magic is without question, but it always seems to me that trees are sentient beings too, not just woody things with leaves and branches and roots.

When autumn arrives, deciduous trees withdraw into themselves. Chlorophyll production slows down, allowing the anthocyanin and carotenoid pigments also in leaves to come into their own. Leaves high in anthocyanins and low in carotenoids turn scarlet, and those with high levels of both flavinoids flash bright orange.  Leaves high in carotenoids and low in anthocyanins do a sky dance in honeyed golds and yellows.  Absent both anthocyanins and carotenoids, tannins rule, giving us the burnished russets, ochres, umbers and bronzes of the great oaks, hickories and beeches.

Like most northerners, I have a passion for scarlet, claret and ruby in autumn, but it always seems to me that the golds, bronzes and russets of our other native tree species don't get the attention they so richly deserve. The oro (gold) on display here in late September and early October is anything but pallido (pale  or light). It dazzles the eye; it sings and struts and dances; it kicks up its heels. It rocks.

Poplars, ashes, elms and birches wear radiant saffron, and so do ginkgo trees in the village. Beech leaves are coppery coinage, and oak leaves turn an alluring rosy bronze. In Lanark, the aspens and tamaracks down by our beaver pond wear a delightful buttery gold. Nearby, late blooming goldenrod sways back and forth until it goes to seed and offers its fuzzy children to the wind. A few resolute yellow daisies and hawkweed bloom in protected nooks among the rocks. Everywhere, there is fine contrast from spruces, pines and cedars in the background, and blue-green evergreen fragrance fills the air.

And then there are all the smaller bright entities down on the forest floor among the fallen leaves. . . Eastern yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) glows like a hundred watt bulb, and one can spot it in autumn as at no other time of the year. From the shadows, the lovely but poisonous fungus dishes out its frothy incandescence like a halogen lamp set on high beam.

Here's to the glorious golds of the fall panoply. When the long white season arrives and snow covers the countryside, it is the golds that will turn up in my dreams. Long may they delight these old eyes in dazzling array.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday Poem - September Mosaic

Before we come with rakes and crackling
energy to clean it up,
the backyard is precisely
as the dog prefers it -- left alone,
a natural selection
of leaf, stick, bone, pod, seed, and stone.

But we are cosmic instruments
of music and disturbance, only
animals by half,
and will not let the season bleed
its shifting earth designs
of stone, bone, leaf, stick, pod, and seed.

Some earthscapes rearranged
are gardens, or hillsides
shorn to make a path for wired poles
or graveyards stiff with grief
or clearcut forests. Let me take care
of seed, stone, pod, bone, stick, and leaf.

Let me recall the universe
is breathing in my breath, it plays
its tune in me, it dreams my being --
an unnamed, unrecorded  god
becoming conscious as I am
of leaf, seed, stick, stone, bone, and pod.

I am a painting made of sand and pollen.
Structure and spirit
are my codes. Nothing of life
is random or a trick
I draw myself a part of all
with pod, leaf, bone, seed, stone, and stick

The circle of the seasons turns
and never comes back quite the same.
Fertile impulses in time
will overgrow the patterns I have sown,
return to animal wilderness
of stick, pod, stone, leaf, seed and bone.

Let me be glad
new seasons bud from stick and leaf,
new forces split a pod and spill the seed,
new rhythms rise from stone and bone.

Dolores Stewart, (from Doors to the Universe)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Taking the Sky Road Home

Only in September and October do sunsets like this come along, ground mist creeping through fields and around trees, light and sky and clouds like something out of a Maxfield Parrish painting. The clouds in the first image look like a trail one could walk along, and they remind me of the title I appended to a photo a few years ago, "Taking the Sky Road Home".

Fog and ground mist are common entities at sunrise and nightfall here in autumn, clouds of condensed moisture generated by the earth's slow breathing and drifting along above the surface. Humans are cloud-breathing dragons - we generate our own mists and fogs as we take air into our lungs and expel it again; trees breathe in and out too. As above so below, sky, humans, trees and the earth all breathing in and out together, the rosy streaks in the sky above our heads kin to the nebulous veil floating below. Such are notions I always find pleasing.

We call visible murky stuff "fog" when it reduces visibility to less than 1,000 metres, and we call it "mist" when we can see further than 1,000 meters through it. One can make out farm buildings way in the distance in the second photo, so this is mist rather than fog, and a right fine mist it is.

I might be anywhere in the world, but I am leaning against a fence in the eastern Ontario highlands on a cool night in September.  The collar of my jacket is turned up against the wind, and I watch as another day fades, taking photo after photo and hoping just one or two turn out. The clouds, the setting sun, the gauzy veils of condensation floating just above the earth, all are too beautiful for words, so why am I trying to describe them?

The sun slides below the horizon, another autumn day folds up like an umbrella, and the stars come out. A brief interval this, but perfect in every way...

Monday, September 23, 2019