Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

How Sweet It Is

And so it goes . . . One day, the old crabapple is bare and forlorn, the next day it wears a multitude of tiny leaves. Almost overnight, the tree is covered with blooms and buzzing with throngs of ecstatic, blissed-out bumbles, bees and wasps.

Along comes a summer breeze, and the crabapple symphony is over, fragile petals drifting through the air like windblown confetti, coming to rest on lawns and hedges and gardens, on fences and birdbaths and pergolas and fountains.

Lilacs in the village are blooming, and when I stepped outside with Beau last evening around ten, the night air was full of their heady fragrance. We leaned against the railing on the veranda and breathed in the glorious perfume.

Suddenly, I remembered a long ago garden I planted with purple heliotrope. The color was gorgeous, and the sweet, cherry-like scent of the blooms pulled in hummingbirds, butterflies, bumbles and bees from miles around. I shall have to plant it again.

 How sweet all this is, how fleeting and poignant, and just a little sad.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Looking at the heavens places me in time and space - and beyond them. Gazing at the stars, I look through heaven’s wrinkle; the light I see now represents their past, having traveled many years across space to reach my eyes here on earth; the light they are emitting now will be visible only in some future, years away.

I and all the other lives on Earth are connected to the stars, held together by gravity, the invisible glue that defines our universe, and bound elementally by a common material: stardust. This atomic grit of interstellar space paints dark clouds on the Milky Way, condenses itself into swirls of gravity-bound suns and planets, and provides the minerals bonded by the push and pull of electrical charges into the molecules that form our cells. Like stardust and the other materials of life itself, we are in constant motion, changing shape as we pass through our lives, and after the makings of our bodies break down and are recycled, rearranged into other forms of life.

The stars remind me of where I come from and who I am.

Susan J. Tweit, Walking Nature Home

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Friday, May 17, 2024

Friday Ramble - Aestival

This week's word is one of my favorites, hailing from Middle English, Middle and Old French, the Late Latin aestīvālis and earlier Latin aestās meaning summer or summery. Both forms are cognate with the Sanskrit इन्द्धे (inddhé) meaning to light or set on fire. At the end of all our wordy explorations  is the ancient Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root form h₂eydʰ- meaning heat, fire or to burn.

Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the hypothetical common ancestor of all Indo-European languages, and its elements have been assembled from known Indo-European languages. There is no record that PIE ever actually existed, but if so, it would have been spoken from the Late Neolithic (6,400–3,500 BC) to the Early Bronze Age (3300 to 1200 BC), a very long time ago. Current thinking is that the prehistoric Proto-Indo-Europeans were nomadic tribes from the steppes of eastern Europe and central Asia. An adventurous lot, they wandered as far as the Aegean, northern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia, leaving their language, religious beliefs and customs wherever they went.

In the science of zoology, aestival refers to the tendency of many living creatures to be sleepy and slow moving in the heat of summer, and botanists use the word to descri the arrangement of organs or components in a flower bud. I once thought that the word siesta (referring to a leisurely nap after lunch) was related, but I discovered a while ago that its roots are in the Latin sexta meaning the sixth hour of the day (midday).  The two words sound similar, but as far as I know, they are not related.

June is only two weeks away, and this week's word is one of my favorites for the brief greening season at the heart of the calendar year. Of course, summer is a fine word too, but it doesn't hold a candle or even a tiny wooden match to the frothy perfumed magnificence of the golden season that reigns so briefly here in the sub-Arctic climes of Canada. Aestival says it all, and I love the shape of the word on my tongue.

At last, things are warming up in this part of the world, and nectar gathering insects are starting to appear. Ornamental trees in the village (almond, cherry, crabapple and mock orange) are flowering, and the air is full of fluttering petals and sweet fragrance. Beau and I stop to look at the flowering trees on our walks, and on fine sunny mornings, the objects of our rapt attention are full of ecstatic bees, bumbles and wasps. 

Within a few days, there will be trout lilies, trilliums, columbines and wild orchids in the woods, Dutchman's breeches sprouting from every nook and rock cranny on the Two Hundred Acre Wood. The creek among the trees will gurgle its way down to the beaver pond as it always does, and grosbeaks will sing in the overstory.

I say "aestival" and its sibilance summons up images of outdoor festivals and al fresco celebrations, shaggy gardens of scarlet poppies and towering purple lupins, trees filled with singing birds, bees in the orchard, roses sweeter than any vineyard potion, perfect sunsets across the lake shared with stately herons.  

What splendid offerings the Old Wild Mother holds out to us in springtime. It's all golden, and it's all good. Here comes June in all her glory, and we (Beau and I) are ready.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Thursday Poem - This

This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
And, leaving,
Left to us.

No other world
But this one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.

No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved's clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

Gregory Orr
(from How Beautiful the Beloved)

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Froth and Fragrance

One day there are no leaves or flowers on village trees, and the next day the same trees have embraced the season, their voluptuous canopies alive with birds who dish out madrigals at sunrise and trip the light fantastic from branch to branch until the sun goes down. Their pleasure is obvious, and oh the fragrance, the splendid pinks!

Crabapple trees, flowering almonds and plums seem to leaf out and flower overnight, and wonder of wonders, they are alive with madly buzzing bumbles, honey bees and wasps. Dusted with pollen from stem to stern, the little dears are in constant motion, ecstatic to feel sunlight on their wings and forage for nectar on a balmy morning in May.

Here comes another fine summer of prowling about in gardens wild and domestic with camera and macro lens (or the camera on the Samsung S24), drinking in light and gathering nectars of my own. Now and then, I will put down my gear and dance with the joyous bumble girls. Ungainly creature that I am, I hope no one is watching.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

We are showered every day with gifts, but they are not meant for us to keep. Their life is in their movement, the inhale and the exhale of our shared breath. Our work and our joy is to pass along the gifts and to trust that what we put out into the universe will always come back.

Robin Wall Kimmerer 

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Friday, May 10, 2024

Friday Ramble - Enough (Already)

This week's word dates from before the year 900, having its origin in the Middle English enogh, and Old English genōh; both are cognate with the German genug, Gothic ganohs and Old Norse nōgr. The Old English geneah (it suffices) and Sanskrit naśati (reaches or reaching) are kindred words.

Roget gives us the following synonyms: abundant, adequate, ample, full, sufficient, suitable, acceptable, bountiful, comfortable, competent, complete, copious, decent, enough already, plentiful and satisfying. Frugal and its noun form frugality are modern kindred and words I occasionally use in conversation.

Lewis Hyde's The Gift, Trickster Makes This World and Common As Air, are fine reading, and he makes good arguments for appreciating what we already have, for embracing the non-commercial (or commonwealth) aspects of the creativity that is our birthright and sharing it with other entities, with the Old Wild Mother (Earth) herself.

Have a look too at the works of Barry Lopez, in particular Arctic Dreams, also About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory and Horizon.

Those of you who have been visiting this place for a while already know that I am a long time admirer of Robin Wall Kimmerer's work, especially Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.

In cultivating enoughness, we use what we have been given with grace and respect. We partake of a wild and earthy fruitfulness, a careful abundance and an ethic of universal stewardship. We walk through this world rooted and knowing our place in it. We live as the good stewards, artists and creators we were meant to be. Lewis Hyde, Barry Lopez and Robin Wall Kimmerer say it a lot better than I ever could.

I say it often. We should say thank you. We have to tread lightly on the earth and reduce our ecological footprint. We must whittle down our demands on a world strained almost beyond its regenerative powers by human excess, greed, cruelty and contempt.

Is the cup of our earthly days half empty or half full? That is up to us.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Thursday Poem - May

May, and among the miles of leafing,
blossoms storm out of the darkness—
windflowers and moccasin flowers
The bees dive into them and I too,
to gather their spiritual honey.
Mute and meek, yet theirs is the deepest
certainty that this existence too—
this sense of well-being, the flourishing
of the physical body—rides near
the hub of the miracle that everything
is a part of, is as good as a poem
or a prayer, can also make luminous
any dark place on earth.

Mary Oliver

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

The Music of What Happens

Around the corner, three song sparrows are trilling their hearts out from a rooftop.  Their pleasure in the day and the season is echoed by a construction worker a few doors away belting out Doug Seeger's “Going Down to the River” as he installs drywall in the old Victorian house on the corner. The door of the place is wide open, and his rendering of the gospel classic is somewhat off key, but it's soulful and fine stuff indeed.

This morning, the crows left an offering in the birdbath, a tiny, dead field mouse with its entrails spilled out and floating forlornly around in limp spaghetti-ish circles, assuredly not the way one likes to start the day. Somewhat downcast, I went back to the deck and held my nose resolutely over the aromatic mug of Italian dark roast waiting for me there. Later I donned rubber gloves, gave the wee mouse back to the earth, scrubbed out the birdbath and refilled it with clean water. The crows will probably return with new booty tomorrow, and we will commence clean up operations all over again.

Tulips in every shade of the rainbow are starting to bloom, but it is the reds that dazzle truly - the blooms are almost incandescent in the early sunlight and so bright they hurt one's eyes. Frilly daffodils and scarlet fringed narcissus nod here and there, and violets sprinkle the garden in deep purple and creamy white. A neighbor's bleeding heart bush is covered with tiny green buds swaying to and fro on artfully arching stems. Magnolia trees in the village are flowering and rain fragrant petals like snow, their perfume lingering everywhere. Wonder of wonders, the first few bumble girls of the season have arrived, just in time to partake of the crabapple blossoms that are starting to appear. When Lady Spring finally shows up here, she hits the ground running.

What an amazing trip this season is, and what wonders there are to feast one's eyes on; trees leafing out, wildflowers popping up everywhere, feeders in the garden full of songbirds. If I were to stop and take photos of every splendid thing we (Beau and I)  see on our morning walks (and everything is splendid at this time of the year), we might not get home again for weeks.

Monday, May 06, 2024

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

There is a fundamental reason why we look at the sky with wonder and longing—for the same reason that we stand, hour after hour, gazing at the distant swell of the open ocean. There is something like an ancient wisdom, encoded and tucked away in our DNA, that knows its point of origin as surely as a salmon knows its creek. Intellectually, we may not want to return there, but the genes know, and long for their origins—their home in the salty depths. But if the seas are our immediate source, the penultimate source is certainly the heavens… The spectacular truth is—and this is something that your DNA has known all along—the very atoms of your body—the iron, calcium, phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and on and on—were initially forged in long-dead stars. This is why, when you stand outside under a moonless, country sky, you feel some ineffable tugging at your innards. We are star stuff. Keep looking up.

Gerald Waxman, Astronomical Tidbits: A Layperson's Guide to Astronomy

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Lake and Setting Sun

 It's the light that gets you, every time.

Friday, May 03, 2024

Friday Ramble - Swimming in Light

We awaken to gray skies and rain beating a staccato rhythm that shuns meter and metronome. Puckish breezes cavort in the eaves and ruffle tiny green leaves in the garden like decks of playing cards. A thousand and one little waterfalls have appeared out of nowhere, and impromptu streams are dancing happily through village gutters carrying sodden twigs, oak leaves, pine needles and catkins.

Here and there are precious islands of stillness. Sheltered by overhanging trees, the ornamental pond in a friend's garden is like glass, white and scarlet koi hovering almost motionless in the early light, their open mouths like tiny perfect "o"s. Sometimes, the jeweled carp seem to be swimming in sky.

In springs past, there was sometimes water in the garage, and the dear old Passat (gone now) rested easy in a shallow lagoon until the wet stuff gurgled its way down through frantically working drains and out into village collectors. When the tide receded, I scraped rust into glass jars and tucked them away on a shelf - iron oxide pigments produce lovely ochre hues, and my gleanings were used in arty projects, often on other rainy days. The glass jars and their crumbly contents were found treasure, and looking at them made me smile. These days, my fingers are seldom up to such activities, but that doesn't stop me from thinking up neat "stuff" to try out.

While claiming my rusty bounty, I sometimes thought about the fact that humans have been using iron oxides in artistic undertakings as far back as the prehistoric caves of Lascaux. I would be a happy camper indeed if I had ever managed to produce something a scrap as vibrant as the Chinese horse. Just think, that magnificent beast has been galloping along its cave wall for at least fifteen thousand years. 

A heady brew of rust (iron oxides), carbon dioxide and water is where all sentient life on earth may have begun. It is interesting to note that the Japanese word for rust is sabi (錆). Then there is wabi-sabi (侘寂), the enfolding aesthetic or world view which is centered on notions of impermanence, simplicity and naturalness or imperfection.

Clouds and rain, then sunshine and blue sky, then back to clouds and rain again, who knows what spring days will hold? When good weather prevails, Beau and I go off to the woods and ramble as far as we can, a long way from the miles of rugged terrain we once covered, but there are wonders everywhere we go, grace and gratitude in every step.

On wet days, we listen to Bach or Rameau, read and drink tea. We watch raindrops dappling the windows, the painterly way in which trees, stones and old wood fences are beaded with moisture and shining in the grey. Each and every raindrop is a minuscule world teeming with exuberant life, whole universes looking up at us, great and bumbling creatures that we are. Rain or shine, up and down, in and out, us and them, it's all good. Is there any such thing as us and them? I think not. Just us. Together. All One.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Thursday Poem - Bio

I am a leaf-dance in the woods.
I am the green gaze of the ocean.
I am a cloud-splitter in the sky.
I arrived robed in red
out of nowhere and nothing.
I whisper between pages.
I disappear in the painting.
I rest between musical notes.
I awaken among strangers
in a country I never imagined.
I am timbales and bells,
a parade under your window.
I am the riddle I cannot solve,
hands on the clock's face,
seven crows on a branch.
I am the one whose footfall
changes the pattern of stars.

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

For May Day (Beltane)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

This is the eve of Beltane (or May Day) in the northern hemisphere. The word is Scots Gaelic in origin and marks the beginning of summer. Below the equator, this is the eve of Samhain (also Scots Gaelic) meaning "summer's end".  As we northerners drift toward warmth and light, our southern kin are drifting toward the dark half of the year.

Nights are are still cool, and it will be another week or two until full colonies of bloodroot are up and blooming, but early specimens lift their gold and white heads in protected nooks here and there in the woods. In other years, wild yellow orchids were in bloom right about now, but it will be a while before they put in an appearance, soon to be followed by trout lilies, columbines and hepatica.

Bloodroot flowers are breathtaking, and the shy white blooms with their golden centers are dear to my heart, something of a seasonal marker. Encountering this one glowing in its flickering, stone-warmed alcove, I felt like kneeling and kissing the good dark earth where the flower made its home—it was that perfect. Ignoring painful and protesting knees, down I went in the dead leaves and stayed there for quite a while, nose to nose with the dear little wonder and happy as a clam. Getting up again was quite an undertaking.

The interval was one of the wild epiphanies I love so much, especially in springtime when the north woods are just coming to life. Call it a moment of kensho, one of those fleeting intervals of grace, quiet knowing and connection that I like to call "aha" moments. Forget the fancy stuff - this is the ground of my being. As long as I can spend time with trees and rocks and wildflowers, I can handle the big life "stuff", most of the time anyway. Add lakes, loons, cormorants, herons and sunsets to the equation, please. Also geese, trumpeter swans and cranes.

Happy Beltane (or May Day), everyone. May there be light and blooming and fragrance in your own precious life, in your particular corner of the great wide world. Wherever you make your home on the hallowed earth, may all good things come to you at this turning of the wheel in the Great Round.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

There is no mystery in this association of woods and other worlds, for as anyone who has walked the woods knows, they are places of correspondence, of call and answer. Visual affinities of color, relief and texture abound. A fallen branch echoes the deltoid form of a stream bed into which it has come to rest. Chrome yellow autumn elm leaves find their color rhyme in the eye-ring of the blackbird. Different aspects of the forest link unexpectedly with each other, and so it is that within the stories, different times and worlds can be joined.

Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Friday, April 26, 2024

Friday Ramble - Radical

This week's word is radical, a natural choice for this madcap season when greenery is popping up all over the place, and we are thinking about planting packets of seeds and flats of flowers, herbs and veggies in our gardens. It comes to us through the late Latin rādīcālis meaning having roots, and the Old English wrotan meaning to root, gnaw or dig up, both entities originating in the early Indo-European wrad meaning branch or root. For all the garden catalogues and seeds laying around, it will not be safe to seed or plant anything this far north until the end of May.

Synonyms include: fundamental, basic, basal, bottom, cardinal, constitutional, deep-seated, essential, foundational, inherent, innate, intrinsic, native, natural, organic, original, primal, primary, primitive, profound, thoroughgoing, underlying, vital. They also include pejorative words such as anarchistic, chaotic, excessive, extremist, fanatical, far-out, freethinking, iconoclastic, immoderate, insubordinate, insurgent, insurrectionary, intransigent, lawless, left wing, militant, mutinous, nihilistic, rabid, rebellious, recalcitrant, recusant, refractory, restive, revolutionary, riotous, seditious, severe, sweeping, uncompromising and violent.

Those who live by different beliefs are often called "radical". Ditto those who live outside the mainstream or "off the grid", who dwell outside the mainstream, don't follow accepted social standards and tend to do their own thing rather than just placidly following the herd like sheep. The word was been used in that context since the sixties, and it might have been a compliment then, but these days it is often pejorative. Unfortunate that.

How odd that a word used to describe the unconventional, independent, eccentric and downright peculiar actually means something as lovely, organic and simple as "rooted". Do I consider myself radical? Anyone who spends as much time reading as I do (and always have), who scribbles, takes heaps of bad photos, takes long rambles in the woods in all sorts of weather and talks to trees is a tad peculiar. So, yes I do.

Our word is one of my favorites in the English language. It signifies (for me anyway) a bone deep kinship with everything that matters, with the good dark earth under my feet, the sky, the sun and the moon, the stars over my head - with timeless notions of rebirth, transformation, belonging and non-duality.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

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
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