Monday, March 04, 2024

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World


One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring. A cardinal, whistling spring to a thaw but later finding himself mistaken, can retrieve his error by resuming his winter silence. A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath but finding a blizzard, has only to go back to bed. But a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat. His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges. A March morning is only as drab as he who walks in it without a glance skyward, ear cocked for geese.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Friday, March 01, 2024

Friday Ramble - Written in the Trees

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 making a brief appearance, she sometimes disappears for days and weeks at a time, fickle lass that she is.  After several days of milder weather, dwindling snowdrifts and happy pottering, temperatures plummeted yesterday, and there was a bitter north wind, but the sky was blue, and there was sunshine. Winter (alas) is not over yet.

For all the seasonal toing and froing, late winter days in the woods have a wonderful way of quieting one's thoughts and breathing patterns, 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 parchment 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.

Happy March, everyone! 

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Thursday Poem - For the Children


The rising hills,
the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
The steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together,
learn the flowers,
go light.

Gary Snyder, from Turtle Island

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Small Openings


We have rung every possible seasonal weather change in recent days, the pendulum oscillating from snow and bitter cold to a rain and temperatures above zero. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth we go.

What to do? A walk on an overcast day is the ticket, dressing warmly and keeping to the area around the creek sheltered by tall old trees. The temperature hovers around zero, but there is a bitter north wind, and our fingers and toes tingle as we (Beau and I) potter along. There are footprints in the snow along the creek's verges, the tracks of birds and field mice, cottontail rabbits, now and then a raccoon. This morning, there are also the prints of a weasel (or ermine as it is known in winter when its fur turns white). Not surprising as the little creature is a fierce and very proficient mouser.

A few days ago, the little waterway was starting to open, but it was cold overnight, and the channel has iced up again except for an opening near the bend where the water flows a little faster. In that small and hopeful aperture, the icy water sparkles, holding clouds and light and whiskery branches. It sings blithely of springtime and green things emerging from the earth, of wildflowers blooming and geese coming home. It counsels patience. Soon, it says, very, very soon. Please, Mama, let it be so.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Sunday, February 25, 2024

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, February 24, 2024

Friday, February 23, 2024

Friday Ramble - How Sweet It Is

It is one of my favorite intervals in the whole turning year - the handful of cold sunny days in late winter when the north gears up for the maple syrup season. The Lanark highlands are filled with the courting songs of the sugar bird (saw-whet owl). Clouds of steam rise from sugar shacks tucked here and there among the old trees, and the aroma of boiling maple sap fills the air. The woods are realms of smoke and sweetness.

The sylvan alchemy at work is wild and enchanting stuff, and the metaphor of the cauldron, maple syrup kettle, or cooking pot has always resonated with me. I still have the battered Dutch oven I carried while rambling the continent many years ago, stirring soups, potions and stews by starlight and watching as sparks went spiraling into the inky sky over the rim of my old pot. The motes of light rising from its depths were stars too, perfect counterpoint to the constellations dancing over my head. I cherish that old cast iron vessel, and I keep it well seasoned.

These days, there is a stockpot bubbling away on my stove, a rice cooker, a bean crock and clay tagine, a three-legged incense bowl on the table in my study. In late February and early March, there are the sugar camps of friends in the Lanark Highlands, miles of collecting hose strung from maple to maple, evaporators sending fragrant plumes into the air, tin sap buckets fixed to trees. Antique syrup cauldrons boil over open fires near their sugar shacks to show visitors how maple syrup was made in times past.

The word cauldron comes from the Middle English cauderon, thence the Anglo-Norman caudiere and Latin caldāria, the latter meaning “cooking pot” and rooted in calidus meaning warm or “suitable for warming”. At the end of the trail is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root kelə meaning simply “warm”. Words such as caldera, calorie, caudle, chauffeur, chowder and scald are kin.

The night that gifts us with stars and enfolds us gently when the sun goes down is a vast cauldron or bowl. Somewhere in the darkness up there, Cerridwen is stirring up a heady cosmic brew of knowledge, creativity and rebirth, her magical kettle simmering over a mystic cook fire. From her vessel, the bard Taliesin once partook of a single drop and awakened into wisdom and song.

We're all vessels, and one of the best motifs for this life is surely a pot or cauldron, one battered, dented and well traveled, but useful and happy to be so, bubbling and crackling away in the background (sometimes in the foreground), making happy musics and occasionally sending bright motes up into the air.

So it is with this old hen when her favorite wild places begin to awaken. Notions of alchemy bubble away; sparks fly upward, pots and cauldrons cosmic and domestic whirl about in her thoughts. I simply could not (and would not) be anywhere else.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Thursday Poem - The Peace of Wild Things


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life
and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake 
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives
with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world
and am free.

Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Puddles and Windy Doings


Temperatures were well below zero overnight. As I looked through the bedroom window from my pillow in the wee hours, I could see the old trees in the back yard yard blowing about, hear the north wind dancing across the roof and through the eaves.

Ancient Greeks called the north wind Boreas, and to the Inuit of the Yu'pik tribe, the spirit is Negafook, or more poetically, "the spirit who likes cold and stormy weather." Whatever one calls him, the old guy was in ebullient mode last night and rampaging through the sleeping garden with gusto. The weather vane on my neighbor's roof groaned. The wooden fence along the perimeter creaked, and there was the constant snap, crackle, pop of frozen twigs being liberated from their moorings, the susurrus of nearby evergreens swaying in unison and talking among themselves. No doubt about it, winter plans to hang around for some time to come.

On an icy morning in late February, one is grateful for small things, the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans, the sputtering of the Di'Longhi espresso machine in a corner of the kitchen, the square of blue sky seen through a window, the warmth of a coffee mug cradled in one’s gnarly paws as she looks out across the garden.

Strange as it may seem, even the deep blue snow beyond the windows merits a little gratitude, such graceful curls and waves and billows, so many shades from pastel to indigo, such eye grabbing sculptured shadows.

It is too cold to walk Beau for any distance today, but while we were out a while ago, we paused in a brief splotch of sunlight to watch the sun nibble delicately at the edges of a frozen puddle. As cold as the morning was, there was a little melting going on, and the evolving pool was a work of art in progress.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Sunday, February 18, 2024

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 Animal: An Earthly Cosmology

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Friday, February 16, 2024

Friday Ramble - Just Another Cold Morning


Temperatures rise, and temperatures fall, snow comes, and snow goes. Icicles dangling from the roof melt and shatter, then form again, chiming like bells as they move through their lovely, glossy life cycles. This morning, the north wind shrieks in the eaves and clatters across the roof tiles. Closer to the frozen earth, it dances up the street with its freight of ossified twigs, desiccated leaves and pine needles. 

In recent weeks I have never known what to wear when rambling with Beau, a parka, a light anorak or a raincoat. A few days ago, we wandered for miles in light clobber with nary a scrap of ice in sight, and this morning it is bitterly cold, ice lurking under every frill of snow. Out with parkas, toques, mukluks and heavy gloves again, and off we go.

Snow fell steadily during the night, and I will tackle the fallen white stuff as soon as I can see what I am doing, but first there will be mugs of hot stuff and buttered waffles. The snow blower is ready to go, and my trusty green shovel waits by the front door along with salt and sand. Village drains are frozen, and when melting begins there will be lagoons out in the street wide enough and deep enough to float a canoe. 

What does one do indoors on such a day when she is not outside heaving snow? Bread, molasses cookies and cauldrons of homemade soup are being considered, and Joni Mitchell is on the sound system. Parking myself in a comfortable corner with a beaker of something hot, a good book and a shawl or three seems like a plan. Whatever else is going on in my life, there is always a recipe cavorting in my noggin, a mug of tea, a shawl and a stack of reading material nearby.

Catching a glimpse of myself as I passed a mirror this morning, I couldn't help thinking I looked like one of the characters in Jean Giraudoux's play, The Madwoman of Chaillot. I have always loved his creation (and the film version which starred Katherine Hepburn), and I would have enjoyed knowing the Street Singer, The Ragpicker, The Sergeant, The Sewer Man and The Flower Girl, all the other outcasts, eccentrics and dreamers who were the madwoman's companions. I would have liked hanging out with her fellow madwomen too, and I probably would have fit into the group nicely.

All I need to blend in is a voluminous skirt, a moth-eaten cardigan, fingerless gloves and a tatty hat. Perhaps a trip to my local thrift shop is in order?

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Thursday Poem - Everything is waiting for You


Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte, from
River Flow: New and Collected Poems

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

For Valentine's Day


My soulmate and I usually didn't do anything lavish or opulent for Valentine's Day, and that was just fine with us.

I made a card for him with one of my photos or graphic designs, brewed a special pot of something, carved a heart into a piece of fruit (usually an apple or a pear). I made tiny cookies in heart shapes. We shared a single piece of scrumptious (organic) dark chocolate and then went for a long walk in the snowy woods with our beloved canine companions, first Cassie, then Spencer, then (and now) Beau.

There were no special declarations of love on February 14th because we said so every day, and we were content with the way this day unfolded. There were no frilly gestures, gifts and lovey-dovey words. We knew how we felt, how good we were together, how blessed we were to have found each other so many years ago.

Irv traveled on ahead some time ago, but as always, there is a handmade card on his bureau. I will carve a heart on a McIntosh apple tomorrow and put it on the old oak table along with a mug of festive punch and a plate of his favorite cookies. Since there is no one to share a lovely bit of dark chocolate with, there will be no chocolate tomorrow. A mug of hot chocolate after dinner as usual, but that is all. 

Beau and I will take a long walk in the woods in the afternoon, and as always, there will be three of us on the trail. My soulmate will be with us, but he will be tucked in my pocket, and he won't leave any tracks in the snow. We will tell him we love him as we did every day when he was here on earth, and as we still do every day. I will love the man from the bottom of my heart as long as I live and beyond.

Wishing you deep and everlasting love too.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

There are ways in, journeys to the center of life, through time; through air, matter, dream and thought. The ways are not always mapped or charted, but sometimes being lost, if there is such a thing, is the sweetest place to be. And always, in this search, a person might find that she is already there, at the center of the world. It may be a broken world, but it is glorious nonetheless.

Linda Hogan, The Woman Who Watches Over the World: A Native Memoir

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Penny's Raven

Common raven (Corvus corax)

Friday, February 09, 2024

Friday Ramble - The Sisterhood of Eye and Leaf

Little things leave you feeling restless in February. You prowl through stacks of gardening catalogues, planning another heritage rose or three, new plots of herbs and heirloom veggies. You spend hours in the kitchen summoning old Helios with cilantro, fragrant olive oils and recipes straight from Tuscany. You burn candles and brew endless pots of tea, sunlight dancing in the depths of each and every mug.

You play with filters, apertures and shutter speeds, entranced (and occasionally irritated) by the surprising transformations wrought by your madcap gypsy tinkering. Camera in your pocket or hanging around your neck, you haunt the woods, peering into trees and searching for a leaf somewhere, even a single bare leaf. You scan cloudy evening skies, desperately hoping to see the moon, and you calculate the weeks remaining until the geese, the herons and the loons come home again.

On a cold morning, it seems almost unthinkable, but life affirming change is already on its way. The great horned owls who reside on the Two Hundred Acre Wood are refurbishing their nest in an old oak tree about a mile back in the forest, and they are about to raise another comely brood. The couple have been returning to the same nursery for years. It will not be long until there is another family of baby hornies in the woods, and it makes me happy to think it is happening again.  

This morning, a solitary oak leaf was teased into flight by the north wind and came to rest in a sunlit corner of the garden. A trifling thing perhaps, but the pairing of golden leaf and blue snow was fetching stuff indeed. My leaf bore in its poignant wabi sabi simplicity an often and much needed reminder. This is the sisterhood of fur and feather, of snowbound earth and clouded sky, of wandering eye and dancing leaf, and I belong to it. Out of such small, mundane and ice rimed doings, an ardent life is made.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Thursday Poem - Don't wait for something beautiful to find you.


Go out into the weather-beaten world
where straw men lean on frozen fields
and find the cardinal's scarlet flash of wing,
a winter heart, a feathered hope.

Without a camera or a memory,
we travel these old country roads,
turn corners like the pages of a book,
enchanted by the ordinary life

of fields and rocks and woods,
of small wild creatures stirring in the brush.
We take home pockets full of myths
and wonders seldom seen.

We will not give up easily,
Across the breakfast table
in our precarious nest,
we make those promises keep on going

that no one ever keeps. And yet...
there is the cardinal again,
a finial on our old gray fence.
Red is for Valentines.

Dolores Stewart 

This morning's poem is reprinted with permission from my friend Dolores Stewart's exquisite volume of poetry, The Nature of Things.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Seeing Red


Beyond the window is an ocean of pillowy white that goes on forever and ever, grey skies and scudding clouds. Weary of winter, ice and snow, I find myself longing to have morning tea on the deck, but I know that will not happen for a few months. There will probably not be any flowers or greenery in the garden until the end of April, and a little color right about now would be grand. It would be vastly appreciated too.

While pottering about in a local market recently, a tin bucket of tulips caught my eye, and I scooped up a bunch, carrying them home in my arthritic paws as tenderly as if they were fledgling birds. The purples, oranges and yellows are fine stuff, but the scarlets are nothing short of amazing - attention grabbers of the first order.

Arranged in an old glass vase (a flea market find last summer), the glossy blooms and bright green leaves don't just light up the day - they light up just about everything else too, and that includes me. A single bloom would be enough, but a whole bouquet is almost indecently sumptuous. What a way to celebrate the month of February!

I have resolved to keep a cauldron, a vase, a beaker or a tankard of something bright and flowery near the southern window from now until spring arrives. Ditto the other three seasons of the year. It seems to me that this is not just about a vase of tulips or a single rose, but about all the boundless gardens of the Old Wild Mother (Earth) coming into riotous, intoxicating bloom. Is this a hallelujah moment or what?

Monday, February 05, 2024

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World


As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the upper Paleolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.

Gary Snyder, from A Controversy of Poets

So a gathering (or group) of poets is a controversy? The word would also be a good one for a bunch of salty, independent, elderly women. A controversy of crones? I like it.