Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

When the journey you are presently on seems to be over, remember that there is no real end. There may be new journeys ahead; there may be journeys-within-journeys.  There is always something new to learn, always another gift to be be brought out into the world. Embrace each new cycle; welcome every twist and turn. It is how we know we are alive.
Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Friday, November 16, 2018

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.

Early Anglo-Saxons measured their calendar years from one winter to the next because of winter's ferocity. In Old Norse, the word etrardag was used to designate the first day of winter in the old calendar, 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 Edda of Norse mythology, 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 lineaments of our 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 and creatures are dancing.

Winter is a time of darkness, rest and rebirth, but it gifts us with the most brilliantly blue skies of the calendar year by day, with stellar 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 stars seem so close one can almost reach up and touch them.

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 household larder. I make skis, snowshoes and boots ready 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 trees with eyes and lens. She has to listen to snow falling among them and perhaps become a tree herself.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thursday Poem - Thanksgiving

I have been trying to read
the script cut in these hills—
a language carved in the shimmer of stubble
and the solid lines of soil, spoken
in the thud of apples falling
and the rasp of corn stalks finally bare.
The pheasants shout it with a rusty creak
as they gather in the fallen grain,
the blackbirds sing it
over their shoulders in parting,
and gold leaf illuminates the manuscript
where it is written in the trees.
Transcribed onto my human tongue
I believe it might sound like a lullaby,
or the simplest grace at table.
Across the gathering stillness
simply this: “For all that we have received,
dear God, make us truly grateful.”

Lynn Ungar (from Blessing the Bread)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Morning in Bloom

Skies are leaden, and a fine murk wraps the village.  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 sure where it belongs. 

Adjectives like dark and sunless are evocative, but there are better words for and about 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.

What to do? With no light to speak of, this is not a good morning for wandering about with camera and peripherals, so far anyway. When Beau and I went out a few minutes ago, a cold raw 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 on the quilt in my warm spot.

Inside the little blue house, I pull out a canister of Chinese flower teas, then brew up a glass pot full.  As the dried blooms take in liquid and open out, the kitchen is filled with floral perfume, and home is summery all over again.  The contents of pot and cup are almost too arty to drink, and I take picture after picture.

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

Monday, November 12, 2018

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The true language of these worlds opens from the heart of a story that is being shared between species. For us to be restored to the fabric of this Earth, we are bidden to enter this tale once again through its many modes of telling, to listen through the ears of others to the mystery of creation, with its continually changing patterns, and to take part once again in the integral weave of the narrative. Might we not hear our true names if we learn to listen through the ears of Others? Through language, one can exchange one's self with other beings and in this way establish an ever-widening circle of existence.
Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Friday, November 09, 2018

Friday Ramble - Thirteen 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. This week also marked thirteen years of pottering about in cyberspace, thirteen years of logging on in the morning, posting an image or two (sometimes 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 thirteen 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 vägmärken (road marks), my morning or artist pages, and they will probably 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 as far as it goes. 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 at the trailing edge of the year.

Two cherished traveling companions, Penny and Dolores, passed beyond the fields we know last year, and so did my sweet Spencer. Now it is Beau who wanders along with us, and our little guy is a treasure. 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. The incandescent Mary Oliver still 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 titled 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 remember as I lurch about. 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. Alas, my fingers are still not working very well, but if they were, I would write each and every one of you.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Robed in Gold and Sky

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 turning 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 have turned to 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 the hill 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 sugar 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 remembered 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 stripped 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 05, 2018

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Do you see how an act is not, as young men think, like a rock that one picks up and throws, and it hits or misses, and that's the end of it. When that rock is lifted, the earth is lighter; the hand that bears it heavier. When it is thrown, the circuits of the stars respond, and where it strikes or falls, the universe is changed. On every act the balance of the whole depends. The winds and seas, the powers of water and earth and light, all that these do, and all that the beasts and green things do, is well done, and rightly done. All these act within the Equilibrium. From the hurricane and the great whale's sounding to the fall of a dry leaf an the gnat's flight, all they do is done within the balance of the whole.

But we, insofar as we have power over the world and over one another, we must learn to do what the leaf and the whale and the wind do of their own nature. We must learn to keep the balance. Having intelligence, we must not act in ignorance. Having choice, we must not act without responsibility.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Farthest Shore

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Friday, November 02, 2018

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/or 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 remember a long ago autumn morning in northern Ontario when the heron migration was in full swing, and the great birds gathered in predawn darkness to feed before flying onward. Hundreds stood side by side in the foggy waters of the Mississagi river near Iron Bridge (in the Algoma district), and as I crept along the shoreline for a better view, their silhouettes appeared one by one out of the mist. It was wild and uncanny, haunting and absolutely 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—it is 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".

Thursday, November 01, 2018

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, October 31, 2018

Merry Samhain, Happy Halloween

Merry Samhain, Happy Halloween, bright blessings to you and all your clan
Happy New Year! Bliadhna Mhath Ùr.

May your jack-o-lanterns glow brightly this night. May throngs of tiny costumed guests come to your threshold. May your home be a place of warmth and light, your hearth a haven from things that go bump in the night. May there be laughter and merriment at your door, music and fellowship in abundance.

May all good things come to you.

Wordless Wednesday - Alight

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

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 edge 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 winter, a different sort of vision, a song in a different key. The 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.

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 at every turning along on the trail—we are made of star stuff. We live in a sea of light.