Saturday, December 14, 2019

Friday, December 13, 2019

Let There Be Light

The feeling could be the simple (but indescribable) pleasure that comes of looking at wide expanses of snow punctuated by rocks, trees and hills, nary a building in sight. It could be Zen notions of emptiness and impermanence (anicca), stirred up by the song the north wind sings as it scours the hills, etching random waves and abstract shapes as it passes. It could be an unexpressed desire for longing, for order and containment, perhaps a vague and inchoate yearning for the realms that always seem to beckon beyond summits and slopes and snowy evergreens. It could be the deep, inky shadows that lie over and around everything.

In winter, the eastern Ontario highlands reveal themselves to an intrepid wanderer as they do at no other time during the year. One can trace the rocky bones with her eyes, feel the earth's peaceful sleep and share its slow dreams, sometimes even glimpse the shape of the springtime to come (although spring seems far away on such a day as this). There is music in the wind, and there are astonishing swaths of color in the snow and shadows. Who knew that blue came in so many entrancing shades?

Whatever the feeling is, it leaves me breathless, every single time.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Thursday Poem - Chains of Fires

Each dawn, kneeling before my hearth,
Placing stick, crossing stick
On dry eucalyptus bark
Now the larger boughs, the log
(With thanks to the tree for its life)
Touching the match, waiting for creeping flame.
I know myself linked by chains of fire
To every woman who has kept a hearth.

In the resinous smoke
I smell hut and castle and cave,
Mansion and hovel.
See in the shifting flame my mother
And grandmothers out over the world
Time through, back to the Paleolithic
In rock shelters where flint struck first sparks
(Sparks aeons later alive on my hearth)
I see mothers , grandmothers back to beginnings,
Huddled beside holes in the earth
of igloo, tipi, cabin,
Guarding the magic no other being has learned,
Awed, reverent, before the sacred fire
Sharing live coals with the tribe.

For no one owns or can own fire,
it lends itself.
Every hearth-keeper has known this.
Hearth-less, lighting one candle in the dark
We know it today.
Fire lends itself,
Serving our life
Serving fire.

At Winter solstice, kindling new fire
With sparks of the old
From black coals of the old,
Seeing them glow again,
Shuddering with the mystery,
We know the terror of rebirth.

Elsa Gidlow

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Monday, December 09, 2019

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between. 

Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Friday, December 06, 2019

Friday Ramble - Now We Are Two

On cool fall mornings, the Clyde river valley in the Lanark highlands is like something out of a dream or a painting. For many years, Irv and I walked these hills with our canine companions, first Cassie, then Spencer, and now Beau. There was always something amazing to see on our treks: fog rolling across the hills and down the valleys, owls peering from shadowed alcoves, deer and wild turkeys at dawn, sandhill cranes dancing in farm fields at sunset. The view across the valley is breathtaking in any season. In autumn, it illustrates the lovely expression "over the hills and far away", better than anything else I can think of.

My beloved passed away a few days ago due to complications from pancreatic cancer, and now we are two. From now on, it is Beau and I who will ramble these hills together, in the flesh anyway. Cassie and Spencer traveled beyond the fields we know some time ago, but they and Irv will be here and walking right along with us. There will be five of us on the snowbound trail this winter, but three of us will not leave paw prints in the white stuff.

Grief and sadness have come to stay, and they are probably here for keeps. I will have to get used to that. For many years I was married to one of the most wonderful men who ever walked this earth, and walk we did, hand in hand and all over the place, packs on our backs and canine companions trotting along by our side. I loved Irv more than life itself, and I always will. I simply cannot imagine life without him, and flourishing without him is not in the cards. Just surviving is going to be very hard work.

I cry and and stare out windows, am restless and can't settle down. I forget things, drop things, lose things. Sleep evades me, and I have no interest in food. I stroke Beau's silky ears and take him for long walks in the woods. I keep putting one foot in front of the other and breathing in and out. I tell myself that Irv is no longer in pain, and that I will learn to live with this broken heart. I try to take comfort in knowing that in some measure, we will walk these hallowed hills together forever, and that our beloved companions will be with us. A fine untrammeled wildness dwells in our blood and bones, all of us.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Thursday Poem - Come to Dust

Spirit, rehearse the journeys of the body
that are to come, the motions
of the matter that held you.

Rise up in the smoke of palo santo.
Fall to the earth in the falling rain.
Sink in, sink down to the farthest roots.
Mount slowly in the rising sap
to the branches, the crown, the leaf-tips.
Come down to earth as leaves in autumn
to lie in the patient rot of winter.
Rise again in spring’s green fountains.
Drift in sunlight with the sacred pollen
to fall in blessing.
                                    All earth’s dust
has been life, held soul, is holy.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Monday, December 02, 2019

Solstice Sun Wreath - Week 2

I dedicate this solstice sun wreath and its candles to my soulmate. The love of my life, he passed beyond the fields we know last Saturday, November 30th, after battling pancreatic cancer fiercely, like the warrior he has always been. He was my best friend and my light. I do not know what I shall do without him.

Irving H. Kerr
Major (Ret'd) OStJ, CD, LLB

Peacefully in Ottawa, Ontario on Saturday, November 30 in his eighty-seventh year. Beloved husband of Catherine (Cate). Loving father of Laura Kerr (Martin) and Susan Peever.  Grandfather of Deborah Daniels (Don), Jason Lewin, Lloyd Crosby, Catherine Crosby and Brendan Peever. Great grandfather of Brooke, Katie, Olivia and River.

After retiring from distinguished service with the Royal Canadian Regiment, Irv was admitted to the bar and went on to a successful career practicing Family Law. An avid hunter and angler, he also enjoyed hiking, bird watching, forestry, geology and other areas of natural history, passing his interests on to his children and grandchildren. Irv and Cate covered much of the Lanark highlands on foot with canine companions (Cassie, Spencer and Beau), and they took great pleasure in their rural rambles together.  An officer, a gentleman and an ardent Canadian, he will be missed by his grieving family and by regiments of friends.

Donations in his memory may be made to the bursary program of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, the Old Forge Community Resource Centre or the Wild Bird Care Centre. They were charities close to his heart.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

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 and 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 30, 2019

Friday, November 29, 2019

Friday Ramble - Embracing Winter Mind

Ice is everywhere on the trailing edges of a calendar year, and eyes and camera linger lovingly on it. We are spending much of our time indoors at the moment, but it is astonishing what can be seen right from a window, any old window, on a chilly winter morning.

Ice glosses trees in the village and sparkles on window panes. Here and there, it forms cornices, dangling artlessly from eaves, roofs and wind bells. Glossy as hard candy, it sheathes roads and cobblestones at first light.  When the winter sun touches it, the strata reveal themselves as lacy blankets draped over streets, sleeping hills and fields, as crystalline fronds of grass and glassy ferns poking out of autumn's detritus. Lovely stuff, in an urban setting or glittering on branches in the snow-drowned countryside.

Whole worlds cavort and hum within icicles, and there is graceful symmetry in their shapes, their transparent suspension. I wake up and get the message once in a while, but not often enough. The few seconds between me "seeing" something and the click of the camera shutter are a particle of kensho, a tiny window in which the mundane world falls away, leaving elegant bones, radiant stillness and breathtaking beauty. It's an interval out of time, no "me", no lens, no frosted leaf or icicle - we are all one entity, breathing in and out together. Such moments are everywhere if we have the eyes to see them and the wits to pay attention. Sometimes, they are lifesavers.
Everything has a story to tell. Tales from the trailing edges, liminal intervals and seasonal turnings of our lives help us to learn and grow, to exercise the wonder and connection that is our birthright. All this simply from contemplating a few icicles dangling outside the kitchen window? I am adrift in winter mind, and it always seems to happen around this time of the year.

Winter's fruitful darkness is a doorway through which we pass to ready ourselves for an exuberant blooming somewhere up the trail. Beyond these dark turnings at the postern of the old calendar year, light, warmth and wonder await us.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

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 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Yuletide Reading List

This is a personal tradition of sorts, a catalogue of written materials about the winter holiday season and the return of the light to our world. Many of these books are out of print, but they can sometimes be found in used book shops, and they are often happy campers in your local library.  May this list be a light in your window, bringing warmth, comfort and festive spirit to you and yours.

No Yule interval would be complete without reading Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence in all its exquisite entirety. The five books are: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King and Silver on the Tree. Also, at least four of my late friend Dolores Stewart Riccio's delightful Circle novels take place at (or near) Yule, and I will be reading them this year too - all  are highly recommended. After being absent for some time, Teresa Ruano's Candlegrove is coming back to light, and I am delighted. Her site is a treasure trove of folklore and customs about Yule and the winter season.

Christmas Folklore and Superstitions, A.R. Bane

The Oxford Book of Days,  
Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens

Echoes of Magic: A Study of Seasonal Festivals through the Ages,
C.A. Burland

The Book of Christmas Folklore, Tristram Potter Coffin

Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations Around the World,
Heather Conrad and DeForest Walker

Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A Calendar of Celebrations,
Madeleine Pelner Cosman

Christmas and Christmas Lore, T.G. Crippen

The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice, Carolyn McVickar Edwards

Christmas, A Biography, Cynthia Flanders

The Magic of the Winter Solstice: Seasonal Celebrations to Honour Nature's
Ever-turning Wheel, Danu Forest

A Calendar of Festivals: Traditional Celebrations, Songs, Seasonal Recipes and Things to Make, Marian Green

The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals As Solar Observatories,
John L. Heilbron

Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth's Seasonal Rhythms Through Festival and Ceremony, Richard Heinberg

Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, 
Ronald Hutton

The Winter Solstice, Ellen Jackson

The Dance of Time: The Origins of the Calendar: A Miscellany of History and Myth, Religion and Astronomy, Festivals and Feast Days, Michael Judge

The Solstice Evergreen: History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree,
Sheryl Karas

Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Charles Kightly

Sacred Celebrations: A Sourcebook, Glennie Kindred

Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets, F.C. Krupp

The Ancient Celtic Festivals: and How We Celebrate Them Today,
Clare Walker Leslie and Frank E. Gerace

Celebrations Of Light : A Year of Holidays Around the World,
Nancy Luenn and Mark Bender (Illustrator)

The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas,
John Matthews and Caitlin Matthews

Rituals of Celebration: Honoring the Seasons of Life Through the Wheel of the Year, Jane Meredith

Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Clement A. Miles

Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth, Dorothy Morrison

Christmas Folklore, Cory Nelson and Kyle Pressly

The Provenance Press Guide to the Wiccan Year: A Year Round Guide to Spells, Rituals, and Holiday Celebrations, Judy Ann Nock

Sacred Origins of Profound Things: The Stories Behind the Rites and Rituals of The World's Religions, Charles Panati

Yule: Rituals, Recipes and Lore for the Winter Solstice,
Susan Pesznecker

 Celebrating the Winter Solstice, Theresa Reel  
The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice,
Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch

The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year,
Linda Raedisch

Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide,
Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling

Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions In Norway And The New Land,
Kathleen Stokker

When Santa Was A Shaman: Ancient Origins of Santa Claus and the Christmas Tree, Tony van Renterghem

How To Celebrate Winter Solstice, Teresa Villegas

The Fires of Yule: A Keltelven Guide for Celebrating the Winter Solstice,
Montague Whitsel

The Wicca Cookbook: Recipes, Ritual and Lore, Jamie Wood

Monday, November 25, 2019

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves - we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other's destiny.

Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays