Saturday, May 31, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Friday Ramble - Friend

The week's word is friend, and this is a difficult post to write.

Believe it or not, the word friend is about love and peace rather than simple companionship. The Latin word for friend is amicus, and it shares its origins with the verb amo/amare, "to love". The Old English word for friend, frēond, comes from the verb frēon, "to love", and the Germanic root fri means "to love someone" or entertain real affection for someone. Notions of friendship, caring and peace are closely interwoven, and another Germanic word arising from the same root, frithu, means just that - peace. From frithu comes the name of the Teutonic goddess Frigg, goddess of love and thence the name of the sixth day of the week Friday. From frithu also comes the name of Siegfried (meaning "victorious peace"), the dragon-slaying hero of the Volsunga sagas and a central figure in Richard Wagner's magnificent opera cycle, Nibelungenlied, most notably the Siegfried and Gotterdammerung operas.

Ideas of love, friendship, community and peace were central to the beliefs of my father's family who were Quakers or Friends, members of The Religious Society of Friends founded by George Fox. As a young child, I always felt at home whenever I was spending time with Dad's family, and to them I owe my early acquaintance with silence and stillness and connection - that early acquaintance saved my sanity, and it probably saved my life too.

I've probably been quieter here than usual in the last few months and visiting all of you less than I usually do, but love and friendship have been much in my mind, particularly when I am out rambling in early morning with my beautiful darling Cassie. Little Brown Girl is thirteen years of age now, and she has been the dearest of companions since she came to me as a rescue several years ago - she is the living and breathing essence of grace, courage and wisdom, and she is the most unconditionally loving and enlightened being I have ever known.

There have been intermittent signs of ill health for some time, and so, there have been many trips to the veterinarian in the last few months and many tests. Last Friday's tests confirmed the awful unavoidable truth that Cassie's liver is failing, and she probably won't be with me for very much longer. After looking at the test results and arranging palliative medications, I returned home and cried for hours, and I am crying again as I write this out. Cassie is my dearest companion, and I can't imagine life without her. I have to face it though, and so, I have posted the sad news here today. I sit looking at the words on this screen with tears running down my face and trying to accept their painful truth. It hurts, it really hurts, and that too is an integral part of friendship and caring.

Around the pond we go together almost every morning, and our last summer together is something precious beyond words - it is being spun from gold, pure shining priceless gold.

Early Morning Thoughts at the Pond

Be like the wild orchids dwelling in their element.
Find a hidden grove and put down deep roots.
Resist being uprooted and planted somewhere else.
Send up green leaves and yellow blooms in spring.
Fall willing prey to dappled streams of wonder,
to gales of laughter and fields of enchantment.
Dance in your nemeton with branches upraised.

Be like bamboo, bend and flow with the wind,
Curl inward in driving rain, always holding
your fragile heart open, but keeping it safe
from late frost and the silent weight of time.
Cultivate awareness of your native place,
greet the seekers who visit your quiet hollow,
send out good and happy thoughts to all who come.

Breathe in sunlight, cosmic balm for a weary spirit,
and moonlight, high above and close reflected in the
deep and slow flowing guardian waters enfolding you.
Partake of rest and dreams when you need them.
Walk lightly on the earth, taking from her only what
you need and always giving something in return.
Shun perfection, look instead for beauty and connection.

Take no thought of unknown tomorrows, hold instead
to thoughts of seemingly endless summer days,
the pearled colours of these drifting clouds at sunrise,
the resonant songs of crickets and frogs at twilight,
the creaking voices of great herons along the shore,
the slow turning of the seasons all around you.
Become a wild and bosky song yourself.

Be mindful and remember. . . .

Cate (me)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yellow Empress

One of those perfect moments which sometimes happens in May if one is fortunate: clear blue skies and grosbeaks in the overstory, wild turkey nests and whole hidden rocky hillsides full of gentle waving wild orchids, Cassie and I pottering along together.

These wild colonies of Yellow Lady's Slippers are rare creatures indeed, and my slow treacherous climb up that rocky hillside has something of the nature of a pilgrimage. I find a small level place and sit there among the orchids, borrowing the smallest soupcon of their golden glow and listening to the wind moving among the blooms, through the grasses and over the old stones.

The Showy Lady's Slippers which bloom in late June here are magnificent entities, but these wild yellow orchids have their own majesty, and I often wonder why they receive so little attention. Perhaps I shall become the bard of the yellows and sing their wild and perfect song.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Wild turkeys usually nest in out-of-the way places in our woods, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover this nest right on the edge of a large cluster of spiky junipers not far from the main trail into the deep woods. Mother turkey had gone off to feed and was not sitting when I found the nest, but I didn't hang about or play about with camera settings. I just snapped a single quick photo and left the area immediately, lest I upset her.

The nest was a rounded hollow carefully lined with leaves and dried grasses, and it was concealed to some extent by the surrounding juniper thicket as well as a circle of old maple trees above - when the wind moved the overstory and sent leafy shadows dancing across the clearing, one could not see the nest at all. I counted twelve eggs, each about 2.5 inches in length, a rich creamy tan in color with chocolate brown freckles.

Of course, now I shall be watching both mother and nest from a long distance with my binoculars.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Yellow Lady Slipper

Yellow Lady Slipper
Cypripedium parviflorum (or Cypripedium pubescens)

There seems to be a bit confusion on the proper naming of this fey woodland cousin, so I am noting both the Latin names in use for it here in the highlands. This colony is well over a hundred years old, and its blooms are huge and golden yellow - even the leaves are a marvel.

Unlike the Showy Lady Slipper whose blooms are borne vertically and look straight out at their admirers, the yellows tend to lean at peculiar angles, and they peer, nodding, inclined and curious from among their billowing bright green leaves. Yesterday, they glowed like beacons from right across the ridge.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thursday Poem - Ithaca

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Constantine Cafavy, Ithaca

Every once in a while, I manage to surprise myself. In the wee hours of this morning, I awoke from a happy dream about an unnamed magical city on the distant shores of a mythical sea. Into the study I came at once, and on went the computer - first, the background was executed in Photoshop, then the city was drawn in Illustrator, and then I tucked them in together. When I was finished, I toasted my creation with a mug of Ceylon tea. Cafavy's magnificent poem, Ithaca, a long time favorite, fits in very well indeed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Flower Moon of May

You thought perhaps that I had forgotten about Monday's full moon? I did not, but May's full moon was an elusive creature, hidden for the most part behind dense dark rain clouds and only peeking forth for a fleeting moment, now and again. Not seeing the full moon put something of a damper on my springtime sentiments, and I waited another night, hoping for a clear view, but (alas), this is the May moon image of another year. There is something just plain old wrong about not seeing the full moon in the month of May when the whole world north of the equator is greening up with abandon, and there seem to be inducements to fertility and the proliferation of species everywhere one looks.

May's is the moon of flowers and planting, and hopefully the first moon of the year in which there is no frost on the ground. Above all else, it honours natural cycles and the spirit of the harvest to be — I think of this moon as the "moon of growing things" or the "moon of the faithful gardener". As we prepare our garden plots and sow our seeds in the good dark friable earth, we are also planting seeds within, and we are already casting our thoughts forward to summer days of light, warmth, weeding and fertilizing, distant autumn rhythms of reaping, gathering and "putting things by" for winter. Each and every seed is a wonder in the joyous process of evolving and becoming, just as we are.

For Buddhist practitioners, this is the Moon of Wesak and the most holy interval of the whole turning year, the day on which the Buddha reached enlightenment under his Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India. On this full moon, perhaps we can think about the nature of connection and the manner in which we are walking this path together.

We also know this moon as the: Alewife Moon, Blossom Moon, Bottlebrush Moon, Bright Moon, Budding Moon, Corn Planting Moon, Dragon Moon, Dyad Moon, Fawn Moon, Field Maker Moon, Fish Moon, Frog Moon, Frogs Return Moon, Geese Go North Moon, Geese Moon, Grass Moon, Hare Moon, Idle Moon, Iris Moon, Joy Moon, Leaf Tender Moon, Leafing Out Moon, Leaves Appear Moon, Lily of the Valley Moon, Little Corn Moon, Little Finger Moon, Magnolia Moon, Merry Moon, Milk Moon, Moon of Big Leaf, Moon of the Strawberry, Moon of Clouds and Thunder, Moon of Waiting, Moon When Corn is Planted, Moon When Ponies Shed Their Fur, Moon When the Buffalo Plant is in Flower, Moon When the Leaves Are Green, Moon When the Little Flowers Die, Moon When the Horses Get Fat, Moon When Women Weed Corn, Mulberry Moon, Mulberry Ripening Moon, New Waters Moon, Old Woman Moon, Panther Moon, Penawen Moon, Peony Moon, Planting Moon, Putting Seeds in the Hole Moon, Rain Falls Moon, Seeds Moon, Seeds Ripen Moon, Sprout Kale Moon, Staying Home Moon, Storm Moon, Storing Moon, Strawberry Moon, Suckers Dried Moon, Summer Moon, Thrice Milk Moon, Moon, When the Ponies Shed Shaggy Hair Moon, Wesak Moon, Wind Tossed Moon, Winnemon Moon

Happy Wesak to you and yours.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

First Columbine

Wild Columbine
(Aquilegia canadensis)

Monday, May 19, 2008

By the Pond

It is too early in the season for turtles, and it will be some time before frogs and minnows are here in sufficient numbers to lure the great herons and smaller bitterns to grace the pond with their august presences. Invoking the happy habits of previous springtimes, I looked for them anyway as I sat by the pond yesterday.

I measured the height of the new cattails fringing the pond and shooting upward almost as I watched, the depth of the calm water along the shoreline - I listened to the current running over the rocks and through the beaver channels and the reeds. I watched the warm run-honey sunlight flickering through the trees and playing over the pond, slow ripples forming and moving outward in ever widening circles.

Life's uncertainties, embarrassments, pains, pangs and discomforts notwithstanding, life was good yesterday, and I found myself wondering I wondered why I get in such a flap at times. One would think that I should have learned better by now, but it appears I still have much to learn from these rivers and ponds and hills, from the good dark earth of this wild place of abundant grace and untrammeled nurturing. It's all a matter of simplicity - it all comes down to being mindful and dwelling fully in the moment, resting easy in the fleeting here and the now of this plane of existence.

All one really needs in life is earth, water, sunshine, trees and good companions to journey on with, the healing touch of the Old Wild Mother on one's shoulder. Yesterday, I could hear Her breathing, and it felt like a benediction.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Flowering Baneberry

White Baneberry or Doll's Eyes
(Actaea pachypoda)

I discovered this in the woods yesterday and couldn't resist capturing it on my memory card, the delightfully ornate and frilly white version of this wickedly poisonous deep woodland cousin which also occurs in a red berried form.

Later in the season, the white baneberry bears large waxy white berries, each with a large black dot on its end - the berries dance on red stalks which resemble the jacks used in that fine old children's game sometimes called fivestones and onesies. Just a few of the odd looking berries consumed can make one very sick indeed, and more than a few ingested can be fatal. They are (however) fetching creatures when they are in bloom in the woods in May.

Do children still play jacks on their playgrounds at recess, I wonder?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In Greening Heart

It's strange how these common images catch the eyes and tug one's imagination and heartstrings inward. This is just a frond of the great white pine which stands on the edge of the eastern hill, a simple but attractive arrangement in which a mandala of intense blue-green (and very fragrant) needles radiate outward from a heart in which there nestles a pair of tiny infant pine cones.

This morning, the whole tree was in motion over my head, and I loved the effortlessly flowing symmetry of so many pine scented mandalas cradling little cones. For some reason, I found myself thinking of vast oceans and tall ships under sail with creaking wooden masts. I also thought of wheels, of great turnings and webs, particularly Indra's diamond web.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday Poem - Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner
(Lost from Travelling Light: Collected and New Poems)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Wild Violet
(viola papilionacea)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sakura Evening

Gazing up at
The cherry blossoms in spring
My mind is refreshed.
I can even forget
The ups and downs of life.
Otaki Rengetsu

There was a beautiful quarter moon riding the skies last evening, and as is my custom, I went outside into the garden with a mug of tea after nightfall to greet that luminous orb and bow to its glowing springtime magnificence.

It was a magical evening, and if I had closed my eyes for just a moment as I stood there in the darkness under the trees, I would have thought I was in Kyoto again. The air in the village was filled with the fragrance of blooming cherry, plum, crabapple and almond trees and the hum of a hundred thousand bees, the gentle sighing of a puckish wind that went dancing through the branches and sent drifts of snowy petals floating like confetti into the garden and along the street.

On such evenings, one feels young again and ready for adventures, ready to tackle anything at all that comes her way.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

White Empress

Greater White Trillium
(Trillium grandiflorum)

She appears in the woods a little later than her more vibrantly coloured red cousin, and she is just as grand with her three lush white petals, golden heart and three supporting bracts. Her petals are velvety, a little wider than those of the red trillium and opulently curving, as if she is trying to compensate for her lack of scarlet pigmentation with a paler but equally sumptuous grandeur.

No compensation is needed, for she is gorgeous on her own, and she is another of the northern wildflowers which Georgia O'Keefe would have loved to paint.

Yesterday, the woodland was carpeted with white trilliums, and the whole community was nodding vigorously in the brisk wind and early sunlight. There were late blooming red trilliums tucked in here and there, the first elegantly scalloped columbine leaves starting to appear among the rocks and I discovered ladyslipper leaves coming up near the trail which leads deep into the woods. Somewhere down that winding trail, a whole choir of grosbeaks were singing their pleasure.

Alas, there were also multitudes of black flies.

Friday, May 09, 2008

For the Great Turning

Joanna Macy's guidelines for The Great Turning are here this morning (and with her gracious permission) because I desperately needed to encounter them again and think about what they mean - once in a while, I need to be reminded of the truth they convey. Joanna's article for the November 2007 issue of the Shambala Sun is here, and it is powerful stuff indeed.

Now if only I can remember those truths and get my act together, like the geese and the trees and the rivers and the dear old rocks of the Lanark Highlands. I am not about to take said act on the road when and/or if I ever DO get it together, but I am certainly up for a little dancing.

Personal Guidelines for the Great Turning

Come from Gratitude
To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe--to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it--is a wonder beyond words. Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Furthermore, it is a privilege to be alive in this time when we can choose to take part in the self-healing of our world.

Don't be Afraid of the Dark
This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don't be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, for these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings. To suffer with is the literal meaning of compassion.

Dare to Vision
Out of this darkness a new world can arise, not to be constructed by our minds so much as to emerge from our dreams. Even though we cannot see clearly how it's going to turn out, we are still called to let the future into our imagination. We will never be able to build what we have not first cherished in our hearts.

Roll up your Sleeves
Many people don't get involved in the Great Turning because there are so many different issues, which seem to compete with each other. Shall I save the whales or help battered children? The truth is that all aspects of the current crisis reflect the same mistake, setting ourselves apart and using others for our gain. So to heal one aspect helps the others to heal as well. Just find what you love to work on and take joy in that. Never try to do it alone. Link up with others; you'll spark each others' ideas and sustain each others' energy.

Act your Age
Since every particle in your body goes back to the first flaring forth of space and time, you're really as old as the universe. So when you are lobbying at your congressperson's office, or visiting your local utility, or testifying at a hearing on nuclear waste, or standing up to protect an old grove of redwoods, you are doing that not out of some personal whim, but in the full authority of your 15 billion years.

Joanna Macy

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Poetry Thursday - For Myself and All Others

"Look at me now," I say, "just look and listen".
I have no wisdom to give you, no insights
into your journey, the shapes and colours
of your myriad lives, their twists and their
turns, their themed and glossy fragrance.

Look, here are my hands beseeching you,
cupped, I hold them out like a benediction,
resting within, spring waters and fragments
of the clearest summer skies at sunrise,
blue as a starling's egg and mole dappled,

tiny ripples and perfect reflections all rounded
in a wooded blessing of the finest kind.
Drink from these hands, and be content,
oh friend, let us travel on together starting
here and now, light of heart and singing as
the birds sing, branch to branch at dawn.

Cate (KerrdeLune)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Spring Ephemerals - Trout Lilies

Trout Lily
(Erythronium americanum)

Ephemeral they may be, but their moment in the sunshine is something special. For most of you, blooming trout lilies (or dog tooth violets) are already a thing of the past, and you are already well on your way into the wildflowers of late springtime and early summer. Springtime comes much later here, and so, we are still enjoying the vernal ephemerals of forest and hedgerow.

These fragile flowers come and go swiftly in the north woods. They flower quietly, then fade away as the tree canopy opens out in soaring leafy splendour above them and their golden moment in the warm sunlight of springtime dwindles. As if that were not enough, they are constantly elbowed out of the way by the more ebullient trilliums, columbines and wild orchids springing up everywhere, and they are trampled by deer, wild turkeys and heavy-footed humanity blundering through wild places with camera and sketchbook in hand.

In some sense, we too are ephemerals, and it strikes me this morning there are worse things in life than to share the gentle companionship of trout lilies in May. Strange is it not, how one's inner predator can be silenced by such wild things - by trout lilies and violets, grosbeaks and herons, the wind in the trees, the song of my thimbleberry creek as it winds downhill to the beaver pond?

Monday, May 05, 2008

New Leaves

The mornings are very cool here, and perfect times for Cassie and I to go rambling through the thickets and hedgerows of village and woodland. I have a particular fondness for the quality of light at this time of day, high and clear and still, pastel hues shading toward richer deeps along the horizon and in the cedar fringed coves of the Clyde River valley.

Once in while (usually when I am indoors), my inner critic asks in a plangent tone of voice why I bother with art, haiku, photography, paper making, botany, forestry, rambling in the woods, blogging and other such useless (she says) activities.

Well, this morning I have an answer for the old harpy - I do it because I love the Earth with a passion which goes way beyond expression. If my inner critic longs for pleasures more trite, mindless and acquisitive like shopping and reality television, then she had best be on her way and without delay. This is where I belong and this is right where I am staying. As Joanna Macy wrote in World As Lover: World As Self:

"For some of us, our love for the world is so passionate that we cannot ask it to wait until we are enlightened."

The new maple leaves which Cassie and I discovered in the hedgerow just after sunrise this morning are not rare or threatened by any means, but they are beautiful, and every single one is unique.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Spring Beauty

Spring Beauty
(Clayton virginica)

This tiny delicate pink-veined wildflower is another of the wild cousins who adorn the forest floor in profusion at this time of the year, and I always look for them in the Two Hundred Acre Wood where they exist happily with hepaticas and anemones among the leaf litterings of last autumn. The wildflower is also known here as the "fairy spud" for its edible tubers, which apparently taste much like the domestic potato.

A wildflower this small is difficult to photograph - the slightest breeze or breath stirs the whole throng, and they murmur and sway in unison like a band of dancing gypsies.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Thursday Poem - For Beltane/May Day

There is a song in the greenwood,
There's an age old tale to be sung,
Healing is there in the greenwood,
Spiralling endlessly under the sun.

Seat yourself under the oak trees,
Watch the leaf dust dance in the breeze,
Breathe in the flowers and catkins,
The slow buzzing motion of bees.

I give you a song from the greenwood,
A song to enchant and delight,
Refrains of sowing and reaping,
The lyrics of life at its height.

Join in the dance of the greenwood,
Cast off your woes if you dare,
Life will be sweet in the greenwood,
Far from all hurry and care.

Hold high the cup of forgetting,
Drink deep of the greenwood wine,
Partake of the wildwood nectar,
So honey sweet from the vine.

Hear ye the pipes of the greenwood,
Far off music and dancing feet?
Ye shall be healed in the greenwood,
One with the earth's heartbeat.

This madcap song for the greenwood was written by me, and profuse apologies are owing to Jethro Tull and its magnificent creation, Songs From the Wood, which was the inspiration for my mediocre undertaking.

It's May, it's May, the merry month of May, and here we are again at Beltane or May Day. The most thoughtful and eloquent article on this lovely ancient Celtic fire festival I have ever encountered is by Waverly Fitzgerald of the exquisite Living In Season blog, and it may be read here at her web site, the School of the Seasons. There is a rambling effort of mine own on this festive day at my old untended Geocities site.

Beltane (or May Day) blessings to each and every one of you!