Sunday, August 07, 2022

Saying Yes to the World

The bigness of the world is redemption.

Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.

Being able to travel in both ways matters, and sometimes the way back into the heart of the question begins by going outward and beyond. This is the expansiveness that comes literally in a landscape or that tugs you out of yourself in a story.....

 Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Friday, August 05, 2022

Friday Ramble - the Red and the Purple

It's a ordinary summer morning here, and another scorching day is crackling in the wings. I'm up early and standing on the deck with a mug of dark roast. Beau and I feast our eyes on the sun coming up through the heat haze, the red and purple tomatoes ripening on the vine in our veggie patch. We watch murmurations of starlings cavorting in the garden, the rhythmic swaying in the cedar hedge that betrays the coy presences of the village squirrels. Typical early August vignettes and happenings.

If this day has a shape, that shape is still to reveal itself, and in the interim, the luminous heat has me feeling nebulous and woolly of intellect (if I can be said to possess any intellect at all), a tad acerbic and even downright crotchety. Questions, questions, questions..... How does one tune out the slippery peevish voice that asks the same old questions day after day, silence the inner hag who presents them, over and over again? She grumbles and thinks longingly of cool fall mornings.

Far from my buzzing beaver pond and its native water lilies, I pick up my tattered copy of John Daido Loori's beautiful "Zen of Creativity" and Joanna Macy's eloquent "World as Lover, World as Self" and read for a while. I resolve not to ignore the questions buzzing around in my sconce or shun the old harpy asking them, but to acknowledge them both and just sit here in silence, breathing in and out for a while. I remember a few words from Joanna Macy, and they are a powerful reminder of what these days, and fact all days are about or should be about.

"We have received an inestimable gift. 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. And it is, moreover, an extraordinary privilege to be accorded a human life, with this self-reflexive consciousness which brings awareness of our own actions and the ability to make choices. It lets us choose to take part in the healing of our world."

Reading the words is one thing - remembering them and putting them into practice is something else again. This old hen needs reminding, and she needs it often.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Thursday Poem - August

Summer sings its long song, and all the notes are green.
But there’s a click, somewhere in the middle
of the month, as we reach the turning point, the apex,
a Ferris wheel, cars tipping and tilting over the top,
and we see September up ahead, school and schedules
returning. And there’s the first night you step outside
and hear the katydids arguing, six more weeks
to frost, and you know you can make it through to fall.
Dark now at eight, nights finally cooling off for sleep,
no more twisting in damp sheets, hearing mosquitoes’
thirsty whines. Lakes of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace
mirror the sky’s high cirrus. Evenings grow chilly,
time for old sweaters and sweatpants, lying in the hammock
squinting to read in the quick-coming dusk.
A few fireflies punctuate the night’s black text,
and the moonlight is so thick, you could swim in it
until you reach the other side.

Barbara Crooker

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Will you step into my parlor?

Female goldenrod spider (Misumena vatia)
Lovely things, these early pages in August, the lambent mornings with their high, clear light and gossamer clouds from here to there.

There are a few cicadas singing in the garden, but not quite as many there were a week or two ago. I collect the mortal husks of those who have expired and inter them in a corner of the garden. It is something I do every year, saying thanks as I tuck them lovingly into the good dark earth with an old teaspoon.

August brings heavy dews, and a little after dawn, our roses are dappled with moisture and glistening. Several blooms are being used by spiders like this female goldenrod spider to hide and pounce on unsuspecting beetles and flies. The little dears can have all the Japanese beetles they want.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Happy Lammas/Lugnasadh

Happy Lammas, happy August, everyone!

Sunday, July 31, 2022

For Lammas (or Lugnasadh)

Here we are on the last day of July, and this is the eve of Lammas, sometimes called Lughnsadh, Lúnasa, Calan Awst, "First Harvest" or "Loaf Mass". The festival celebrates summer, farming and harvesting, particularly the gathering, milling and putting by of grains and cereals.

Humans have gathered and consumed grains and cereals since Neolithic times, and the beginning of domestic grain cultivation is an important moment in our evolution. It marks the transition from an ancient, nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of farming and settlement. Sickles, sheaves, stooks, mill wheels and grinding stones are common motifs in almost every culture on island earth.

Gods and goddesses? Oh yes, our festival has a veritable throng of harvest gods: Lugh, Tammuz, Osiris, Adonis and Attis to name a few. Then there is Dionysus or Bacchus -  the grapey god is in a class all by himself, deity of vineyards and harvesting, wine making, drunken revelry and ritual madness.  He stands at the gate between summer and autumn, and his magical tavern with its ever turning mill wheel and rapture inducing brews is the stuff of legend. According to folk tales, its doorway can be entered from any street in the great wide world if one is in the right frame of mind.

According to Irish mythology, the festival was created by Lugh in honor of the goddess Tailtu (his foster mother), who perished from exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for cultivation. August 1 is also associated with other harvest goddesses like Demeter, Persephone, Ceres, Bridget, the Cailleach, Selu, Nokomis (the Corn Mother) and Freya, who is sometimes known as the Lady of the Loaf.

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, August 1st is called "the feast of first fruits". Loaves of bread were baked with grain from the first harvest and placed on church altars, to be blessed and later to be used in simple charms and rustic enchantments.  Tenant farmers presented grain to their landlords, and a tithe (one tenth of a farm's yield) was given to the local church. Farmers delivered their portion to parish tithe barns, and a number of the elegant brick and stone structures survive today.

Tim Powers' fabulous The Drawing of the Dark always comes to mind around this time of year. The book is full of harvest and brewing metaphors, and it's a rollicking good read. The main characters are King Arthur (reborn as an aging Irish mercenary named Brian Duffy), a sorcerer called Aurelius Aurelianus (the legendary Merlin himself), and the Fisher King. Dionysus and his magical tavern put in an appearance, and they're in good  company - the woodland god Pan, Gambrinus (medieval King of Beer), Finn MacCool, Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, Odin, Thor and Hercules also show up. There's a whole shipload of Vikings sworn to defend the ancient brewery at the heart of the story and stave off Ragnarok and other mythical creatures too numerous to mention. For some time, the book was only available in paperback, but a hardcover edition was published a few years ago, and one of these days, I shall treat myself to a copy.

The first day of August marked the beginning of the harvest season for the ancients, but it also marked summer's end, and so it is for moderns. There are still many warm and sunny weeks before us, and it is difficult to believe that summer is waning, but it is doing just that. Our days are growing shorter.  

We've come a long way from our early "hunting and gathering" days, but traces of old seasonal rites remain here and there. When I arrived in Lanark county years ago, I learned that Lammas festivities are alive and well in the eastern Ontario highlands. They are called céilidhs or "field parties", and the attendees are unaware of the origins for the most part, but all the festival trappings are there: bonfires, corn, grilled munchies and fresh baked bread, wine and beer, music, storytelling, dancing and merrymaking in abundance. Once in a while, there is even a formal harvest observance.

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, invisibly, inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Friday, July 29, 2022

Friday Ramble - In the Great Blue Bowl of Morning

I awaken to skies that would make an impressionist painter feel like dancing, to Canada geese singing in unison as they fly up from the river and out into farm fields to feed. This year's progeny sing loudest up there in the great blue bowl of morning. Their pleasure in being alive and aloft mirrors my own as I watch them with a mug of tea, eyes shielded from the rising sun with a sleepy hand.

Below the sweeping strokes of vibrant color painted across the eastern sky are trees, hydro poles, rooflines and village streets, trucks and cars in rumbling motion, early runners in the park, commuters with lunch bags, bento boxes and briefcases headed downtown to another day at their desks.

On our morning walk, Beau and I paused by a neighbor's fish pond to watch the white and scarlet koi finning their way around in circles, and while there, we noticed that the first fallen maple leaves of the season had already drifted into the pool, making eddies and swirls and perfect round spirals on the glossy surface. No need to panic, it's not an early autumn, just summer heat setting a few leaf people free to ramble.

If only I could actually paint skies as magnificent as these... I can't, and the camera will have to do, but what my lens "sees" is absolutely sumptuous, and I am content with my morning opus. Sky blue, rose, gold, violet and scarlet lodge in my wandering thoughts, and on the way home, I think about throwing a bunch of clay bowls and glazing them in perfect sunrise colors. Emaho!

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Thursday Poem - For This One Day

Let fall from our hands
the busy pages and works.
Walk in the sunlight
and read the holy book of earth
leaf by cloud, wave by wing.
Listen by moonlight
to wind and cricket, owl and wolf.
In the smooth skin of stones,
in the flowing heart of trees,
in the gathering ocean,
we will know each other again
for the first time.

Dolores Stewart Riccio

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

The earth offers gift after gift—life and the living of it, light and the return of it, the growing things, the roaring things, fire and nightmares, falling water and the wisdom of friends, forgiveness. My god, the forgiveness, time, and the scouring tides. How does one accept gifts as great as these and hold them in the mind?

Failing to notice a gift dishonors it, and deflects the love of the giver. That's what's wrong with living a careless life, storing up sorrow, waking up regretful, walking unaware. But to turn the gift in your hand, to say, this is wonderful and beautiful, this is a great gift—this honors the gift and the giver of it. Maybe this is what [my friend] Hank has been trying to make me understand: Notice the gift. Be astonished at it. Be glad for it, care about it. Keep it in mind. This is the greatest gift a person can give in return.

Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Cooler By the Pond

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Friday, July 22, 2022

Friday Ramble - July's Ticking Clock

Somewhere in the dusty recesses of my noggin, the passing of these sultry summer days is being marked, and ever so wistfully. The clock of the seasons is ticking away in the background, and I find myself pondering the shape of the golden interval that is ebbing all too swiftly. The other three seasons of a northern calendar year are splendid of course, and there are surely other fine summers ahead, but this summer is waning, and its days are numbered. The summer solstice has come and gone, and we are sliding gently down the hill toward autumn, shorter days and longer nights.

Thoughts of coming and going are ever inscribed on summer's middling pages, and they're unsettling notions, making for restlessness and vague discontent, a gentle melancholy concerning the nature of time, what is falling away and the transience of all earthly things. A heightened awareness of suchness (or tathata) is a middle-of-the-summer thing for sure. For the most part, one goes gently along with the flow, breathing in and out, trying to rest in the moment and do the gardeny things that need doing.

Old garden roses are a perfect metaphor for the season. Most bloom once in a calendar year, but what a show they put on when they do. Their unruly tangles of wickedly thorny canes and blue-green leaves wear delicate pink (mostly) blooms with crinkled petals and golden hearts. Each rose is unique, and each is exquisite until the moment when its faded petals flutter to earth like snowflakes. For several weeks after Midsummer, their fragrance lingers in every corner of the garden, and when I come into the house after pruning and deadheading, their perfume clings to my gardening gear. My departed soulmate loved old roses, and every year I still fall in love with them too. It is nothing short of a miracle that creatures so beautiful and fragile thrive this far north.

Once in a while, I catch a glimpse of the Great Mystery while I am hanging out in the back yard, and that is surely what this old life is all about. I wish I did a better job of remembering that and keeping everything in perspective, but forgetting now and then is quite all right - the garden reminds me, especially the roses.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Thursday Poem - Aunt Leaf

Needing one, I invented her—
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.

Dear aunt, I'd call into the leaves,
and she'd rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,

and we'd travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker—
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish—and all day we'd travel.

At day's end she'd leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float back

scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;

or she'd slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;

or she'd hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,

this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.

Mary Oliver

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Royal Child in the Garden

One would have to go a long way to top the brilliant colors of the palette on display this morning. Red, purple, orange and gold go perfectly together at any time of the year, but especially in shaggy, flowering July.

When a newborn Monarch alighted on the crown of a purple coneflower a few days ago, it was cause for celebration, for singing, cavorting in the greenery and general silliness. Come to think of it, the "Susies" in the background are sometimes called coneflowers too (although they are two distinct species).

How on earth can one describe something so vibrant, so breathtakingly perfect? Butterfly, blooms and summer garden say it all, and no words are needed from this old hen. Such images will linger in memory long after northern days grow very short indeed, and the south corner of the garden is buried in snow.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

And what is this wild summons? What art is asked of us? The gift offered is different for each but all are equal in grandeur. To paint, draw, dance, compose. To write songs, poems, letters, diaries, prayers. To set a violet on the sill; stitch a quilt; bake bread; plant marigolds, beans, apple trees. To follow the track of the forest elk, the neighborhood coyote, the cupboard mouse. To open the windows, air beds, sweep clean the corners. To hold the child’s hand, listen to the vagrant’s story, paint the elder friend's fingernails a delightful shade of pink while wrapped in a blanket she knit with the deft young fingers of her past. To wander paths, nibble purslane, notice spiders. To be rained upon. To listen with changed ears and sing back what we hear. 

Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Mozart's Starling

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Friday, July 15, 2022

Friday Ramble - Abundance

I awaken early and trot out to the garden wearing a tatty old t-shirt (more holes than shirt), patched jeans, floppy hat and sandals, carrying secateurs and a mug of Earl Grey. It's wicked hot out there, and the sky is obscured by a high gossamer heat haze. The bumble girls are already surfing for nectar and humming about their appointed work.

The only sentient beings happy about this July heat are the blissfully foraging bees and bumbles, the flowering herbs and the ripening vegetables in village veggie patches: beans, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, chards, leeks, onions and emerging gourds. Most vegetables show a little restraint, but the zucchini and pumpkins (as always) are on the march and threatening to take over entire gardens, if not the whole wide world. Are veggies sentient, and do they have Buddha nature? You bet they do, and I suspect they have long mindful conversations when we are not listening.

Villagers are an eccentric bunch when it comes to gardening. One neighbor grows squash on her veranda, and another has planted cabbages and corn in her flower beds. For years, a guy around the corner cultivated hot peppers in reclaimed plastic storage bins. They were lined up along the sidewalk and driveway in front of his house, and the place looked like a jungle. His enthusiasm was admirable - he only grew hot peppers, and he carefully harvested them, preserving each and every one for winter culinary efforts. Charlie has moved away, and I miss seeing his efforts when I walk by.

Tomatoes are always a marvel. Scarlet or gold, occasionally purpled or striped, they come in all sizes and some surprising shapes. The first juicy heirloom "toms" of the season are the essence of feasting and celebration as they rest on the sideboard: fresh-from-the-garden jewels, rosy and flushed and beaded with early morning dew. A wedge of Brie or Camembert, gluten-free crackers, a sprinkling of sea salt and a few fresh basil leaves are all that is needed to complete both the scene and a summer lunch.

Oh honey sweet and hazy summer abundance... That luscious word made its first appearance in the fourteenth century, coming down to us through Middle English and Old French from the Latin abundāns, meaning overflowing. The adjective form is abundant, and synonyms include: ample, bountiful, copious, exuberant, generous, lavish, 
overflowing, plentiful, plenteous, profuse, prolific, replete, rich, teeming and teeming.

Abundant is the exactly the right word for these days of ripening and plenty, as we weed and water and gather in, chucking things in jars, pickling up a storm and storing summer's bounty to consume somewhere way up the road. Like bees and squirrels, we scurry about, preserving the contents of our gardens to nourish body and soul when temperatures fall and nights grow long. For all the sweetness and abundance held out in offering, there is a subtle ache to these times with their dews and hazes and maturing vegetables. These days are all too fleeting.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Thursday Poem - Evening

The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven and one that falls;

and leave you not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion
of what becomes a star each night, and rises;

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

Rainer Maria Rilke
(translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Small Wonders

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
(Papilio canadensis)

There have not been many swallowtails around this year, and I did a spirited, wobbly dance yesterday when a single glorious specimen flew past my freckled nose and alighted in a dense thicket of thorny blackberry canes along the trail into the woods - in my excitement, I almost dropped the camera.

A few minutes later, the first cicada of the season started to broadcast its call for a mate from somewhere high up in the trees. Again and again, its tymbal muscles contracted and relaxed, the resulting vibrations creating stridulant refrains in what is, to me anyway, summer's most resonant and engaging musical score.  Time stood still as I listened to that poignant and hopeful performance.

There are moments one remembers in the depths of winter, and this was one of them.  How sweet to listen to the season's first cicada rumble and rasp in the trees over my head, to stand and watch small wonders flutter and swoop on stained glass wings. Life simply doesn't get any better than this, and it doesn't get any wilder either.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. Maybe many of us won't be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.

Arundhati Roy, from War Talk