What’s Asking To Be Seen

I’m standing on the cusp of the seasons, now dressed for winter when I walk Annie. Gloves need to be swapped out for mittens, trail runners for Blundstones. Tomorrow, we’ll go shopping for a new winter coat for Annie, as I think with age, we’re both feeling the cold more. Today there’s a skiff of snow on roofs and yards, the shallow pond froze last night, and during yesterday morning’s river valley walk, the shoreline was edged with ice. Yet, still the red, golden green and light brown falling leaves.

This autumn, one particularly resplendent in colour and warmth with sunshine most every day, I felt the invitation to “see” what was on display and unfolding while Annie and I walked. She, ever patient, and I, and with my early generation, single lens phone camera in hand, stopped in front of a red amur maple, reminiscent of my Niagara youth. Glowing, almost vibrating vermillion, I was awestruck and until now, never thought my phone could capture what I was seeing. It was the beginning.

“I take my camera out into the world, and it invites me to slow down and linger over these moments of beauty. It opens me to wonder and delight.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Then it was the roses, full blown blossoms and buds, still. And the sweet peas – always an irony for me with an April birthday, and them the designated flower.

The dandelion, harbinger of spring, peeking among the dried leaves. The golden ash against our signature blue sky. Ruby globes of crabapple, sun-kissed cherries, orange mountain ash berries.

Sunflower sentinels bordering a walkway. And the skies.

One day the clouds had me spellbound. Later that day, after I’d shared their magnificence on Facebook, friends said they, too, had noticed and appreciated I’d stopped to notice, to press, to share.  Another day, later in the season, I was smitten by treetops in their yonder backdrops.

And throughout, always that amur maple marking autumn’s reign.

 “…this is one of the wonders of photography: to be able to frame a moment in time and, within my gaze and absolute presence in that particular moment, to discover holiness. In that single moment, I am reminded that all moments are holy.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Framing these moments during our neighborhood walks has easily transferred into chronicling my weekly trek in the river valley. The “Camino de Edmonton,” a thirteen-week staged event to correspond in distance to a final leg of the Camino de Santiago, finds twenty or so hardy souls meeting every Saturday at various rendezvous points in the city for an 8:00 am start. There, I bring my Lumix “point and shoot” hung around my neck, tucked securely into the hip belt of my Deuter pack.

“the graced eye can glimpse beauty everywhere, seeing the divine at work in the hidden depths of things. It is so easy to let our senses be dulled and to settle for the ordinary.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Most often walking alone, safely distanced, I settle into my pace and breath, letting my gaze soften, slowing to see with eyes of the heart onto what is asking to be seen. Again, vistas full to bursting with autumn’s abundance. Yet, at the same time, growing more visible with every week, the giving way to emptying, the baring, the decaying and the dying that is winter.

“We don’t have to go out and try to take ‘beautiful’ photos. We simply need to pay attention and foster a different kind of seeing.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

And accept the invitation to see what’s asking to be seen.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Camera shy Annie.

Ironing

Now I Understand
(in response to Pablo Neruda’s An Ode for Ironing)

Your house cleaned.
Your floors swept.
Your bed made.
Your dishes washed.
Your gardens tended.
Your dog walked.

You, who has the means
to purchase the hands’ work of others
inherited, earned, dignified

Who would have thought
my taking on the task
of ironing your linens and your clothes
as I pressed mine –

my small act of gratitude
for your generous hospitality
for opening your home to me
giving me sanctuary of rest and routine
while I, the novice, explored the world
making true and real my heart’s desire –

would be taking away
this small but necessary
weekly Sunday evening pleasure
bringing you back 
to your self
giving you back
the ground of your being?

Now I understand
this ode’s essence
to bring substance and harmony
to give routine and resurrection
to allow you to feel with
your hands
your way 
into a new week.

– KW –


Golden

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada, the 12th of October, almost as late in the month as it comes. Remarkably, autumn’s colour abounds, with gold and burnished brown, red and aubergine still a vivid contrast against the cerulean sky and dark green conifers.

Yesterday a fierce wind blew from the north west. A kite hung high for an hour in the steel grey sky, its dragon-like features a foreboding of what’s to come. The scent and feel of winter waiting impatiently in the wings, typically impolite in timing its arrival. Like a takeover, one might even say “hostile”, or a coup overthrowing the trees before they’ve taken off their sovereign hued robes, and wreaking shock and havoc among the yet to depart migrating birds. This reminder of impermanence, life’s cycles, nature’s work. During a time when around the world most everyone feels fraught with uncertainty and complacent with pandemic protocol fatigue, I take comfort and find solace that yes, the days grow shorter, the sun rises lower, the trees will soon be stripped of their remaining leaves, the snow will fall, the temperatures plummet.   

One morning last week, making breakfast for Annie and drip coffee for me, I heard Jill Scott sing her song, Golden. I wrote down the chorus knowing I could use it for today’s blog, because, well, it’s been so golden this past month. I’m in the sixth week of my latest Abbey of the Arts online course, “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” where I’m exploring these archetypes of contemplation and creativity, two deep affinities. In one of last week’s creative exercises, I learned about the French pantoum, a poetic form that can be quite revelatory in its play and placement of lines.

So in that spirit of unabashed experimentation, here’s my tribute to Thanksgiving, living golden, impermance, presence, winter – all riffing off Jill Scott.

Livin’ my life like it’s golden
it’s that time of year.
Shimmering brilliant leaves
remind me to be here.

It’s that time of year,
winds blow strong and sting
remind me to be here.
Winter’s in the wings.

Winds blow strong and sting.
Shimmering brilliant leaves.
Winter’s in the wings.
Livin’ my life like it’s golden.

With abiding gratitude, love and kindest regards, dear friends.

An Encounter

WISHING WELL

“Outside the Met a man walks up sun
tweaking the brim sticker on his Starter cap
and he says pardon me Old School he
says you know is this a wishing well?
Yeah Son I say sideways over my shrug.
Throw your bread on the water.
I tighten my chest wheezy as Rockaway beach
sand with a pull of faux smoke from my e-cig
to cozy the truculence I hotbox alone
and I am at the museum because it is not a bar.
Because he appears not to have changed
them in days I eye the heel-chewed hems
of his pants and think probably he will
ask me for fifty cents any minute now wait
for it. A smoke or something. Central Park displays

the frisking transparency of autumn. Tracing
paper sky, leaves like eraser crumbs gum
the pavement. As if deciphering celestial
script I squint and purse off toward the roof
line of the museum aloof as he fists two
pennies from his pockets mumbling and then
aloud my man he says hey my man I’m going
to make a wish for you too.
I am laughing now so what you want
me to sign a waiver? He laughs along ain’t
say all that he says but you do have to
hold my hand.   And close your eyes.
I make a starless night of my face before
he asks are you ready. Yeah dawg I’m ready.
Sure? Sure let’s do this his rough hand
in mine inflates like a blood pressure cuff and I
squeeze back as if we are about to step together
from the sill of all resentment and timeless
toward the dreamsource of un-needing the two
of us hurtle sharing the cosmic breast
of plenitude when I hear the coins blink against
the surface and I cough up daylight like I’ve just
been dragged ashore. See now
you’ll never walk alone he jokes and is about
to hand me back to the day he found me in
like I was a rubber duck and he says you got to let
go but I feel bottomless and I know he means
well though I don’t believe
and I feel myself shaking
my head no when he means let go his hand.”

– by Gregory Pardlo –

I heard this poem walking with Annie earlier this week. Poetry Unbound, hosted by Pádraig Ó Tuama, is one of my favourite podcasts. Now in its second season, each episode, featuring one poem, is a mere fifteen or so minutes. Yet while I listen, to Padraig’s recitation and then to his skillful, heartful invitations as to how I might hear into the poem, time stands still. I can listen to one episode several times in the course of our walk, and each time feel transfixed.

I share it here because it reminded me of the post I wrote several weeks ago on loneliness, a feeling state that continues to linger for many of us, as summer gives way to fall and the inevitable winter, as Covid-19 numbers continue to climb around the world. Click here to listen to the rather remarkable Pádraig’s reading. I hope you enjoy it as much as he and I do.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Joie de Faire

I knew I needed practices to help me flourish with fall’s arrival, its shorter days, and the inevitable snows and cold of winter. No escaping it, even though we here in the parklands of Alberta have had a stellar September and first week of October with no frost nor flakes. I posted on Facebook last week how remarkable that the geraniums and marigolds in their pots looked more beautiful and abundant now than in the peak of summer.

Early in this pandemic, while making photo books from my last trips to Morocco and Andalusia, I saw the hundreds of photos I’d taken over the past decade and decided to sort into a collection those I’d like to use on the cover of note cards. A few years ago, before the advent of the terrific e-cards I now habitually send, I’d make a photo card to celebrate a family member or friend’s birthday, anniversary, wedding or other life transition. A photo, hand- written or stamped greeting, postage stamp and off it’d go in the mail. I chose to resurrect that practice this fall – my version of a non-Zoom hug or love note – to stay connected with friends.

“…I needed that bond to feel whole, competent and grounded, connected to my heart and soul, to my community, to my ancestors, and to the natural world around me…”

Melanie Falick, Making a Life, 2019

Times have changed. It used to be that I had a paper address book with friends’ contact information. As I composed my list of names, I realized for many I had only email addresses. And so, without tipping my hand too much, I asked, via email, for their “old fashioned snail mail” postal address.

“Over the course of just a couple of hundred years in the so-called developed world, we have become passive consumers of products, services, and information rather than active makers, fixers and even thinkers. Most of the time what we buy is made somewhere else, by a machine or by people we’ll never meet…”

Melanie Falick, Making a Life, 2019

Every week since early September, a few days a week, a couple of names on my list, I’d make a card, with a hand written note, maybe include a well-loved verse of poetry or a quote, a specially chosen photo evoking something for me about that person. Affixed a stamp and return address label and slipped it in the community mailbox.

love note bits

“I gradually came to the conclusion that in its most simple sense, art (as a verbal noun that I now call “artifying” or “artification”) is the act of making ordinary things extraordinary. It is a uniquely human impulse.”

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

After the first week’s batch, I remembered that the cards I use are good quality water colour stock. I remembered how in that earlier iteration I might rubber stamp the inside with a greeting, and occasionally paint a dash of colour over. So now I’ve taken to embellishing the envelope with rubber stamp image and light water colour wash. “Now that’s an envelop worth keeping!” remarked a friend’s husband upon retrieving her card from their post box.

A friend sent me this photo of my love note to her

“Joie de faire – an inherent joy in making:
There is something important, even urgent, to be said about the sheer enjoyment of making something that didn’t exist before, of using one’s own agency, dexterity, feelings and judgment to mold, form, touch, hold, craft physical materials, apart from anticipating the fact of its eventual beauty, uniqueness, or usefulness.”

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

I’m crystal clear within myself that I make and send these cards with no expectation of hearing back from anyone. And yet I’ve been delighted to read about how surprised or touched by, or perfect the card. Another friend reminisced about days gone by when letters and notes were the way we maintained our relationships and connections, saying she’d been inspired to follow my lead, and that perhaps this was fulfilling my purpose.

“I think a lot of modern people’s ennui, or feelings of depression or meaninglessness, comes from the fact that although our physical and material needs are met, we are not satisfying those psychological and emotional needs of our hunter-gatherer nature.”

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

While I was touched with her suggestion, I’m not sure this is my purpose, per se, but it is satisfying that yearning to make, to make something beautiful, to share that beauty with people I cherish, and to invite them – for a moment or longer- to feel they are cherished by me. It is responding to my inner need to flourish when I’d felt so fallow and forlorn during the early months of Covid-19.

“…active making, and making special, contributes to satisfactions
(fulfillment of basic emotional needs) that cannot come any other way.”

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

It is activating my slogan: The power of prayer and the making of beauty are HOLY ALCHEMY for social change.

And quite simply, it brings me joy.

With much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

And so it goes…


MEDITATION

Meditation I was sitting cross-legged one morning
in our sunny new meditation room
wondering if it would be okay
to invite our out-of-town guest
to Frank’s dinner party next weekend
when it occurred to me that I wasn’t really meditating at all.

In fact, I had never meditated in our sunny new meditation room.
I had just sat cross-legged now and then for 15 or 20 minutes
worrying about one thing or another,
how the world will endor what to get Alice for her birthday.

It would make more sense to rename the meditation room
our new exercise room
and to replace all the candles,
incense holders, and the little statues
with two ten-pound hand weights
and a towel in case I broke a sweat.

Then I pictured the new room
with nothing in it but a folded white towel,
and a pair of numbered hand weights –an image of such simplicity
that the sustaining of it
as I sat cross-legged under a tall window,
my palms open weightlessly on my bare knees,

made me wonder if I wasn’t actually,
meditating for a moment then and therein our former meditation room,
where the sun seemed to be brightening as it suffused with light the grain
in the planks of that room’s gleaming floor.

– Billy Collins –
The Rain in Portugal

Day 2 and then some

It’s happened. In the last two days I’ve learned of people I know having their lives impacted by COVID-19. Up until now it’s been something “out there.” Now it’s landed on my doorstep, making these past six months less surreal.

A few weeks ago, while walking Annie, I listened to the second season opener of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcasts. Titled “Day 2” she describes how now, six months into the pandemic, it’s not getting any easier for us. In fact, in a counter-intuitive way, it’s harder. We tell ourselves we should be getting the hang of it, but no. Like the Day 2 of her three-day training events, or what in my profession’s parlance we call the “groan zone”: when, after settling in and getting to know each other, playing around with new concepts and ideas with everything “out there”, the rubber hits the road when we realize, often with resistance, that for any traction and way forward to occur, we need to do a lot of internal pushing, shifting, and changing. We feel awkward, anxious, angry. Tired. Doubting. We want to turn around, get out, and dust ourselves off.

“…let me tell you,
day two of these three-day trainings sucked.
I mean sucked. So not only in terms of the curriculum,
day two meant that we were moving into some of the really tough content, like shame and worthiness, but people were also kind of feeling raw. The first day of anything like the first day of school, the first day of a training, the first day of your work, you’re like, I get the badge and everything’s shiny, and everything feels like a new undertaking, and there’s this sparkle of possibility. By day two, this is dulled. And now you’re kind of in this dense fog where you don’t have the shiny possibility of day one or the running toward the finish line of day three. It’s like hitting the wall.”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

I’d been feeling and saying pretty much the same thing this summer. And while I didn’t think I had a timeline for this thing, knew enough to cancel a September return to Morocco way back in March, heard about the “second wave”, in all honesty, in some deep place, I was holding out hope we’d be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel by now, driving towards it. Instead it feels as messy as ever. But now, since yesterday, much more real.

“…we’re in the dark, the doors close behind us,
we’re too far in to turn around and
not close enough to the end to see the light…”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

Yesterday I went to the store to fetch groceries for my friend, and I swear to God, as I put the mask on my face, my brain fell out. I couldn’t make sense of the store aisle arrows, of how close or far I was to the next person. My glasses kept fogging up. When I finally got ready to checkout, I started placing my items on the conveyor belt before the customer ahead had finished. Yes, I was safely distanced, but the clerk kindly asked me to wait until she had sprayed and wiped the entire belt making it safe and ready for me. Of course, I should have known that. Then I told her I needed two receipts, different bags – theirs they’d pack, mine I needed bag myself – where was my store card? my credit card? Flustered, I finally confessed, “I’m usually pretty competent, but today, I can’t multitask worth a damn.” She laughed with me. Grateful for her kindness, I muddled through, got outside, whipped off my mask, and breathing deep while sitting in my car, realized how rattled I was and why. COVID-19 had arrived on my doorstep.

 “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was.
Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Sonya Renee Taylor

Today is a better day. In fact, the whole of last week was grand, even yesterday, grocery shopping aside, or maybe, paradoxically, because of it. September on the prairies can be a glorious month, and after our second wet, cold summer, she’s pulling out all the stops for us. And October is looking pretty good, too. Every day I walk, I’m enthralled with what I see around me. My basic, single lens phone camera is working a surprising magic.

And those plans I’d put in place – in anticipation of this messy middle, to help me flourish after having felt fallow for months – are panning out beautifully. I’ll write more about that in weeks to come. But for now, I’ll give Brene the last word:

“The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.
If we believe in ourselves, if we reach out together,
and if we lean into a little bit of that grace that says,
‘We can get through this.'”

Brene Brown, “Day 2,” on Unlocking Us, September 2, 2020

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Another Ode to Autumn

FALL

Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer’s
Sprawling past and winter’s hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

– Edward Hirsch –

Hearing this poem recited early yesterday morning, I thought given the gloriousness of this past week, another ode to autumn was just the thing.

In Celebration of Autumn

Here in Alberta, September is often our most consistently glorious month. Albeit, days grow shorter and the sun shines lower in the sky, but the colours. Oh, the colours! The golds against that brilliant blue sky. Amur maples glowing scarlet and orange, reminiscent of hardwoods in my hometown of Niagara. Ruby-like crab apples waiting to be plucked.

So today, in honour of the northern hemisphere’s autumnal equinox, here’s a lovely one from Mary Oliver.

SONG FOR AUTUMN

Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the fires that will come—six, a dozen—to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
stiffens and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its long blue shadows. The wind wags
its many tails. And in the evening
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.


Life Instructions 1.0

INSTRUCTIONS

Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
what your heart beats loudly for
what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.

– Sheri Hostetler –
(A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry)