Closer to Home

Thinking about this week’s post came from a few rambling experiences finally resting on the need and practicality of being closer to home.

Lifting a page from the books of some friends, we’ve taken a couple of day trips to see some local sights, obscure and otherwise. Like most folks these days, we’ve opted for the “staycation,” sticking closer to home, not yet venturing far enough for an overnight accommodation. While the mountains call, from what we hear people are flocking in droves to Jasper, Banff and Canmore, so we’ll hold off until…. Plus, we didn’t want to kennel Annie. She’s been such a stalwart companion these months, relying on us as much as we her for a steady supply of love and attention. We just didn’t have the heart to leave her cooped up with strangers. And being on leash, the only way in the mountains, gets pretty frustrating with so much wild scent around. After all, she’s a bird dog. Scenting, hunting, stalking and pointing are her nature.

So a drive east down a prairie highway to Viking, a right turn south across the rolling pastures and freshly cut hay fields, up the hill to a white fence enclosing the two Viking Ribstones. An ancient aboriginal site, now adorned with colourful prayer cloths, these large quarzite boulders were carved thousands of years ago to resemble the ribcages of the revered bison, the main source of sustenance for the plains people.

Last week, north and east to Metis Crossing, we spent another few hot, sunny hours enjoying the quiet of this cultural interpretative centre along the shores of the North Saskatchewan River. Bison sausage with saskatoon relish, bannock with fresh rhubarb jelly and saskatoon lemonade were in keeping with history and today’s garden harvest. Flowers grew in abundance.

A stop en route at the Skaro Grotto.

I’d like for us to make a further trek south towards Rosebud and Blackfoot Crossing. That landscape of treeless, golden high prairie cut by deep coulees green with willow and cottonwood, set against an endless horizon of blue begs acknowledgement that it, too, is as magnificent as the mountains. An acknowledgement I’m only too willing to give, though it would be a long day.

This weekend would have been the 40th anniversary of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. It, like every other festival in Alberta and large gatherings around the world, was cancelled due to the pandemic. Here, every summer weekend we watch rodeos, listen to music of every genre, see theatre at the famous Fringe festival, revel in parades and gatherings celebrating culture and heritage. We mark our all too short summer with one or several of these “must attends.” It’s helps us get through winters that go on and on. All weekend my radio station, CKUA, an ardent supporter of Alberta culture, featured music and interviews from past years’ performers, while the Festival commissioned a full-length film feature, The Hill, to stream and hosted over fifty videos of past performances. As beautiful the efforts to be on “the hill at home,” as I drove past the festival site early Saturday morning, a time when any other year I’d see orange vested volunteers managing traffic, I felt a bit bereft and wondered, when, if ever, would, what has been called North America’s finest folk festival, return. I recalled having had my first pandemic meltdown, weeping the morning I heard it, and my go to, the Canmore Folk Festival, had been cancelled. The ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning of grief. That day it came closer to home and landed on my doorstep.

Yesterday I zoomed in on a conversation hosted by Melanie Falik, author of the recently published Making A Life: Working By Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live. A few hundred people from around the world, mostly knitters, listened along. As a kind of checkout, we were invited to type in the chat box one project we’d start this week. I got to thinking that for the past week or so I’d been saying out loud that I needed a project. Something I could sink my teeth into. Something on which to focus my ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning energy. Something besides cooking that would engage my curiosity and creativity.

The photo books from this past year’s trips are done. I’m writing a bit. I’m still committed to not learning how to bake sourdough bread, nor grow a garden (hell, I’m having enough of a time picking slugs off my flowers, and we love the bounty from our bi-weekly CSA, thank you). Like most knitters, though I blush to call myself such, I have a started sweater in a bag and a few patterns and skeins waiting in the bin. But I hardly need more sweaters, or scarves, or shawls, even if Friday’s sudden cold weather reminds me what’s coming.

No, what I realized, as I knitted together these recent bits of my life, was that the dreams I’d been keeping, hoping to sustain me through these days of uncertainty and change, were too far out of reach. I knew I couldn’t hold my breath as long as it would take, if ever, to return to the folk festival as I had known it, or to Morocco as I’d planned for this September. I realized I needed to dream closer to home.

I have no idea what dream or project. Not yet.
But I feel a smile inside and out as I begin to wonder and feel those energies shimmer, swirl and coalesce.

With love and kindest regards.

Summer

Hermitage Pond, Edmonton, Alberta

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver –

A Couple of Covid Summer Days

Driving along a prairie east west highway, see
tawny hawks sit still and solemn on weathered wooden fence posts
gazing out over the sun yellow canola fields
bordered by green grass and blue sky.
While crows hop on the edges of pot-hole ponds,
and others soar on invisible cloudless slipstreams.

The linden tree we planted to replace the “sacred” grove of aspens,
(those four slender white trunks and limbs finally reached their natural end)
is now in full golden blossom, gives off that
subtle, yet distinguishable sweet fragrance
attracting big-bottomed bumblebees by the dozen.

This day I sit on the café patio of a favourite garden store.
The masked hostess initially said there’d be an hour wait,
then quickly waived it and me to the perfect table.
Such kindness these days so easily
brings me,
touches me,
moves me
to tears. Thankful for sunglasses. I can see out. She can’t see in.

Creamy globes of hydrangea, some in pots, others topiary trees.
Their petals flutter in a balmy breeze I’ve longed for ages to feel.

Piano muzak and signature water fountains, my aural companions.
Another day of cloudless blue soothing warmth.
Background melodies blur nearby conversations,
but accentuate my silent solitude.
Those familiar invite a slippery slope of remembering when

I was last here…lunch with friends,
Winter cold.
Swaddled in sweaters and down, toques, gloves and coats.
Warm in the glow of time shared.

Floating down the river as a teenager with my girlfriends, or
lounging on the air mattress in the cold quarry waters.
Music blasting from the boom box above.
Carefully passing the joint,
we be jammin’.

My spoon glides through
the layers of light whipped cream,
denser coconut cream,
then break though oven crisp pastry.
My raison d’etre this favourite dessert.

Pachelbel’s canon whispers, evokes
body memory to breathe slower, deeper.
And then, like that golden dragonfly I watch
my thoughts
lift and land lightly

a friend who lost her husband to suicide
another her brother
won’t linger too long here,
just enough for a steady pause and heartfelt prayer.

Finally a long awaited week of summer
where the yellow circle weather icons make it possible to plan

a picnic,
a patio visit,
an alfresco dinner with friends,
another day long road trip.

Slugs shrivel. Flowers flourish.
Farmers’ crops and home gardens ripen,
promising a bounty this week.Perspectives with Panache, 2020Hallelujah! Cohen’s chords now proclaim.
Bill received and paid.
Thanks be given.

My Guest House

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Jelaluddin Rumi –
    translation by Coleman Barks

Naming a Brokenness

I first wrote this post six months ago, before the pandemic, before life as any of us had known it would come to an abrupt stop. I kept it the draft folder, thought about it every week. I had just created this blog, A Wabi Sabi Life, wherein the beauty of my imperfect, sometimes broken, mostly well-lived life is acknowledged and honoured. Like my previous blog, A Moment Rescued, it’s premised on knowing that by naming and noticing life’s bits, one makes meaning and gives value to life. And this time, it’s the committed space to keep my promise to write, for if I am to become a writer, then write I must.

Six months ago I felt too vulnerable posting this. But after writing some about grief – mine, and loneliness – mine, while feeling no less vulnerable, I now have a bit more in the guts and gumption department to pull it out, dust it off and press “publish.” And too, knowing I have the companionship of others who have felt similarly in these covid days helps me call out “anxiety” as my on again, off again companion.

Arriving mostly unbidden…it’s like a cloud covering the sun, turning it suddenly chilly. Or the wind that moves through the just-a-moment-ago-motionless spruce and willows, as darkness gives over to dawn. Subtle. Nuanced. Insidious. And then, there it is, colouring my insides like an ink drop in water. Chest tightens. Thoughts on overdrive. Adrenaline racing. Washed over with dread and wrung out. And too, the gnawing visceral pain. During its visits, I’d often withdraw socially, mustering energy enough to get by and through to other side. In its aftermath, often the lingering fatigue and yes, shame.

“Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax, take a breath.” 

Sylvia Boorstein

For as long as I can remember, I’ve worried, been told I over-think, over-analyze. Told myself it’s a habit of mind that I was convinced helped me make sense and stable, the senseless and chaotic. Realized it’s like an addiction wreaking havoc with my energy, focus, and sleep; wasting my time, which becomes more precious with every day; withering my enjoyment and enthusiasm for life.

Named it anxiety. Now have learned it’s a manifestation, and not exaggeration, of “trauma.”

“Trauma is not an event.
Trauma is the body’s protective response to an event – or a series of events- that it perceives as potentially dangerous. This perception may be accurate, inaccurate, or entirely imaginary.”

Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands, 2017

These words too, like those of Dr. Vivek Murthy’s on loneliness, are a stone dropped into the pond, rippling out in concentric circles of awareness, connection, awakening, and compassion.

These words, and others of Menakem’s – “we can have a trauma response to anything we perceive as a threat, not only to our physical safety, but to what we do, say, think, care about, believe in, or yearn for” – pretty well cover, for many of us, the territory of living, particularly now during the pandemic. Recognizing when something happens too fast, too much, too soon to the body, and causes it overwhelm, may create trauma. Understanding a body-embedded trauma response manifests as fight, flee, freeze, or as a combination of constriction, pain, fear, dread, anxiety, unpleasant thoughts, reactive behaviors, and other physical sensations. 

Bessel van der Kolk, a global expert in the field of trauma research and treatment, and Rachel Yehuda‘s work on epigenetics, or cross generational trauma, brought a contemporary lens to my growing understanding. And Canadian physician Gabor Mate’s study of addiction, attachment-attunement, stress and illness, make more connections within and across disciplines and experiences.

“Trauma really does confront you with the best and the worst…
you also see resiliency, the power of love,

the power of caring, the power of commitment to oneself,
the knowledge that there are things that are larger than
our individual survival.
And in some ways, I don’t think you can appreciate the glory of life unless you also know the dark side of life.”

Bessel van der Kolk, On Being with Krista Tippet, July 13, 2013

When I feel anxiety’s pain, relax, take a breath and ask “Sweetheart, are you feeling safe?” I create a sliver of space and that space, for a moment, makes possible a different story, and invites in a kindness.

 “There is a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen

I’ve grown to appreciate, too, that I’m sensitive and empathic. True, the wounded healer‘s cocktail when mixed with anxiety, but not without bearing several double-edged gifts: a certain “prescience,” the ability to listen into the silence of words not spoken, to notice and name elements of the emotional field for people to feel deeply seen and heard, and to see connections and patterns among the disparate and barely perceptible, helping identify root causes.

Learning to claim and cherish my quirks and qualities, my flaws and features, naming this particular brokenness of anxiety and trauma gives me rest and brings me comfort. Perhaps in naming it here, you, too, may come to name and cherish those of yours.

With love and kindest regards.

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling rain and remember it is enough to be taken care of
by my self.”

Brian Andreas, StoryPeople

The Place Between

BLESSING FOR THE PLACE BETWEEN

When you come
to the place between.

When you have left
what you held
most dear.

When you are traveling
toward the life
you know not.

When you arrive
at the hardest ground.

May it become
for you
a place to rest.

May it become
for you
a place to dream.

May the pain
that has pressed itself
into you
give way
to vision,
to knowing.

May the morning
make of it
an altar,
a path,
a place to begin
again.

– Jan Richardson-
The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief

A Homemade, Handmade Life

Last night as we ate dinner my husband remarked that it was all homemade. Yes, I had cooked and composed while he grilled, but what he meant was that every ingredient, except the seasonings and Italian olive oil and parmesan cheese, was locally produced. From the Hutterite grown potatoes, boiled and smashed, then mottled pink with a sauté of chopped beet greens and garlic scapes from our bi-weekly CSA bag of freshly harvested vegetables, and topped with a grating of that Italian cheese; to the grilled “cowboy” thick-cut pork chops purchased from our local butcher and CSA drop-off, smeared with a piquant carrot-top chimichurri; to the salad of brilliant green leaf lettuce and dark wild arugula, topped with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, dressed in a light vineagrette. Every mouthful bursting with colour, alive with freshness, deeply satisfying.

Several years ago I won the big prize of a basket of locally produced good for the night’s best tweet, “live local with love.” Since, it’s become my slogan and hashtag for supporting local producers, artists, entrepreneurs and efforts. During the pandemic, it’s become the basis for choices and decisions to spend our resources of time, energy and money on these local mainstays, hopefully to ensure their current and future livelihood.

Last week, when a member of the CSA Facebook community mentioned the smallness that week’s harvest, I took a moment to kindly reply:

Purchasing this CSA means helping “share” the risks that our producers take on for us. Bringing that risk to my doorstep, not having it anonymously “out there.” Sometimes that might mean abundance in the bag, other times it might mean fallow. Regardless, I am surprised, delighted, curious and appreciative. And I feel good knowing I am, in a very small way, doing what I can to say thank you, that what you (and other local producers we support) do matters a great deal. I notice your efforts. I care.

Yesterday, walking Annie, I enjoyed a spontaneous conversation with a couple walking their dog. From across the street he recognized Annie and asked if sometimes we rode her off a bicycle.  Yes, that’s my husband’s way of exercising both him and her, and that she, as have all our dogs, love the pull and rigor of it. One thing led to another and we started talking about life in these pandemic days, how we were coping, the gratitude for the companionship of our aging dogs, theirs, twelve years, ours ten. Then we talked food and the pleasure we take from its sourcing and preparation. Wine and meat, bagels and bread, cheese and fruit, we flitted on the surface, landing lightly on where to find, how to make, what to enjoy.

Bidding them a good day, I reveled in the sweetness of this brief encounter with strangers, who like me, love their dog, good food, and wine. I savored the knowing that cooking has been a main source of creative expression and consolation these many weeks. I felt the love for my Oma whose presence watches over me as I cook with utensils from her kitchen, shipped off to me years ago in her meticulously wrapped “care packages,” and with whom I pulled my first carrots from the warmth of her garden during cherieshed childhood summers spent at her home in New York state. And for a few moments, I welcomed back the grief of missing her, and of being unable to share a lovingly prepared homemade meal with friends, as now so much depends on weather to cooperate to be safe.

And in it all, choosing to hold up one of the things I mused on last time:

“When you learn to make things with your hands,
you begin to awaken an awareness of
the beauty and value of things in your life.
Handmaking teaches us about slowness:
the antidote to brevity and efficiency.
It shows us, through the patience of our own hands,
what goes into a thing.
When we put those long efforts into bringing beauty into the world,
we are honouring that which made us by creating
as we have been created.
We are taught to respect the slow, attentive piecing together

of the life we yearn for.”

Toko-pa Turner, Belonging, 2017

With much kindness and more love, dear friends.

A Chasm of Surrender

Nope.
Those words I had wondered might come a bit easier after writing and posting last week about my loneliness – they are still hiding.

All week long I pondered what next? Thought I’d write a bit about shame as it’s another insidious dimension to loneliness and lethargy. Loneliness – the gap between the social connections we have and those we need – can activate shame. Shame – “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging” – finds a place to hang its hat when pandemic protocols combined with life circumstances invite in loneliness. But truthfully, I didn’t have quite enough gumption for this.

Then I considered writing about the extent to which living in the pandemic affects if, how we are able to hear into and respond to another’s words. An inquiry prompted both by responses to my post, and the sorrowful news of the death by suicide of a most remarkable, inspiring, loving individual. Again, no gumption to tackle this, though there is something in this worth musing.

What has emerged and is willing to be written about is the biggest insight I’ve had during these pandemic months: time. Over and over, I’ve realized that life takes its own time, and that this has absolutely nothing to do with me, my agenda, my plans, my schedule. An embodied lesson learned from the pressure I feel, which quickly becomes a felt sense of anxiety – butterflies in my gut, tightening in my head, irritability, and impatience – when I think I should be further along in whatever I’m doing. Whatever the thing, it’s not going fast enough nor co-operating to help me get through the list that I’ve imagined I’ll master for the day. I’ve excused that maybe it’s a function of age with things simply taking longer to do. But observing myself these past months, with nothing really urgent to attend to, not many places to go, I’ve come to know a deeper truth: that everything has its own organic timing. That it is, in fact, arrogant of me to insist myself onto and disrupt or override this innate “right timing.”

Thinking about this more, I wonder if this, together with so much shadowed grief and trauma, isn’t a root cause of systemic burnout – the constant overriding of the organic timing and flow of a “thing” by our arbitrary plans and deadlines. Like trying to cajole words out of hiding when they aren’t yet ready to be found. Or the imagining of myself working as I had known, when I hear a tender, quiet, inside voice say, “that time has passed.”

Standing on the edge of an eon’s old chasm.

How to maintain a precarious balance
as the winds of change blow soft,

then strong and stronger still?
How to keep the eyes softly focused
when the sight line is blurred,

the future unknown?
How to breathe deep and slow
into this present moment?
For it is what brings a steadiness
to stand with what is now.

It is only from this place
of surrender
does one begin to see clearly,
can one begin to take the next step.

Lost Together

Portland Fire Dancer, Perspectives with Panache, 2012

LOST

“The map is not the territory” —Alfred Korzybski

All the old signposts have fallen,
wood cracked and rotted,
atlases crumble, a pile of maps
flutter and dart like hummingbird
wings, the GPS signal is out of range.

Her compass slips from her hand,
the only thing she knows is that
she walks in circles now,
the trees ahead familiar
but really nothing is the same.
She wanders for hours, days,
weeks, loses track of the nights
as one tumbles into another.

Finally, she stops, builds
a bonfire from all the old maps
still in her pack, invites others
who wander by to gather,
each of them savor warmth
from flame and kindness,
laugh while they tell stories
of how they once knew the way.

Her eyes meet another,
hand outstretched, together
their breath rises in white spirals
into cold air and they
stay still long enough
to learn to love the quiet ache,
the old longing to be sure,
to see the country of certainty
as a memory receding
like an evening horizon until
there is only the black bowl of sky.

They begin to hear the whisper
of breezes, the secrets of birds,
follow the underground stream
that runs through each of them,
and they no longer ask
which way to go,
but sit and savor this
together, under night sky
illumined by fire and stars.

– Christine Valters Paintner –

Loneliness

Today’s blog is late.  Moved to write, I got up at four, and while I finished before my usual 7 am posting time, I needed to sit awhile with this before pressing “publish.”

I’m lonely.

I think this might be, in part, why I’ve been having a hard time finding words, why I’ve been feeling fallow of late. Realizing this, admitting this, to myself, here, feels vulnerable. Yet it’s absolutely true. And perhaps in doing so, words might now come easier for me. I don’t know.

I do know, that when I walked Annie last week and I listened to Brene Brown’s podcast with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States and author of Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, I felt a big penny drop deep inside. In mid-April, a month into the global COVID-19 lockdown, they talked about loneliness and its huge physical and emotional toll on social connection. Three months later and I’m feeling its price.

The early days of COVID-19, when winter hung on with its snow and cold, the days had not yet appeared significantly lighter and longer, I enjoyed the prolonged cocooning it invited. While odd to see few cars on the streets, and even fewer folks around, I felt comfortable and at home in the stillness and quiet that would only come during those occasional holydays or snow days when everyone stayed home. But now, four months later, into summer with its longer days, and our staged re-entry, I find it harder to navigate. Each week it becomes more apparent that life as I have come to know it, with its felt rhythms and routines, conversations and connections, is no longer, at least not yet. Too, the utter uncertainty as to what I might next conjure in the way of work baffles and confounds.

Grief. I’ve spoken of it here on this platform over the months.

But when I heard Dr. Murthy define loneliness as the gap between the connections that you need and the social connections that you currently have, I knew “I am lonely.”

Murthy describes three dimensions of loneliness to reflect the particular type of relationship we might be missing:

  1. Emotional loneliness is missing that close confidant or intimate partner with whom you share a deep mutual bond of affection and trust.
  2. Relational or social loneliness is the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support.
  3. Collective loneliness is the hunger for a network or community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.

“Loneliness is not a concept, it is the body constellating,
attempting to become proximate and even join with other bodies, through physical touch, through conversation or
the mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”

David Whyte, “Loneliness, ” in Consolations:
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, 2015

So despite, blessedly, having a loving, steadfast husband of forty years, and family including my healthy, alert, fully engaged parents, I feel lonely.

I have dear friends, near and far. We stay in touch. Yet, I feel lonely for the in person, physical, face to face, exchange of energy and ideas and feelings and smiles and tears and embraces. For that “mediation of the intellect and the imagination.”

Now living into a different age and stage of life, my felt sense of community has shifted. Those ready-made places and affiliations, conveniently arrived at through work, are no longer. So how to create new connections? And how to do so under these peculiar circumstances induced by the pandemic?

As I’m writing this, I feel my body sigh in relief, with recognition. And, too, the toll. Anxiety that hurts. Insomnia, most often for me early morning waking at two or three. Lethargy. Lack of focus. Aimlessness.

In the last few days, I’ve begun to talk about this.

I’m reaching out to friends to find ways to “safely” meet together, in real time, in our real bodies.  

I have “professional” support. When I arrived home from three months living in Europe, culture shocked, rattled to the bone by family upheavals, destabilized with the news my position at work had been “abolished,” grieving the passing of our Lady dog, I sank. And from that place I reached out to make an appointment with a therapist I’d once recommended to friend. I knew I needed to take my own advice. I’ve been seeing her ever since. Ten times a year. Like a zen sitting – calming, soothing, regulating. Having myself worked as a therapist, and years ago been involved in analytic process work, I recognize how the practice has changed, now informed by research in trauma and its neuro-physiological-emotional impacts. That hour, with me and her, helps me show up well in this world. I smile imagining I’ll maintain this part of my self-care practice for the rest of my days.

“Allow your loneliness time
To dissolve the shell of dross
That had closed around you;
Choose in this severe silence
To hear the one true voice
Your rushed life fears:
Cradle yourself like a child
Learning to trust what emerges,
So that gradually
You may come to know
That deep in that black hole
You will find the blue flower
That holds the mystical light
Which will illuminate in you
The glimmer of springtime.”

John O’Donohue, “For Loneliness,” an excerpt in
To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Loneliness.
One of the hidden, insidious impacts of life during this pandemic.
Even more so. Because of it.

Paradoxically, I know I’m not alone with loneliness.
So, let’s not suffer this one alone. Talk about it. Reach out. Get help.

With love and kindest regards.

Beauty in a Hard Place