Faith

It’s Sunday evening, the time I usually sit down in my office to tap out Monday’s post, stringing together impressions from the last week, often inspired by something I’ve read or heard. Classical choral music, hosted by one of the stellar announcers on my radio station, CKUA, and the purr of the space heater create an aural ambiance, and some needed warmth.

I’d thought I’d write my more-or-less annual “word for the year” post, wherein I sing the praises of having been introduced to the notion by a dear friend several years ago, then more recently shored up by a twelve-day discernment process hosted by Abbey of the Arts. Last year, in hindsight, I wrote about the prescience of having had HOME “arrive” as my 2020 word, given the onset of COVID which had all of us everywhere staying put for months on end. And that I’d arrived at NATURE as being most apt for 2021, given how much solace and settling I had found being in nature during these past nearly two years of Covid’s continued destabilization. This year FAITH came, inspired by reading something in my friend Shawna Lemay’s recently published wondrous novel, EVERYTHING AFFECTS EVERYONE. Already primed for signs and shimmers, I was alert when one of her characters, quoting Alan Watts, said:

“We must make here a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would ‘lief’ or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go.”

I’m not sure why or how, but reading those words on that brilliantly sunny but brutally cold morning between Christmas and New Year’s Day, while Annie napped beside me on “her” loveseat, grokked my word for 2022. I let go of sense making, meaning making, and trusted the thud of certainty that landed inside, having faith that FAITH it was, and FAITH it would be for 2022.

I have just finished preparing an early dinner for us – veal marsala, pasta with a mixed wild mushroom cream sauce, sautéed carrots, perfectly matched with the Amarone gifted from friends for Christmas – the ingredients purchased and menu heavily influenced by pranzo yesterday at the Italian Centre, where we again enjoyed our vino rosso with porchetta panino only served Saturdays. While sitting in the café sipping and chewing, watching a steady stream of folks order their espressos e dolces, I talked about what I most missed about this, hard to believe nearly two years’ living a covid-curtailed life: travelling abroad. That while I occasionally miss being out and about town with friends, I most deeply yearn for the new impressions that travelling brings me.

A great traveler…is a kind of introspective; as she covers the ground outwardly, so she advances fresh interpretations of herself inwardly.”

Lawrence Durell describing Freya Stark in Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

I know I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping fresh those self interpretations here at home – walking with Annie, or during the Saturday Camino walks in the river valley, noticing the ever changing, ever constant beauty around me, and making photos and poetry from what shimmers; chronicling those impressions in my now second photo-journal of Covid life – my pre-determined final volume because at the rate we’re going, this could be another never ending story! Immersing in contemplative online learning programs and engaging in online poetry readings that inspire creative expression. Reading. My recent experiments in needle and hand work. Cooking. My biweekly circle gathering. Yes, through it all, even with grieving the loss of my professional life, and now nurturing a new one, as I reflect, I have navigated this time well. Still, I miss travelling.

And so I reminisced with him about the first time I ate a porchetta panino, at the little café in the piazzetta around the block from L’Accademia in Florence, as I waited my turn to see Michelangelo’s David. And then in Siena when we toured Tuscany and Rome together. Weaving up and down the cobblestoned streets, we suddenly found ourselves in front of the shop with the tell-tale pig sign and proscuitto legs, and scent of garlic and rosemary beckoning us in. Taking one to go, with a slice of panforte, it became a signature Sienese dinner that night in our room at the villa.

Waxing on, I told him that while there are vistas yet unseen I wished to experience – hopefully some with him, a less enthusiastic traveler – maybe due to my European roots and inexplicable fascination with Moorish design and culture, returning to countries I’ve already visited – Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Morocco – held the most allure, to deepen those already etched impressions.

“the need for sacred beauty…we can only discover the real thing though deep observation, by the slow accretion of details”

Phil Cousinea, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Earlier this week my friend from Germany called, she with whom I lived the three months I travelled solo in Europe in 2011. “Come and stay with me for a few months,” she, recently retired and finding her footing, implored. If only it were that easy. And maybe it is, or soon will be, albeit with safeguards and precautions.

Perhaps that’s where faith comes in. Rings its bell quietly to remind me that one day, I’ll return to and visit anew, those places of my heart’s desire, to delve deeper into myself, by way of the world.

“Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys.”

Richard R. Niebuhr in Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, 1998

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Morning Song

MORNING SONG

The red dawn now is rearranging the earth

Thought by thought
Beauty by beauty

Each sunrise a link in the ladder

Thought by thought
Beauty by beauty

The ladder the backbone
Of shimmering deity

Thought by thought
Beauty by beauty

Child stirring in the web of your mother
Do not be afraid
Old man turning to walk through the door
Do not be afraid

– Joy Harjo –
How We Became Human

Every day I receive and read several poems from various sources, including social media. Not too long ago I read a brief musing on poetry by philosopher, author, activist Bayo Akomolafe:
“Poetry is the language of the apocalypse. When cracks appear, when tensions materialize and split the familiar open, the least thing you need is precision. The least thing you want is to simply get to the point. Well, the poet casts his eyes beside the point, beneath the surfaces, where the exquisite sprouts.”


As we step into this new year, one where cracks and tensions continue to be evident, continue to split open the familiar, this poem felt right as an offering and evocation of the exquisite. A prayer of sorts to greet the day, to remember the power of thoughts and beauty, to not be afraid.

Threshold of Uncertainty

Confession #1 – I’m writing this post with a wee bit of a champagne buzz. That bottle of Veuve Clicquot my husband bought for New Year’s Eve, when we thought we might be celebrating with friends, stayed chilled until this afternoon. Taking advantage of the brief break in the past twelve day polar vortex, he had just returned from visiting the horses at the stable, and I from walking Annie, when he suggested we pop the cork. Lovely sipping as we watched the weather turn, a north wind blowing steady, bringing another artic cold front, and reminisced about warm winter vacations, our last being the fabulous time in Andalusia in February 2019. Too, remembering today is the 42nd anniversary of our departing Ontario to drive across Canada to make Alberta home. Salut! Then, he asked what I was looking forward to this coming year. Hmmmm…

Confession #2 – I can probably count on one hand the number of new year days when I’ve felt “happy.” Typically, I feel a familiar free-floating anxiety in my belly that yesterday I admitted is fear. Fear of the wide-open expanse of unknown that a new year brings. Fear perhaps compounded by nearly two years’ living in the acute uncertainty with the pandemic. Fear with knowing the clock ticking with age, mine, his, parents and friends. Looking out that same window earlier today, I made this photo as it captured the feeling of me standing on the threshold of a new year.

I’ve long known that I need time with transitions and thresholds. That fear companions and tethers me on the threshold until I exert myself and take that first step across and into the new. Then curiosity and commitment, together with my enthusiasm for life and appreciation for its innate and diverse beauty shore me up and propel me forward. Today, I’ve seen evidence of others who feel a similar tentativeness with the new year.  

Helen, a blogger kindred in her age, life stage and perspective, we often echoing each other in our themes and simpatico in the wells from which we draw inspiration, wrote today:

“Over the past week, I have read many new year reflections. It seems that many of you, like me, are also stepping hesitantly into 2022… much like stepping onto a frozen pond, not sure if the ice is solid enough to hold me.”

“Skating on Thin Ice,” in Ageless Possibilities, January 2, 2022

And from an online contemplative community, one of its members courageously called out for prayers of support to help her navigate the edges of depression – a familiar-to-her mix of aging, seasonal affective disorder, and her introspective, reflective, sensitive nature.

My husband offered that in finding those kindred to me in what I notice, value and how I show up, I see more evidence of what might be called this “counter cultural” take on the new year: not so much happy but tentative, uncertain, fearful. I smiled when I read Parker Palmer’s New Year’s Eve Facebook post:

“New Year’s Eve is a curious fiction, isn’t it? As the ‘old’ year flows unimpeded into the ‘new,’ the hoopla we make at midnight seems just a tad over the top for one more tick of the clock.”

Parker J. Palmer

My champagne buzz has passed. I’m thinking about what’s at the root of my new year’s fear. That while “covid compounded,” there is more to it. I come, as did my blogger friend, to grief. And I know that means it’s about dying, and disappointments, and deaths. Too, about beginnings that are always about endings. And about resolutions, which typically made from perceived deficiency are inevitably doomed to fail and begin a cycle of disappointment, if not worse.

I’m thinking back to how I answered my husband’s question. How I looked out into the snow-covered trees and felt gratitude for so much, including this moment of returning freeze, the seasons I witness through this window and trees, the memories of times and places further afar.

I told him I look forward to returning to my practice of rising before dawn for that hour or so in silence before he wakes, to sit and watch the new day. To return – perhaps – to journaling (though I give myself a pass as I’ve been writing many words on many other pages these past many months.) To planting little container gardens of greens come summer. To writing a compilation of poetry. To more time, as much time together, healthy in our “pack” with Annie. And that for my family and friends. Yes, I have a yearning to travel, even some plans that I hold lightly. But more than anything, to hold myself lightly. Tenderly.

“Nothing spectacular,” I said. Simply to be thankful for all I have and all I am.

“We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting what comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.

Learning to love.”

Anne Hillman

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends, as you cross the threshold into this new year.

Winnow to Essence

In recent seasons of being, I have had occasion to reflect on the utterly improbable trajectory of my life, plotted not by planning but by living.

We long to be given the next step and the route to the horizon, allaying our anxiety with the illusion of a destination somewhere beyond the vista of our present life…

And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, December 12, 2021

And so it goes. Learning to live my life by living, not by planning. Finding myself a couple of weeks ago, perhaps just as Maria Popova penned those words, at a crossroads in the trajectory of my life.

For years, November would find me going through calendar and files to track and complete my annual continuing competency record, a requirement for renewing my professional social work registration. Last year with the collapse of my consulting practice due to covid and budget cuts, I maintained my license under the “retired” category for a significantly lower fee, not quite ready to jump ship. This year that category was no longer available due to changes in provincial legislation. My only option would be to renew at the considerable annual fee or cancel my registration.

When I pay attention, it’s easier to discern that life has a way of pointing out the way. I’d been saying for the past year or so that I wanted to pursue writing as my next life chapter. I certainly didn’t need to be a social worker to do that. And so I said “NO” to the renewal, the finality of that chosen step arriving in my inbox the next day. A formal letter telling me that I had lost all the rights and privileges of a Social Worker, that I could no longer call myself Social Worker as it is a title protected by legislation, nor could I practice within the scope of social work practice in the province. Door slammed shut. That road closed.

Ironic that the following day, I had been invited to host a circle conversation for teachers dealing with the stress of working within the ever-shifting context of covid. As an established circle practitioner I didn’t need to be a social worker to do that.

But if you want to go your individual way, it is the way you make for yourself, which is never prescribed, which you do not know in advance, and which simply comes into being of itself when you put one foot in front of the other. If you always do the next thing that needs to be done, you will go most safely and sure-footedly along the path prescribed by your unconscious. Then it is naturally no help at all to speculate about how you ought to live. And then you know, too, that you cannot know it, but quietly do the next and most necessary thing.  

Carl Jung, Selected Letters of C.G. Jung, 1909–1961 in The Marginalian, December 12, 2021

I found myself in a similar but more complicated quandary a few years ago when deciding whether to “relinquish” my American citizenship. Consulting with tax accountants and immigration lawyers, I had to weigh a potentially hefty consequence of shutting that door – being forbidden entry into the USA. I procrastinated for several years, retainer and accounting fees mounting. Finally, in conversation with a friend, decision and direction became apparent as I heard myself say I needed to “winnow to essence.”

I’d written about this way of being in my world, describing the simplicity I sought, which was necessary then:

These words have become a mantra for the gradual process of letting go of a lot of my life’s trappings, and committing to exchange things for experiences…
Winnowing to essence. Quite a bit of not a lot. Mirroring for each other an innate way of being, born of aging.

A way of being which is now even more important for the writer I am becoming. Who I am, what with a couple of honorable mentions for poems submitted to contests, being one of fourteen from a hundred invited to read another, and another published online this past weekend. Too, the enjoyable co-editing collaboration resulting in this month’s online publication of Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging, featuring submissions from several of my friends. Simplicity and solitude that have been paradoxical gifts from the pandemic. And yes, knowing loneliness as part of this creative process.

In this blur of being by ourselves, we learn to be ourselves. One measure of maturity might be how well we grow to transmute that elemental loneliness into the “fruitful monotony” Bertrand Russell placed at the heart of our flourishing, the “fertile solitude” Adam Phillips recognized as the pulse-beat of our creative power…

Rilke, contemplating the lonely patience of creative work that every artist knows in their marrow, captured this in his lamentation that “works of art are of an infinite loneliness” — Rilke, who all his life celebrated solitude as the groundwater of love and creativity, and who so ardently believed that to devote yourself to art, you must not “let your solitude obscure the presence of something within it that wants to emerge.”

Maria Popova, The Marginalian, December 19, 2021

A few weeks ago I reposted my piece on re-Wintering with its invitation to withdraw from the world to allow transformation within the gift of this season’s crucible. It’s a time when the poet doesn’t invent, rather she listens. As I write tonight, soon it will be Winter Solstice, in less than a week Christmas, and then the end of another year, the beginning of a new one. Here in the northern hemisphere, this holy season of darkness nudges me ever deeper towards the slow and simple. With a calendar free of social engagements, I walk Annie, cook, tend to our home and some emails.

In my meandering way I suddenly recalled, when referring above to Rilke, words from Joanna Macy, having listened to her last week in conversation with her writing companion Anita Barrows, and Krista Tippett, discussing their translation of Rilke’s Letters to A Young Poet:

Well, it seems clear that we who are alive now are here for something and witnessing something for our planet that has not happened at any time before. And so we who are alive now and who are called to — who feel called, those of us who feel called to love our world — to love our world has been at the core of every faith tradition, to be grateful for it, to teach ourselves how to see beauty, how to treasure it, how to celebrate, how — if it must disappear, if there’s dying — how to be grateful. 

Joanna Macy, On Being with Krista Tippett, June 24, 2021

As the coming days grow darker, I wish for you time to slow down to see, treasure and celebrate beauty. May you open to the gifts of wintering. May you know gratitude in your life. May you love our world.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Step Consciously into December

May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter,
so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within.

May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping
into the ground,
so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow.

May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core.

May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air,
so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.

Brother David Steintl-Rast

On the heels of Monday’s post, re-Wintering, one of the women in my circle wrote, “It has been interesting the way our conversation last week on “wintering” has continued to resonate…. A friend shared this with me and thought you would appreciate it as well.”
As she offered, may we all “step consciously into December.”

Stitches Through Time

Last month I started a hand-making project I’d envisioned for over a year: to interpret a series of mandalas I’d drawn and painted by tracing their designs onto linen and embroidering with wool crewel yarn. That had been the original plan. But when it took many months for the yarn to arrive from England and to secure the right colour and weave of linen – all ordered online as this was in the thick of lockdowns and I’d seen how website color charts don’t translate well – a chance walk down an aisle at Michael’s (the national chain craft store) where I saw a wall full of cotton embroidery thread in a rainbow of colours, resulted in its rethinking to ‘plan B.’

Then a comment to my mother, when we finally visited in September – she remarkably skilled in high counted cross stitch, our home graced by several of her creations – led to her gladly gifting me with her supply of needles, hoops, scissors, specially made wooden boxes, beads, and ‘signature’ well-organized collection of threads – hundreds of colours in a multitude of hues and metallics. For me who was enthralled with my childhood Christmas gift box of 64 Crayola crayons, I was in that same colour-smitten heaven. I paid an extra baggage fee to bring the entire collection safely home, spent an evening going through it all to understand Mom’s ‘system,’ finally broke the seal on the new tracing light board I’d purchased a year ago in anticipation, and began.

Initially, I thought I’d follow closely the colours in the original watercolour, but I soon realized that working with needle, thread and yarn, despite being close in colour, is not the same as brush and paint. So, I began to improvise within the spaces, using a variety of shades and stitch patterns. I discovered that “split stitch” is pleasing in its coverage, texture, ability to move back and forth between thread and yarn, and in actually making each stitch. It simply feels good to make that stitch.

I also discovered that where I began – sitting quietly in our living room after dinner, everything spread around me – I missed my ‘pack,’ and knew Annie missed me. She has her routine. Once we finish dinner and clean up the kitchen, it’s ‘pack time.’ She settles on ‘her’ love seat in the family room and waits for us to join her. Sometimes when we’re lingering over dinner, she can become quite impatient, pacing back and forth, showing her teeth in that non-aggressive, trying to talk to us way. It’s just not the same if I’m sitting in the living room, even when I cajole her into laying down on the carpet beside me. So I’ve shifted to where the light and companionship are better, often plugging in my earbuds to listen to a podcast as I stitch, while Sig watches a hockey game or an investing or horse training video, and Annie, utterly content on the sofa in between, soundly sleeps.

But the biggest discovery has been how soothing I find this act of handmaking. It goes slowly. Gradually I see the colours and textures resemble the painting that inspired the plan. Not an evening goes by when I don’t silently grok and or remark how soothed I feel doing this work. In part I know it comes from the deep appreciation I feel using my mother’s materials and supplies, that my hands are using what her hands had used for years to make beauty. And that given the amount of thread she’s given me, I will most likely have many more years than my mother life to bask in this gratitude.

“There is a juiciness to creativity, a succulence, or a sensuality which both produces and is soothed by creating something. I think that creativity is pleasing to women on a very deep level, whatever form it might take – whether it’s the feel of clay in our hands, the colours that work on us as we knit, the meaning that we find in the words that we write, or the energizing feel of movement as we dance and the music moves through our bodies.”

Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2019
quoted in “When Women Create,” A Wabi Sabi Life

As I look over my life, my mother always did handwork, as did many women of her generation and those before her. I remember many of the clothes she made for my sister and me until I began sewing my own in my early teens. After living in an apartment for my first thirteen years, my parents built their home and Mom poured herself into its decorating, needlepointing the backgrounds of eight dining room chairs – a meditation in monotony, same stitch, same colour for many months. From there she mastered every style of needlework, again gifting me with cushions, purses, and such. She knit beautifully, always challenging herself in ways I didn’t quite get nor fully appreciate. A brief foray into crewel work and then counted cross-stitch and cutaway, the finer and more intricate, the better. In the last few years, she’s found the strain on her eyes too much, regrettably as she has several half-finished projects and wishes to make each of her grandchildren and great-great grandchildren keepsakes. So she’s gone back to occasionally knitting, and now spends more time reading. It’s a pastime I’m happy she enjoys, as when younger she never did, believing herself to be a poor reader. So utterly untrue when I think about what she’s created with her hands – the patterns she had to read and interpret, the recipes she improvised, the books she kept for the business. A legacy of the hurtful, limiting stories we’re told, or tell ourselves.

“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
quoted in “A Homemade, Handmade Life,” A Wabi Sabi Life

And looking further back, her grandmother, my Gramma, was always sewing – spectacular fashions inspired by the turn of the century Edwardian era. Plumed and netted hats, velvet coats. No wonder I was so taken by Downton Abbey for its costume design, as I have old sepia tint photos of Gramma looking just like those women. Too, I have one hundred year old samples of her silk embroidery, and I wore for my wedding the white cotton lawn embroidered dress she’d made for her own – fine hand sewn tucked bodice, tiny mother of pearl buttons.

My paternal grandmother, Oma, too, was a very skillful seamstress, though in the pre and post world war periods of Germany, her talents were out of necessity directed to the functional, utilitarian, to get more wear from what was worn. Emigrating to North America in the 1950s, she became a pieceworker on the assembly line making glass cases for Bausch and Lomb. An accident on the sewing machine nearly severed her middle finger, left its nail permanently clawed over. Her dowager’s hump the price for countless hours bent over those grinding machines.

Before my mother’s second birthday, her mother died. Eleanor, my grandmother, was adopted as a young child. Family dynamics and bureaucratic policy were such that we grew up knowing very little about her. Did she like to sew? Was she a hand maker? Did she embroider or like cooking? We don’t know. We have very few pictures of her, but one as a young girl shocked us all in the resemblance I share with her.

Early this morning I woke having dreamt of her. A young boy hand-delivered a painting or photograph of a young girl child, now restored and framed. Stretching, I had to reach up high and retrieve the parcel from its precarious perch. I unwrapped its golden Klimt-like heavy wrapping paper to see a little girl at sitting at a table outside, surrounded by little glass pots of paint, flowering bushes beside her, blue sky above. I knew immediately it was Eleanor. I felt a whisper in my heart murmuring that this is how I am connected to my grandmother, in little paint pots of colour – the timeless iteration of the 64 box of crayons – in a yard warm with flowers and a blue sky.

“…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,
quoted in “Joie de Faire,” A Wabi Sabi Life

In the still dark this morning, I sensed this is how I am connected to the lineage of women – through the shimmering cotton threads, warm hued woolen yarns, fabrics woven on looms and sewn into garments and furnishings. That my ancestors whisper to me in dreams and in the stitches we make through time.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Trees

I’ve posted it before and its beauty continues to awe

“A tree is a light-catcher that grows life from air.”

Maria Popova, “Why Leaves Change Color,” The Marginalian, October 26, 2021

That line stopped me for its simple truth and eloquent beauty.

This morning, basking in the “fall back” gift of an extra hour’s sleep, lingering over coffee with Annie beside me on “her” aptly named loveseat, I started to read Maria Popova’s wondrous words in her weekly newsletter, The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings). A click back to last week’s issue, an essay on the process – both scientific and philosophic – of photosynthesis and the colour of autumn leaves. “Could anyone write more beautifully about the magic of this process, this season, and its connotations?” I whispered to myself.

“Autumn is the season of ambivalence and reconciliation, soft-carpeted training ground for the dissolution that awaits us all, low-lit chamber for hearing more intimately the syncopation of grief and gladness that scores our improbable and finite lives — each yellow burst in the canopy a reminder that everything beautiful is perishable, each falling leaf at once a requiem for our own mortality and a rhapsody for the unbidden gift of having lived at all. That dual awareness, after all, betokens the luckiness of death.”

Maria Popova

Every Saturday morning has found me walking in the autumn splendor of Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley. Having just completed the ninth of twelve weekly stages, I continue to be in awe of the season’s vibrant colours. Too, with the exceptional lack of snow, though this week saw a skin of ice on a large pond, and a patch of thick frozen runoff. Every week, I make photographs from what I see, from what especially shimmers and shines. And without fail, most of those photos are of trees in their golden, vermillion, russet, and bronze glory. Of their transition from fully “dressed” to bare limbed. Some resplendent with red, black, and purple berries; some with tight portending buds. Yesterday I remarked to my husband that no one can say we don’t have colourful autumns here on the prairies. He reminded me it’s that we don’t typically have the massive globes of colour from the towering hardwood oaks and maples. Yes, here one must look closer in, not quite so high up, nearer to the ground for such treasures.

“As daylight begins fading in autumn and the air cools, deciduous trees prepare for wintering and stop making food — an energy expenditure too metabolically expensive in the dearth of sunlight. Enzymes begin breaking down the decommissioned chlorophyll, allowing the other pigments that had been there invisibly all along to come aflame. And because we humans so readily see in trees metaphors for our emotional lives, how can this not be a living reminder that every loss reveals what we are made of — an affirmation of the value of a breakdown?”

Maria Popova

As I’ve written before, my earliest memory is of laying in my baby buggy, looking into trees – the new green maple leaves and the spaces in between onto the sky. The fluttering and swaying, in the growing warmth of spring, caught my budding curiosity, creating a life-long affinity for their beauty and recognition of their healing balm and wisdom.

So it is that I appreciate Popova’s naming other, perhaps less ‘attractive’ metaphoric connections between ourselves and trees – death and breakdowns. And why this poem of Mary Oliver rings so deeply true:

WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

,

Any Small, Calm Thing

“Ours is a time of almost daily jaw-dropping astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people…”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

I’m not sure where this post is going. I only know the starting place is one of a vague worry, discontent and gnawing frustration, riding the surface of a deeper, less articulate grief. All mixed with genuine awe and appreciation for the remarkable autumn weather – still colour, still sunny, still without snow.

It is Hallowe’en evening as I write. Samhain in the Celtic tradition, it is the time of thinning veils between the worlds of living and dying. A threshold into the liminal, poised on the cusp of seasons changing from the fullness of harvest to hibernation’s cold and dark.

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own…

David Whyte, Sweet Darkness, excerpt

My husband just got off the phone. His friend from southern Alberta, a long time, multi-generational beef rancher, said his calves sold for a ridiculously low price, despite beef selling in our grocery stores for a king’s ransom. The $87,000 he and his son just spent on hay to feed the cattle over the winter, because they couldn’t grow any due to a record-breaking drought – yes, the one that persists, giving us, paradoxically, this remarkable weather – might not be enough if the forecasted La Nina hard, cold prairie winter comes to be.

This week’s news was featured headlines on the backlogged and broken supply chain – container ships on fire, hundreds of containers lost in the sea off the west coast when a storm bomb hit, extreme staffing shortages compounded by inconsistent vaccination policies – soaring inflation rates, something any of us shopping for anything knew months ago. Perhaps more of Covid’s unintended consequences. Too, Facebook’s announced its rebranding as “Meta,” a potentially ominous Orwellian empire.

Last week we returned to live theatre to see the award winning, evocative, and masterfully written, produced and acted production, BEARS, “the story about a Metis oil sands worker and his perilous and transformational quest through the Rockies.” (The Citadel playbill notes)

Last night I finished reading Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive (2019), a first-hand description of navigating domestic abuse, poverty and its numerous Catch-22 ‘support’ services, single parenting without familial support, undergirded by her unrelenting need for an education and to write.

Sent by a dear friend, yesterday I watched a two minute video, Don’t Choose Extinction, produced by the United Nations Development Program – an organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change – to precede the current UN climate summit in Scotland.

“You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

Like those disparate chips of color in a kaleidoscope, a slight shift brings into focus, in my pattern seeking way of being, an image that, as Dr. Estes writes, evokes jaw-dropping astonishment and righteous rage.

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts — adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…

Like persisting with fiddling to remove my earbuds to say hello to the neighbor I’d met last winter as we both walked our beloved aging dogs on the golf course. I’d seen her and “Sunny” a couple of times over the summer as Annie and I walked down her street. I always stopped to say hello and catch up a bit. Last week as I approached her house and saw her talking to another couple, I held Annie in, persisted and fiddled when it might have been easier to wave and walk on by. The couple asked if I wanted to pass them, all of us still Covid cautious, and I said no, that I wanted to say hello to my neighbor. Finished with their conversation, thanks and farewells expressed, they graciously moved on. Looking at my neighbor I asked how she was, and then I heard her story: that her Sunny dog had been put down Thanksgiving weekend, the outcome of a sudden visit to the emergency clinic after taking a turn for the worse and not eating. Too, her mother had died a few weeks earlier, but she was sadder about Sunny. Was that awful of her, she asked. I assured her it wasn’t, that Sunny had been her constant companion, her mother aged. Had they made a mistake because in that last hour at the clinic, Sunny had rallied, full of energy, eating handfuls of the “chocolate kisses” in the quiet room where the final injection would be administered.

It was another of those glorious autumn days, brilliant blue sky, trees full of colour, her gardens still beautiful in their waning. I invited her to look around and consider how it is that autumn pulls out all the stops, gives us such glory and colour, rallies before all dies for the winter’s rest. Her eyes filled with tears of understanding. That, she said, was something she could hold on to when doubt returned and sadness threatened.

In hindsight I knew why I had persisted and fiddled, how it was that I had responded to soul’s subtle signal to help another.

And again, today walking the golf course with Annie and my husband, as we passed by the bench at the first tee, I spotted a woman sitting with beverage. Ushering them ahead to wait, I quietly approached and asked if she regularly sat here. Would she be the same woman who had helped me last winter, when sitting there she’d seen me slip on the ice and fall smack on my keester, Annie startled by the suddenness? That during the time I heeded her advice to sit still and rest, make sure I hadn’t injured myself, she told me that her husband had passed two months earlier and that she came most days to sit on the bench with her tea, they being devoted golfers? Yes, it was her. Yes, her husband had died a year ago this month. Yes, it was still, after a year, a tender time, I had offered.

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my new gig as co-editor of SAGE-ING: The Journal of Creative Aging. I mentioned that while I was thrilled to have a ready platform to publish my poetry and pieces of contemplative, non-fiction impressions, what especially delighted me was the opportunity to invite others to submit their stories of creativity’s impacts and influences. Writing to a friend who accepted my invitation and submitted several of his poems for consideration:

“What was most lovely for me about receiving your email yesterday was that it helped coalesce and give words to something that’s been cooking inside – the moving through loss and grief I’ve felt this past year with not working to “feeling” this as a beauty-filled opportunity with SAGE-ING to be of service in another way – by inviting others to submit their stories. It means I can offer the gift of “seeing” another – and I know how deeply valuable that is for each of us. So thank you! I feel as if I have come through the eye of the needle so to speak…”

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul…and be helped in so doing.

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires … causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both — are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., Letter to a Young Activist in Troubled Times

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Walking

“I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.”

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust, 2001

Text on Friday night from my friend: Are you planning on walking tomorrow? It’s supposed to be raining all day.

Me: Yes, I saw the forecast, and yes, I plan to walk. I made the commitment to myself to walk every stage, come rain, sun, sleet or snow. So, yes, I’ll be walking.

Friend: Thumbs up emoji

Text on Saturday morning – well before dawn – to my friend: Hmmmm, I’m reconsidering walking. It’s been raining all night, the forecast is for rain all day. I don’t want to get chilled and cold and sick. What about you?

Friend: I’m up and already dressed.

Me: Well, then…

Friend: We can always go, see if anyone else comes, and what’s happening.

Me: Good idea. Thumbs up emoji

“Go out and walk. That is the glory of life.”

Maira Kalman, My Favorite Things, 2014

So at 7:35 am I drove the short distance to the park for the 8:00 am rendezvous for Stage 7 of the local Camino de Edmonton, amazed at how much darker it was from a week ago, due to heavy cloud cover and the shortened days.  We’re now past the midway point, with twelve stages in total, ending the last Saturday in November at the city’s west end of the river valley, when my drive will be much further. A repeat of last year’s camino, now with the stages in reverse order, we’ve had glorious fall weather every weekend until now.

And there we were, ten of us hardy “peregrinos” ready to embrace the day, stepping through puddles, agreeing it would be a good day to test our gears’ waterproofness. Mine – boots, pants and jacket – failed miserably by the end of the 13.5 km circuit, my feet and quads wet to the skin. Once home, showered and dried, wet clothes laundered, boots aired, I began researching remedies and replacements. Several pairs of boots ordered, a couple of jacket styles eyed and waiting, hopefully, for a Black Friday sale (yup, those Arc’teryx jackets are an “investment” to quote my friend ), and waterproofing wash and spray purchased to renew the life of my pants.

“The pieces that I chose were based on one thing only — a gasp of DELIGHT.
Isn’t that the only way to curate a life? To live among things that make you gasp with delight?”

Maira Kalman, My Favorite Things, 2014

Every week I post pictures of the week’s walk on social media. Last week in response, another friend asked if I ever wrote about my “camino” experience, relaying how my posts brought to her mind the hauntingly beautiful composition, “camino,” by the late Canadian violinist, Oliver Schroer, created in May and June, 2004, as he walked one thousand kilometers of the Camino Frances, with his partner Elena, and two friends, Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy.

“In my back pack, I carried my violin like a wooden chalice, like my own precious relic, carefully packed in its reliquary of socks and underwear and waiting to work a miracle. My pack also contained a portable recording studio. When I found a church or cathedral that was acoustically enticing…and open…I played my violin and recorded in those spaces. I played some of my older fractal and spiritual pieces. I improvised a lot. Walking for weeks, new pieces came to me – one hill, one valley at a time. In two months, I played and recorded in twenty-five different churches…

…The music still sings on these recordings. The sense of place is strong here – pilgrims praying, children playing, birds, bells, footsteps, passing snatches of conversation, the sounds of the buildings themselves. Each space has it sown distinct character and resonance.”

Oliver Schroer, “camino” journal notes, 2005

My photographs are glimpses into the sense of place I encounter as I walk – “that magical stuff of ‘the moments inside the moments inside the moments.’” (Maira Kalman). What shimmers – audaciously or subtly – and has me gasp with delight, or stop and turn around to really take in the moment? What is different or the same this year, from when I walked the same stage last year? What memories are evoked, impressions stirred, conversations silently replayed, or spoken anew now?

“With the utmost love and attention the person who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf, or no more than a poor discarded scrap of paper on which, perhaps, a dear good child at school has written his first clumsy letters.”

Henry Thoreau, The Walk, 1861

Last year walking, it was a friend’s question about what I did with my photos – having watched me pause many times that glorious Saturday, to frame the image and focus my camera, fall behind the group and then catch up – that planted the seed for creating a photo journal of how I experienced my life during the pandemic. The first volume of one hundred pages, from March to December, 2020, and now a second volume almost at capacity with three months of this year still to enter. Too, my husband suggested I make a photo book exclusively of my Camino photos in appreciation for the co-ordinator’s efforts in planning and hosting all thirteen stages last year. As our host didn’t follow along on social media, it was the first time he saw in its entirety the beauty of what he had envisioned and coordinated for us, through the beauty I had captured and created for him.

“…the genius of walking lies not in mechanically putting one foot in front of the other en route to a destination but in mastering the art of sauntering – which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. “

Henry Thoreau, The Walk, 1861

Since 2000 I’ve waxed and waned with the dream of walking a camino, ever since I read Shirley MacLaine’s memoir. She brought to mainstream consciousness the ancient pilgrimage through France and northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, today known as The Way, or Camino Frances, the same one walked by Oliver Schroer. There are many camino routes, ending at Santiago, or Italy’s Vatican, or through the forests and shrines of Japan. Last year, walking the Camino de Edmonton I learned that my way of walking is to saunter. I need to take my time to notice, to observe, to photograph, to hum a tune, sing a made-in-the-moment, soon-to-be-forgotten lyric. I enjoy conversation, and have had some delightful, edifying ones. And then what I notice – the shiny and the shimmer, the magic that suddenly catches my eye and speaks to my heart – shifts my attention.

And so, thinking more intentionally about a long distance “saunter” to Santiago, through Portugal, next year, the “easy walk” – taking several more days than the typical two week allocation – with ample time to rest and appreciate the ambiance of local villages, having my accommodations with breakfasts pre-booked, and luggage transferred, viscerally has me gasp with delight and settle my covid concerns. New impressions…the moments inside the moments…the magical stuff…the glory of life.

And hearing inside my heart, Oliver Schroer’s homage to the Camino de Santiago, “Field of Stars.” (Click the link to listen.)

“I went because I knew others who had gone, and the experience filled them with wonder.”

Peter Coffman, Camino, 2017

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

On Prayer

ON PRAYER

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word ‘is’
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.

Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.

~ Czeslaw Milosz ~

I took this photo last weekend during my weekly “Camino de Edmonton,” where a group of us walk through the river valley – from east to west, in twelve stages of eight to fifteen kilometers – from September to the end of November. This is the city’s railroad trestle bridge constructed in 1908, a still-standing, functional testament to what built Canada “from sea to shining sea.”
Earlier in the week, I “saved” this poem and knew it would be the perfect complement, or my photo the perfect complement to it.
Synchronicity in the married beauty of word and image.
My life as poem and prayer…and photo.

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