Different trees grow various heights and then perish and evolve into another species.
They reach their limbs – their souls – a little deeper into incandescence’s well
and then tell the world by their marvelous appearance what life is like.
Yes, try to do that before you depart this wondrous place we are visiting;
bring us some good tidings of silence beyond and silence you have already heard.
Hafiz, as rendered by Daniel Ladinsky A Year with Hafiz: April 29
This selection felt like a lovely follow-up from last week’s poem, Aunt Leaf, by Mary Oliver. Coming across it on April 29, my margin note reads: “This is exquisite. This is my knowing of trees, especially our beloved Laurel Leaf Willow, gone now two years.” Both poems spoke to me of that “before, beneath, beyond words” knowing we have with trees, and the other “more than human” beings.
It’s been a tough week. I’ll leave it at that for now. Yet as the miracle of spring explodes with Alberta’s record breaking heat – not a good thing given how dry, with province-wide fire bans and daily evacuations due to grass fires – I once again find myself in awe with and comforted by the silent beauty, graciousness and grandeur of trees. This quote from patron saint Catherine of Siena a fitting sign off for today:
All has been consecrated The creatures in the forest know this,
the earth does, the seas do, the clouds know as does the heart full of love.
AUNT LEAF Needing one, I invented her — the great-great-aunt dark as hickory called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.
Dear aunt, I’d call into the leaves, and she’d rise up, like an old log in a pool, and whisper in a language only the two of us knew the word that meant 𝘧𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸,
and we’d travel cheerful as birds out of the dusty town and into the trees where she would change us both into something quicker —
two foxes with black feet, two snakes green as ribbons, two shimmering fish — and all day we’d travel.
At day’s end she’d leave me back at my own door with the rest of my family, who were kind, but solid as wood and rarely wandered. While she, old twist of feathers and birch bark, would walk in circles wide as rain and then float back
scattering the rags of twilight on fluttering moth wings;
or she’d slouch from the barn like a gray opossum; or she’d hang in the milky moonlight burning like a medallion,
this bone dream, this friend I had to have, this old woman made out of leaves.
– Mary Oliver – Twelve Moons
While never naming nor summoning a great-great aunt from among the trees, my earliest memory is of gazing up into the spring green canopies of maple and chestnut, where placed in my buggy to nap, I’d be lulled to sleep by their fluttering leaves, the play of dappled light, and the hum of cars passing by. Those maples surrounded my great gran’s home on the street hemming the mighty Niagara River, while the chestnuts, with their lacy pyramids of pink and white blossoms and glossy brown nuts hidden behind green prickly shells, held court over the fence and in the backyard of our main floor apartment, it, too, on that same river street.
A small Canadian town, across the river from the bustle of a big American city, both trees and river became my touchstones, providing a grounding for the inner and outer bustle. It’s only as I’ve grown older that I realized the necessity of that gift to my well being, that I would have known them to be, claimed them to be my friends.
While reading this poem, wishing I’d had the imagination then to have conjured a friend made out of leaves, maybe it was simply a matter of being inarticulate and diffuse. Maybe imagination was always at play, given my natural affinity for always noticing trees as I walk with Annie, or ride shotgun, and knowing that sitting in my yard surrounded by trees has been healing post surgery and illness. Maybe too, I’ve had my own Aunt Leaf all this time, inviting me to wander the world, and walk in circles wide.
“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out my ears, my eyes, my noseholes – everywhere. Until it’s every breath I breathe. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor.”
– Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light and other essays
When I read this quote earlier in the month, I thought, “That’s a powerful manifesto… just what I need to claim for myself for my birthday and beyond.”
I’d been home a week from my three weeks in Morocco, basking in the full sensory experience that IS Morocco. I had enjoyed myself immensely – a feeling that’s lingered now a month, delighted with my decision to have returned. I felt deeply content with how I’d shown up – not by bringing the best of me, but by bringing all of me. I used my skills to navigate some tricky dynamics, to ask for what I needed, and to offer what I could, including having “an answered prayer” in a room mate, simpatico were we in many ways. (Not everyday do you have a room mate who suggests we meditate daily.)
Travelling solo meant I needed to stretch beyond several comfort points, and while I had some inevitable moments of anxiety, scared even the final morning in Marrakech when my driver never showed, I tended to myself with care, regularly checking in, quietly reassuring myself. My boundaries were intact, yet flexible.
I’ve learned over years of travelling that my creative practices – photography and journaling with the occasional small painted vignette – give me both wonderful personalized memories and in the moment help ground and grok the rich day to day experiences. As I’ve upped my photography skills in the last year, my journal entries lapsed. So this week I filled them in using ticket stubs, brochures, business cards and photos to prompt my recollections. A touch of water colour to brighten the text heavy pages already embellished with washi tape.
In short, I came home, to use a somewhat passé, admittedly overused description, feeling empowered. Ready to keep on living the rest of my life until “I go like a fucking meteor,” just as I’ve long imagined myself coming in.
Birthday celebrations over, and I’ve got one foot in the other out of the season. April in Alberta is like that. So warm and dry this past week that the county opened all the outdoor pickleball courts last week, but snow is forecast early this week. Buds and blossoms are slowly making their appearance through skiffs of snow and mounds of dried and dead leaves. Yet with one or two sunny, warm days and like the Easter miracle, they are risen. I’ve laundered and stored my winter down and blanket coats, those super warm Hestra mitts, and winter Blundstones, but still have wool toques ready to wear during the morning chill and nippy northern winds. Too, I washed Annie’s coats and mitts as her natural coat is plenty warm, too much so during our nearly 10,000 step walk today. Despite an old pattern of switching over my clothes closet from fall-winter to spring-summer Easter weekend, my bones are saying wait at least another week.
“I’m coming, but be patient,” Spring scolded. “You know Winter likes to take her sweet, snowy time leaving. A bit slow and sluggish. Likes to dig in her heels when she feels my push to get going and growing.”
excerpt from my poem, “Call Me Caprice”
I wish I’d heeded that visceral nudge last week, when finally overcoming what I thought was inertia, I went to replace the outdoor winter wreath – a faded resplendence of red amaryllis, holly berries and evergreen – with the similarly faded spring circle of forsythia and willow. Laying the winter version on the carpet in the hallway while I placed the spring wreath on the door, I noticed Annie sniffing intently and gently nosing into it. Putting it inside its storage bag, I noticed on the carpet an egg, exactly the size and colour of those Easter mini eggs. At first glance and baffled I thought it was one, but where would a mini egg have come from? Then, taking the wreath outside and exploring, I discovered hidden within a masterfully constructed sparrow’s nest, camouflaged with sprigs of cedar just like the wreath’s own. No sooner had I carefully pried it out, when I replaced it, and the egg, hoping against hope for an Easter miracle. In hindsight, I had noticed two birds in the nearby tree paying close attention to me, but hadn’t put together that my actions around the wreath were worrying them. And Sig said he’d seen on the security cam, sparrows flying by the door for several days prior. While not the wisest place to build a nest – on the door that is our main entrance – I felt sad for having interfered. And several days later, when the temperature dropped below freezing, and I’d not seen the parent birds since, I ventured a look and found the egg cold, beyond hope. It now rests on my alter, inside its nest, with other found nests, sea glass and stones, dragonflies…each reminders of nature and the elements and seaons, and this time, the price paid for over-riding that visceral nudge.
Last night, the reverse. Pulling into our driveway, I noticed in the dark a neighborhood cat skulking in the hedge in front of my car. I got out, shooo’d and out it came with something in its mouth, whimpering softly. Not a mouse, but perhaps a baby rabbit? This time I didn’t interfere, knowing even if the cat had dropped it, given another cold night, where would I put the tiny being to ensure its survival? I felt sad.
Interfering. Not interfering. Who’s to say? Just as there is a wisdom deep in my bones that says “Too soon your spring-summer clothes (granted a small thing),” I trust there is deep and old wisdom among those more than human that asks of me to pay attention, to witness, and yes, to feel sad.
Earlier today I read “Spring Renewal, Rebirth, and the Purifying Activity of Grief,” this week’s e letter from oft cited therapist-contemplative, Matt Licata. I had actually finished this post when I felt the nudge to re-read his words:
…”There is no lasting, embodied, visionary renewal without passing through the portal of grief, which requires us to slow down, come into the earth and the ground, and honor all that we’ve lost. It requires that we provide a home for shattered ones and for the integration of the dying pieces of an old dream.
…It’s a process where we collect the shattered pieces into a holy place and place them onto an altar in front of us, where we can enter into relationship with the shards of soul that must move on without us. And we can participate with a whole heart with the death of an old dream, and the way we were so sure that it was all going to turn out.
The nature of this altar and this vase will be different for each of us, with calligraphy, engravings, colors, and in a shape that is crafted for our unique soulprint. We don’t design the vase ourselves, at least not by way of ordinary ego-consciousness. The vase is outside our deepest hopes, fears, desires, and unfolds apart from our personal sense of will.
It is given to us by the transpersonal Self, by the Divine, however we come to conceive of that and is ours and ours alone – no one else can perceive or apprehend it, or design the vase on our behalf.
…The vase, the altar, and any aspect of the soul wanting to come into our conscious experience will present itself in unexpected ways, through our dreams, out in nature, in a moment of intuitive knowing, or even through a disturbance in our mood or emotional activation.”
Something about altar and vase… coming to us in unexpected ways… out in nature… through a disturbance in our mood… resonates deeply, and inexplicably for the time being. That old and deep wisdom within my human bones and the more than human. A wisdom without words.
When we’re young there’s lots We don’t know about The beloved: How he or she is only housed Briefly in this or that body.
Mostly, the beloved is the world, But we’re not ready to see That yet, not able to bear The idea that the beloved Won’t necessarily gaze back at us With eyes like ours, won’t Wrap us in his or her arms.
We want risk, but comfort, too, Comfort most of all. We’re still clinging to our loneliness, Not yet ready to be alone.
– Gregory Orr – Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved
I think I’d heard of Gregory Orr. Read something of his when a poem arrives in my inbox, or crosses my Facebook feed. But this poem really grabbed me given its appearance this week during the still potent trifecta of faith traditions. From his publisher, Copper Canyon Press, Mary Oliver is quoted as having written about this volume: “What other poet do you know who would give his work such a title—ambitious and humble at the same time? He speaks now, in these many short poems, which in their entirety are really one long poem, of mysteries, of those things—emotions, situations, mind and heart states—which are beyond the definitive.”
In addition to poetry, and city happenings, my inbox welcomes me each morning with a variety of contemplative essays and musing . For one, this week’s theme has been resurrection: what it may have originally meant, how it’s been distorted over time and empire’s (mis)interpretation, and what it might mean in a renewed way today for us. Referencing contemporary theologian Matthew Fox, it offers that we “be resurrection” for ourselves and each other, by rising up and being counted through the commitment to hope and creativity…by being in love with Life.
Being in love with Life and recognizing that the beloved IS the world, are among travel’s most significant gifts to me. I carry home as “souvenir” the memory of my encounters with people, land and culture beyond my familiar, and I am renewed. I return empowered having traveled well with my self in “our” aloneness. And my curiosity, gratitude and imagination are enlivened.
Very much taken by this poet, and the bit I’ve read about him and from him as I prepare this post, I’ll conclude with another of his poems from the same volume, perhaps as wise instruction and reminder for me as I begin my next round of poetry submissions…
“How lucky we are That you can’t sell A poem” How lucky we are That you can’t sell A poem, that it has No value. Might As well Give it away.
That poem you love, That saved your life, Wasn’t it given to you?
The grass never sleeps. Or the roses. Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning. Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on his feet, and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body, and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move. Maybe the lake far away, where once he walked as on a blue pavement, lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not keep that vigil, how they must have wept, so utterly human, knowing this too must be part of the story.
– Mary Oliver –
It’s Good Friday, Passover, and mid way through Ramadan. To my way of thinking, the convergence of such significant holy days across these Abrahamic faith traditions signifies an energetic, archetypal potency, transcending dogma. So suggests Mary Oliver in the last stanza of this poem…the inevitability of utterly human error and vulnerability…as if written in the stars for all to unfold as it must.
I’ve written here in the past that I was born on Good Friday. For those who follow the traditions, this doesn’t translate to having a Good Friday birthday every year, though I have had several. Too, I’ve shared how having a birthday on what many view as the darkest day of the Christian calendar gave way over the years for much consternation and contemplation. Now I simply accept it as a meaningful thread within my personal narrative.
This year my birthday is tomorrow, Easter Saturday. Nearly three decades ago, I intuitively evolved the creation of a “coming of age” ceremony for that day, one held within the earliest traditions for baptism. For me, the declaration before my God that I was from that day forward accepting responsibility for my life…that I would now become my own “god mother.” This culminated in legally changing my name to honour the women after whom I’d been first named, and taking a third in gratitude for another who had championed me as a young girl. I became Katharine Maria Anneliese, names that took some time for me to publicly claim, and that I have been growing into ever since. Names that, in my opinion, age well with the promise and potential for ever becoming. Names that every day honour the ancestors, ancients and angels who guide me.
In a most lovely, spontaneous revealing, I learned a few months ago that I share a birth date with poet whose work I admire. Given some other shared affinities and affections, we’ve concluded a soul connection at work that might eventually bode well for some poetic collaborations. In the meantime, I send her my love and warmest wishes for a lovely April 8th birthday.
Packing up for a weekend away, the stark pleasure of compartments. A miniature version of my life.
It is never photographed so my great-grandchildren will never know it but this just-before time of folding and stuffing and zipping it all up is as delectable as the trip itself.
When I backpacked around Europe and India I was asked, don’t I feel vulnerable with everything I own on my back?
Goodness no, I replied, with no stuff to anchor me. I am free, which is the safest feeling of all.
-bentlily by Samantha Reynolds –
As some of you know I’ve been travelling this month. I returned to Morocco, a destination that captured my heart when I first visited in September, 2019. I’d made a deposit to return in 2020, then the world stopped and I needed to apply it this year before it expired. Given I was touring with the same small group, women only company, its itinerary evoked the comfort of familiarity with enough change brought by our remarkable local guide, Mariam, to keep it fresh and as enthralling.
A week ago, I enjoyed my final dinner at the riad in Marrakech sated by not only the varied collection of fresh Moroccan salads and flaky “briouats,” but also with the multitude of sensory impressions newly etched and deepened from my first visit. Morocco does that. In the surrounding silence, as dusk descended through the open roof, the first stars flickering, the only sound was the water tumbling into the pool below from where I sat. The following day would begin the journey home. Once returned, I came across Samantha’s poem on IG where she regularly posts. From Vancouver, Samantha is known for writing a poem a day, a practice she began as a first-time mother over ten years ago.
Struck particularly by Samantha’s last stanza – as one who travels light, able to curate clothing for three seasons for numerous weeks in a lightweight carry-on and messenger pack (in contrast to the huge pieces of luggage I saw on countless airport carousels, and in the back of our tour van, everyday portered by men at our various accommodations, and lifted and arranged twice a day by our driverHakim) – I responded, “The freedom in traveling light is practical and a powerful metaphor for life.“
Determined to shop very little this trip, and increasingly finding it is my way, as weighing heavy with time passing is wondering what I’ll do with and to whom I’ll give what I’ve gathered over the years. Yes, the carpets with their rich colours, textures and patterns are always my temptation, and offered the opportunity to practice non-attachment, albeit with much silent self-talk and a few tears of regret. Yet I did well… until that last day in Marrakech, when my guide casually walked me into a 12th C caravanserai, now restored and converted for local artisans. Immediately recognizable were paintings by an artist whose work I’d first purchased in Essaouira in 2019. I’d heard he lived in Marrakech, and there he wasat Galerie le coeur blanc, the studio shared with his better known brother, Hamid Khantour. Smitten again with his soft yet vivid palette and Moroccan subject matter, I caved and came way with two more pieces, confident they’d fit in my suitcase. Hah! Two inches too long, posing a packing up challenge.
Admittedly, a step backward in traveling light! But I loved supporting a local artist and making memories of my return to Morocco, soon to beseen every day on my walls.
Happy to be home. Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
When you return from a long journey air sweet with lilac and unfurled green then you fall to your knees and become gratitude’s pilgrim. You were given the way at birth. Given blue fields and loam. Given an open throat, wild orchids, a path lit by milky stars. You were given desire, sweet darkness of the body, white hum in the bone.
It’s not the departure you long for, nor the finish, with its thick incense, tired feet and weeping. It is the quiet loneliness in between, When memory marries wind and you are pure light. Walking. One foot in front of the other. You cannot speak of this place. The way you cannot speak of grace or what holds you to this world. How at this moment you can only stand up and move toward the light of home.
– Rosemary Griebel – YES (2011)
Last week, listening to a past episode of The Road Home on my radio station CKUA, I heard my friend Rosemary recite three of her poems from this collection, YES. Her lovely voice, together with the background music selected by host Bob Chelmick made for several minutes of exquisite listening pleasure. I first met Rosemary virtually, and then in person when we both attended last November’s weekend workshop with our beloved Irish poet, Pádraig Ó Tuama. Knowing I’d see her, I brought my copy of her book for her to sign. It was there I learned how we are kin, not only in our shared love of words, but also in our both having walked the Camino de Santiago. It occurred to me while listening to Rosemary read last week, that I needed to feature here, in my Friday photo and poem post, some of the local poets whose love of words I share, to uplift those “prophets in my own land,” so to speak.
I’ve written here how the Camino does its work; on me, from the moment I made my decision and deposit a year ago December to walk, but more so upon my return. This past December I took some time to make the photo journal of my walk. Too, I wrote a short story, A Creative Walks the Portuguese Coastal Camino, drawing on my Camino blog posts, for both the Canadian Company of Pilgrims and Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging. And I had the lovely opportunity to talk about my walk and its impacts, both to support a fellow doing his Master degree in Tourism, exploring the transformative gifts walking a non religious Camino, and on the Ellipsis Thinking podcast, “Paying Attention,” hosted by my dear friend, Greg Dowler-Coltman.
Rosemary’s poem speaks to me of so much that was my Camino. That in the planning, the going and the return, I was “gratitude’s pilgrim”… how the “quiet loneliness” while walking became my necessary and bittersweet companion… my “tired feet and weeping” with relief at our safe arrival…and since home, remembering the light, the grace, the beauty. Thank you, Rosemary.
“Some of us don’t want to be tough alpha leaders. Some of us just want to write and wander the garden and breathe in the sky and nourish and nurture and quietly create new pathways and live our lives as our art. To know the earth as poetry.”
Victoria Erickson Rhythms and Roads
A few weeks ago, lunching with a friend, and then in conversation with another, I realized again how differences in our ages and life stages ebb and flow. Sometimes barely noticeable in how we find companionship journeying through life. Sometimes the gap more apparent, like a chasm requiring fancy footwork to bridge, or, as I discovered, simply noticing and letting be.
Finding myself more fully in that place beyond career and the professional aspirations that held my attention and directed my days, I realize, too, how that focus gave me many gratifying and validating dimensions of identity, regard and respect. How it helped me know that my gifts and talents, cultivated over decades, were being well used. I had always said, to quote Kahlil Gibran, that my work was my love made visible, and how wonderful it had been to have worked with people I cherished and who I knew cherished me.
Landing with the deep thud of truth in my body, I no longer have the energy, nor the desire to be – not that I ever was – “a tough alpha leader.” I am giving myself over to writing (having made eight poetry submissions in January), living into the slogan I created a few years ago: my life as poem and prayer. I am learning, repeatedly, how an aspect of an artist’s “stock in trade” is the often lonely leaning into rejection, and digging deep within for the valuing, regard and respect that had once so readily come from outside. Chuckling with my friend, I said somedays I hit pay dirt, other days it’s rock bottom.
I’m not complaining. It is what so many of the wise elders on whose words I’ve rested and relied have said about the second half of life: when some of us, brave and taking heart, deciphering the signs and listening to the truth in and of our bodies, find ourselves in that more nuanced landscape marked by light and shadow. Lonely perhaps. Messy even. Occasionally bereft of the familiar. But always of earth and its ways. And it is from this place and our relationship to it, that we make our way.
Meanwhile, flowers still bloom. The moon rises, and the sun. Babies smile and somewhere, Against all the odds, Two people are falling in love.
Strangers share cigarettes and jokes. Light plays on the surface of water. Grace occurs on unlikely streets And we hold each other fast| Against entropy, the fires and the flood.
Life leans towards living And, while death claims all things at the end, There were such precious times between, In which everything was radiant And we loved, again, this world.
His self described “written-during-breakfast” poem, has garnered viral attention on social media. I first learned of Tom there, and then heard him speak at the Rewilding Mythology course I participated in last fall. From my notes, his words:
What happens when we speak truth with natural skill, craft and grace?
Spoken language allows the fibres of reality to shimmer and vibrate and resonate making many things possible – healing, transformation, journeying.
“And we loved, again, this world.” Such shimmering I simply love.