The Base for Being Human

“But this week, we entered yet another hard,
shocking chapter in the life of the world.”

Krista Tippett, The Pause, March 5, 2022
beauty in a hard place

Yes, here we are, the global community, again trying to keep our collective hearts open in the hell that is war. These weeks in Ukraine. Before that…and before that…and before that…In a recent poll close to 70% of Canadians believe we are poised for a third world war. (Global News, March 3, 2022) With the invading leader stating that all sanctions levied by the west are akin to a declaration of war (Reuters, March 5, 2022), anxieties, already exacting their cost during the pandemic, continue to manifest in myriad ways within and among us.

“Trauma isn’t limited to the mind or body of a singular person. It has the ability to have a cumulative impact on an entire people…When an entire society is desecrated, demonized, invaded or imprisoned, it reshapes the cultural gene pool of that entire generation. What is trauma then, but a collective and cumulative phenomenon.” 

Mark Gonzales, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, 2014

Last week I wrote in my regular Friday photo and poem feature that I had been reminded by a friend with whom I had shared Mark Gonzales’ In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty. Selecting a piece for that post, I scanned other of his entries in preparation for my virtual women’s circle, wanting to offer into the centre a “start point” inviting us to each speak to the impact of the current world events:

“In this moment, an echo is occurring across the
globe. It is the human spirit craving to be reminded
one does not need permission to grow.

In this moment an echo is occurring across our
hearts. It is the realization that love has its own logic.

Live. Love. Grow. Even if one cannot make life more
beautiful, at least make it more bearable. This should
be considered the base for being human.

May the passion continue. May the circle expand.”

Mark Gonzales, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, 2014

We felt deep resonance and relevance with Mark’s words as each of us took our turn speaking, passing our virtual talking pieces through several rounds of conversation. Our time together marked easefully with several substantial pauses for silence. One by one, we shared evoked images and memories, silent tears and fears, wisdom borne of dreams, intuition and lived experience. By the end of our two hours together, soothed and more settled. Life made more bearable.

Agrigento, Sicilia

In my imagination, I see copies of Mark’s book, translated so all can read, dropped from the skies into the hands of every person on earth, much like the millions of propaganda leaflets dropped from planes during World War II. Instead I’ll end with more of his good words, medicine to heal our aching souls and make life more bearable:

What better way is there to shift a paradign than by
speaking in ways that encourage dreams, laughter
and imagination. For those acts of creativity are not
luxury, short sighted or simplistic, they are essential.”

“In this collective environment, an isolated story
transforms into a personalized submission into
an anthology of shared experiences and unique
memories. With each new telling, we cocoon to
butterfly that sees each breath we have left in this
life as an exercise in evolving our own narrative.”

“This is way for you who battle with self-doubt and
hyper criticism, I remind you we are a generation
experimenting with healing in public. Be fierce. Be
forgiving. Hardcore is a façade and a trend.”

“Educate the human heart. Elevate the human mind.
Grow the human soul. This will be our generation’s
idea of a multi-taking model of learning.”

“Long live the children of fierce vulnerability.”

“In times of terror, wage beauty.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty

Buds in Spain

Look up. Look around. Listen. See and hear the
echoes of your wounds and dreams all around you.
Know that you are never as alone as you think. We may
even be in the majority. Each point of connection
with another transforms them from stranger into ally
in the healing process.

If you read this and still feel abandoned, walk with
head high knowing there are generations of ancestors
inside of you. We will survive this era as we did the
eras before: using the skills we have, inventing the
ones we need.

On those days when the spine or soul become tired,
imagine all of humanity whispering a twelve word
prayer inside your ear: “we are not the children nor
the descendants of a weak people.”

Mark Gonzales
In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty
2014



Several years ago, I “met” Mark Gonzales via this remarkable collection of piercing, pithy poem essays. Last week, as war in Ukraine grabbed hold of our world by its throat, a friend reminded me that I had introduced her to his work.
Any page would have been perfect today. I expect I’ll turn to Mark’s words for my Monday blog. In the meantime, if this sampling touches you, buy his book, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty. There is no better time.

Life as Poem and Prayer

“It’s a piece of deep psychological acuity, carried in many religious traditions: that each of us is defined as much by who our enemies are and how we treat them as by whom and what we love.”

Krista Tippett, On Being, October 31, 2013

Fitting food for thought as we, the world, contemplate the current circumstances unfolding in Ukraine. A simplistic response to vilify the invaders and yet…

We see Russians courageously take to their streets and squares in protest. We read of notables resigning from posts refusing payment from their government. We know people who know people, Russians whose roots run deep and like us all, whose hearts bleed red.

Today I watched an English subtitled speech given on Friday by Ukraine’s president to Russia’s people. Clarifying misinformation, stating his position and boundaries on behalf of his country’s people, imploring Russians to remember themselves and their relationships with the people of Ukraine. Fiercely compassionate is what comes to mind.

Over the past few days, scrolling social media and participating in online seminars, I’ve been struck with the extent to which we are calling forth the balm found in poetry and prayer, in the arts, dance and song. Evoking the highest good in us, for us all. With poetic irony and prescience, this published in 2009 by Ilya Kaminsky, a poet born in Odessa, Ukraine, now living in the United States after being granted asylum with his family:

We Lived Happily during the War

And when they bombed other people’s houses, we

protested
but not enough, we opposed them but not

enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America

was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house—

I took a chair outside and watched the sun.

In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

Let us hold the centre, dear friends. Present with what is unfolding. Poised amidst conflict within and without. Persistent in remembering the best in who we are.

Let us take note of the ever-present beauty around us. Remain open to the mystery in the mundane. Tenacious in our tenderness. Committed in our care.

Living our lives as poem and prayer.

“Do you think it’s an accident that you were born at a time when the culture that gave you life is failing? I don’t think it is. I think you were born of necessity with your particular abilities, with your particular fears, with your particular heartaches and concerns…
I think if we wait to be really compelled by something… something big, well… we’re going to wait an awful long time and I don’t know if the state of our world can tolerate our holding out until we feel utterly compelled by something. I think it’s more like this, that we have to proceed now as if we’re utterly needed given the circumstances. That takes almost something bordering on bravado, it could be mistaken for megalomania easily, though I don’t think it is. It had a certain amount of nerviness in it or boldness for sure, something that’s not highly thought of in the culture I was born into unless you’re a star or something… regular people aren’t supposed to have those qualities. I say they are of course. That’s what we’ve got to bring to the challenges at hand, not waiting to be convinced that we’re needed but proceeding as if we are. Your insignificance has been horribly overstated.”

Stephan Jenkinson

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Weaving

WEAVING

First set the warp,
the plain, stable threads
that hold the pattern in place –
the infrastructure of joy,
the girders that hold up all we build
of meaning, or justice, or peace.
Use strong threads left
by those who have gone before.
Only then pick up the weft,
the colored thread that you will use
to weave accordingly to your plan.
Choose carefully – this is what
the world will see, each tiny act
that builds the bright pattern
of your life. Yes, the threads
will tangle or knot or fray,
and the flaws will show.
Oh well. Tuck in the ends
as best you can and start again.
This is not the time to stop your weaving.
So much is pulling at the great design.

– Lynn Ungar –
Breathe, 2020

Call it synchronicity or coincidence, I quickly picked up one of two poetry chapbooks I had just received from Lynn Ungar and the page opened to this poem, the perfect companion to Monday’s blog post, Spinning the Sacred Feminine. I’d been inspired to feature a poem on weaving today, thinking back to one I had “composed” as the conversation harvest from an activity designed in collaboration with a textile artist-community developer eleven years ago for our professional community of practice. I don’t recall the specifics, but we provided strips of fabric for the group of facilitators to weave together as a way to consider our work grounded in conversation and story. This was the result:

WARP and WEFT
An engaged community inspired by the virtues of beauty, hope and simplicity.
Texture foretells of mystery and transformation.
Beauty, the loom for creativity.
Inspiration, the weft.
We, the warp.
Beginning.

Berber Carpets, Chefchaouen, Morocco



Spinning the Sacred Feminine

“Women are spinners and weavers; we are the ones who spin the threads and weave them into meaning and pattern. Like silkworms, we create those threads out of our own substance, pulling the strong fine fibres, out of our own hearts and wombs.”

Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2016
sisters weaving in Errachidia, Morocco, 2019

Gently teasing threads to weave together this week’s post, most vivid are my impressions from the deeply soulful virtual spaces in which I’ve been sitting this month. To name a few:

  • The monthly Poets Corner Sunday gathering featured Ellen Goldsmith and Lynne Ellis reading several of their poems for healing;
  •  “Chai, Love and Prayer,” monthly space hosted by my friend and Sufi scholar, Omid Safi;
  • A masterfully facilitated introductory meeting for thirty women each writing a chapter in an anthology on women leaders in education;
  • A consultation with our local library’s new writer-in-residence, Rayanne Haines, to help me understand judges’ feedback on several poetry submissions;
  • A book salon on Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass hosted by educational leader, instructor and friend, Kathy Toogood;
  • “Reawaken the Joy, Meaning and Sacredness of Being Alive” – a conversation between authors Sue Monk Kidd and Terry Helwig on Terry’s newest book, Shifting Shorelines: Messages from a Wiser Self;
  • My bi-weekly women’s circle;
  • A brief exploration of the wisdom of Mary and the sacred feminine presented by a favourite teacher-writer, Christine Valters Paintner, over at the Wild Luminaries series from Seminary of the Wild.
silk and wool threads and pattern for carpets in Kusadasi, Turkey, 2014

Spinning together these threads, the pattern emerging is my noticing how, in each gathering, women figured predominantly as sources of inspiration and wisdom – either in founding and-or hosting the groups and conversations, or in presenting, writing, teaching, sharing. Noticing how they, their process, and their offerings to the world, reflect and embody qualities of the sacred feminine as described by Christine Valters Paintner:

  • following intuition
  • attending to synchronicity
  • listening deeply to the natural world
  • surrendering striving
  • trusting the wisdom of underworld of shadow
  • honouring vulnerability as strength
  • embracing slowness and spaciousness
  • valuing being over doing

Struck by the conversation between Sue Monk Kidd and Terry Helwig – long-time friends and supports to each other’s writing – each described how shedding what no longer matters, simplicity, and literally driving in the slow lane to avoid the felt obligation of rush, make it easier to see, hear and embrace what matters now. How women make each other braver to follow their intuition, honour their vulnerability, do their inner shadow work.

“I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

‘I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.’

Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think.”

Brene Brown

In her words written and spoken, Robin Wall Kimmerer poetically teaches students and her readers how to listen deeply to the natural world, to appreciate indigenous world views and the truth in “all my relations.” Echoed in our book salon conversation, rich in individual perspectives, impressions, and associations, I came away with deepened regard and much deeper regret for all that had been taken away and lost through the colonization and residential schooling of our First Peoples.

“It’s time to make some new threads; time to strengthen the frayed wild edges of our own being, and then weave ourselves back into the fabric of our culture. Once we knew the patterns for weaving the world; we can piece them together again.”

Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2016
fabric woven in Errachidia, Morocco, 2019

On Saturday I woke to an email announcing that my ekphrastic poem written in response to a track from an electronic music album had been accepted for its anthology. For payment! With a contract coming! The feedback and edits from my writer-in-residence were terrific, just what I need to help this self-taught poet-in-process develop, and realize my innovative contribution to the leadership anthology: “poetic” process observation-recordings of our meetings, and synthesizing chapters into poetic “pauses” to introduce or close chapter sections.

Right about now, two years ago, we were getting ready to leave for a winter sojourn in southern Spain. A couple of weeks, mid to late February, travelling by bus and train through Andalusia – Sevilla, Aracena, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga and then back to Sevilla. And then upon our return home, the world would change. Today, nearly two years later, unprecedented impacts from the pandemic continue to roll out like an endless line of falling dominoes.

In response to a friend’s blog last week, I wrote “this seems to be the time and the place where the art, the poem, the story, the prayer, the silence, the conversation, the thank you, the kiss, the embrace may comfort, soothe, sustain and help us find our way.”

“Women can heal the Wasteland.
We can remake the world.
This is what women do.
This is our work.”

Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2016

And so we do, as we do.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

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.

Conspiracy Theory

CONSPIRACY THEORY

You could be right. Maybe
there is a vast conspiracy, a web
of lies wrapped around generations,
a fraud so vast and pervasive
that only the enlightened
catch glimpses in shadowed alleys.
Do you want to know? Do you dare
to tug on the smallest of those
tangled threads? Are you courageous
enough to look at the edges
of your vision? Begin with these questions:
Whose stories have I not been
allowed to hear? Who have I placed
outside the circle of my concern?
If I were to really listen,
what might crack open
and be born?

– Lynn Ungar –
November 29, 2021


With the new covid variant “omicron,” gaining traction and making global headlines, countries are responding, re-heating debate and dissent, protest and polarization. Ungar’s questions are wise reminders to help us hold the centre when there’s heat on the rim, to invite us into curiosity, to remind us of all we do not know.

re-Wintering

“re-wintering” – what caught my eye as Annie and I walked this week

Every other week I circle up virtually with some dear woman friends. It’s been a way to feel connection and offer support to each other during these continued covid times. We begin, as is our way, following The Circle Way practice, with a reading of some kind to help us land and settle in with each other and ourselves. A bell rung once, twice and we begin to check in with each other, often in response to what has been evoked by the reading, or by whatever is personally stirring and needing to be spoken aloud to the centre.

Last week I as I walked past my bookshelves to fetch my bells, grabbed by the title on the spine, I grabbed “The Wild In You: Voices from the Forest and the Sea” (2015) by Canadian poet, Lorna Crozier. (Lovely synchronicity in that as I’m sitting here tapping away, in the background I hear The Road Home’s Bob Chelmick read from Lorna’s 2018 volume, The God of Shadows.) A beautiful compilation of poetry and Ian McAllister’s photography, I quickly flipped through the pages, arriving at “A Winter’s Sleep,” companioned by a magnificent wolf sleeping on the seaside sand.

A Winter’s Sleep

So much sleeping
in this place. Think of all
that lies beneath the snow, lake trout
below the ice, bears in their dens,
their warm snores drifting above
the treetops that are sleeping, too,
high above your own long sleep.

Even raven, with so much
to say and do, closes his eyes,
tucks his beak under his wing
and sinks into the season’s
dream-rich dark where all
his stories start.

Lorna Crozier, 2018

As is our way, we meander in a conversation punctuated that evening by long pauses and the shared recognition of how fatigue, grief and the need for Nature’s stillness were embroidering our days of late. One shared another poem, another mentioned a book, Wintering, the title of which evoked a memory that I’d written about it. When I read aloud from the post I’d written last February, I knew it was an idea worth repeating here. That even though my interior state has shifted from what I described then, today, as the winds blew a constant icy cold, the temperature plummeted, and too, the hours of daylight here on the Canadian prairies, it is wintering.

WINTERING, originally posted February 1, 2021

“Dashed and disheartened – again,” I emailed a friend. What with last week’s winds having blown in Arctic cold temperatures and flat light skies, reading up on my country’s vaccination rollout debacle and delays, virus variants that are proving to be highly contagious and perhaps more deadly than the original, and a speculated move to mandated mask wearing outside, this might be an understatement. Certainly enough to have been stalled again in writing here, having missed two of my usual Monday postings. Plumbing a bit deeper, what with my husband having celebrated his first “Covid” birthday two weeks ago, we realized with age, and life as we’ve known it “on hold,” we’re feeling quite wistful. Most apparent for me is missing traveling and all that it gives me, more fully appreciated now in its absence. I’m resigned to the probability that this will be another year, and most likely then some, of staying put. Too, the whisper of a question held this past year, “Will I – we – ever travel again as in the past?”

A few days ago, somewhat warmer with soft snowflakes fluttering down, Annie and I walked, she happy for her full-length coat, and NOT having to wear her fleece boots. I plugged into a recent On Being podcast, curious having read Krista’s weekend letter:

“Katherine May, in her book, Wintering – The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020), meditatively explores ‘wintering’ as a season of the natural world but also as a place our bodies and psyches need to go, a season that recurs again and again across a life. We cheat and dismiss this in life as we’ve been living it, but it has presented itself insistently in a pandemic year we might reimagine as one long communal wintering.

We can’t move forward without grieving all we’ve lost in the past year. Closer to the ground, this means we have to let in the fact of sadness — a precursor to pain and fear — with some reverence. If happiness is a skill, Katherine May says, so is unhappiness. Winter embodies the strange complexity of reality. It is the bitterest season, we blithely say. And all the while it manages not to be the death of the life cycle, as Katherine May reminds, but its crucible.”

Krista Tippet, The Pause, January 23, 2021

Wintering.

That would be the odd place in which I found myself last spring and summer. Whereas I’d used the words “fallow” and “lost”, as I listened to Katherine May, I recognized in her words a fuller, more accurate description of those several months lying cold and low, when all around me blushed and blossomed.

“…wintering is a metaphor for those phases in our life when we feel frozen out or unable to make the next step, and that that can come at any time, in any season, in any weather; that it has nothing to do with the physical cold…”

Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021

Not bound to season as we know it, but a necessary and recurrent place to drop into when we appreciate the cyclical nature of our lives. Thinking back, during an actual winter fifteen years ago, I dropped into depression. Not major, but enough that I and others noticed I was not myself. Little energy and enthusiasm, waning concentration, major exertions of effort to get through a day of work and home chores. Enough that once on the other side that spring, I’d mentioned it to my family doctor, and upon closer examination, recognized its cyclical nature. Perhaps a bit of seasonal affective disorder with some inherited family predisposition towards the winter “blahs.” Never since as severe, though I have a letter I wrote to myself then, upon the suggestion of my doctor, “to be opened in the dark days, to remember.” I’ve never needed to, though I know it’s perched on my desk amidst a collection of mementos. And that brings reassurance enough.

“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021

I wonder if because we are mostly acculturated out of such natural rhythms and rituals, those embedded deep within our DNA and beneath our consciousness, we find ourselves in “winter” out of season? That if we heeded Nature’s signs and stirrings, we’d ready ourselves, with each other, for wintering’s alchemical invitation. I feel a growing love and appreciation for winter, the season, since being unfettered by work’s imposed schedule, demands, and need for driving. And as many of us have felt during the pandemic, in lives slowed and diminished of obligation, its paradoxical gifts.

“It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it’s essential.”

Katherine May, On Being podcast, January 21, 2021

Recently I came upon these words from Toko-pa Turner’s book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home. They echo the hidden transformative gifts in this crucible of winter and wintering:

“Like the bowl that has yet to be filled, there is an emptiness that precedes creativity that is alive with potential. With ordinary eyes, it’s easy to mistake this emptiness for stagnancy. We may think, “I have nothing of substance to offer! I have no original ideas!” But down at the invisible base of things, there is a holy dance taking place. Though we may want to run from the tension, the polarities are in constant motion, readying themselves into harmony. Far from dormant, this dance is the active receptivity that calls things into form. We are such a vessel. These times of nothingness are actually busy with living into a new capacity.

Originality comes when you stay close to that emptiness, making it a welcoming place, adorning it with your divine longing, learning the shape of it, and filling it with your questions. Every great artist I know is obsessed with a question, and their artworks are less attempts to answer that question than they are exaltations of asking. As Jean Cocteau says, ‘The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.'”

I listened last summer as I wintered, lost and fallow. I remembered it as a familiar season of my life and followed its nudges to find my way through. Walking with Annie. Reading and writing. Photography and painting. Making love notes to friends. Cooking and circling up with women friends. And now in the fullness of its season, I sleep longer, nap more, give myself permission to pause the writing until I feel stirred. I let myself feel, once again, dashed and disheartened, trusting them to be worthy of these times. And I wonder.

“I recognized winter. I saw it coming a mile off, since you ask, and I looked it in the eye. I greeted it and let it in. I had some tricks up my sleeve, you see. I’ve learned them the hard way. When I started to feel the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favored child, with kindness and love. I assumed my needs were reasonable and that my feelings were signals of something important. I kept myself well fed, and I made sure I was getting enough sleep. I took myself for walks in the fresh air and spent time doing things that soothed me. I asked myself, what is this winter all about? I asked myself, what change is coming?”

Katherine May, Wintering – The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (2020)

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.

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