Roses in Winter

“Must be brain freeze,” I just tapped out to a friend, as I’m late again for this week’s post.

It. Is. Cold. An Arctic vortex has descended upon the prairies. Years ago, I recall my city’s well-loved and highly respected meteorologist calling it “the dreaded of all meteorological phenomena: the Siberian High.” Sunshine and signature Alberta blue skies, but with wind blowing steady, take those already frigid temperatures well below zero – centigrade or Fahrenheit – and drop them at least another ten, dangerous degrees. Since the weekend, weather apps have shown red banners and yellow exclamation points and maps show red across the entire province.

But last Thursday, in advance of its arrival, we waxed up the skies and went out to our local provincial park, Blackfoot-Waskahegan, for some easy-going cross-country skiing. As it had been several years since I’d been on the trails, we took a practice run the week before in the new-this-year tracks set on the golf course. Quiet except for the scratch of the skies on snow, my breathing, the squawking and chirping magpies and chickadees, it was heaven sent, though for now, on pause.

Sunday, dressed warmly in a fleece lined wool toque, down parka, gortex snow pants, shearling boots and new “extreme cold” Hesta mitts, I met many folks on the paths, similarly bundled, each enjoying our daily walks in the sunshine. An hour later, the mitts standing up to their reputation, my hands were sweating. The wind blew in that evening, and now even Annie, ever ready to brave the elements – except rain – is less than enthusiastic to be outside. She’s conceded to wearing her boots again with her stylish coat, and we manage a walk around the block. But she didn’t hesitate or pull the other way when I turned down the street headed home. Yesterday after sending her indoors, I took on clearing the sidewalk and driveway of hard packed snow. Got nearly 10,000 steps with it all. That sunshine is a powerful draw. But right this moment, in a day just beginning to clear, she’s napping on her cushion by the space heater as I write.

A year ago today, we were making our way to Sevilla for a winter sojourn in Andalusia. Right about now we were napping in a cozy sleep pod at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Later in the afternoon, we’d catch our flight to Sevilla, check into our hotel, and enjoy our first of many “al fresco” Spanish tapas. Smoky olives, sweet red vermut on ice, grilled octopus.

Ahhhh memory. “The power to gather roses in Winter.”

During the next few weeks, to mark the occasion I’ll mix an Americano cocktail (first enjoyed during my first visit to Andalusia in 2017) with a slice of orange (not Sevillian, too bitter), chew on Spanish olives, and “gather roses” as I wander across the pages of my journal and photo book from last year’s last trip before the pandemic.

And now, after finishing this post, I’ll check to see if a walk is doable.  And then, inspired by returning to reading Melanie Falick’s beautiful story of hand makers and DIYers, Making a Life, I’ll continue embellishing the sweater I knitted a few years back. Worked from a pattern I’d rejigged, with very fine lacy yarn – a silk mohair blend – it’s rife with mis-takes and mis-stitches, too big, and too disappointing after numerous tear-outs and restarts. After taking it out from hiding a few months ago, glancing at it every now and then, holding lightly what and how to proceed, last night I took needle and thread and using a running straight stitch, took in the sides and arms in an exposed French seam. I roll hemmed the entire sweater, again using a straight stitch, letting it show. Then, with a skein of similarly spun yarn from a sweater my mother made for me years ago, I’m running it though those uneven ladders to bring in texture and colour. A true “wabi sabi” creation, using what’s imperfect with what’s on hand, to make beautiful.

Like the little water colour I did while attending a conference last Saturday on Medieval Pilgrimages. Bored with the academic posturing and paper reading, and needing distraction to sort and discern what was of value for me, I adhered to the principles of intuitive painting – no premeditation, design, or meaning – and simply worked with colour and stroke. And then, almost as an afterthought, used a fine black pen to outline the shapes that emerged. Delightful, colourful, nonsensical.

“Ways to trust one’s own wisdom
to bless the imperfections
to see and make apparent the inherent beauty
to smell crimson roses
even in Winter
when her blizzards blow and blind.”

KW

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Hanging On, Letting Go

“Look how calmly the trees abandon their autumn leaves, scattering jewels on the ground, soon to become mulch. These serene beings are apt teachers for us. Just see how they send their life-essence down into their roots as the days shorten and darken.”  

Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020

Last Monday, when I walked with Annie to centre myself and find my words, when I listened to the poem that released the floodgate of tears and cleared the way for the inchoate to become articulate, I found myself attracted to Nature’s images that evoked a “hanging on.” Despite all that gives way to a northern winter – daylight and warmth, green grass and foliage, garden fresh vegetables, robin song – still there is much that persists.

And I thought, how fitting a metaphor for this year’s Advent. Now in the third week, the one characterized by the rose-pink candle of joy, I wondered how do we hold the tension, no, how do we live and be in the tension of hanging on expectantly, when so much has let go? How do we negotiate our familiar and counted upon traditions of joy and celebration, in the face of myriad losses and uncertainties, persistent isolation and loneliness? How do we wait in joy for the promise inherent in this season, given so many shattering impacts of 2020?  Not an intended pun, but truly a pandemic paradox, of pandemic proportion.

While I don’t have answers to my own questions, let alone any “sage” advice, I am reminded of Rilke’s wisdom to not strive for answers…to live the questions for now…though admittedly, not quite able to love them. But perhaps there are some hints from others, whose words have shimmered as they’ve crossed my screen this week, in remarkable resonance and synchronicity.

“I’m feeling a bone deep exhaustion now, yet I’m also feeling a resistance to the softness and rest that this season urges. There is too much to do to rest. And to be soft in the face of all that has happened in 2020 — that is a world of hurt I’m not sure I can bear. My experience of this season’s impulse to look back and take stock has a new intensity too. There is a great deal I long to recover about pre-pandemic life. But I don’t want to go back to a “normal” that would lose all that this year taught and gave us to live into.” 

Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020

In the past few days, I walked and listened to another of my favorite podcasts, Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us. In the most recent episode, she looked back over all she had learned from reading and prepping for two seasons worth of interviews, to more fully understand her very first episode on “FFT’s” (friggin’ first times) dropped in the early days of Covid-19.  Her recent neuroscience “expert,” David Eagleman, confirmed Brené’s emergent hypothesis that our brains – and we – are exhausted with mapping so many new responses to this year’s unprecedented number of FFTs. The antidote to so much changing so fast is our attention, our acknowledgement, and rest, plenty of rest that restores us, and our brains. The image that comes to mind after today’s snow showers: clearing the walks and roads of snow that keeps falling. No sooner do you get it clear, then you need to do it again, and again, and again.

In this same episode, Brené shared a quote that succinctly sums up life as we know it now:

“‘History is the study of surprises.’
This line captures the world in which we live, we’re living history, surprise after surprise after surprise. And just when we think, we’ve had all the big surprises for a while, along comes another one. If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no ‘new normal’; there will only be a continuous series of ‘not normal’ episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.”

Jim Collins, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, 2020

Hmmm…grim news of foreboding, or the sudden, fresh wakening from somnambulant dis-illusion? Another paradox and invitation to find a middle way, perhaps?

I’ve lost track of the number of times this past year I’ve heard myself say aloud or think the wise words from a past, wise teacher: the trick to living paradox is knowing “it’s all true.” That both sides of the coin are the same coin. That 180 degrees is a straight line connecting what appear to be opposites. That the yin always contains a bit of yang and vice versa. And that there is a field between right doing and wrong doing where I will meet you.

“There is a time for stillness and empty-handedness, a time for holding vigil in the darkness. Winter keeps a secret that is vital to our soul’s knowledge of itself. Before long, the days will lengthen again. But now is the time to be rooted in the silent, patient earth as the planet heaves through the ebon emptiness of space.” 

Pir Zia Inayat Khan, The Zephyr Newsletter, December 2020

Yes. This is so very true. And so too, for so many of us right now, is the isolation and loneliness that fills us with sorrow, worry, grief. That keeps us sleepless when we need rest for our bodies and brains and hearts, and to recover our resilience.

Last week, once again in my favorite Italian grocery store, as I maneuvered my cart into the checkout line, I looked up to see our dear friends. The last I saw them was a year ago, sitting at our cozy round table, enjoying a kitchen supper. Nothing fancy. Just simple Tuscan cooking, fine wine, and edifying conversation. It was a delicious evening, one we anticipated repeating sooner than later, upon our return from Andalusia last February. Sure, now we talk on the phone, exchange “love notes” in the mail or via text, but to lay eyes on each other, bundled and masked, brought tears to our eyes. There we stood, huddled among the pasta and olive oil – probably closer than two meters – impelled to express our love, our gratitude, the miraculous of our chance meeting, the angels that must have conspired for us then and there.

“…we need to accompany each other right now and beyond this season, in what none of us is called to bear and do alone. To honor the many losses we scarcely know what to do with. To dwell with reverence before our exhaustion and our resilience. To cultivate the expectant waiting that is the spirit of Advent. To ponder how we want to live once the virus releases us back to each other. “

Krista Tippett, The Pause, December 15, 2020

Since I last wrote, Covid-19 vaccinations are now being administered around the world. Here in Canada, the first to be inoculated was an elderly woman from Quebec. Here in Alberta, our health care workers are to be first in line. Touted as the light at the end of a long dark tunnel, it’s not lost on me that this hoped for miracle comes during our darkest hours, both literally and figuratively. Personally, I sit in another paradox: knowing it will be many months before I have access to this anticipated release from the virus’ silent, deadly grip and can let go of extraordinary vigilance and precaution, countered by the desire to hang on to the many subtle gifts of this time – a slowing down to savour simplicity and deepening stillness, noticing inner shifts and outer expressions, renewed appreciation and gratitude, a growing and steady contentment. Just as my love of winter’s darkness has grown over time, and I wince knowing that come next week, we’ll once again be on the upswing to more daylight, I hear a whisper of caution to not squander what has been so hard won, an invitation to make anew.

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

Sonya Renee Taylor

Now, I literally wait for the linen and yarn and needles to arrive to start stitching.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

To Be Astonished

In reflection to a prompt from last week’s theme in Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist – “Creative Work as Vocation and Holy Service” – a powerful memory was evoked of a group activity of deep listening and sensing into space and collective. Thirty or so of us standing in a room led by a famous percussionist were invited to make a brief improv musical composition using only six sounds, one of each assigned to each of us, to be used only once. Like the maestro, he signaled the start and as I listened, waiting for when to make my contribution with my sound, it became apparent that staying silent was most needed for the coherence of the emerging melody.

“Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.”

Mary Oliver, The Messenger

Over the years, calling back that visceral experience has always been a profound, astonishing even, lesson of  the discernment and value of silence, stillness and spaciousness in works that matter.

Last week that memory gave me a fresh way into understanding my place right now. The waxing and waning between finally feeling – after several fallow and lost months of grieving my sudden, unexpected arrival at “retirement” –  for the first time in my life, a deep contentment with not working, AND, too,  missing the ways in which I had worked, been of service, made a living. Missing the known and felt meaning and value I gave and received for my work. Such missing occasionally “stings” as my circle of women friends are still so employed or creating their “encore” careers.

“Our daily work may rise out of our true calling in the world, or it may just pay the bills; either way, we each have a vocation. We each were given certain gifts to offer in service to others. Our calling is deeply connected to our creativity. The truths we long to express in the world and the way we feel moved to give form to beauty are signs of the Spirit at work in us. Vocation is a daily invitation to be fully who we are and to allow our lives to unfold in ways that are organic to this deepest identity.” 

Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule, 2011

So how, now in my autumn years, will this unfamiliar “non work” become my “love made visible” in counter-cultural, less obvious, silent, still and spacious ways? How, as I find myself living a long-held dream of having expanses of time and space, unfettered by plans and obligation (thanks in part to the pandemic), may creativity emerge as vocation, take form as holy service? How do I learn to be astonished?

A cursory inventory:

  • Shifting my perspective to give value to home care, meal preparation, dog walking as my labors of love.
  • Trusting that the beauty I notice and express, via written word and photograph – in my blog, on social media, in my practice of hand writing note cards sent to friends – are an offering of my life as poem and prayer.
  • Remembering my meditation and prayer, a lit candle, and passing thought for another, known or unknown, are silent weavings for healing and community.
  • Giving space for my holy grief, holy gratitude and holy love creates space for others to do so.
  • Sitting with the questions of my heart, in the tension of knowing a greater plan is at work, revealed only – word by word, brush stroke by brush stroke, action by action – in the ordinary living into each day.
  • Learning to “move at the pace of guidance,” heeding the wisdom of energies seen and unseen.

“We make what we make, we give a gift, not only through what we make or do, but in the way we feel as we do, and even, in the way others witness us in our feeling and doing, giving to them as they give to us…a work and an identity that holds both together, not only for an end, but for every step that shapes an onward way.” 

David Whyte, “Work,” in Consolations, 2015

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Ironing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– KW –


Joie de Faire

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

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

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

Melanie Falick, Making a Life, 2019

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

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

Melanie Falick, Making a Life, 2019

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

love note bits

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

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

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

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

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

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

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

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

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

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

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

Ellen Dissanayake in Making a Life, 2019

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

And quite simply, it brings me joy.

With much love and kindest regards, dear friends.