It all begins with knowing nothing lasts forever. So you might as well start packing now. But, in the meantime, practice being alive.
There will be a party where you’ll feel like nobody’s paying you attention. And there will be a party where attention’s all you’ll get. What you need to do is know how to talk to yourself between these parties.
And, again, there will be a day, — a decade — where you won’t fit in with your body even though you’re in the only body you’re in.
You need to control your habit of forgetting to breathe.
Remember when you were younger and you practiced kissing on your arm? You were on to something then. Sometimes harm knows its own healing comfort its own intelligence. Kindness too. It needs no reason.
There is a you telling you a story of you. Listen to her.
Where do you feel anxiety in your body? The chest? The fist? The dream before waking? The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing or the clutch of gut like falling & falling & falling and falling It knows something: you’re dying. Try to stay alive.
For now, touch yourself. I’m serious.
Touch yourself. Take your hand and place your hand some place upon your body. And listen to the community of madness that you are.
Prologue: Last winter in the midst of another Covid lockdown, Vancouver poet Samantha Reynolds, writing as bentlily, invited her readers to notice life around them. This is, after all, the basis of most good poetry. So successful was the reception that she re-issued her invitation for May. Each morning my inbox welcomed her prompt. I’d read and file each one in a folder for the time when less distracted by who knows what – oh I know, the coming of summer and all that great outdoor stuff – I could focus my noticing in response. That day came September first. And while I don’t do every activity every day, more than not I do, this prose poem being one suchentry.
You invite me to notice, for thirty days.
From gazing at the sky, to taking a mundane moment and making it sacred; eulogizing a favourite food, then eating it back to life; listening to a piece of music while conjuring the images it evokes.
Today it’s WATER. To take in – in a holy way – the everyday banal which for me, for so many of us in this so called civilized western world, comes so freely, without effort or a moment’s thought. We turn on the tap to take a drink, a bath, or a shower; cook our food, wash our clothes, cars, and dishes; soak the dried grass and limp flowers. Mindless motions and maneuverings. Yet drought, wildfires, insufficient snowfall, contamination – even here we are running out of water, and several of our reserves, home of our First Nations peoples, to this day, have no clean drinking water. So much for treaty terms and promises.
When you wrote that women and girls around the world collectively spend 200 million hours daily finding and collecting water, that many are raped on their long walks to distant sources, I shamefully admit, I mindlessly took a sip from my SWELL bottle and went on to tackle the next thing on my list, sitting safely in my office, in my home.
When I read your invitation to drink a glass of water slowly, as though I had dedicated my entire day – my life even – to finding it, getting it, carrying it home, still, the enormity of that reality skipped across the surface of my consciousness.
What does it take for a stone to break the water’s surface, drop down deep inside me, ripple out across my cells, create a resonant wave of comprehension and compassion?
for your telling of this fact to fracture the façade of indifference, flood me with understanding the impacts of privilege?
to remember once long ago, water turned to wine turned to blood, an alchemy of the sacred, a miracle to quench my thirst?
Epilogue: A dozen or so years ago, I wrote a “nested” poem and made a card collage of words and images to acknowledge a young friend who, at four years of age, asked “How can it be that clean water is not a given for all those alive in the world?” He went on to organize local benefit concerts and community fund raising events to support well building in Uganda. The collage design became a promotional image helping him raise over $25,000 in the four years since first asking that question.
Well, water is very important.
Well, water is very important,
for LIFE especially.
Well water is very important
for LIFE, especially when there is no rain.”
“So that’s why we’re making some.”
The truth of miles walked by women to gather water for their families came home when I travelled to Morocco in 2019, where I saw Berber women with plastic jugs, walking to wells to get the day’s supply for cooking and washing.
Last month, someone posted three photos of the same view of Lake Oroville in California’s Sonoma valley taken first in 2017, then in spring of 2021, and finally in July showing the devastation of repeated and prolonged drought. From lush green hillsides and a mighty flow of blue water, to sand parched hills and reduced flow, to merely a creek bordered by muddy banks and hills devoid of vegetation. A picture – or three – telling a powerful story.
“In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”
August has arrived in a heat wave, though not the “dome” that brought in July. Wave, dome – both feel pretty damn hot with a bit of wind blowing, deluding one into thinking “ahhh, it’s cooler now.” Cloudless skies continue, but the persistent blue of a month ago has given way to haze with smoke from the still burning forest fires that have disintegrated villages and have others on evacuation notice. Sun glowing red in the morning, redder at night, now later to rise and earlier to set.
Though less now, I’m still attuned to school year rhythms, where notions of work would begin to appear on the horizon, readying for start-up later in the month. It was a few years ago I wrote that August – always for us in the northern hemisphere, the last month of summer – feels to me like one long Sunday night. Today, Sunday, this first day in August – almost a decade since I left full-time employment to free-lance – I still feel that flutter in my belly. A cocktail of anxiety, ambivalence, anticipation, acceptance – the ingredients in this order, though amounts may vary.
I’ve alluded to and explicitly written over the past several weeks, that it’s been a “wobbly” time, difficult even some days. Writ large: the world trying to move beyond a virus that simply will not let us go, mutating faster, and exponentially more contagious. Here and abroad, again a season of relentless burning and unprecedented flooding, evidence that while the world was in retreat for eighteen months, climate change was not. Fractured and collapsed infrastructures. An apocalyptic unveiling of grievous global injustice and racism. Right now to my way of thinking, the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games appear the perfect metaphor. Writ small: me trying to find footing in a “re-opened” community, and province deciding to toss out all covid public health protocols, where I continue to monitor if and who to hug, how close to sit, where and when to wear masks, when to travel to see my parents. Sleep disrupted by the heat and a habit of worrying about unknown “what nexts”? Sensing another turn of the wheel and breaking of the “kitsugi” bowl to allow something – yet defined – room to emerge, then to be mended with gold. Sitting in such threshold space is often difficult for me when it activates old trauma reactions that vacillate between brittle anxiety and a listless, deadening loss of focus – both leaving me wrung out.
“The beauty that emerges from woundedness is a beauty infused with feeling.”
John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, 2004
And so I turn to gazing into the backyard sky and trees, onto the garden beds that are finally reviving. I walk Annie early before it’s too hot, enjoying the silence of our slowly waking streets. I listen to the water falling in the fountain – and while a far cry from my beloved Niagara River – let it soothe. I light the kitchen candle when loss’ grief comes calling. I take pen to page, not as often, and often reluctantly, to write anew or, as below, resurrect a piece hidden on just found, older pages:
So big I missed it.
So messy when my expectations of it are
that it fit a frame of perfect proportion.
When instead, it demands
spilling out and over in
delicious, voluptuous abandon.
And all I can do, is be
- thankfully -
awed and amazed,
enthralled and embraced.
that seeps through the cracks
through the shame and hurt and secret places,
to rest in the space between letting go
to fill up the letting come.
that holds and beckons us
to live alive,
again and again.
so big it fills my heart to bursting
a million exquisite pieces
of dance and song and dream,
of praise and appreciation,
of joy and sorrow,
of life and love,
“Beauty enchants us, renews us, and conquers death.
Piero Ferrucci, Beauty and the Soul, 2009
Wishing you all that is good and true and beautiful in your lives, dear friends. Much love and kindest regards.
The moment when, after many years of hard work and a long voyage you stand in the centre of your room, house, half-acre, square mile, island, country, knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose their soft arms from around you, the birds take back their language, the cliffs fissure and collapse, the air moves back from you like a wave and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing. You were a visitor, time after time climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming. We never belonged to you. You never found us. It was always the other way round.
– Margaret Atwood –
This poem’s wisdom reminds me of that found in David Wagoner’s poem “Lost”– the need to stand still and let the forest find me, for to do otherwise will only guarantee my lostness. Both impart the knowing held by our First Nations’ peoples – being in “right relationship” with Nature; surrendering to its wisdom and power; trusting its medicine to heal and realign us. In the Mountains, we settlers climbed and claimed and named peaks – ususally after people -which for hundreds, if not thousands of years before, had been named by the land’s first peoples in honor of the powers and gifts, the placeholding for tradition, ceremony, and travel direction. As an act of reconciliation, many people today are asking that we restore those original names – to acknowledge the Mountains never belonged to us, we didn’t find them. That it was and always will be the other way round.
Maybe I have been languishing a bit. It’s been a month since I last wrote here. While most Fridays I’ve managed to post my photo and poem features, sometimes offering a bit of explanation as to why this poem now, I haven’t had the jam to write much else on this platform.
I have been writing. A couple of pieces for EdmontonEats (that sweet official writing gig), magazine submissions, poetry contests, and an application to an online summer writing session where, if accepted, I want to learn what it means to be a writer and hone my skills. Cover letters, bio notes, project proposals. At times I feel daunted by the newness of it all, and too, with the solitary, at times lonely space in which I am crafting this new identity, word by word. And it comes.
I thought about writing a piece describing last month’s felling of our Willow. I would have titled it “Beloved Willow Be Gone,” for in eight hours, with a three person crew of master arborists roping, climbing, cutting, grinding, and carrying, that magnificent fifty year old tree was no more. I now see too much of the backsides of garages, sheds and houses, and feel exposed unlike ever before during the near forty years we’ve lived here. But I do see an expanse of sky unlike I’ve ever seen, and we have more sun in the morning, making coffee on the deck a lovely start to the day. Winds have blown very strong many days since, and I am relieved not to wonder and worry would Willow finally give way, crashing into those garages, sheds and houses. Soon the stump will be ground and we’ll plant a new tree…a Mayday with its signature prairie spring perfume and white wedding bouquet blossoms…a quick growing canopy that will eventually begin to fill the still, stark void.
I simply didn’t have the gumption to write more than my “four word sad story” about the recent “discovery” of hundreds of unmarked indigenous children’s graves on the grounds of a residential school. The original reported number, 215, is now over 1000 after other grounds were explored, and is expected to rise significantly as all school sites across Canada are examined. My country’s dark secrets are literally being unearthed and coming to light. It is time, long overdue. I knew my words would be trite and so commit to listening, learning, and being open to being disturbed into wise and respectful action.
And then there’s the pandemic which, by the sounds of it, might become history next month, which is only a few days away. My province is intent to remove all safety measures come July 1st. Other provinces are following suit sooner than later. Vaccinations feel like a “get out of jail” pass. And while I’ve received both shots, I’m hesitant, skeptical even with this abrupt and arbitrary “end” while cities around the world are going back into lockdown as more virulent variants take hold.
Last week we drove to the mountains for a few days. Our first trip since this all began last March. Sitting on the dock our first evening, a balmy summer solstice, I felt myself decompress with every sigh, releasing months of anxiety and uncertainty. I imagined Nature having a mighty big job ahead as she transmutes everything released by people letting go of all we’ve carried these many months. But I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.
“The world — as it is envisaged in Rilke’s letters — is not a tame place. It is filled with pain and potential; joy and separation; war and wonder. These are not meant to be easy companions, and this is part of the marrow of the letters to a young poet: find a way to hold yourself while being in the world that is around you.”
Look, it’s spring. And last year’s loose dust has turned into this soft willingness. The wind-flowers have come up trembling, slowly the brackens are up-lifting their curvaceous and pale bodies. The thrushes have come home, none less than filled with mystery, sorrow, happiness, music, ambition.
And I am walking out into all of this with nowhere to go and no task undertaken but to turn the pages of this beautiful world over and over, in the world of my mind.
Therefore, dark past, I’m about to do it. I’m about to forgive you
you were the first poet whose words I memorized your famous question becoming my mantra my north star for realizing mine was a life wild and precious and worthy of planning
you said you got saved by poetry and the beauty of the world that in your later years Rumi became your daily companion bringing refinement to – what in my eyes are – your already perfect observations your morning walks with pencil and notebook pausing to notice and note, your practice rendering with words the details of God’s creation, your gift amazement, your holy vow
bentlily (Samantha Reynolds)
yours are words that fit exactly the shape of holes in wounded hearts you write one a day – pithy, poignant, piercing – about your life’s everyday moments about your husband, children, friends, and jeans sometimes less than twenty lines, barely more than twenty words those are the ones that take my breath away urge me to winnow mine to essence to notice well and choose what to let be
Today, two more poems to two more poets whose words instruct me in the art of noticing life, and in so doing, make sacred the mundane. Mary Oliver needs no introduction. Vancouver’s Samantha Reynolds, writing under the pen name “bentlily”, began writing a poem a day ten years ago “to find more joy in the tedious rhythm of life as a new mother.” It’s a practice she maintains to this day, delighting us who receive her weekly collection in our inboxes.
The day before Spring officially arrived, I took a walk with a dear friend. She and I have evolved a soft and fluid pattern of getting together as our respective cultures’ holy days are either waxing or waning. In the interim, especially this past year, we occasionally text or fob an email back and forth or send each other a “love note” in the mail. We’ve held the intention to meet for a walk these past many months of needing to maintain a safe, social distance and so it was that a few weeks ago she sent a message offering a couple of afternoons. I suggested we pencil in both, weather permitting, knowing how much can change on a dime. With the long-range forecast looking good for Friday, she suggested we meet at Bunchberry Meadows, a nature conservancy west of the city.
I vaguely recalled having heard of it somewhere, some time ago, so googled and printed off directions. Packed my Deuter daypack with requisite trail mix and water; rain jacket, gloves and toque; first aid kit and camera. Laced on my hiking boots. Grabbed my newly whittled willow walking stick – a gift from the woman who carves in our neighborhood woods. Fuelled up the car – still only a once-a-month ritual – and set out. Zigged once when I should have zagged, but still arrived minutes before my friend coming from a morning of meetings. Hellos said, virtual hugs exchanged on the breeze and we set off.
Being familiar with the trails as she comes out at the turn of every season, she pointed the way and said we’d be traversing through several distinct areas of old growth tamarack, white spruce, jack pine, and willow. The past week of more than seasonal warm and sunny weather meant we walked through large snowless expanses of meadow – exposing last year’s dried golden grasses – and forest mottled with white patches of snow. Paths varied in their coverage: soft crystalline snow made for easy gripping; fallen leaf and dropped needles padding evoked summer mountain treks in scent and feel; and ice sheened with melt became the most treacherous, where boot spikes, had I stopped to take them out of my pack, would have been a wise addition.
Coming to a long stripped log, perched as a bench and glossed to a smooth sheen by countless others who have taken rest on it, I suggested we sit to soak up the sun shining on our faces, while watching the hawk silently float above the meadow fringed with woods. There we soaked, too, in quiet conversation, punctuated by easy, companionable silences.
Encountering another woman on the trail, we clarified our location and route back to the parking lot, completed the circuit down a steep snow and ice covered trail, and through the shadowy filigree file of tamarack, sun lighting the end of the way into the berry meadow, now dotted with dried umber yarrow heads.
Up and through a couple more times, the sun now lower in the sky, but still exceptionally warm for three weeks into March day, and we arrived back at our cars to each make the trek home for dinner.
At the outset, I hadn’t thought of this walk being or bringing medicine. It was simply to be a lovely outing with a lovely friend. But at its conclusion, during the freeway drive home where I needed to shift into another way of navigating trails, and several times since, especially now as I’m writing, in the early hours of a pre-dawn Sunday morning, its soothing effects linger.
I’ve missed walking in Nature’s nature. Sure, Annie and I make our way in our suburban bits of natural landscape, but lately I’ve found myself growing irritated with the number of people on the paths of what are really, simply, barely hidden golf fairways and greens. The first I’m putting to words – this nuanced realization that the more we move out of winter into the inevitable golf season, whatever medicine I’d felt on those paths – a medicine that restored and rebalanced me beyond the basic benefits of being out in the fresh air and elements, moving – is now melting away like the snow, exposing its actual, man-made nature.
And as I think about it further in the last week or so, as a less than conscious response, I’ve found myself drawn back to walking on the path in the little wood lot where we’ve occasionally encountered our friend the stick whittler. Just to be a bit closer on the land…to get a bit closer to Nature’s nature…the healing kind.
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends, as we step into spring, or autumn for my southern hemisphere readers.
A stick, a stone It’s the end of the road It’s feeling alone It’s the weight of your load
It’s a sliver of glass It’s life, it’s the sun It is night, it is death It’s a knife, it’s a gun
A flower that blooms A fox in the brush A knot in the wood The song of a thrush
The mystery of life The steps in the hall The sound of the wind And the waterfall
It’s the moon floating free It’s the curve of the slope It’s an ant, it’s a bee It’s a reason for hope
And the riverbank sings Of the waters of March It’s the promise of spring It’s the joy in your heart
– Antonio Carlos Jobim – 1972
One of Brazil’s greatest songs, inspired by Rio de Janiero’s rainiest month and written in Jobim’s signature bossa nova style, I found myself humming it as Annie and I skirted puddles and crossed street streams during this mild, first week of March. Click here to watch the most well-known version, sung in Portuguese by Jobim, accompanied by famous Brazilian singer, Elis Regina. And what’s become my favourite version, a high school jazz band playing at the 2015 Barcelona Jazz Festival. And here’s an English version sung by its composer. While I imagine we’ll get more cold and snow, this week and this song are joyful reminders of what’s to come.
Click here if you’d like to listen to this post on my new podcast, A Wabi Sabi Life.
Whew! Today is the first of March. Despite yesterday’s snowfall, amounting to a couple of inches right after The Scientist shoveled, this new month, in northern climes, evokes Spring. And while we who live on the prairies know it and its capricious cousin April can bring the season’s fiercest snowstorms with highway whiteouts and broken power lines and tree limbs, it feels like we’ve crossed a threshold of no return in this year’s cycle of seasons. We know that underneath it all, willows will eventually pop their furry buds, robins will begin their predawn serenades, geese will return to fields and ponds, and the backyard cherry tree will unabashedly blush pink.
Last week as Annie and I walked our usual route, I saw Magpie with a twig the length of his wingspan clamped in his beak. Landing in a leafless tree, he hopped from branch to branch, looking for a place to settle, and begin nest building. Then, in response to another’s caw, he took flight across the snowy green to the thick limbed spruce. “Does he know something I don’t?,” I wondered. “Is this the prairie iteration of Groundhog Day foretelling Spring’s arrival?”
A few days later, after an early morning sitting, I suddenly heard as a clear as a bell, the two note high-low song of the black capped Chickadee through the triple pane windows, purring furnace and ticking clock. The first time such sweet birdsong at dawn.
Sunday’s fetching of the mail from the community postal box brought a welcome greeting from a friend. This card featuring the painting of local artist Gina Adams, with inside note “to chirp you into Spring,” brought a smile and now sits as a reminder of what is to come, eventually.
Last Friday’s posting of Jan Richardson’s poem, Beloved is Where We Begin, struck a chord with friends near and far. One emailed “what a yummy passage.” Another used it as the opening theme for her weekly words to her faith community in their exploration of the geography of the heart. And another said it would be included in the collection of poems read aloud to questers at the Sacred Mountain later this spring as they embark on their three-day silent solo fast.
Remembering we are beloved as we journey inward and outward in our own metaphoric wildernesses, through a Winter still to come to a Spring yet to arrive, brings me a similar comforting reassurance as today, the first of March.