How To Be Alone

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.

You are
such an
interesting conversation.

You belong
here.

-Pádraig Ó Tuama –

This Beauty

“In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”

Blaise Pascal

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.

imagine a whisper of a breath

“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

below Athabasca Falls, Jasper, Alberta

THE MOMENT

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.




Finding A Way

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.

National Indigenous Day Celebrations, Jasper, Alberta

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.

Every week I receive a wonderful letter, The Pause, written by poet Pádraig Ó Tuama, giving insight into the coming week’s On Being podcasts. This week, he describes the conversation Krista Tippett has with Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows about their new translation of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. You know I’m a Padraig fan, quoting him here often. Once again, his words resonate and offer me a fitting conclusion to my meanderings today:

“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.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

A Settlement

A SETTLEMENT

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

for everything.

– Mary Oliver –
What Do We Know, 2002

An Early Spring Medicine Walk

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.

snow white paths and aspens

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.

Bunchberry Meadows

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.

my neighborhood woodlot in autumn

Waters of March

WATERS OF MARCH

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.

March

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.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Being a Person

BEING A PERSON

Be a person here. Stand by the river, invoke
the owls. Invoke winter, then spring.
Let any season that wants to come here make its
own
call. After that sound goes away, wait.

A slow bubble rises through the earth
and begins to include sky, stars, all space,
even the outracing, expanding thought.
Come back and hear the little sound again.

Suddenly this dream you are having matches
everyone’s dream, and the result is the world.
If a different call came there wouldn’t be any
world, or you, or the river, or the owls calling.

How you stand here is important. How you
listen for the next things to happen. How you
breathe.

– William Stafford –

Winter into Spring

January Buds Waiting

WINTER INTO SPRING

The trees, along their bare limbs,
contemplate green.
A flicker, rising, flashes rust and white
before vanishing into stillness,
and raked leaves crumble imperceptibly
to dirt.

On all sides life opens and closes
around like a mouth.
Will you pretend you are not
caught between its teeth?

The kestrel in its swift dive
and the mouse below,
the first green shoots that
will not wait for spring
are a language constantly forming.

Quiet your pride and listen.
There — beneath the rainfall
and the ravens calling you can hear it —
the great tongue constantly enunciating
something that rings through the world
as grace.

Lynn Ungar
(Bread and Other Miracles)

Last week when I wrote about Wintering, I was aware it was Imbolc, the ancient Celtic holy day, midway between Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, that honours the “barely beginnings” of new life. Try as I might to acknowledge that in my post, I couldn’t, needing instead to simply stay put in the depth of wintering. Maybe a prescient response to the deep Arctic cold that descended upon us this week, nonetheless, those barely beginnings are evident. Sun rising earlier in the morning, sitting higher in the noon sky, setting later in the afternoon. Hyacinth, tulip and daffodil bulbs forced in greenhouse warmth. Latent buds on trees. We wait. It comes. Winter into Spring.

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