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.

Self-Compassion

SELF-COMPASSION
My friend and I snickered the first time
we heard the meditation teacher, a grown man,
call himself honey, with a hand placed
over his heart to illustrate how we too 
might become more gentle with ourselves
and our runaway minds. It’s been years
since we sat with legs twisted on cushions,
holding back our laughter, but today
I found myself crouched on the floor again,
not meditating exactly, just agreeing
to be still, saying honey to myself each time
I thought about my husband splayed
on the couch with aching joints and fever
from a tick bite—what if he never gets better?—
or considered the threat of more wildfires,
the possible collapse of the Gulf Stream,
then remembered that in a few more minutes, 
I’d have to climb down to the cellar and empty
the bucket I placed beneath a leaky pipe
that can’t be fixed until next week. How long
do any of us really have before the body
begins to break down and empty its mysteries
into the air? Oh honey, I said—for once
without a trace of irony or blush of shame—
the touch of my own hand on my chest
like that of a stranger, oddly comforting
in spite of the facts.

– James Crews –

Every morning I’m greeted with two poems in my inbox: one from Canada’s League of Canadian Poets, and this one from The Academy of American Poets, “Poem-A-Day.” I think most of us need a daily dose of self-compassion, or at least to be reminded that gently placing our own hand on our own chest over our own heart is a kind and loving gesture we each deserve, and need.

Much love and kindest regards to you, dear friends.

It’s For the Animals

It’s for the animals
I weep.

Every time I read about another disaster –

this time the massive flooding and landslides
a province away
how a “river bomb” dropped a month of rain
in two days on a landscape
already battered and burned by
last summer’s fires in
a “heat dome” of hell
weather descriptions I’ve never heard before

– yes, I think about people
my kith and kin
stuck in cars between mountains of mud
swept over the edge covered like quick sand
their homes and lives and livelihoods destroyed
light a candle, say a prayer

I think about towns evacuated and flooded
tossed like a child’s play blocks when the earth heaves
decimated by flames stoked to a frenzy by raging winds

I wonder about the already fragile “supply chains”
when the country’s largest seaport is held captive
by a collapsed infrastructure
cross country corridors for truck and train
are broken

I remember this is today, here and now
that yesterday it was someplace else
and tomorrow
there will be a tomorrow –

But it’s when I read about
the thousands of animals drowning
see farmers defying evacuation orders in
attempts to save them
imagine their terror as
water submerges
mud entombs
fires incinerate

that my heart shatters and
I howl.



This Thing

THIS THING

There is this thing called choice
that we value so highly.
Free will, some call it,
all our decisions
left to ourselves.

There is this thing call freedom
that we value so highly.
Live free or die trying,
all our purposes
set by our own hand.

There is this thing call rights
that we value to highly.
The right to decide, to protect.
Everything sits upon it.

There is this thing called us
that we struggle to value.
Us eclipses my choices,
my freedom,
my rights.

Us means it’s harder, more complex, unknown.

– Gretta Vosper –
Take a Deep Breath, 2019

I first met Gretta Vosper in autumn of 2019 when she keynoted an event at which I facilitated a session on creativity. An ordained minister of the United Church of Canada, Gretta is, paradoxically, a self-professed atheist. Unlike most in the gathering that weekend, I was completely unfamiliar with her and her reputation for a radical, fierce commitment to justice. But like most present when she spoke, I was deeply moved, to tears actually.

Recently re-reading her self published chapbook, Take a Deep Breath: A Poetic Pursuit of Justice (2019), I came across this poem which shimmered with remarkable prescience and current relevancy.

Trees

I’ve posted it before and its beauty continues to awe

“A tree is a light-catcher that grows life from air.”

Maria Popova, “Why Leaves Change Color,” The Marginalian, October 26, 2021

That line stopped me for its simple truth and eloquent beauty.

This morning, basking in the “fall back” gift of an extra hour’s sleep, lingering over coffee with Annie beside me on “her” aptly named loveseat, I started to read Maria Popova’s wondrous words in her weekly newsletter, The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings). A click back to last week’s issue, an essay on the process – both scientific and philosophic – of photosynthesis and the colour of autumn leaves. “Could anyone write more beautifully about the magic of this process, this season, and its connotations?” I whispered to myself.

“Autumn is the season of ambivalence and reconciliation, soft-carpeted training ground for the dissolution that awaits us all, low-lit chamber for hearing more intimately the syncopation of grief and gladness that scores our improbable and finite lives — each yellow burst in the canopy a reminder that everything beautiful is perishable, each falling leaf at once a requiem for our own mortality and a rhapsody for the unbidden gift of having lived at all. That dual awareness, after all, betokens the luckiness of death.”

Maria Popova

Every Saturday morning has found me walking in the autumn splendor of Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley. Having just completed the ninth of twelve weekly stages, I continue to be in awe of the season’s vibrant colours. Too, with the exceptional lack of snow, though this week saw a skin of ice on a large pond, and a patch of thick frozen runoff. Every week, I make photographs from what I see, from what especially shimmers and shines. And without fail, most of those photos are of trees in their golden, vermillion, russet, and bronze glory. Of their transition from fully “dressed” to bare limbed. Some resplendent with red, black, and purple berries; some with tight portending buds. Yesterday I remarked to my husband that no one can say we don’t have colourful autumns here on the prairies. He reminded me it’s that we don’t typically have the massive globes of colour from the towering hardwood oaks and maples. Yes, here one must look closer in, not quite so high up, nearer to the ground for such treasures.

“As daylight begins fading in autumn and the air cools, deciduous trees prepare for wintering and stop making food — an energy expenditure too metabolically expensive in the dearth of sunlight. Enzymes begin breaking down the decommissioned chlorophyll, allowing the other pigments that had been there invisibly all along to come aflame. And because we humans so readily see in trees metaphors for our emotional lives, how can this not be a living reminder that every loss reveals what we are made of — an affirmation of the value of a breakdown?”

Maria Popova

As I’ve written before, my earliest memory is of laying in my baby buggy, looking into trees – the new green maple leaves and the spaces in between onto the sky. The fluttering and swaying, in the growing warmth of spring, caught my budding curiosity, creating a life-long affinity for their beauty and recognition of their healing balm and wisdom.

So it is that I appreciate Popova’s naming other, perhaps less ‘attractive’ metaphoric connections between ourselves and trees – death and breakdowns. And why this poem of Mary Oliver rings so deeply true:

WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

,

Note to Self When Walking (Because I Forget)

Note to Self When Walking (Because I Forget)

When walking in the woods,
Or on a path,
Or down the street,
In a store,
Or just upstairs,
When you are intent on going,
Where ever it is you are going,
Stop.
Stand still.

Notice how the mind can chatter,
Like purple finches in the trees,
Endlessly clicking and warbling,
Rising and falling and rising again.
Notice all your plans and longings,
All the things you got, but didn’t want,
All you wanted, and didn’t get,
All the circular conversations aimed at changing,
What was already said or unsaid.
Notice all the losses you are carrying,
With as much grace as you can muster.

Notice the sky, the feel of the air on your skin,
The sounds or what hangs in the silence,
The hard knot in your throat.
Notice all these things and more,
Because there is always more.
Then let your heart open,
Even just a crack,
A dribble or a dam break,
It doesn’t matter.
Because it is in that opening,
You’ll find a clear space
The one you keep finding
And losing
And finding again.

Remember to love it all,
All of it.
Hold hands and high five
With what’s easy and dear,
Ephemeral and brilliantly ordinary.
Wrap compassion like a blanket
The kind we place tenderly,
Around other people’s shoulders,
When the disaster is done and the worst is over.
Love it all,
Without looking for any way out,
Not condoning, just allowing,
For it all to just live,
Where it lives.
Love everything that broke your heart open
That changed you forever,
That made you softer,
And helped you understand,
What you could not have understood otherwise.
Love what you’ve endured,
Love what you are still enduring.
Love the purple finches and the sidewalk,
The view from the upstairs window,
The brambles and wild asters,
And the click of the keyboard.

Love all of this
Small and fragile,
Big and beautiful,
Life.

Then take the next step.

– Carrie Newcomer –

As I wrote in my post Walking, I like to meander and saunter. I like to pause to listen, to look up into the sky, into the trees, onto the expanse of river or field. Yes, to find the image that shimmers, but also to empty myself of all the clutter and clatter so I can take in a bit of what surrounds me, let it envelope me, inside and out.

When Annie and I walk, she is patient with me, as I pause, as I focus my camera, as I stop to talk with a neighbor. Just one of the many things I love about her.

This poem arrived in the monthly “Growing Edge” newsletter by Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer. Evoking David Wagoner’s “Lost,” and David Whyte’s “Start Close In,” I love Carrie’s grace-filled noticing and wise counsel to love everything that breaks our hearts open…makes us softer…that we’ve endured and are still enduring, while encouraging us always to take the next step.

Dear friends, may you, too, love it all and take the next step.

I sometimes forget

this I remember…dancing with Bellathea for her birthday

I sometimes forget
that I was created for Joy.

My mind is too busy.
My Heart is too heavy
for me to remember
that I have been
called to dance
the Sacred dance of life.

I was created to smile
To Love
To be lifted up
And to lift others up.

O’ Sacred One
Untangle my feet
from all that ensnares.
Free my soul.
That we might
Dance
and that our dancing
might be contagious.

– Hafiz –

One of my great joys is dancing outside, barefoot on the grass, during warm summer days at live music events – Edmonton’s and more recently Canmore’s folk festivals. So these past two COVID summers, I’ve missed dancing. I danced before I walked, or so goes the story told by my mother…she relieved for the Mickey Mouse tunes on TV that got my attention so that I pulled myself up in the playpen and bounced while she cooked dinner. Now I kitchen dance mornings listening to my radio station, CKUA, and often when I’m cooking dinner. My feet “untangled” from so much that had “ensnared” me, there’s a freedom and lightness that reminds me of my call and my joy.

On Prayer

ON PRAYER

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word ‘is’
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.

Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.

~ Czeslaw Milosz ~

I took this photo last weekend during my weekly “Camino de Edmonton,” where a group of us walk through the river valley – from east to west, in twelve stages of eight to fifteen kilometers – from September to the end of November. This is the city’s railroad trestle bridge constructed in 1908, a still-standing, functional testament to what built Canada “from sea to shining sea.”
Earlier in the week, I “saved” this poem and knew it would be the perfect complement, or my photo the perfect complement to it.
Synchronicity in the married beauty of word and image.
My life as poem and prayer…and photo.

A Perfect Day

A PERFECT DAY

I wonder if some language
has a word for it – the elation
of a perfect fall day, crisp and
gilt-edged and glowing,
mixed with melancholy
of wondering whether this might
be the peak, the moment when
the fruit is perfectly sweet
before it tips to decay.
I mean not just the coming winter,
but the dropping shoe of it all-
flood and drought and
the cruelty of the terrified and in denial.

And what if another perfect day
does come, and I fail to notice?
What if I wake up as if from a dream
in which I’ve opened a room full
of opulent gifts, and then neglected
to thank the giver? It happens.
The ground is littered with
bright leaves and sturdy acorns.
I carefully select a few to bring inside,
when I could lie down and roll
in the brittle beauty of it all.

– Lynn Ungar –
October 2, 2021

“Gosh, I could gush every day over the golden, glorious gorgeousness of these autumn days,” I wrote to a friend in response to the photos we were both posting. And then I read Lynn Ungar’s most recent poem, and knew that before these perfect fall days pass, I will lie down and roll in their brittle beauty and thank the giver.

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 –

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