Holy Grief, Holy Gratitude, Holy Love

Yesterday I woke early with my husband. Our patterns are different. He, the perennial night owl, typically rises later, giving me my cherished quiet hours, giving me delight in tending to Annie who is always eager for her breakfast, always entering the day in a great flourish. I love that about her, about him.

Yesterday the sun shone bright in the early morning sky, giving glisten to the fresh skiff of snow. The sky, that signature Alberta blue, void of cloud, full of invisible stars and moon now new holding quiet hope for its next waxing.

Read the story posted by a local nurse in one of our hospitals describing the toll on her and her colleagues working in these rigorous, strict, uncertain conditions. Describing grief, hers, theirs, their patients. A story no longer anonymous on the page or screen. It comes home, here and now.

Listen to “my” radio station (the one I helped raise from the ashes of mismanagement years ago) and note how each of the  programmers carefully selects tunes to support the artists whose concerts and tours have been dashed, and to entertain and inspire us. I send a quick email to the morning programmer. His signature joy-filled voice and appreciative nature, always appreciated, are now an especially welcome start to my day. A quick station change to hear our national station has committed to several hours of daily programming exclusively featuring our Canadian artists. Each doing what they can to acknowledge, to support, to say thank you.

Drive along that well driven work route, usually busy with fellow commuters, now quiet, with only a city bus turning the corner on its well driven route, a city snow plough dusting off that night fall. Stopped at the lights, I mouth a “thank you” across the lane to the fellow driving the sidewalk sweeper.

Suddenly tears come fast, blurring my vision. I pull over to give myself over to it. The remarkable, poignant realization – again – that every one of us living on this precious planet is going through all of this together, alone together. The odd beauty in this odd symmetry of circumstance. The enormity of it all, simply gave way in the face of noticing on another blessedly brilliant blue sky sunny cold day.  It pierced my already full heart and my tears came.

 

Perspectives with Panache, 2020

In these days of “compassionate retreat,” we wax and wane with the spectrum of emotions. We learn to welcome grief in all her variations – sorrow, fear, anxiety, doubt, cynicism, impatience, irritability, despair, numbness, denial – and know it’s all true.

We hold our hearts overflowing with compassion, wonder, healing and grace, and know it’s all true.

We notice moment by moment the small and large kindnesses of others, the gestures of care and concern, the abilities to stay connected, the beauty of another day, the laughter in a joke shared, the sacred sacrifices of every blessed person in every essential services across every community that keep us going. We know it’s all true.

And we know,
This is Holy Grief.
This is Holy Gratitude.
This is Holy Love.

May it be so.

Perspectives with Panache, 2020

 

Andalusian Impressions, Take Four

Still with me?  We’re just about at the end. Here, and one final, easy, sunny, slow finale in Sevilla before heading back to snowy winter at home.

Malaga. Why Malaga?  Last spring I followed a friend – a very seasoned solo traveler – as she made her way through Andalucia. She was taking three weeks, had the first two booked and posted how she might spend the third. I suggested visiting Finca Buen Vino (our first stop) and she took it from there. She spent a few days in Malaga, visited the “de rigeur” Picasso Museum, and did some other meanderings and musings. I was intrigued, found a great Air BnB (my first overseas booking and IT WAS TERRIFIC! just like the pictures and a perfect location) and took it from there.

From Granada arrived by bus. By taxi found our apartment. And then set off.  Here are glimpses into those two days. Wished it had been two more as it’s a city I loved, with its  more local, less “tourista” vibe. I day-dreamed out loud coming back to that sun-filled apartment, using it as a base to explore the Costa del Sol, the sherry town of Jerez, Cadiz, and Ronda. Hmmmmm, maybe some day…..

IV  Malaga

trade high speed train for bus, ease our way south through mountains and groves
at a pace more in rhythm with our being – from 350 km now to 80 at the most
takes more time but it’s siesta for our souls and soles

 

cabbie confers with his mates, the route to our first Air bnb
finds the street, but the number disappears
“una momento” as I scurry across before the next wave of taxis, cars and motorcycles
seeing three anonymous doorbells, I ring numero dos – una, dos, tres
seeing the woman through the open office door, peek in and ask for her help

“si, si” she is to meet us, has keys and text confirmation
cabbie gathers bags with relief
a most generous tip for his kindness, staying with and not stranding us

climb three narrow twisting stories of blinding yellow stairs
the better to see in the dark, perhaps
thinking mimosa blossoms in the dark forest hillside,
Monica murmurs apologies – “the way it is in a two hundred year old building”
door opens, shutters open, sun streams in, I see exactly the photo that captivated me on the website
“si, si, si” it’s three for three my sleeping selections so far

even better, the location was not exaggerated
within minutes we find our way to galleries, cafes, mercado and museum
this entire trip different as I make time for art
permanent collections depict a curated intention, temporary thrill with exception
late tapas lunch, a contemporary take on an old form
it, too, thrills

 

Picasso.
his birth and childhood only here and then into the bigger world
following intuition, drive and art that inspired, of forms he would create
working in mediums beyond canvas and paper – ceramic, wood, metal
each in response to a curiosity that knew no, would not be, bound

his palette fierce with audacity, courage, bravado
Duende.
his deep and utter, ruthless truth

 

from coffee and torte to sea and port
a walk along the palmed promenade brisk with sea breeze
no beach bathers here, that’s further down and later in the season
though tourists disembarked from cruise ships, baring legs, shoulders, and sockless
have me dressed in down shivering

 

last day shines sunny and blue
a final walkabout reveals artisanal creations and collaborations in ceramic and steel
the most beautiful and innovative work I’ve seen so far
glorious to behold, and that will have to do
as travelling light with little space for extras is intentional in all ways

 

 

 

The Sanctuary of Trees

P1010595

“Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farm boy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

– Hermann Hesse –
Wandering: Notes and Sketches, 1972

Special thanks to Christopher New who read this during the live stream from the Spiritual Seekers United in Community gathering, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Edmonton, Alberta.

Andalusian Impressions, Take Three

So much has changed in our precious world since we departed for and returned home from Spain. During our travels, we saw very little evidence of the impact of COVID-19 in the airports of Amsterdam, Sevilla and Madrid. During our last days abroad, we began to read of cases in Italy, though none had been yet reported in Spain. But now, home eighteen days,  much has changed. Spain follows Italy in its exponential growth of confirmed cases; in its closure, cancellation and lock-down containment strategies. Here in Canada, we wait, close and cancel, practice self isolation, prepare for what we don’t really know.
Thankfully, my husband and I have been well, limiting our social engagements, and will continue to do so, more strictly, during these next weeks. And as most everything has been cancelled, I’ll spend my time preparing my taxes, cooking good food, walking with Annie.
I’ll stay connected with family and friends via email, text and phone.
I’ll create spaces – as are many others –  for kindness and solace, in my home, writing, blog, social media platforms, in my heart and mind.
I’ll listen deeply to self and others, and “make something beautiful,” which, after all, are one in the same.

_________

After walking that beauty and magnificence of Sevilla’s Alcazar in 2017, I knew I’d appreciate seeing its more famous cousin, the Al Hambra in Granada. So when we decided to focus our time in Spain to Andalusia, Granada was right up there on the list of “must sees.”

Donning my former travel consultant’s hat (one I really like wearing!), I booked a cozy little hotel in the Albayzin neighbourhood, purported to be right below and across the river and down below that hillside, iconic palatial fortress. Sure enough, that’s exactly where it was. Not a fifty steps from the foot bridge and steep path up the hill, we timed it to ensure we’d arrive on time for our morning tour the next day. Fifteen minutes, door to door, with some panting to accompany the gurgling creek and small waterfalls by the paved path. (The next morning, chagrined as a fellow, a bit younger than me, and obviously fitter, ran up the path for his morning workout!)

One of those serendipitous travel hits, we were across the street from the walkway and plaza bordering the Rio Darro, where on the third Sunday of the month, the “I Love Granada” gathering of local artisans convened in booths to showcase their creations. A  street festival feeling as friends and families met, patrons filled the outdoor tapas patios, and the sun shone warmly on us all.

Below, my collection of vignettes from our two days in Granada.

III   Granada

patchwork quilts of orange and olive groves
for as far as the eye can see
travelling by train allows this kind of noticing and taking in

glimpses of snow-capped mountains
the Sierra Nevadas soar ten thousand feet into an azure sky
ice glistening glacier mirage like in the distance

 

Al Hambra, another andalusian paradox
my raison d’etre – here in Granada
the mix of cultures,
conquest, construct, create homage to
Allah – God
Sultan – King
Sultana – Queen
love letters in bas relief

gardens and groves
water flows through trough and fountain
purple iris, pink magnolia, one lone yellow rose
rainbow ranunculus foretell of lushness and colour to come

cyprus keep stately silent vigil over a past sultana’s secrets
oleander arches shade soon with innocent poisonous blooms

 

despite the sun, I feel the cold in the shade of these ancient walls
built so solidly along the hillside above so many centuries ago
but walking along the Rio Darro,
amidst that monthly Sunday gathering of local artisans
bubbles glisten as we revel in the warm exception of an early spring

 

red pomegranate stiff skin broken open
red wet seeds spill out staining the paper doily
homage to the virgin statue standing in the dim church alcove
a prayer for what? for whom?
holding and hiding whose cherished secret?

pomegranate, the city’s namesake and symbol
an artist’s rendering pressed into my journal
a small silver orb with red crystal seeds now hangs above my heart

 

red lacquered nails text “I love you” in Spanish, or so I imagine,
watching her stand outside the bus, bid adios and
blow one last farewell kiss to her lover
as I give one to mine

 

Traveling

Finca BuenVino, Perspectives with Panache, 2020

Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.

– Antonio Machado –
Border of a Dream, Selected Poems, 2004

Andalusian Impressions, Take Two

Our time in Andalusia was book-ended by a slow start at the villa in the Sierra Morena mountains, and a slow finish in Sevilla (which ended up even slower with the aforementioned flight cancellation and two day delay getting home!) In between, we’d spend two nights in each of three key cities – Cordoba, Granada, and Malaga. We’d thought about squeezing in Barcelona and Madrid, Valencia, too. But in the end, experience won out, focusing on what might be warmer, sunnier weather, and the wish to take our time, and sink a bit deeper into this region.

I’d made a day trip to Cordoba from Sevilla during the dog days of late summer in 2017. I remembered the “mile high” Spanish omelette at the corner tapas bar outside the walls of La Mezquita. I remembered what appeared an optical illusion, but wasn’t, of those eight hundred plus striped stone pillars inside this UNESCO World Heritage site. The awe-inspiring beauty of Moorish architecture, first seen in the mosques of Istanbul, the domed starry ceiling and intricate stone carved walls. The artisans hand tooling leather. Blue potted, flower adorned walls of Callejas de Las Flores, evoking the “Blue Pearl City” of Chefchaouen in Morocco. I remembered and wanted to see it anew with my partner.

II Cordoba

subdued luxury secreted behind the latched and locked iron gate
what was once a medieval convent, now a quiet respite of ten rooms on three floors

greeted first by the patio’s still beauty
water plays soft music in a rose petaled fountain
the resident two hundred year old orange tree holds court
its full leaved canopy brings perfumed shade during the heat
its fruit, the morning jam

dark wood glows warm against cool white stucco walls, gleaming cotton sheets
blood red rose petals and long-stemmed blossom mark this day of love

 

steps away, down the cobble-stoned calle
La Mezquita’s thick walls command attention
her inner courtyard filled with stone and sunshine
her hallowed halls, an infinity of striped pillars, an optical illusion or is it?
her bell tower anchors the prime piece of real estate
as it has for centuries

the paradox of andalusian architecture:
heavy gothic and baroque Christian catholic cathedral
insisted within the spacious lacy lift of Moorish mosque

statues ablaze in gold gilt and blue and crimson
angels and king, virgin and saints
images fixed in time by time and the artisan’s skill

white filigree, stalactite and inscription on bas relief
blue and gold studded domes evoke star-filled heavens
invite timeless breath and a glimpse into eternity

 

herons stand graceful guard in the silt islets of the Guadalquivir
that once mighty river made cities along its shores rich and mighty –
Cordoba, Sevilla, Cadiz
the still standing roman bridge spans old and new towns
we make our way midway, sit in the afternoon sun,
watch people, listen to senor playing his accordion

 

a morning to view paintings from the past and near present
we have the gallery to ourselves, take our quiet time
the gift of rising early, of being first to enjoy the splendid spread of breakfast
walk past plazas and through neighborhoods
a quick stop at a notion store to purchase a small length of lace
to evoke the flamenco mantilla and shawl

mid afternoon tapas on the street corner up from the river
fino warm, sunshine hot, lunch a forgettable, overdone crusted roll of ham
later dinner on the balcony
the remarkable night view of the golden lit La Mezquita and her bell tower
a chance shooting star
a flamenco guitarist serenades from under the resident orange tree
dinner an unremarkable, overdone grilled shrimp

but after all, it was never about the dinner

PS. Our Cordoba hotel, the sweet boutique, Balcon de Cordoba.

The Coming of March

winter frost 1

Wind blew strong yesterday morning.
Rattled the leafless branches. Made the tall spruce and pine dip and dive in
a pre-dawn dance.
Egged on clouds to race across the still dark sky, streaking it with stripes of
early sunlight.

I smelled the first fresh fragrance of Spring on that wind.
She said, “I’m coming. But be patient. You know Winter likes to take her time leaving.
A bit slow and sluggish, that one.
Almost as if she digs in her heels when she feels my insistence to get things
going and growing.”

Come noon, I saw Sun reigning higher in the sky than it had been for months.
Nudging warmth into Wind’s still icy chill.
Together, though, they partner well to melt Winter’s now tiresome gifts of snow and ice,
leaving puddles the size of small ponds on streets and drives,
revealing sodden black soil and mushy remains in gardens and fields.

“I’m coming.”

Whispers the promise carried by March in these northern climes.

“But remember, I’m moody, ambivalent. You might even call me Caprice.”

–  KW –