The Sanctuary of Trees

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“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 –

Andalusian Impressions

Our winter sojourn in southern Spain was a beauty- filled collection of experiences. The range of accommodations I’d selected were perfect in location, amenities and comfort – everything either photos or words said they’d be. I got my fill of fine art and architecture and we both got our fill of tapas, temperanillo, manchego and manzanilla, gelato and vermut. The weather was exceptional. No rain. A few days of cloud. Blue skies, sunshine and a warmth that brought on an spring early with the fragrance of orange blossoms.

The original two weeks and a bit became nearly three as our first leg, early morning flight from Sevilla to Madrid was cancelled due to fog. You’d think we would’ve been forewarned driving in the cab in the dark shadow and mist –  or realized we’d were in clutches of Mercury in Retrograde, infamous for communication, travel and technology glitches – but our anticipation was focused on being homeward bound. Hand gestures and broken English at the gate indicated the plane was hovering but unable to land. Then the flight sign suddenly switched from “delayed” to red lettered “cancelled” and we hoofed it back to through security to the Air Europa office to learn that while we could get out that day, the next Amsterdam to Edmonton flight was two days away.

Thank god for devices and the memory of that simple, family owned hotel I’d stayed at my first visit to Sevilla, as the terrific Air BnB we’d just left that morning was no longer available. One room left. Booked. Then the consistently reliable Hilton at Madrid’s airport with free shuttle service to and from.  Outrageous price, but again the stroke of good fortune in that I’d slipped my CAA card into my wallet and it gave us a substantial discount. Forty-five minutes later and we were set to enjoy thirty-six more hours in warm and sunny Sevilla. Oh, and the business class upgrade, Madrid to Amsterdam to Edmonton. Sweet finale!

Travelling for me is about expanding my awareness and presence into the new – vistas, people, ways of being, food, art, culture, sounds. It’s about, as I was told by the couple of elder artists years ago during a layover in the Rome airport, the gathering of new impressions, and being changed by them. Both as a way to deepen into, and practice soulful self care, I always journal and include post cards, brochures and business cards, and other colourful “what nots” to conjure up those sights and tastes. I sometimes paint – quick pen, ink and watercolours on the pages – my personal post card. And I always photograph to hone in, compose and then relive the memories in my photo books.

When I travelled to Morocco last September, I wrote haiku every day as way to “grok” each location visited. This time, I’d quickly jotted down words and phrases that have become vignettes of each place seen and savoured. Here is the first.

I   Aracena – Finca Buen Vino

a welcoming embrace
to be met by friends when travelling afar, brings the heart quickly home to rest

fire burning in the open grill lifts away the mountain chill
iced manzanilla warms from the inside – another remembered, welcomed embrace

baked courgette and goat cheese stacked and layered with sweet jam of tomato and pimento
quails roasted with tea and Iberian jamon
vino tinto glistens claret in crystal goblets
white damask and stamped silverware rest heavy in hand

soundless night
waxing full sleep under feather beds under the waning full moon

 

morning walk on the grounds to get one’s footing, to land more fully

enveloped in low cloud and birdsong, sheep bells ring tunelessly,
their owners hidden among chestnut and oak treed hillsides,

those nuts have fed pigs and people for generations,
bringing acclaim to a region known world-wide for its jamon, paste and castenets

white stucco villages nestled in valleys, suddenly appear like mirages when the cloud veil lifts
only to disappear when the breeze blows in a new thick white layer

cork trees scored around their middles, every decade stripped below of their thick bark
plugged into bottles of local specialties – sherry, “vermut,” vino

wild mushrooms foraged for stews and sausage
bitter oranges gathered for thick sweet marmalade

an afternoon camino through farmland and forests
along paved path, stone path, dried mud trail

grazing dark pigs come running for hoped for handouts,
snouts sniff through fence, beady eyes intelligent with curiosity as I mimic their call

blackberry brambles hug old low stone walls, naked until summer

sudden splashes of yellow vivid against the grey white green
feathery globes of mimosa blossoms into an early spring

Waiting

Do not try to save the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing in the
dense forest of your life
and wait there patiently
until the song that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
And you recognize it and greet it.
Only then will you know how to give
yourself to this world
so worthy of rescue.

– Martha Postlewaite –

Wild Things

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The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my childrens’ lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry –

A Blessing for This New Year

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Beannacht
an excerpt

…May the nourishment of the earth by yours,
May the clarity of the light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

– John O’Donohue –
To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

And

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The Shining Word “And”

“And” teaches us to say yes
“And” allows us to be both/and
“And” teaches us to be patient and long suffering
“And” is willing to wait for insight and integration
“And” does not divide the field of the moment
“And” helps us to live in the always-imperfect now
“And” keeps us inclusive and compassionate towards everything
“And” demands that our contemplation become action
“And” insists that our actions is also contemplative
“And” is the mystery of paradox in all things
“And” is the way of mercy
“And” makes daily, practical love possible

– Richard Rohr –
A Spring Within Us, 2016