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

Recalibrating to a New Now

Today, sitting around our home, still in my robe and slippers at nearly noon, with not a thing needing to get done, I realized how much my interior state is still one of having to do something to feel purposeful. Just sitting there (oh the judgment with typing “just” and what that connotes), looking out the window, sipping a coffee, and I’m feeling this pressure, this nagging urgency to get going, get doing.

To do something to feel purposeful.

As a kid, it was always about staying one step ahead so as not to get in trouble. Hyper-vigilance became my m.o. and like most qualities, it has its double edge. On one hand, an ability to quickly scan and sense into the field, to notice, to decide, and act, or not. Very helpful in lots of places. On the other, an ever-present heightened awareness that can quickly become anxiety. Not so helpful when it takes over and leaves me lagged and jagged in its wake.

Then as an adult, both in my professional work, and spiritually seeking nature, I read and espoused tomes on finding the elusive work-life balance of purpose, meaning, values aligned engagement, so on and so forth. Titles, many of which remain on the book shelf, and which continue to attest to its selling and seductive power. Still doing something to feel purposeful.

Now, it seems those very words, phrases, steps and stages to which I aspired are backfiring as I sit in this new now place of having an expanse of wide open time and space in which to do, to be anything I wish to do, to be. I realize it’s always a matter of interpretation, and I’ve truly appreciated the authors and thought leaders from whose books and words I’ve gleaned much, but I’m wondering, yet again, the extent to which this too, is conditioning premised on a core belief of being flawed, and not enough, just as I am? Of not trusting a deep inner balance beyond myself? I wonder how much this is a ruse we’ve all bought into, the striving that becomes driven, the discipline that shapeshifts to bullying. The way we keep ourselves and others in line making, doing, getting and growing.

“All day long you do this, and then even in your
sleep…pan for gold.

We are looking to find something to celebrate
with great enthusiasm,

wanting all our battles and toil and our life to make sense.

‘I found it, I found it, I found it!’ a hermit once
began to shout, after having spent years in solitude, meditating.

‘Where?’ a young shepherd boy near by asked.
‘Where?’

And the hermit replied, ‘It may take a while,
but I will show you. For now, just sit near to me.’

All day long we do this with our movements
and our thoughts…pan for gold.”

Hafiz in Daniel Ladinsky, A Year With Hafiz, 2011

It’s been over seven years since I “retired.” Never was and still not comfortable with the word, I didn’t miss a beat before quickly launching myself into a consulting practice. I admit my drive was in part fear driven. Within two weeks I’d designed my professional web presence and had contracts. While still the fall to early summer rhythm I’d been used to for twenty-five plus years, it was more spacious, and seldom was I driving in lousy weather. I continued working with people I loved, offering myself from the place of vocation, best described to me by Frederick Buechner and John O’Donohue:

“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” ―

Frederick Buechner

“That edge where the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where the outer gift fits the inner hunger.”

John O’Donohue in Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life, 2005

If taxes are an indication, 2018 was my best year ever. And then with provincial budget cuts, contracts suddenly weren’t, and others were curtailed, so that by late last fall, work as I had known it came to a sudden halt. While not surprising, even feeling an almost secret deep gladness, I realized this seven-year cycle of work post “retirement” had come to completion, and would look different here on in. I wouldn’t be “hunting” for work. I’d be content with what came my way, trusting in enough. I’d use that refined ability to scan, sense into, notice and follow the energy to God knows where, even if it was to nowhere and nothing.

While my head was making sense of it all, in December, my body responded with a month plus systemic virus, infecting my physical senses, sinuses and lungs. “Perhaps I was detoxing?” offered a wise friend. Yes, and resting.

“In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being. In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body’s uncoerced, un-bullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival. In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the breath, is the give and take, the blessing and being blessed and the ability to delight in both. The fifth stage is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between the inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous movement.”

David Whyte, “Rest” in Consolations, 2015

Hesitant to give over completely to Whyte’s synthesis, I know intimately the truth of his first and second stages. Resonating with “slowly coming home” given my 2020 word. Reclaiming myself from the bullied over-riding of my body’s need and knowing. Rediscovering trust. Restoring faith. *Recalibrating, again, into this new now. But first, to pause and rest.

*Recalibrating – In 2011, friend gifted me this word to describe my inner process when I returned home after three months in Europe. It’s a recurrent life theme about which I’ve written or referenced over the course of those years since:

 

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 –

Winter in Spain

It’s early morning, still dark, cold, snowy and winter. When this gets posted, hopefully winter will be the only carry forward for us as we’ll be en route to Spain. Reading last July, a solo traveler’s post on spending a couple of weeks last January in Andalusia got me thinking. Last winter, having bailed on Mexico, we stayed put and endured the coldest February in forty years. Not complaining, as making home in Alberta comes with making peace with winter. And while my tolerance for cold has lessened considerably after a thyroidectomy in 2017, I’ve come to love the soft, enveloping quiet of falling snow, the invitation to turn inward during the long dark, the slow, the still. But I wondered aloud about shifting direction this winter. A quick email to Sam, who with his wife and sons host an exquisite b’n’b in the mountains west of Sevilla, confirmed winter can be a lovely, low season time to visit. Confirmation from husband that yes, Spain would meet his destination criteria of good food and wine, gave me the go ahead to don my travel consultant hat and design our itinerary. Barcelona and Madrid would give way to a more focused, yet leisurely experience of Andalusia. A circuit starting quickly but ending slowly in Sevilla, with an easy few days Finca Buenvino in Aracena, then onto Cordoba, Granada, Malaga.

“Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’d already visited some of the region. September 2017 I was scheduled to co-host a circle gathering in Germany when a friend suggested we travel to her favourite part of Spain, an area she was certain I’d become as enamored of as had she. Rather magically, the email invitation to attend a writer’s retreat at Finca Buenvino a few weeks’ preceding. Afterwards, five days soaking up elements of Sevilla – hot sunshine, cold manzanilla sherry, tapas and flamenco, Mudejar architecture, colourful tiles and gardens – and a day in Cordoba. As the scout for some of the travelling I do with my husband, I’m delighted to be stepping back into the familiar, while anticipating the fresh and new with him.

“Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I know we’ll be beautifully hosted in Aracena. Sam and Jeannie, British expats, built their pink villa decades ago as a guest house and cooking school. Specializing in fresh, local Andalusian inspired cuisine complemented by sherries, vermouths and wines, I knew this would be an easy way to my man’s heart. I’ve reserved for luncheon in Linares, a nearby hill town, at Arrieros, the Michelin recommended café I’d walked by that September where the owner invited me in for gazpacho, which I had to regretfully decline due to the day’s writing retreat schedule. Another luncheon booked at Sevilla’s ConTenedor, returning to that terrific slow food restaurant featuring a pastiche of local flavor and colour. We’ll see flamenco, compare the vast beauty of Al Hambra with the more accessible Real Alcazar, sip and savour at tapas bars. I’ll visit the art galleries missed the first time.

“When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

I’ve been living a slower spaciousness.  I completed a contract in January, filed the report a couple of weeks ago. Intentionally set timelines to have time to prepare.

The practical. After the brilliant, brittle cold last month, how will long-range forecasts of mid teen and low twenties temperatures feel? Which layers to stay warm at night, at elevation? What are the best footwear options to safeguard against a flareup of the plantar fasciitis I’ve been tending for the month? Which medicinals to shore up and stay healthy? The corkscrew and sharp knife for the impromptu. The swimsuit for the hammam.

The heart. Travel lighter. Make time and space for writing and painting. Bring the journal from last time, the new notebook that matches. Paints and brushes. The camera. Receive what the heart would love to say, to see. Maybe the gift of my sore foot, “to move at the pace of guidance.”

“May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Often I travel solo. Typically, an “alone, together” small group experience where I can immerse in the moment to moment unfolding, nurturing impressions in the quiet of my own creative process; then coming out to engage with those around me. Travelling with my husband is markedly different. The focus and energy shifts to us, together, to us, alone, in new spaces, and made new by our travelling them together. I wonder what invitations wait along the way for us, for me?

“May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.”

John O’Donohue, “For The Traveler,” in To Bless the Space Between Us, 2008

Seven months since the idea to go to Spain this winter. Almost here, and soon enough home again.

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 Love Letter to Annie

Our morning routine:

I put the kettle on to boil for my americano. I put fresh water into one of your bowls, a scoop of pumpkin into the other. Lights on, I go downstairs, say good morning, and pour a cup of dry kibble on top of the pumpkin. Fetch you from your kennel, maybe get lucky with a quick sniff and kiss. You shoot up the stairs, scewed carpet in your wake, and wait impatiently at the back door, howling for me to hurry. Maybe a side stop and quick glance through the dining room window to see if any rabbits are deserving of your attention.

I laugh because of late, you race outside, only to immediately pivot after catching a sniff of the still dark morning air, and return to the door, jumping to be let in, the urgency to void suddenly displaced by the urge to eat.

Your exuberance for the new day continues as you race through the hardwood hallway, skid into the kitchen and launch into breakfast. That scarfed down, you tap dance the few steps across to the counter, head cocked alert, and anxiously wait for the next course, a couple of chopped carrots.

Now maybe I can scoop coffee into my two-cup stove-top espresso pot, section a grapefruit, get cream into my mug before you or I realize you need to go out again. For real. That done, another couple of carrot chunks, coffee poured, I sit down to glance at my phone.

You take your place in the hallway, looking into the kitchen at me. A barely audible “grrrr,” as you signal your need to go out. Again. At least twice. Maybe for real this time so I give in, but am pretty sure it’s your ruse to get twice the carrots. Funny, you never “grrrr” when I glance at the morning paper, only at the phone. Astute, as you sense it to be a more penetrating distraction from you, and in all honesty, from most everything.

Satisfied, you take your leave, and settle onto “your” sofa to begin one of your many morning naps.  Later you’ll move upstairs to get comfy on a bed, whichever is the best one for basking between pillows in the warmth of  the morning sun.  Yes, we’ve created a Goldilocks, allowing you, our fifth beloved canine companion, to get jump up at your whim onto sofa or bed. You, the first since our first so many decades ago. We, with the weakened resolve of aging.

We become religious,
then we turn from it,
then we are in need and maybe we turn back.
We turn to money,
then we turn to the moral life,
then we think about money again.
We meet wonderful people, but lose them
in our busyness.
We’re, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Steadfastness, it seems,
is more about dogs than about us.
One of the reasons we love them so much.

Mary Oliver, “How It Is With Us and How It Is With Them,” in Dog Songs

Today the morning sun is shining exceptionally bright. Yesterday Sig and I remarked at its growing warmth, its being higher in the sky, its promise of seasons to come, though mindful we have many more weeks of winter cold. Today I have the gift of time, increasingly my gift these days. You come into the kitchen and nudge me to follow you, to sit with you on the sofa. I comply, taking my mug, and settle in beside you. We look into each other’s eyes and stroking your head, I tell you the story of your coming to us, prefaced by saying you’re one of the best things to have come into my life.

Too soon, that weekend in August when we claimed you as ours.  Too soon after our Lady dog had passed. She held on until my return from being in Europe for three months. My heart broken by grief. For her. For work that had been “abolished” ostensibly in a re-organization, but probably a consequence of having spoken truth to power the previous year. For myself, discombobulated by the shock of culture and family reunions. The call from our friend: if we wanted you, we needed to come soon as he needed to unload his kennel of dogs to tend to his ailing wife whose cancer had come out of remission. We’d make a bit of a vacation out of it. Tour the southern foothills. Dine at a local café, off the beaten track but known for bringing in stellar musicians in between their touring gigs. Visit a national park. View the mountains.

When I first saw you, a year old but still a clumsy pup, the largest setter we’d ever had, I was struck by your gentle nature, your soft mouth. I was dismayed that at a year, living in the kennel, you weren’t house broken. And while Sig said we’d kennel you, I knew that simply would not happen. It never did with any of your predecessors. Once home, after several inevitable “whoops,” I wondered if you’d ever learn.  Now I laugh, and eat lots of humble pie with a side of crow, given your aforementioned ruse!

It’s been nearly nine years.  That makes you nearly ten. During this time, I’ve bestowed you with several names of endearment: Gentle Annie, Big Beauty, Annie Bright Eyes, Princess and the Pea, Guard Girl. I see age advance in your white face, clouds in your dark eyes. I see you gingerly lick and occasionally chew on your front legs. Arthritis most likely, given you’re a sporting dog with an instinct honed to run across the prairie for miles, on the wind of bird scent, an hour or so at a stretch. I feel my heart pierce with the inevitable, and think to myself, how I will ever withstand your loss.

Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old – or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.

Mary Oliver, “Dog Talk,” in Dog Songs

Story over, I caress your silky ears, kiss the top of your head and lay my hand on your rib cage as you lay your head on my lap. Continue to stroke your ear.  All is quiet now except for the tick tock of the cuckoo clock. Soon your soft and steady breathing syncs with mine. Inhale. Exhale. I notice the rainbow windsock, hung on the bare willow, stirring. The wind chimes, too. Then it looks and feels and sounds like all is in sync – the clock, our breathing, the swaying windsock and wind chimes – all moving to the soft and slow and steady rhythm of our inhale and exhale.

The sun glows orange on the claret blanket draped across the other sofa. The sky, a robin egg’s blue.

And for these moments, I feel we have stepped into the timelessness that is eternity. Found for a moment, maybe Heaven.Perspectives with Panache

 

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