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.

Stitches Through Time

Last month I started a hand-making project I’d envisioned for over a year: to interpret a series of mandalas I’d drawn and painted by tracing their designs onto linen and embroidering with wool crewel yarn. That had been the original plan. But when it took many months for the yarn to arrive from England and to secure the right colour and weave of linen – all ordered online as this was in the thick of lockdowns and I’d seen how website color charts don’t translate well – a chance walk down an aisle at Michael’s (the national chain craft store) where I saw a wall full of cotton embroidery thread in a rainbow of colours, resulted in its rethinking to ‘plan B.’

Then a comment to my mother, when we finally visited in September – she remarkably skilled in high counted cross stitch, our home graced by several of her creations – led to her gladly gifting me with her supply of needles, hoops, scissors, specially made wooden boxes, beads, and ‘signature’ well-organized collection of threads – hundreds of colours in a multitude of hues and metallics. For me who was enthralled with my childhood Christmas gift box of 64 Crayola crayons, I was in that same colour-smitten heaven. I paid an extra baggage fee to bring the entire collection safely home, spent an evening going through it all to understand Mom’s ‘system,’ finally broke the seal on the new tracing light board I’d purchased a year ago in anticipation, and began.

Initially, I thought I’d follow closely the colours in the original watercolour, but I soon realized that working with needle, thread and yarn, despite being close in colour, is not the same as brush and paint. So, I began to improvise within the spaces, using a variety of shades and stitch patterns. I discovered that “split stitch” is pleasing in its coverage, texture, ability to move back and forth between thread and yarn, and in actually making each stitch. It simply feels good to make that stitch.

I also discovered that where I began – sitting quietly in our living room after dinner, everything spread around me – I missed my ‘pack,’ and knew Annie missed me. She has her routine. Once we finish dinner and clean up the kitchen, it’s ‘pack time.’ She settles on ‘her’ love seat in the family room and waits for us to join her. Sometimes when we’re lingering over dinner, she can become quite impatient, pacing back and forth, showing her teeth in that non-aggressive, trying to talk to us way. It’s just not the same if I’m sitting in the living room, even when I cajole her into laying down on the carpet beside me. So I’ve shifted to where the light and companionship are better, often plugging in my earbuds to listen to a podcast as I stitch, while Sig watches a hockey game or an investing or horse training video, and Annie, utterly content on the sofa in between, soundly sleeps.

But the biggest discovery has been how soothing I find this act of handmaking. It goes slowly. Gradually I see the colours and textures resemble the painting that inspired the plan. Not an evening goes by when I don’t silently grok and or remark how soothed I feel doing this work. In part I know it comes from the deep appreciation I feel using my mother’s materials and supplies, that my hands are using what her hands had used for years to make beauty. And that given the amount of thread she’s given me, I will most likely have many more years than my mother life to bask in this gratitude.

“There is a juiciness to creativity, a succulence, or a sensuality which both produces and is soothed by creating something. I think that creativity is pleasing to women on a very deep level, whatever form it might take – whether it’s the feel of clay in our hands, the colours that work on us as we knit, the meaning that we find in the words that we write, or the energizing feel of movement as we dance and the music moves through our bodies.”

Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, 2019
quoted in “When Women Create,” A Wabi Sabi Life

As I look over my life, my mother always did handwork, as did many women of her generation and those before her. I remember many of the clothes she made for my sister and me until I began sewing my own in my early teens. After living in an apartment for my first thirteen years, my parents built their home and Mom poured herself into its decorating, needlepointing the backgrounds of eight dining room chairs – a meditation in monotony, same stitch, same colour for many months. From there she mastered every style of needlework, again gifting me with cushions, purses, and such. She knit beautifully, always challenging herself in ways I didn’t quite get nor fully appreciate. A brief foray into crewel work and then counted cross-stitch and cutaway, the finer and more intricate, the better. In the last few years, she’s found the strain on her eyes too much, regrettably as she has several half-finished projects and wishes to make each of her grandchildren and great grandchildren keepsakes. So she’s gone back to occasionally knitting, and now spends more time reading. It’s a pastime I’m happy she enjoys, as when younger she never did, believing herself to be a poor reader. So utterly untrue when I think about what she’s created with her hands – the patterns she had to read and interpret, the recipes she improvised, the books she kept for the business. A legacy of the hurtful, limiting stories we’re told, or tell ourselves.

“When you learn to make things with your hands, you begin to awaken an awareness of the beauty and value of things in your life. Handmaking teaches us about slowness: the antidote to brevity and efficiency. It shows us, through the patience of our own hands, what goes into a thing. When we put those long efforts into bringing beauty into the world, we are honouring that which made us by creating as we have been created. We are taught to respect the slow, attentive piecing together of the life we yearn for.”

Toko-pa Turner, Belonging, 2017
quoted in “A Homemade, Handmade Life,” A Wabi Sabi Life

And looking further back, her grandmother, my Gramma, was always sewing – spectacular fashions inspired by the turn of the century Edwardian era. Plumed and netted hats, velvet coats. No wonder I was so taken by Downton Abbey for its costume design, as I have old sepia tint photos of Gramma looking just like those women. Too, I have one hundred year old samples of her silk embroidery, and I wore for my wedding the white cotton lawn embroidered dress she’d made for her own – fine hand sewn tucked bodice, tiny mother of pearl buttons.

My paternal grandmother, Oma, too, was a very skillful seamstress, though in the pre and post world war periods of Germany, her talents were out of necessity directed to the functional, utilitarian, to get more wear from what was worn. Emigrating to North America in the 1950s, she became a pieceworker on the assembly line making glass cases for Bausch and Lomb. An accident on the sewing machine nearly severed her middle finger, left its nail permanently clawed over. Her dowager’s hump the price for countless hours bent over those grinding machines.

Before my mother’s second birthday, her mother died. Eleanor, my grandmother, was adopted as a young child. Family dynamics and bureaucratic policy were such that we grew up knowing very little about her. Did she like to sew? Was she a hand maker? Did she embroider or like cooking? We don’t know. We have very few pictures of her, but one as a young girl shocked us all in the resemblance I share with her.

Early this morning I woke having dreamt of her. A young boy hand-delivered a painting or photograph of a young girl child, now restored and framed. Stretching, I had to reach up high and retrieve the parcel from its precarious perch. I unwrapped its golden Klimt-like heavy wrapping paper to see a little girl at sitting at a table outside, surrounded by little glass pots of paint, flowering bushes beside her, blue sky above. I knew immediately it was Eleanor. I felt a whisper in my heart murmuring that this is how I am connected to my grandmother, in little paint pots of colour – the timeless iteration of the 64 box of crayons – in a yard warm with flowers and a blue sky.

“…I needed that bond to feel whole, competent and grounded, connected to my heart and soul, to my community, to my ancestors, and to the natural world around me…”

Melanie Falick, Making a Life, 2019,
quoted in “Joie de Faire,” A Wabi Sabi Life

In the still dark this morning, I sensed this is how I am connected to the lineage of women – through the shimmering cotton threads, warm hued woolen yarns, fabrics woven on looms and sewn into garments and furnishings. That my ancestors whisper to me in dreams and in the stitches we make through time.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The End Times

THE END TIMES

We knew it would come crashing down,
but now we are in the clatter –
fire, drought, flood, smoke, heat,
the million and one ways
that beings cry out. We thought
there would be more time.
We pretended that we didn’t know.
We squandered so much
that we might have saved,
and for what? Trinkets. Glitter.
The pleasures of ignorance
and a basket full of Happy Meals.

It’s time to ask the dying
what they know. What will you give up
to cure what is killing you?
What do you pursue
when your days are numbered?
Gaze into the eyes
of a beloved old dog.
Bury your face in her neck
and engrave the scent on your memory.
Let your heart break open.
Learn to cherish what remains.

– Lynn Ungar –

Lynn Ungar first came to my attention last year with her “viral” poem, Pandemic. Straight to the point and heart, her words pierce with truthfulness. A week ago, our beloved Annie dog went under for a brief diagnostic procedure. Thankfully an “all OK” diagnosis, she returned home that day woozy and with a package each of probiotics and antacids, hopefully to curb the somedays’ frantic rush to eat grass. But with eleven and a half years under her belt, and a decade this month with us, I know the times we walk together are ever precious. But isn’t it so for each of us – how life changes on a dime? Once again, around the world, we see how precarious, precious, and fragile our circumstances.
Reading Radical Regeneration: Birthing the New Human in the Age of Extinction (2020) by Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker makes the unequivocal point that we are living in the end times. The posthumous One Drum (2019) by Richard Wagamese cites ancient prophesy of a time “when words would fly like lightning bolts across the sky, and ” when “the human family would move farther apart and that this separation, the break in energy, would cause great stress upon the Earth… floods, titanic storms, famine, earthquakes, the departure of animals, strange diseases, and turmoil among all peoples.” (22)

It is time to learn to cherish what remains.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.



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.

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

Wintering

“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.

Nature

“Give me one wild word.”

Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World,
in Abbey of the Arts, “Give Me a Word for 2021”

NATURE. My word for 2021. Again, not so much chosen as received through the twelve-day process of deep listening and discerning hosted by the Abbey of the Arts. If this word – NATURE – has even a portion of prescient relevancy as last year’s word – HOME – I’ll become converted to this as an annual process.

“For last year’s words
belong to last year’s language,
And next year’s words 
await another voice.”

T. S. Eliot in Abbey of the Arts,
“Give Me a Word for 2021”

By registering and dedicating time to the daily lessons, I crossed a threshold into that liminal, imaginary space where symbols and signs, whispers and words, prayers and dreams have potential to bear fruit for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. 

“A door opens in the center of our being
and we seem to fall through it into the immense depths which,
although they are infinite, are all accessible to us.”

Thomas Merton in Abbey of the Arts, “Give Me a Word for 2021”

In an early lesson derived from the practice of Lectio Divina, I reviewed last year (yes, that year!) as a form of sacred text over which to meditate and select an image or event that “shimmered.” Without question it was my time outdoors – whether in urban nature by the river, suburban treks through the golf course, sitting in my treed back yard, walking through villages and cities in Andalusia, or getting lost on the Lost Lake trail in my provincial park – that inspired, soothed, challenged, settled. 

Another day’s lesson of taking a contemplative walk has become so much a part of my daily routine during these many months of pandemic life, satisfying both Annie’s and my need for fresh air and movement and giving reassurance there is life beyond our house, that it simply confirmed my knowing of Nature’s promise and powers.

Still, to stay open and not prematurely settled, I noticed my dreams as per another day’s lesson, and when consulting a soul friend was prescribed, that day I just happened to open the “year in review” e-letter from beloved friends – they whose practical life wisdom and deep reverence for Nature serve as meaningful mentoring – and read their closing words which echoed and amplified my knowing:

“May the bigness and mysteries of Nature
carry our hearts through all concerns.
Let us trust the stones, the waters, the trees, the fungi.
Let us befriend the birds, the fishes, the animals, the plants.
Let us befriend one another.”

Ann Linnea

Allowing the word time to “ripen” by holding it gently while still wondering what else; illustrating the word visually through phone photos that caught my attention as we walked the snow-covered park paths; and committing to a “word rooted” practice, which for me is simply a re-commitment to heed Annie’s after lunch nudge, I feel settled that this word has come this year for me. 

Writing a poem was the final day’s lesson. Today, my haiku in tribute took form:

This new year my word.
NATURE, my holy Teacher,
Healer, Guide, and Friend.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Home Came Knocking

HOME.

This has been my word for 2020. Remarkable that when it “arrived” a year ago as my word for this year’s soft focus and intention, it would have been so utterly prescient and enbodied. For me, and most everyone on the planet! I wrote in late January of 2020:

Not chosen but invited, it arrived early in a simple, elegant process offered by Abbey of the Arts, called “2020, Give Me a Word.” Developed for the twelve days of Christmas, but available in early December, I’d received an email invitation to “create some space each day to listen and see what word comes shimmering forth from the dailiness of my experience.”

At first, “at home,” which evoked being home and staying put. Perhaps wise counsel given I’d had another autumn full of travel. This time I’d become quite ill during my last trip in early December, a visit with a friend I’d not seen since the passing of her husband. A disappointment for us both when first, our great plans for trekking in the desert mountains became dashed by my excruciating case of plantar fasciitis. Then, a viral infection contracted days before departure had me reach for the emergency cipro to be well enough to get back home without an ear-blocked, cough-racked flight. Just recovered and now into a serious grip of Arctic winter cold, staying put, at home, has been the order of the day.


But as the twelve days passed, with a new practice offered each day to evoke or ripen – a contemplative walk in Nature, writing a poem, illustrating the word visually, attending to my dreams, consulting a soul friend – “at home” became distilled to “home.” Still that comfort with being at home (the best place to be when you’re sick and it’s ridiculously cold outside), but now with a spaciousness that allows mystery to unfold, shadow and surprise to emerge, dreams to awaken.

Last week, browsing somewhere, I came across these wondrous words in an essay, “To Find Your True Home Within Your Life.”  Home came knocking.

"The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world." -  John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (1999), 93.

With hindsight being 20:20 – forgive the pun – as I read these words now, I’m awe stuck. Last December’s onset illness persisted for over two months and many times since, I’ve wondered, as have many who suffered similar symptoms then, was this an early iteration of COVID-19? While I’ll never definitively know, because the blood work done in December was before we knew of the virus, I do know I don’t remember ever having felt so wretched and exhausted for so long, and thankfully, none of the people I encountered during that period became ill.

There have been gifts during this near year of sheltering in place, being home with minimal distraction and the noise from society. One, paradoxically, amidst losses and griefs – experienced and sensed, personal and collective – has been a deeply felt contentment and joy that manifests most obviously every morning, and several times a day, in “kitchen dancing.” The unabashed delight in a new day, unscripted, unfettered by obligation or need to muster myself. The simple pleasures of tending to Annie. Our daily walks in the neighborhood where she sniffs and I see Nature’s subtle and not so changes. Planning and preparing dinner to enjoy with my husband. Home care. Writing. This in marked contrast to years of waking with a feeling, albeit habituated, of anxiety and dread. Except for the three months living in Germany while I travelled through Europe in 2011, I don’t recall feeling such sweet enthusiasm for my life.

And that perennial guiding question of what now to do with my wild and precious life, has now, ever so subtly and gradually, given way to trust in its gentle unfolding.

Perhaps it’s a function of age, and my commitment to a conscious tending, but a most profound gift of this year, of living in this memory-making pandemic time, has been coming into rhythm with my individuality, of finding my true home within my life, of resting in the house of my heart.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Annie with My Kiss Spot

What’s Asking To Be Seen

I’m standing on the cusp of the seasons, now dressed for winter when I walk Annie. Gloves need to be swapped out for mittens, trail runners for Blundstones. Tomorrow, we’ll go shopping for a new winter coat for Annie, as I think with age, we’re both feeling the cold more. Today there’s a skiff of snow on roofs and yards, the shallow pond froze last night, and during yesterday morning’s river valley walk, the shoreline was edged with ice. Yet, still the red, golden green and light brown falling leaves.

This autumn, one particularly resplendent in colour and warmth with sunshine most every day, I felt the invitation to “see” what was on display and unfolding while Annie and I walked. She, ever patient, and I, and with my early generation, single lens phone camera in hand, stopped in front of a red amur maple, reminiscent of my Niagara youth. Glowing, almost vibrating vermillion, I was awestruck and until now, never thought my phone could capture what I was seeing. It was the beginning.

“I take my camera out into the world, and it invites me to slow down and linger over these moments of beauty. It opens me to wonder and delight.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Then it was the roses, full blown blossoms and buds, still. And the sweet peas – always an irony for me with an April birthday, and them the designated flower.

The dandelion, harbinger of spring, peeking among the dried leaves. The golden ash against our signature blue sky. Ruby globes of crabapple, sun-kissed cherries, orange mountain ash berries.

Sunflower sentinels bordering a walkway. And the skies.

One day the clouds had me spellbound. Later that day, after I’d shared their magnificence on Facebook, friends said they, too, had noticed and appreciated I’d stopped to notice, to press, to share.  Another day, later in the season, I was smitten by treetops in their yonder backdrops.

And throughout, always that amur maple marking autumn’s reign.

 “…this is one of the wonders of photography: to be able to frame a moment in time and, within my gaze and absolute presence in that particular moment, to discover holiness. In that single moment, I am reminded that all moments are holy.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Framing these moments during our neighborhood walks has easily transferred into chronicling my weekly trek in the river valley. The “Camino de Edmonton,” a thirteen-week staged event to correspond in distance to a final leg of the Camino de Santiago, finds twenty or so hardy souls meeting every Saturday at various rendezvous points in the city for an 8:00 am start. There, I bring my Lumix “point and shoot” hung around my neck, tucked securely into the hip belt of my Deuter pack.

“the graced eye can glimpse beauty everywhere, seeing the divine at work in the hidden depths of things. It is so easy to let our senses be dulled and to settle for the ordinary.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Most often walking alone, safely distanced, I settle into my pace and breath, letting my gaze soften, slowing to see with eyes of the heart onto what is asking to be seen. Again, vistas full to bursting with autumn’s abundance. Yet, at the same time, growing more visible with every week, the giving way to emptying, the baring, the decaying and the dying that is winter.

“We don’t have to go out and try to take ‘beautiful’ photos. We simply need to pay attention and foster a different kind of seeing.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

And accept the invitation to see what’s asking to be seen.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Camera shy Annie.

Golden

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada, the 12th of October, almost as late in the month as it comes. Remarkably, autumn’s colour abounds, with gold and burnished brown, red and aubergine still a vivid contrast against the cerulean sky and dark green conifers.

Yesterday a fierce wind blew from the north west. A kite hung high for an hour in the steel grey sky, its dragon-like features a foreboding of what’s to come. The scent and feel of winter waiting impatiently in the wings, typically impolite in timing its arrival. Like a takeover, one might even say “hostile”, or a coup overthrowing the trees before they’ve taken off their sovereign hued robes, and wreaking shock and havoc among the yet to depart migrating birds. This reminder of impermanence, life’s cycles, nature’s work. During a time when around the world most everyone feels fraught with uncertainty and complacent with pandemic protocol fatigue, I take comfort and find solace that yes, the days grow shorter, the sun rises lower, the trees will soon be stripped of their remaining leaves, the snow will fall, the temperatures plummet.   

One morning last week, making breakfast for Annie and drip coffee for me, I heard Jill Scott sing her song, Golden. I wrote down the chorus knowing I could use it for today’s blog, because, well, it’s been so golden this past month. I’m in the sixth week of my latest Abbey of the Arts online course, “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” where I’m exploring these archetypes of contemplation and creativity, two deep affinities. In one of last week’s creative exercises, I learned about the French pantoum, a poetic form that can be quite revelatory in its play and placement of lines.

So in that spirit of unabashed experimentation, here’s my tribute to Thanksgiving, living golden, impermance, presence, winter – all riffing off Jill Scott.

Livin’ my life like it’s golden
it’s that time of year.
Shimmering brilliant leaves
remind me to be here.

It’s that time of year,
winds blow strong and sting
remind me to be here.
Winter’s in the wings.

Winds blow strong and sting.
Shimmering brilliant leaves.
Winter’s in the wings.
Livin’ my life like it’s golden.

With abiding gratitude, love and kindest regards, dear friends.

%d bloggers like this: