Summer

Hermitage Pond, Edmonton, Alberta

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver –

Worrying

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

– Mary Oliver –
Swan, 2010

Or in my case, danced.

My Life My Prayer

I love our Annie dog for her daily nudging to get outside and walk – her, me, us. Like clockwork, come early afternoon she’ll fetch me. Typically finds me sitting at my computer so it’s easy to put the full weight of her head on my arm to signal, COME. She is patient and knows it might take a minute or several, and I have a commitment to her, to come.

We’ve had a cold start to spring, with lots of snow, and this week, temperatures well below freezing, and well below that with wind chill. Frankly, oddly perhaps, I’m grateful. Because this prolonged winter with its invitation to cocoon, might help us all “stay home” and do our personal best to contain this, as yet, incessant spread of COVID-19. Yesterday afternoon, another brilliant blue sky sunny cold day, Annie and I were the only ones on the path through our bit of urban nature, the golf course five minutes from home. It’s spacious, lined with trees – cottonwood and aspen, mayday and spruce. It’s quiet enough to hear waxwings twitter, sparrows chirp, and now the returning geese honk. And it’s open enough to see wide expanses of sky and clouds floating overhead.

Lately, with the sun higher in the sky, we’ve taken to sitting on a bench at one of the tee-offs. I help Annie up and nestled in the crook of my side, with my arm holding her warm, we sit together and take in the view, breathe in the scent.

Lately, I find myself praying – to the sun and the moon, and the stars and clouds, to the sky and the trees and the wind and the birds, to the god of my being and beyond. Sometimes silent, but often out loud, with Annie as my witness, I say “thank you” for as much and as many as I can remember in the moment. I speak my worries. I ask for guidance and help to stay present with the “bigness, muchness, fullness”of these unraveling times. And I ask that my life be my prayer.

“It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.”

Mary Oliver, Redwing, 2008

“And I pray….my life is a prayer more conscientiously now.” I first spoke these words in an email to a dear friend a few weeks back. It just came, in the moment, fingers pecking at the keyboard. I paused. True, and what does this mean? How does one live one’s life as prayer? 

In a first draft of this post, I had a list of things that I’m doing. But when I “winnow to essence,” the simplest, truest response is notice, name and thank people being and bringing their best to the world. Be kindness. Be.

“It is a great gift to yourself and also to the world…
to get settled inside yourself,
to know what it is to befriend reality,
to figure out how to stay soft.”

Krista Tippett, On Being, 2020

There are moments when this hardly feels enough. When I hear of friends living on the brink, doing all they can, moment by moment, to recreate business plans to stay afloat. Or those who have been laid off as community services shutter. Or learn it’s a distant family member stuck on the cruise ship no port had permitted safe harbour until now, wondering if her spouse, diagnosed positive, will make it home, alive. Or read the text from my “sister” in Germany, she in self isolation with a chronic respiratory condition, but on the phone day and night with her team of pharmacists to ensure the best care for their community, while frantically sourcing medicines that are fast running out.

Then a wave of sadness.

Then a deep breath to remember this is my offering. It comes from my deepest regard and kindness. With the highest intention, for the good of all. 

It has to be enough. 

“Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now.”

 

David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet, 1990

 

A Love Letter to Annie

You can listen now at the podcast Anchor FM.

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