Friday, October 15, 2010

Theme Thursday - Knots

I am a day late, but found both the concept and the photograph so beautiful, I wanted to participate anyway.

When I was eleven years old, I lived on the island of Malta for several months when my father was the architect for a new hotel. I became fascinated by the sight of fishermen mending their nets and would spend hours sitting by the sea watching them. The fishermen's work is primary and ancient. They inherit the skills of ancestors. I envy the primeval integrity and beauty of their labour. So many precise knots to be secured if the catch is not to be lost through a hole in the net.

The need to tie things together, to join, to hook, to loop, to weave must be instinctive. I wonder if the first net for catching food was learned from the spider in its web? Fishermen continue the ingenuity of the spider, whose intricate geometry secures dinner.

When fishing nets are hung up in the sun there is a translucent loveliness. I feel a mingling of emotions which must reach back into a common, archetypal memory. I dimly sense that all of life is one vast web of woven singularity.

There is a time to be tying knots and a time to be untying knots. The whole cosmic and social mystery is a continuous tightening and loosening of myriad knots. To be caught in life’s binding and loosening is both terrible and beautiful. We spend much of our lives trying to discern where we should tighten knots and where we should loosen knots of complicity or belonging. Just like the fishermen, a careless or unskilled knot can lose for us what we would keep.

I end with a poem written several years ago by my dear friend, Patrick, who was just twenty-one at the time.


Things grow more tangled
the more that I watch.

I have no patience with knots.
I have no patience with nots.

I have

I resist the urge
To Simplify

with knives,

Their Cleanness


Instead I begin
To unravel.

(Theme Thursday - Knots)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Genial October

I was down on my knees sorting damp leaves from the flower beds which surround my patio, pruning plants, feeling the earth tumble between my fingers. Deep in reverie, I heard a small voice say, "Whad ya doin’?" It was Ben, my neighbour’s three year old son, his little feet perched between the rungs of my wrought-iron gate. His mother, sitting with the baby on the gentle hill which overlooks our condo, waved down at us.

"What ya doin’?", Ben asked again. After each answer, he repeated his question. Little by little, I shared my passion for the garden. I told him about savouring the last flowers and cleaning-up for winter. He has such knowing eyes ... wise and penetrating. We are becoming friends, he and I.

He showed me his child-sized wheelbarrow which was filled with rocks and pinecones, small trucks, and an assortment of leaves and twigs. "Do you have any wooms in there?" he asked, pronouncing "worm" to rhyme with "room" after the manner of Inspector Clouseau.

Soon, Ben had joined me on the patio, his little hands patting the earth next to mine, the occasional small treasure joining the rest in the wheelbarrow. He sang as he worked, lyrics of his own creation which seemed to circle the words, "no" and "nah". However, the melody was the clearest kind of "yes".

"I hope he’s not bothering you?", said his mother, standing by the gate. "No, not at all", I said. "He’s lovely".

We smiled at each other, as Ben looked at me with candid eyes. "Have you gots any juice?", he asked, hopefully, unceremoniously. "Oh Ben!", said his Mum. "It’s okay", I said, laughing. "Would you like some juice ... or coffee?"

And juice it was. And two cups of steaming coffee. We drank it side by side at the patio table, leaves twirling about us. One fifty-three year old Nana, one thirty-something woman with gorgeous russet hair wearing a darling, fat, dimpled baby on her chest, and one small boy with dirt on his face and a song in his soul.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend

Gem and I are heading south tomorrow for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We will be spending it in Abbotsford (about an hour from Vancouver) with my sister Suzanne and her partner, Jeff. Altogether, there will be twenty-two people at their house celebrating this time of gratitude.

I have been designated desserts. Thus, my morning has been one of epic domesticana. The whole condo is filled with nutmeggy warmth and pumpkinny goodness. I have baked three pumpkin pies and two apple pies, all from scratch. A Pumpkin Ginger cake sits on the counter cooling. This cake, spiced with ginger and cinnamon and cloves, and studded with crystallized ginger and plump sultanas, is a family favourite. I will be icing it with cream-cheese frosting when I am at my sister's house. As I stirred and measured and tasted, I thought of the ritual and hospitality of welcoming, of daylong roasting and feasting. Indulgence, contentment. Full bellies and unbuttoned pants and tucking in for winter.

I have so much to be thankful for:

Thankful for my husband, Gem, who loves me unfailingly and unconditionally.

Thankful for my family, for the belonging we give to each other.

Thankful for my wonderful friends, who love and forgive me much.

Thankful for the ebb and flow of so many spiritual traditions which cover this country like a blessed wave from the ocean to the mountains, to the rainforests, to the tiny prairie towns, to the arctic, to the rainy urban cappuccinos being sipped in dozens of cities.

Thankful that I understand that grief comes to human hearts of all colours and creeds and ways of being.

Thankful for my good health, and the ability to work and play and think.

Thankful for the stories and poems and photographs which anoint my heart and soul.

Thankful for YOU.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Apples of Time

This weekend I swept the leaves on my patio for the first time; a light autumnal carpet of reddening maple. As I swept in the apple-cheeked golden afternoon, I was joining a deciduous truth, descending into the earth. It occurred to me that what I was doing was perhaps a form of prayer. For a leaf raker prays by raking, just as a dancer prays by dancing. It was an intimate dialogue. Gathered and given, preparing for the transformation of winter.

I thought about apples; the remembered apples of my childhood. I remember the small orchard at the bottom of our garden in its rosy dream of redolent ripeness where we gathered our first unbruised windfalls. We enjoyed apple pie many Sundays when I was growing up. I can still see my mother garlanded with spiralling curls of apple-peel falling to her aproned lap. I remember the spicy mingling scents of apples and cinnamon, the joy of being allowed to carefully crimp the edges of the pies between thumb and forefingers. Boxes of apples, jars of golden apple sauce glowing like vigil lights in the pantry, their bounty an autumn promise to winter.

All sap and surge and hope, there was an apple tree I liked to watch into winter. After all the leaves had long turned yellow and fallen, and the ground was white with snow, it held on to its bright apples, like red balls on a Christmas tree. This refusal to be harvested, this longing, perhaps gathers in all of us as the autumn season ends. But for now, I savour the amber juices of September, content in knowing that the brooding plenitude of October still beckons.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Who, Being Loved, is Poor? (Oscar Wilde)

I have missed you, my shadow friends. My month’s hiatus from blogging wasn’t intentional but circumstances have conspired to create a cycle of unwritten words. It has been a chunk of life clothed in weeks nursing my ill mother (happily doing well now), and welcoming with open arms and heart and feet and soul, my grandsons for a glorious extended visit. This all interwoven with blessings in the shape and form of assorted other family and friends.

This baptism of welcome has created within our new place, connections which are imprinting a real sense of home and belonging.

So many wonderful moments we have shared:

An amazing day trip with our grandsons on a completely restored 1912 Steam Locomotive. Crossing the South Thompson River, meandering through the beautiful Okanagan and Kettle Valley completely surrounded by mountains at every turn; each hiss and rumble of the journey a joy.

Countless golden afternoons at the beach, the air shimmering with heat. Swimming, building sandcastles, wet sand between toes and fingers. Towels spread, the coconut scent of sun tan lotion, iced tea and fresh apricots.

My four year old grandson improvising one of his instinctive songs as he digs and pats the sand. His song reflecting the throb of the rippled waves, his own heartbeat, the whole sky.

Eating outside on warm, languid evenings. Blueberry stained faces and sunkissed skin.

Walks after dinner. The blues of the water and the greens of the lawns, the pinks and purples and oranges of the manicured city gardens popping in the light.

Bedtime rituals of baths and stories and tucking-in. Muffled giggles and thumps. Finally, the boys sweetly sleeping.

Playing cards and drinking wine with friends, sharing stories which scratch the surface of rich language and metaphor.

Laughter and tears; the ordinary preciousness and fragility of human life. Life burned into minds and hearts. Like thunder, cracking open, pouring rain down to drench the world, and then standing still, hushed, soaked, alert.

This is love.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rainy Interlude

I’ve been away on a little Father's Day weekend camping trip with Gem and my grandsons. After an absence of over a month the boys are static cling, full of secrets and kisses, hands and fingers entangled in my hair and gripping my neck, folding into me, owning me. M brings his face an inch from mine and places an open palm on each of my cheeks. "I love you, Nana", he declares earnestly. We stare at each other, eyes clownishly wide, lash-to-lash. Almost unbearable sweetness. Something deep and visceral, animal, takes root.

When the rain starts, Gem rigs up a large tarp and the boys move their elaborate game of monster trucks under it. Their clothes become soaked and caked with mud. They are in some private, blissed-out world of invention and play that absorbs them wholly. When bedtime is announced, they look at me puzzled. "But Nana, how did the time happen so quick?", asks D.

Yes, sweet grandson of mine, how does time happen so quickly?

On me they are etched, but more as a phantom limb as they grow up and away. Every day each is more himself, full of his own opinions and priorities, leaving me with an intense mix of joy, protectiveness, fear and pride.

Exhausted, yet sated. Three hours of sleep ... a sodden, rain-soaked travel trailer ... drying hiking boots by the campfire ... sticky s'mores and charred hotdogs ... 4 am smothered giggles. Awakening to more relentless rain. A mad dash to the truck, Gem and I each holding a sleep-warm little boy ... The scent of wet dog and damp earth and strong, black coffee. We sit in the warmth of the truck watching the greys patterning the wet morning. M entertains us with song. D covers his head and burrows deeply into his blanket, eyes closed.

Of course now that we are home, the weather is glorious!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

'It's All Your State of Mind' ....

When they learned that I was moving away, family, friends and co-workers told me that I was fortunate, that I’d now have time to do all the things I hadn’t had time for previously. I’m starting to realise that I was, in fact, already doing all the things I wanted to do.

I’m missing my grandchildren terribly. I’m missing my daughter, my sons, and my friends. I’m missing my working life; the interaction with patients and co-workers. I’m missing the pulse of my old life as I struggle to re-define myself in the light of the new one. I miss the energy of my old house; the small shoes piled up at the door, the scattered toy cars, the laughter and tears of children, their sheer noisiness.

I’m having trouble sleeping at night. I can’t find the sweet center, the angle of repose. I remember as a child I had a bedtime ritual which consisted of setting stuffed animal beside stuffed animal, shoe beside shoe, doll beside doll, book beside book. I could never abandon one single thing to loneliness. I wish it were that simple right now. The aroma of change, the altered light is inescapable.

“Are you okay?”, asks Gem as he heads out to the university.
“Sure”, I nod.
“Come over and have lunch with me today?”, he says.
“I will”, I tell him.

One of my favourite bands is Great Big Sea, a Canadian group from NewFoundland. Their song ‘Ordinary Day’ never fails to brighten and comfort me. So, I’ve put that on ... and I’m going to get dressed and finish the hanging basket I started yesterday. Later, I’ll walk to the beautiful campus where Gem works and we’ll find somewhere lovely on the grounds to eat our picnic lunch.

Here for your enjoyment, some of the lyrics of 'It’s an Ordinary Day' from Great Big Sea.

“And I say way-hey-hey, it's just an ordinary day
and it's all your state of mind.
At the end of the day, you've still got to say,
it's all right.”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Life in Dolls

This week's Sepia Saturday photograph, taken in 1965, is of four little sisters and their dolls on a sunny June morning. From left to right is Jo 8, Amanda 4, Connie 7 and Suzanne 2. Our newest sister, Alice, was only a few weeks old and babies would have been on our minds. This picture still has the power to elate with the sweetness and strength of its history.

I was very much a little girl who loved her dolls. I admit that I was probably around twelve before I reluctantly stopped requesting them for gifts. The doll in front of me in the picture is a cloth and vinyl combination ‘Baby Dear’ doll. My next-in-line sister, Connie, and I had received them for Christmas. I named mine Caroline and often dressed her in discarded real baby clothes.

This photo awakens a sleeping self in me; stirs something from the well of my childhood. I am reminded of all the dolls I had over the years. I am the oldest of six sisters, so consequently none of my dolls survived the successive and varied mothering they received over the years. I was, in turn, the proud owner of:

A 'Posie' doll:

A 'Tiny Tears',

A Skipper,

A Betsy Wetsy,

And perhaps the strangest of all:

A Nun doll.
My earliest years at Primary school were spent at a convent school and I held an admixture of fascination, fear and awe of the nuns who educated me. I had requested my nun doll repeatedly and my mother had no easy task finding her. I named her Sister Mary Rosary ... odd, I know ... but I was only six years old at the time.

Perhaps, though, the dolls I loved the most were my huge family of paper cut-out dolls.

I literally spent hours engaged in play with them. There was something intensely satisfying to me about carefully cutting out their clothes and staging endless games as I whisked them in and out of their extensive wardrobes. They all had names and I created a rich series of relationships between them. I kept them in a box under my bed ... safe from the prying eyes and fingers of my little sisters.

My sister Connie, who is sixteen months younger than me, remembers with delight the stories I used to make-up for her each night when we went to bed. Most of these involved our dolls coming alive and the adventures they had. I don’t recall the specific details, but I do remember the two of us cuddled in our beds as the stories I created took shape in the shadowed darkness.

Humanity’s childhood shares with all created things the primal dreams and desires of embodiment. The little girl who loved her dolls so tenderly grew-up to become something of a ‘baby whisperer’. I have the reputation of being able to calm any baby down. Last year, late one evening, there was a knock at the door. It was a neighbour, the new mother of twin boys (and also of two other little boys under the age of five). She was carrying a frantically crying baby. “I hope you don’t mind”, she said anxiously. “I saw your lights were still on and I’m at the end of my tether.” Her words dissolved into tears. I took the tiny, squalling wee man from her and she followed me into the house. As Gem made tea, I rocked and soothed little Beckham (yes, that’s his real given name) until he fell asleep against my chest.

Perhaps that healing embrace of comfort has its roots in a story of long ago; a little girl playing with her dolls.

(A proud, tired Nana Jo with her real life 'dolls' ... my first grandchildren, A and D, born almost exactly one month apart on August 4th & September 3rd, 2003.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Settling In Time

(Kamloops view.)

I've been here in Kamloops for six days now, and after a bit of a rocky start, life is starting to unfurl beautifully. I must admit that when I first got here, I sat down and cried. I had left a spotless house; a home containing a multi-layered patina of love which reflected off the polished surface of every nook and cranny of it.

I walked into a place that was filthy. A cleaning crew was supposed to have gone through the entire condo which had sat empty for several months. However, apart from steam-cleaning the carpets, no other cleaning had been done at all. Furniture and boxes were piled high everywhere, and for a short time, I couldn't see beyond what was immediately before me. Four litres of bleach and many, many buckets of soap and water later, my aching knees can attest to the fact that our condo now shines with cleanliness.

The first thing I did that garbled day, after rousing myself from my watery indulgence, was to make the bed. As I smoothed the linen and looked out the window at the mountains, my ragged edges started to find some solace. I was reminded of one of my favourite poems by the wonderful Rupert Brooke, “The Great Lover”, which details the many splendid ways that life seduces us with the simple beauty of the ordinary.

“Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon,
Smooth away trouble;”

I have spent these past six days cleaning and sorting and arranging. The rooms of the condo are starting to bear the mark of our presence. The views from every window are a gift; the mountains, the river, the green lawns and mature trees. It is slowly becoming a place to contain my dreams, my peace and passions, my stillness and laughter. Sometimes, though, I feel my heart holding back, fighting the tiny rootlets of belonging. My ego is reluctant to let go of the familiar, as if doing so would somehow negate past loves. Absurd, I know. I realise that I need to embrace both together, to affirm a whole and balanced beauty.

(The ground floor patio.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Artie's Game

My Sepia Saturday offering this week is a photograph of our very first local hockey team in 1913. Outside my department in the hospital is a wall featuring several old black and white pictures of regional interest, including this one. The handsome gentleman sitting on the ice on the right was the uncle of one of my patients, a remarkable ninety-two year old man who still brews his own beer. His name was Arthur Morgan and he was a keen athlete and apparently quite a colourful character. Having returned home from the Great War safely, Artie, as he was known to family and friends, died in 1919 during the Spanish influenza outbreak which swept the world with such devastating consequences.

His nephew, Bob, who was the son of Artie’s sister and born a few years after his death, remembers being told tales about Uncle Artie throughout his childhood. One afternoon recently, Bob, frail and stooped, clutching his walker, stood beside me and pointed out Artie’s picture. His clouded eyes were filled with the glow of memory as he began to speak.

Artie apparently loved wild blueberries and spent hours picking them. He had a great sense of humour. He loved to fish and skate, but ice-hockey was his passion, 'his game'. His grandmother could rarely speak of her only son without tears in her eyes. She had lost another son as an infant years earlier. Apparently Uncle Artie, a school boy at the time, had charged local kids a penny each to come and see the wee babe lying in his coffin on the kitchen table! "I can still see my grandmother giving a little laugh when she’d tell of this and then wiping her eyes on her apron", Bob said.

At the time of his death, Artie had started a small lumber mill and was still playing ice-hockey on a local team. In those days they played exclusively outdoors on the uneven surface of frozen lakes. You may be interested to learn that despite ice-hockey being Canada’s national religion and we like to believe we invented the game, it has British beginnings.

In the 1860’s British soldiers stationed in Kingston, Ontario began playing ice-hockey on the small frozen lakes in the area. Within a few years, students from McGill University had heard about the game and were playing it themselves. By the 1870’s the students had written up a basic set of rules and had also exchanged the ball used by the soldiers for a wooden puck.

Ice-hockey is the growing rite of passage for many Canadian boys, and my eldest grandson D, who will be seven in September, has been playing Mite hockey for almost two years. I once found him sleeping with his hockey stick, and another time his hockey jersey had somehow replaced his pyjamas as sleepwear.

Gem and I have accompanied our son Joshua (D’s Daddy and a superb hockey player in his own right) many times to watch his games. There is something especially enjoyable about watching little NHL dreamers tumble and slip and play their five and six year old hearts out on the ice. Each one wants only one thing ... to score a goal. Positions are anathema to them. They all want the puck and to get it into that net. At that age, assisting your team mate is also a foreign concept, despite the coach calling out numerous times, “Assist, Jackson ... Assist!  Pass! Pass! Pass! Assisting is very important, guys!”

During the last ten minutes of each practice, a dozen pucks are thrown onto the ice and the kids are allowed “free” play. Within seconds every single boy is engrossed in a frenzy of shooting from near and far. Each little player scans the sea of parents and grandparents in the stands. Shouts of "I got a goal!! Did you see?" fill the arena. The happiness D emanates, is to me, the heart of the game.

There is something very poignant about seeing the picture of the young, vital Artie Morgan in his ‘jailbird’ hockey uniform. I can imagine him as a boy, blueberry stains on his chin. I can see him blowing on his hands to keep them warm as he skates with his friends. A century later, his legacy lives on in the hundreds of local boys, cradled by wonder, still playing ‘Artie’s game’.

(D, age six, Mite Hockey, 2010).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Communion of Endings

Helen, my very last patient (with her permission).

This past twenty-seven years working at my hospital culminated in a single day ... yesterday. It was a day full of last goodbyes, with each moment defined sharply, as if with silver edges.

Although I was a surgical (O.R.) nurse for many years, for the past six years I have worked in the Burn and Wound Care Unit. They have been the most rewarding of my career. Throughout the day, patients, both past and present, dropped by to wish me well. By mid-afternoon the desk was piled high with flowers and gift bags.

At the end of the day, Lois, a colleague who is also a beloved friend, presented me with a wonderful photo album she had compiled of my hospital years. It is a work of art.

The day crowned last evening when fourteen colleagues took me out for a fabulous Thai dinner. The small banquet room hummed in an outpouring of celebration. They had got together and gifted me with a wonderful series of framed photographs of this city; a precious reminder of my thirty years living here. Yesterday, I felt that my dreams and hopes were a part of all those around me. I am overwhelmed, and beyond grateful. I am also deeply humbled by the generosity and kindness.

Life is best when it is centred around a hearth of communion. I am thankful that I am a part of this vast belonging. I feel so blessed and loved, my whole body and heart dances today.

How amazing it is to be permitted to gather the given.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Musings

Nothing specific to write about this morning ... just a few early musings before I head out to work. I’m in a quiet place, a lull of very little brain, as Winnie-the-Pooh might have said.

We all have our little comfort rituals. One of mine is that first cup of coffee in the morning. I sip the rich scented brew and life flows forth glowing and warm. Ahhh, coffee. Sometimes I feel like I am lurching from one cup of coffee to the next, rewarding myself with a handful of beans, grinding them by hand if I'm feeling energetic, scooping it from the can, if I'm not. It's like fuel to me. And then there are all the things that go with coffee, special little almond biscuits wrapped in tissue paper, or small chunks of chocolate praline wrapped in foil ... nothing too large because it mustn't distract from the main event.

My grandsons picked bouquets of dandelions for me yesterday, carrying them carefully between closed hands like a chalice. I placed them in a jar on my desk and this morning their brief royalty has been spent.

It is raining right now, raining as though the sun may never shine again. It's hard to believe that only yesterday I stood in bare limbs and squinted at a peerless sky. It seems to me that rain makes space more intimate. I huddle closer to my keyboard, wrap my hand more tightly around my mug of hot, fragrant coffee, and dream at the stream of rainwater glazing the flowers outside. Soon these mid-May days will again ripen into golden splendour and plenitude. But for now, there is the sweet steady downpour of rain.

All over the house, boxes, all stacked and taped, wait patiently. Only three more days left of work.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Full Circle

These pictures, found tucked into an old journal, were both taken in 1976; the first one on September 3rd, the day Gem and I were married. It is of us in our “going away’ outfits following our wedding. In those days you changed out of your bridal gown and tux after the reception, and into a 'going away' outfit. I don't think people do this anymore. We were both only nineteen, four months shy of our 20th birthdays (we are nine days apart in age). We look so impossibly young! Gem’s polyester leisure suit with its pointy-collar shirt was the height of fashion, as was my silky peasant-style dress. I wore platform wedge shoes in the same rust colour as the hat.

The second picture is of me, taken a few days later. I’m wearing the wide-legged, bell-bottomed white jeans which I loved. In the background you can see part of the old truck with the camper-back where we spent the majority of our two week honeymoon. Apart from the first night when we stayed at a fancy hotel in Vancouver, we toured around parts of British Columbia, driving wherever we fancied, spending all our nights in that little camper.

On the back of this photo are written the words, "Jo, Kamloops 1976, honeymoon". This is an especially interesting bit of serendipity because Kamloops is the city where we are moving to next week. I had forgotten that Gem and I had spent a day there during our honeymoon. In all the intervening years we had never had a chance to go back, and now we’ll actually be residing in a place that saw a part of our beginnings. Full circle. It reminds me of an old door I saw recently. Its layers of paint had faded unevenly, blue patched over fading green ... one era glimpsed through another.

I called Gem last night and peppered our conversation with honeymoon do-you-remembers.

I remember driving along highways edged with simmering fringes of daisies as we listened to Abba and Queen, sometimes singing along. I remember the impromptu picnics and little hikes, the swims in glacier lakes which stole our breath and retrieved it in little screeches. I remember the somewhat frightening, but exhilarating kayak paddle through the rapids at Hell’s Gate. I remember the little argument we had about me wanting to look for a place to do laundry and Gem not thinking it important. I remember the day we came across a Fiddle Festival in Merritt and joined in with the stomping, swaying, cowboy-boot-wearing sea of humanity.

It was during my honeymoon that I began my love of old, abandoned log cabins and barns, left to rot, hollow and exposed. It was also where we first saw the Northern Lights, interpreted by the First Nations peoples as the dancing of human spirits. I remember my awe as we watched the night come alive with banners of unfurling green light.

When I look at these pictures and see the hope and promise shining in our youthful faces, we thankfully didn’t know just how tough it was going to be. We’ve been through a lot, Gem and I. We both have our wounds, our dark places, our fears of being broken. We have endured cancer (I am approaching my seven year survival anniversary), our younger son becoming a teenaged father, providing a home for two of our little grandsons for three years, the loss of my beloved brother at age twenty-eight, the death of Gem’s parents, one right after the other.

But we’ve also had immense joys along the way, and like I wrote in another post, life just keeps on becoming. People ask me how we’ve done it ... survived intact despite the odds. I believe that when you can respect each other's personal spaces ... when you can find common joy in countless ordinary days ... when you can reach out of your wounds to each other, in brokenness ... you are open to your deepest sense of belonging and love.

"I always thought that your butt looked pretty good in those jeans", said Gem last night when we talked.

Oh, and a sense of humour is vital, too.

(This is part of Sepia Saturday. For more wonderful offerings, please visit!)

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Lately, I can’t seem to focus on anything for too long without becoming choked-up by the emotion of these last fleeting, astoundingly precious days. They are to be savoured, not chewed hastily while looking ahead to the anticipated next course. These are the small muscles of time.

I went for a little hike in the woods with my grandsons yesterday. As we made our way to a small pond to feed the ducks, I am thrilled that D, who will be seven in September, is able to correctly identify several different trees.

“That’s a Pine!”, he says, confidently.

“How do you know?”, I ask.

“It has long, sharp fingers,” he answers.

“Needles,” I smile.

And that’s a Fir because it has short, soft fingers ... needles,” he continues, cupping his hand over one.

“That’s right,” I tell him.

“And there is a Birch tree, and that one is a Poplar.”

“And, how can you tell the difference between the two?”, I say.

“Birch has white bark and you can peel it easy,” and he demonstrates, holding a small curl of wood in his palm. “Poplar looks almost the same, but its bark is green.”

“You are starting to know the language of the trees!”, I say, proudly.

Throughout the conversation, M, aged four, echoes the names like a little tree seeking its own light and place.

D looks at me and grins. I grin back. It’s the kind of smile which possesses the soul ... both his and mine. I take out my camera. But it’s impossible, because you can't take pictures of something that hangs in the air, like breath that is suddenly, momentarily visible, of this heart stretching, ephemeral beauty.

Maybe the whole cosmic and social mystery of life is a continuous tightening and loosening of myriad knots. To be caught in its binding and loosening can be both terrible and beautiful. This is the texture of life. I wonder what transfiguration I will make of my new mosaic? Like the inner heartwood of old trees, I hope I continue to grow.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Golden Afternoon

On Sunday afternoon I took my granddaughter, who along with my daughter-in-law, was in town for a short visit, and two of my grandsons to explore a historic early 1900's farm homestead. It is about an hour drive from here, and located along the beautiful Giscome Portage trail.

It's a living history site which recreates the bustling community that consisted of a farm, a trading post, a general store, guide and freight operations, and a stop for the riverboats.

It was a gorgeous day; a gentle spring breeze, the green edge of new growth permeating everything. Surprisingly, we were almost the only people there apart from the one lone young girl costumed in calico, serving in the working general store/bakery. There the kids enjoyed hand-cranked vanilla ice-cream while I sampled the home-made rhubarb pie. Every scrap ... pastry and contents was sublime! I also bought some penuche, which is a delicious fudge made from brown sugar and cream.

We explored the farmhouse, barns, post office, blacksmith's shop, general store, fish camp and several other buildings. The kids climbed on a covered wagon. They gazed at sheep and cows and horses. They tumbled about the fields exclaiming over everything in sight. Standing there watching them, a love stirred in my chest like a mouth opening and taking little gulps of air.

The whole afternoon was an alchemy of gold. The colours and gestures having penetrated through to reach our vital organs; heart and brain and lungs. Later the wind picked up and we shivered a little as we walked back to the car, each of us happy in our common gift.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


While his brother and cousins were at school, I took my youngest grandson, M, to a local children's museum which was holding an Art Fair. He was completely fascinated by the static electricity ball. He revelled in painting rocks and paper and small pieces of wood. He made a mask from paper plates and construction paper and feathers. He tried his small hands at pottery ... shaping lumpen clay into mysterious blobs. He traced the outline of his hand, joining the dozens of other such images on a large mural to be placed in city hall somewhere.

We arrived home paint and clay splattered, clutching an armful of little treasures. M held carefully in his hands two items which seemed to hold a particular enjoyment for him. One, a small piece of grey pottery he had worked on diligently for about a half-hour, shaping it to some exact requirements known only to himself. He proudly placed this on my kitchen counter.

"It's an ash tray for Mum", he said.

"She will like it very much", I said, gently.

The other object was a rock he had painted. This he turned over and over in his hand, obviously enjoying both the feel and look of it.

"It feels pretty", he said.

I know just what he means. I feel the same way when I touch a piece of driftwood. I find so much to enchant in the shape, the feel. Each piece invites a distinct consideration. There are gnarled limbs, intricate knots and twisted roots, as well as the milled remnants of logging and fishing, all made astonishing by their sea-change.

Humanity's childhood shares with all created things the primal dreams and desires of embodiment. I think all things have this form of affinity. Such is the small collection of objects nestling on a four year old boy's bedside table.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Scent of Mimosa

My stepmother, Pauline, died very suddenly of a massive stroke in November, 2009. My father went to bring her morning tea, and found her lying on the floor beside their bed. Her funeral took place five days later on her 77th birthday. They had been married for thirty-five years. My father lives thousands of miles away from me, from all his daughters, yet his sorrow is deeply felt by each of us.

(Pauline, July 2009, four months before her death.)

With Pauline's death, my father lacks the one person who "owned" the small details of his life. Without her, he has lost the intimacy that can only come with deep, attentive loving. He struggles with the feeling of having been ruthlessly shaken head-to-toe into an unwilling consciousness of someone else's life.

A few days ago, my father, who lives in the beautiful village of Aldeburgh in Suffolk, and often seeks comfort in his lovely garden, emailed me the photograph at the top of this post, alongside the following words:

"A tribute to my beloved Pauline who wasn’t granted the delight of beholding the splendour and fragrance of the tender Mimosa sapling which she vigilantly protected and lovingly nurtured for 5 patient years."

It had been her birthday gift to him in 2004, and she never saw it bloom during her lifetime.

I sent my father the following reply:

"I believe that your Mimosa blooming for the first time is Pauline's way of telling you that she loves and misses you. It is not an accident. There are many things in this universe which we will never logically understand ... that's the heart and beauty of the unknown. When you look at your Mimosa and smell its lovely fragrance, just know that your beloved Pauline’s spirit is there with you."

Right now, after a succession of honeyed April days, it is raining; raining as though the sun may never shine again. I huddle closer to my computer. I pull a blanket onto my knees. I enfold my hands around a mug of hot coffee. It seems to me that rain makes space more intimate. The golden Mimosa bush which wraps its scented solace around an eighty year old man’s grief, seems as close to me as the stream of rainwater glazing the trees outside my window.

Who wants a world that cannot rain or men who cannot cry?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jo at Fourteen

I have a dearth of old photos right now as all mine are packed ready for our move in three weeks. I hope this one, found tucked inside an old school report, will suffice for today's Sepia Saturday.

This photo is of me in my school uniform in 1971. I was fourteen years old. The first thing that strikes me about this photograph is how much younger and less sophisticated the fourteen year olds of then looked as compared to now. Yet, I don’t recall pigtails and ribbons being unusual amongst the girls of my age at school. Most of us wore white knee socks, and make-up wasn't allowed.

Although I had not yet voiced it, at the time of this picture I was starting to become fully aware and cognizant of the failing dynamics and break-down of my family. I was wary and sad. I think this shows in my eyes. Nine months later my world was to fall apart when my parents divorced and my mother brought her six daughters to live in her native Canada.

I went through a time of what I can only define as grief. It was wrenching, visceral; nothing you could push out with the heel of your hand like an aching muscle. For a long time the stars faded out. The stillness, I remember that. It was clear and fierce and full of such loneliness that the air was thick with it. I day-dreamed of my family being made whole and returning home to England, over and over again. It was a painful, humiliating reflection, the kind I both relished and resented at the same time.

But, life simply keeps on becoming. Both my parents went on to re-marry very happily, and I fell in love with Canada. I have lost my English accent, my hair is white, and I’m certainly fatter, but the girl I was still lives inside me. Looking at this photograph, I am reminded anew that it is good to revisit the hidden, often forgotten parts of ourselves.

(Me, in front of my old school many years later during our holiday in 2004.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Wrong Trail

Gem and I have a small hoard of sayings which mean something only to us; those funny little bits of lore that make their way into your family vocabulary.

"This is the wrong trail, Earl", he said to me during the course of our phone conversation last evening, and I laughed.

This particular saying relates back to several years ago when we went for a hike in the magnificent, and aptly named, Cathedral Grove. This wondrous display of ancient Douglas Fir, Hemlock, and Red Cedar is found in MacMillan Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. A forest of giants, it extends only a few metres beyond the highway and continues right through the park to the Pacific Rim.

We were awe-stuck by the beauty. Scale is no dilemma if you walk slowly. It requires delicacy, both in steps and in perception. There is a will to walk slowly, to tease intricacy from the lime filigree of shadows. Trees can root themselves in our imagination, stray across the fragile boundary between the known and the unknown, a portal to another reality. Among them is intimate conversation, rebirth. Wherever the trail meandered through a criss-cross of fallen, moss-covered logs, the golden-green filtered sun lit tiny constellations of loose panicles of white stars, the petals of foam-flowers. To behold their minute astral beauty beneath the immensity of the huge trees was to feel the heartbeat of the woods.

The trails were busy and the grove was filled with people mostly doing what we were doing ... exulting, breathing, glorying. Extended families and groups of young friends. Couples. Children. Voices chased among the hushed cathedral in breathy sighs. As we stood inhaling the sacred scent of fragrant cedars, I suddenly heard a woman's voice resounding through the spires. I heard her before I saw her:

"This is the wrong trail, Earl!"

She and a man emerged in the forest, both dressed like giant babies in matching pastel shorts and t-shirts with white running shoes and socks. She was peering down at a brochure. I was dumbfounded. Wrong trail? How could it be wrong when you are surrounded by an urgent, whispery summons to reverence?

Sometimes we simply don’t see the magnificence around us, and our identity is diminished by this discrepancy. Yet, we can laugh at it, too. Gem and I use this expression when we witness one of those comic, incongruous moments either in ourselves or others. I realise, too, that it’s often this paradox that makes me love the world.

Monday, April 12, 2010

April Unfurling

Yesterday, as I was doing a little spring clean-up outdoors, a neighbour out walking her dog stopped for a chat. This woman has been a neighbour for over twenty years. Her two children are the exact same ages as two of mine. She is fond of telling me how “they have never given her a moment’s trouble in their lives”. As her words float smugly, she somehow always manages to make me feel like an unenlightened peasant with damaged offspring. Seven years ago when she discovered that our teenage son and his girlfriend were expecting a baby, her first words to me were, “I‘m so sorry. You must be feeling like such a failure as a parent. I‘ll pray for you.“ My immediate, absurd thought was, “No ... please don’t ... “

Today she tells me that she is looking forward to having grandchildren one day, but only when the time is right. She then adds, "I've always felt it isn't fair to bring children into this world until you're ready for them, but then no one knows that more than you and Gem. I really admire you."

When I go back into the house, my heart and brain wrestle as they always do after a conversation with her. My feelings are a complex mixture of envy, pity and sadness.

We so often tear one another apart, we noble humans. We are such a fearful species, so fond of lording it over one another in countless absurd ways.

Later in the afternoon, I spend some time at my favourite book store, which is actually a coffee shop and book store combined. It is called ’Books & Company’ and has a wonderful ambiance; inviting chairs, a fat purry cat prowling among the shelves, the best coffee in town.

My husband and I are regular customers and the lovely woman who works in the café section and also does a lot of the baking, knows us quite well.

"You’re missing your husband, dear. Of course you are. Would you like a piece of my pecan caramel shortbread with your coffee? Of course you would" , she says to me.

Immediately, I feel my clenched soul start to relax.

I think it's not really the grand gestures which sustain and nourish our lives. It's the seemingly ordinary, sometimes quirky, little, tender acts. These build upon each other and create a pattern of loving and nurture.

What a startling and beautiful thing it is to grow flowers in one's squalid corners.

(The sign in the parking lot behind Books & Company.)