Friday, December 28, 2007

Our Lady of Peace

This is the entrance to the chapel of the Virgin of Peace that I stumbled upon one afternoon after quixotically entering the indigo-trimmed cantaloupe orange church that I had passed many times. Unlike other larger churches in Cholula and Puebla, the cantaloupe church had only one chapel, this one dedicated to Nuestra Senora de la Paz. This photo is from the inside out, from inside the sanctuary. You can see the red glads.

I was alone, walking back from Tepanapa, the ancient great pyramid of Cholula, Mexico. I stepped off the street, my face as pink as the cotton visor I had picked up in the market after having burned my nose. I walked through the flower encrusted arch of the churchyard. I passed a trio of men busy in the heat of the day pruning trees into birds. A small boy-child with a pink broom swept leaves. Never too young in Mexico to put your hands to work.

I was surprised when I first tried the door, a massive wooden door, more wall than door. It was locked. The doors of most churches in Cholula and Puebla are usually wide open all day long (for they are public buildings in everyday use not just for special times). I wondered, as I glanced over at the topiary pruning, maybe they were getting reading for a festival?

I decided to stroll the grounds and visit the gravestones--or gravebeds, I should say, like this white one with a little window to another world carved into it. Maybe a portal to let the spirit through? I heard a voice call me and turned to see one of the men running to the doors of the church with a massive skeleton key in his hands. Gesticulating at the door, he was apologizing profusely in Spanish. With this huge black iron key that would never fit in any pocket, he opened the doors for me. I thanked him profusely as I stepped over the threshold.

I was the only person in the church. It was very quiet. The light was diffused. Soft. A beautiful blue talavera bowl filled with blessed water sat by the entrance. One dips a finger or two of the right hand in a ritual of purification before making the sign of the cross, before entering the sacred mysteries.

Closer to the high altar, just below Guadalupe in a black cape trimmed in gold, a white lace tablecloth was strewn with deep red rose petals. Vases of red gladiolas, the same deep dark blood red of the roses, picked fresh that morning, graced either side of the ground.

The chapel to Our Lady of Peace was on the left, on the dark side of the cantaloupe church with topiary birds. I didn't even notice it at first. It was the small window of duskiness that shimmered against the wall that signaled an opening. The lights in the church effused a soft butter yellow, the portal was darkened. Can I go in? I ducked my head and stepped through. It was so dark. Once through the small entrance to the chapel of the Virgin of Peace, the heat of the day and the noise of the street fell away. Even my pink nose quieted down! I sat on a pew, in the dark, in the silence, grateful for the sanctuary of peace that was opened for me, that the work of others had opened.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Making rituals

A sudden blizzard has flown in. Outside my window, the north wind is howling, the maples are creaking ominously, and snow is being blown about as if a swirl of clouds were raging in my backyard rather than the sky.

Yet, while the north wind has been a constant, this morning's sky was a solid gray dullness, a drizzle of rain cast a pall, snowbanks had delved into dirtiness, and the tone of the day outdoors was seriously dark. Nonetheless, I grudgingly went out for my morning walk. Put on my rain hat rather than my toque, my light jacket rather than my purple parka. When I came back I draped everything over the cast iron rads to dry.

Last night we held a Solstice celebration at the Northern Woman's Bookstore. We shared lore about Solstice and the importance of ritual, spent time on blessings and mudras, and enjoyed bits 'n bobs tea and an array of home-baked cake and cookies. Sweeping boughs of pine and cedar graced the air.

One of the blessings we did was to close our eyes and place our hands in the "I offer my life to thee" mudra while listening to a recitation of a Celtic prayer. It was an adaption of one dedicated to Saturday. Called Eternal Life, it resonates with the evergreen boughs of the Solstice season which symbolize the everlasting, immortality.

To all who are down
unable to stand,
we bring the uplifting of Light.

To those depressed
and in the dark
we bring the uplifting of Light.

To those who are weary,
unable to cope,
we bring the uplifting of Light.

To all whose powers
wane and lose hope,
we bring the uplifting of Light.

Bring peace to the troubled,
Grant wholeness and healing.
Come, my lantern, Light of the world
Protect my soul, shine upon us in love.

But it was the Ptarmigan who stole the show. Really, everyone present was smitten by the ptarmigan and the idea of taking ptarmigan steps in the snow.

Deliberately. One determined step at a time. A bird of endurance. A bird known as the expert in conserving energy. That prefers to walk rather than fly, to conserve its energy for what really counts -- like surviving the winter!

The Ptarmigan grows feather-covered feet in winter. It dons white furry boots for its deliberations with snow. Sounds like the source of mukluks, I think!

The Ptarmigan changes colour, adapts to the seasons. Doesn't always use the same strategy. In winter it is white. Of course. In summer, spackled brown and gray. The male and female are gender-benders, i.e. very similar in appearance. Except for mating season when the male grows orange combs for eyebrows!

This photo is not of Ptarmigan steps in the snow; rather, pigeon steps, crow, perhaps squirrel. Ptarmigans are much more north than my home. These steps in the snow are found by the watering hole in the creek under the bridge. A language in snow, if only I could read it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Solstice

Today is Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Tomorrow marks the turn away from the dark night of the soul. Each day the sun will now stay a little longer in the sky and climb a little higher. When you live in the north you can track the orbiting and tilting of the earth by simply watching the sun as it dances with the dark.

Because I walk along the same paths each morning, I see the sunrise of summer slowly shift from the left of Nanabijou's head towards the feet. Unlike summer, when you can lie on the grass and be blinded by the sun directly overhead, in winter the sun skirts low in the sky, casting long dark indigo shadows across the snow.

Known by many names, Winter Solstice is a constant in the north, unlike the month of December, which is a new invention. From the Latin 'decem', meaning 10, December is a vestige of the 10th month of the old Julian calendar of the Romans. January and February were added later; then the Gregorian calendar took over. This calendar making is of Greco-Roman history and its philosophical / epistemological fall-out, as there are many, many names and ways of marking this time of year.

The time that corresponds with what we now call December is also known as Full Long Night's Moon, Moon of the Popping Trees, Evergreen Moon, Winter Moon, Her Winter Houses Moon, Ka Ha Ka (Kiakh), and many other names. I wonder what Joulukuu was called before Christianity? Joulukuu (Finnish) literally translates to "Christmas month" which speaks to its renaming into Christian thought. But "kuu" (moon in Finnish) shows that the old moon calendar couldn't be wiped out for good! But I wonder, what was Joulukuu before the proselytizers did their trick?

Winter Solstice marks the beginning of the waxing light, when the dark half of the year yields to the light half. Darkness slowly retreats as light is reborn. The darkness living in our spirit is pierced by the slow seduction of the sun as s/he rises in the sky (the sun is figured as both male and female, depending on your cosmology!)

It's no wonder all sorts of celebrations were dreamed up to mark this transition to enlightenment. The moon of December is a time of giving thanks for our blessings, for the blessings given to us that we must send out again into the world to those in need. It is a time of hope and healing. Moon of resilience. Moon of endurance. Moon of resurrection. Moon of protection.

The month of the Snow Queen. The honoring of Bruna, the Roman Goddess of the winter season. Tonantzin, our dear Mother. Our Lady of Guadalupe. The sacred 7 days before and 7 days after Winter Solstice of the Halcyon bird. Rebirth of Spider Woman and Hawk Maiden. Ariadne. Artemis. Athena. Dedicated to Epona, the Celtic Mother Goddess of horses. Frey and Freyya.

A time to drink hibiscus tea. Meditate for world peace. Light candles of all colours, but especially white and red. Dust wheat stalks with flour; lay them in a basket. Burn bayberry incense (also known as myrtle). Hang sacred holly in the house to invite the snow faeries in (be sure to remove it by Feb 2nd!) Breath the scent of cedar and pine. Feast with friends and family. Reach out to those in need. Sip cider spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Make a toast to the trees.

Take ptarmigan steps in the snow*.

* visit Rauna Kuokkanen's blog for more about bird steps in snow!

Monday, December 17, 2007

A wash of pink

My home exists in multiple places. My home is an old Victorian house with a female soul. I call her Virginia. She will be 100 years old next year. She would have been built in the summer. She faces southeast, the Lake. Once, in the winter, I found old clothes stuffed into the cracks of the basement walls. A woman's turn-of-the-century home-sewn wool skirt. She would've been a size or two smaller than me, and much shorter. A child's jumper. A toddler's sweater, its elbows patched. A pocket (large) from a man's navy and green bathrobe!

This was before pink insulation and blue foam insulation. Not very effective in keeping the draft out (which was why I discovered these clothes of the original owners), but at least not carcinogenic like the blue polystyrene foam insulation that entombs just about everyone's house these days (that is, if you live in the north).

There was also crumpled up newspaper stuffed in amongst the clothes. The Toronto Globe from December 29th, 1910. Funny, it was December 29th when I went down the stairs to once-and-for-all get rid of that draft! Probably exactly what the woman of the house had done many years before me, calling for her daughter to go get those old clothes that they never wore any more.

My home is this house. This house full of my family, food and books. With a peach-faced lovebird and a goldfish slowly changing colour. My home is warm, has running water that comes out of a tap, flush toilets, heat. Windows. I feel safe in my home. There is no violence or drunken arguments in my home. There is no rudeness or swearing or belittling in my home.

My home has walls covered in large red flowers, a black bear in a midnight blue spiral, Finnish women washing clothes at the river, bluejay and grosbeak feathers, a sura from the Koran stitched in gold calligraphy on black velvet, a tin mirror from Puebla, pansies from Margit's backyard. My home has copper plates from Iraq, brass plates from Lebanon and papyrus from Egypt with Hathor's cow headdress. Tutankhamen sits on a shelf. An angel pipes a tune. Over my right shoulder, Van Gogh's bedroom opens to another place, not here.

My home is open to the outdoors. From my dining room window I see starlings and sparrows and chickadees crossing each other in the bird intersection, the open space of our yard. I see red berries in the high bush cranberry caroling in the snow, a blue spruce imperial against the wind, a juniper, moonstruck.

My home is a place of food, friends, creativity, of debating and discussing, of deep conversations, of critical thinking. Very little small talk fills the air. My home is a place of giving thanks, of blessings. A sense of humour, surely.

My home is also found in the outdoors, in the fresh air. In the silence of morning. In the crunch of the snow underfoot along the creek, along the lakeshore. My home is the opera of an open sky. A wash of pink on ice. Nanabijou on the horizon, eternal.

Underneath the ice, below the waves of Superior, glacial meltwaters lie undisturbed for tens of thousands of years. A million stars above bear witness. Above and below, blackness. The primal deep. The end of each beginning, the beginning of each ending. Unending.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

winter whimsy

whimsy, hwym' ze, wim' - ze,
1. an odd or fanciful idea; a whim
2. a quaint or fanciful quality
[probably from whim-wham, fanciful object]
3. a fanciful or fantastic device, object, or creation especially in writing or art

whim, hwim, n. [probably akin to Icel. hvima, to wander with the eyes; Sw. hvimsa, to be unsteady; Dan. vimse, to skip about. Comp. also W. chwim, motion.]
A sudden turn of the mind; a freak; a capricious notion; a kind of large capstan worked by horse power or steam for raising ore, water, etc., from the bottom of a mine.--whimsical, hwim'zi kal, a. full of whims; freakish; capricious; odd in appearance; fantastic

Friday, December 7, 2007

A reflection on colour

if you are living among e.pulcherima and bouganvillea, the soft yellow and pink of yesterday's sunrise pale in comparison to the colours rioting in your landscape.

During early winter in northwestern Ontario, and in other northerly landscapes, the colours that nurture us in the daytime tend to come from a rather limited palette -- blue light and dark, a dash of black-tinged forest green, whole fields of stark white, an abundance of gray, and simply brown, plain old sparrow brown. Pinks and yellows are found only in the sky, and even then only fleetingly.

This winter washing out of colour brought the film Gabbeh to my mind. It is an Iranian film about a carpet. Well, not really a carpet but a gabbeh, a handwoven tapestry/mat that is made by the nomadic women and girls of Iran. Each woman's history is told on her personal gabbeh, as she "writes" down what she sees, what is important to her into the pattern of her mat. Each woman's emotional life as part of a collective of people and as embedded in a (moving) landscape is written down onto the mat. The mat serves many purposes. It is a book, a photo album, a diary, a newspaper, an archive, an heirloom, a place to sleep, to eat, to dream. A bed. A kitchen table.

The colours in the movie are incredible, visually outstandingly beautiful. It made me reflect on northwestern Ontario, on Finland, on the north. About how the landscape and the colours that are available to colour one's life story and history are so different than the vibrancy, the shock of colour, the jewel tones and the intense reds, blues, greens and yellows of countries such as Iran. It made me think of how our forests and rivers and fields and wildflowers script a different sense of self, different stories and poems.

I also recently read 3 books on women's clothing in Saudi Arabia, Persia and Palestine. They are old books. There are a lot of photographs that focus on the sheer intricacy of designs, and the sheer beauty that women have dreamt up to make themselves even more beautiful. I got mad when I was looking through these books because they show the truth of the history of these places -- that they are places where women have developed advanced arts of fabric, clothing design, makeup, jewelery, etc that are incredibly beautiful and yet what does the West know?

Paint these places as if the women were a homogeneous glob of dark formless shapes who have no sense of feminine beauty or the female body or form. This is TOTALLY WRONG. The history of clothing that I have been reading shows how absolutely and integrally the feminine HAS EMERGED from these places. Indeed, the western sense of the feminine is indebted to eastern women. The west has a lot to learn about what makes a woman beautiful from... the east. Part of the logic of the looking-glass world.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the arts of beauty and fashion would put any woman from northwestern Ontario in the doghouse of dowdiness. The fabrics. The colours. The jewelery. Even the veils of the past were about enhancing one's beauty, not hiding it. I think that it is only in very recent times that religion has been used and the media has distorted the historical narrative of women's arts of femininity. Really, every one should read books like these. It would change how they see "those" women "over there." Whole entire histories have been completely enshrouded by the lies we tell ourselves. That is the true veil--what hangs before western eyes. The inability to see the beauty of these places. The beauty of their women. The beauty of their people. The beauty of their traditions. The inability to learn from them rather than keep trying to teach them lessons on how to westernize.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The story the Hyacinths told

is in the Third Story. In the Fourth Story you are introduced to Crow. Remember? Crow's one of the helpers in Snow Queen. Crow helps Gerda on her way to find Kai whose heart and eye have been pierced by mirror shards of unfeeling. Gerda laments that she never learned Kontti kielta - crow language - from her Grandmother who was fluent in it, but nevermind, Crow still manages to piece together help for her.

Now, the peikko, kaikkein pahempia, oikea paholainen, that is, the nasty forest gnome, of the worst kind, a real bad-maker, had made a magic mirror of topsy-turvy. Everything good and kind and beautiful changed to evil, nastiness, and terror in the peikkon peili, the troll-gnome's mirror. The Snow Queen starts when he drops it and it splinters into a million bits. One flew into Kai's heart and one into his eye, sending Gerda off to look for him. Crow sends Gerda on her way to the North, to the Snow Queen's castle of ice halls, to rescue Kai.

The Snow Queen has always been one of my favourite fairy tales. It is one of the few Western fairytales where all of the females are strong and do the action. In The Snow Queen the little girl is "the prince" and goes to rescue the little boy. Talk about topsy-turvy! Even in my young not yet feminist mind something drew me to these strong females. The little girl Gerda meets powerful older women who help her, and animals, too. She talks to the animals, even kisses them on the mouth! Of course, it depends on which version you read and there are many, some much better than others. The trick is, each story is made anew in its re-telling.

Take Hans Anderson, the Christian, for example. He did not "write" The Snow Queen. This old story of the Grandmothers (who materialize in it numerous times) was in existence long before Mr. Christian's pen. Even his Christianizing couldn't wipe out the vanha, vanha vaimo, that is, the old, old woman.

I remember reading The Snow Queen in my Grade 1 reader. It was my favourite story because it was the only reference to my Finnish culture that materialized in my schooling here in what was then Port Arthur. There was the Snow Queen who lived up North, yes, an anglocized / Christianized version of Louhi from Pohjala, but even my unschooled eyes saw her there in the text. There was the Finn woman who tied knots for the wind. Of course, in the Finnish version she is known as ruijanmuija. Remember? She comes after the Sami woman (known in the Christian version as the Lapp woman). These two women live alone, in the margins of society. Way way up North with only the Northern Lights and animals for company.

Now Gerda puts on her special red shoes and goes to bargain with the river. Some thought the River had taken Kai. The little girl throws her red shoes into the River as a sacrifice to get her friend back. Instead, the River takes her. Caught in the current, she ends up at the taikurivaimon house with windows of red, blue and yellow. (Really, the translation of taikurivaimo doesn't work--magic making wife?)

A garden of brilliant flowers surrounds taikurivaimon kirjava patchwork house. Each flower has a story to tell. The Tiger Lily, the snowdrop...but I am going to tell you what the Hyacinths said.

The Hyacinths tell her a story about 3 beautiful sisters, who have a beautiful, heady scent floating about them. One wears a red dress, the other a blue one, and the third, a pure white dress, vitivalkoinen. The 3 sisters are dancing hand-in-hand in moonlight by the shore of a mirror-like lake. Suddenly, the 3 sisters disappear into the forest and then 3 coffins drift onto the lake.

Clouds of small star-like fireflies flit about the coffins like small hovering lights. On each coffin lies one sister. As the 3 coffins float by the scent in the air becomes even sweeter. The scent of death, sweet. So sweet.

... the hyacinths' story popped into my mind yesterday when I read the poem my friend from Sweden sent me. That sweet scent of death. Doesn't it remind you of the sensibility of Forough Farrokhzad's poems? I asked Fataneh. The gloominess, the foreboding, the hopelessness. The love of life. Its exquisite unbearableness. The dark, that fatal realization that life is like this. So unromantic. But oh so sweet.

In the language of flowers, purple hyacinths mean sorrow. The scent of death hovers like delicate, ethereal lights around the hyacinth. Purple. The colours of the 3 sisters' garments washed together.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Snow Queen flew by last night

1. back door threshold; heading out to shovel! 2. that's our car under there.
3. front door windowpane. 4. Husband taking a break from shoveling, talking with a neighbour out for a walk with her tiny black puppy that was getting lost inside the snow! (you can't see the puppy!). 5. a Chantilly lace look out the icy 2nd floor window.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

in a blink of an eye

yesterday's loss ..... today's plates of snowy glass. As I walked along the lake shore today, the plates of snowy glass were jigsawed together in a perfect symmetry. Closest to the shore, the plates were gently shifting and nestling together. It was as if the water and ice were breathing together.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Both sides, now*

Actually, the world around me right now is brilliant white. A major snowstorm blew into town on Wednesday and dropped a whole heap of snow.

I was thrilled of course with the snow, never mind the cold northwesterlies, never mind that my husband didn't make it much past the driveway because of the snow, never mind that I had to go rummage in the basement to dig out my son's old discarded winter boots in order to get to the 2 birdfeeders in my yard without getting clots of snow sticking to my socks.

Never mind all that, I was thrilled for the snow as, unlike last winter, the flowers in my garden have a chance to survive the cold hand of winter. Last winter we didn't get any snow until January or February yet the temperature was minus way down there and windchills were fierce. I lost the red beauty of the cardinal plant, the goat's beard (and he's supposed to be tough!), the black eyed susans were stunted, and even a long-enduring bleeding heart just stopped beating.

So, this winter has provided some grace as the flowers are already blanketed and insulated. Toasty warm roots. Batted down. Resting in peace until the first hint of green comes knocking.

If you look closely at the photo of the harbour, you can see the lights of the lighthouse shining out like the eyes of a bug peering back at you from a dusty basement corner. This was yesterday's photo; this morning it is -22 with a windchill of -32 so all clouds and chimney smoke lie in the air like flat pancakes. A sure-fire way to tell if it is really cold; just look out your window at your neighbour's chimney. If the smoke is flat, moving parallel, yet almost motionless, well, chances are it is below -20 celsius, edging to the -30 mark.

My daughter said to me as she came down the stairs this morning, mom, go look out my window at the clouds. They're so pretty.

Are you sure it's not pollution, I asked?

I went up to the third floor to look out of her south-facing bedroom window. A gorgeous sight greeted me. A solid wall of dense white pillowy clouds swirled low along the horizon of the lake. Nanabijou was blanketed. Gone. The clouds looked like a very effective wallpaper border. But, a peek to the right confirmed my fears. These aren't clouds at all, just pollution from the mill rolling across the harbour, trapped by the cold air, and instead of billowing off and toxifying someone else's landscape and breath, why, the toxic effluent was just hanging around for a change.

Yep, I told my daughter when I got back to the kitchen, they sure are pretty. But they're not clouds at all. Just pollution from the mill.

After my daughter left for her teaching placement, I sat down with my coffee to listen to CBC radio. Someone in town has written a new book about homelessness; the interview will be coming up. Someone in town dressed up as a homeless person and went out on the street to 'get the goods'. But, said the announcer, he got quite sick so he had to give up his project.

I turned the radio off. Probably this young man is a very nice young man. Maybe my neighbour. Could belong to a local writer's group. Or just a well-meaning I-want-to-get-the-'real'-story-out young man.

But I couldn't help thinking about the Anishnawbe fellow I saw from the overpass on Monday freezing morning. First, I thought it was a pile of green garbage bags that had blown up against the small shed by the traintracks. But no, I saw someone sit up. Crawl out of his sleeping bag on the ground. He seemed ok. I left him to his privacy. When I returned back from my loop, I saw he was gone. I wonder, did he also decide to 'give up his project'? I wonder if he too decided he had enough of homelessness and went back home instead? I wonder if he has the choice.


post script: Later the next day I read in the local Source community newspaper an article about the homelessness author. It seems the author himself may be Anishnawbe (not sure though). So, I thought, does it make his work then more legitimate? (not sure if the ethics of the project apply regardless). Interestingly, he was commenting on how the project did not turn out as he had imagined; in his words "We tried to do something that turned out to be a total failure." But, he states that he wanted to do something with the material he had collected. Currently he is a reporter for the Kenora Daily Miner. His book is for "mainstream audiences". Does that mean mainstream as in class or mainstream as in white middleclass? (not sure)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Palestine Health Journal: Gazans Die Because Israel Denies Treatment: International Pressure Should Prevent It, Says Barghouthi

dear friends, please visit this site and read the information on it. I posted a comment as I was very distressed, not only to find out about how many Palestinians have died at Israeli controlled checkpoints, but also that there was only 1 comment-- and it was so mean-spirited! Does anyone care? Are we so cold-hearted? How will the world be healed? What can we do to stop repeating pain if our very language causes harm?

Palestine Health Journal: Gazans Die Because Israel Denies Treatment: International Pressure Should Prevent It, Says Barghouthi

Monday, November 26, 2007

keijukainen tanssi talvella

Finnish for 'fairy dancing in the wintertime." This handmade girl-of-steel can be found in my flower garden, underneath the highbush cranberry. Whoever made her (an artist out west, in B.C. I think; I bought her from Fireweed on Algoma St a few years ago) polished her in such a special way that she reflects back differently each time you look at her.

If you look at her in the dead of night, she will appear to be dancing across the dark. She picks up the slightest shimmer of light and catches it, painting her dress with its luminosity. One night, one very deep black night, I looked out my window and couldn't even see the outline of the shrubs, but there Keijukainen was, shimmering pink iridescence, pirouetting one foot in front of the other and gleaming. She was all alone in the dark; the only one, the only soul visible.

A few winters back we had so much snow that it literally touched the soul of her foot. She looked like she was dancing on the snow, on a landscape of white brilliance.

She carries a wand of green semi-precious stones that ring out in the wind. A string of peridots chiming calm, dispelling anger, bringer of good luck and health. Protection. A light dance across the field of the heart. With a wand of peridot it is said one can dig deep into the mysteries of darkness .

Sunday, November 25, 2007

upside down world

Today, I am sharing with you a quotation that one of my friends sent me recently:

"One has to be in the same place every day, watch the dawn from the same house, hear the same birds awake each morning, to realize how inexhaustibly rich and different is sameness."
Chuang Tzu

This is so true. I walk the same paths each morning, walk along the same creek each morning, the same shoreline, see the same sunrise in a thousand different costumes, the same rocks, the same birds, and yet, if I were to share with you all the amazing photos and wrote up all the heart-stopping sights I see and the quirky conversations I have with other early a.m. walkers, why, this blog would be unmanageable!

I thought of the amazing richness of the commonplace, of the routine, of the mundane, of the same- old same-old this morning after I finished my yoga practice in, of course, the same old way. I thought of how many of us are running away from that "same place" and "same house", desperately desiring change, something new, looking in the mall for just that new something, never mind that you can't fit one more thing in your closet, dreaming of a tourist jaunt to some resort filled with people just like you, casting your eyes over someone else at the Madhouse, someone different than the person at home waiting for you....who may also be out looking for something to liven up their life....oh, the list is long. No time to make dinner. It's too boring. Always the same.

Routine. The latest discard in a disposable society.

I was thinking, wouldn't it be wonderful if we, too, made green shadows? I think our shadows are much darker....carbon coloured, in fact. Unlike the birds we are leaving a big gloomy footprint on earth....or should I say more of a sasquatch hole in the sky?

Looking at the everyday world, at what appears so routine and commonsense with new eyes, with an upside down look reveals not only green shadows on ice but all sorts of revelations.

Upside Down. A Primer for a Looking Glass World. It's a book I read a number of years ago that made me think in new ways. Here is a link to excerpts from Eduardo Galeano's upside down look at the world:

Friday, November 23, 2007

giving up the ghost

the lake is giving up the ghost this morning, that is, the warmth of her waters is dancing up from the deep and swirling on the surface. The ice is past creeping its way in and is well on its way. Have you ever stopped to listen to the sound of ice forming? It snaps and creaks and you can hear soft crystalline shatterings. Sometimes you think someone is coming up behind you, but no, it's just the ice making its presence known.

The pink and gold ray of sunshine is the surface of the lake; it's not ice yet, it's just the waters giving up the ghost.

The blue mirror is not the sky at all. I looked down from the footpath and saw a morning cloud laid like the finest tablecloth onto the surface of the water.

Two days ago the harbour was a haven for ducks and geese; this morning I saw only 7 mallards. Two days ago there was only a skip of snow on the shore and open waters. Today the lake is a patchwork of ghostly swirls, paperthin glace, floating jigsaw puzzle sheets, thick slabs of ice cones laid along the shore, and sometimes the odd ice carving startling itself out of the water by the rocks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Three Sisters

I hope the captain of the ship I saw out in Thunder Bay harbour this morning knows about the three sisters lying in wait for him.

Legend says that they were the intractable daughters of Nanabijou. Legend says that they weren't nice to younger sister, who floated up to the heavens to be with her lover the North Star. That is, after the three deviant daughters took their bows and aimed straight for her heart.

Legend says that in anger at their unruliness, Nanabijou turned the three sisters into stone and flung them into the waters around him.

Now they are called the "Welcome Islands". How they came to be felicitous and amicable from the legend, I don't know. Something tells me the legend on the city of TBay webpage has it wrong.

The 3 sisters as I have heard tell always work together. They work as a unit, a team. The 3 sisters are a killing team; there's no getting around them.

The first sister is the one draws you in. She's the one you see first. It's her beauty; a beauty beyond belief. Stunning. Flawless. Her face luminous; eyes like the moon. A song in her throat; a love song. You are left speechless, motionless before the beauty that rings out from every crag and cliff. A little death travels up your spine. Awestruck, you begin to turn in her direction.

It's then you see the second sister. Her killing magic is kindness. She is so compassionate; she always has soft words. For everyone. She is never unkind, harsh, or short-tempered. No, the second sister wears her heart on her sleeve, and as her dress is made of cloths from all over the world, she knows everyone's song of sorrow. She never leaves anyone out; she never tires of listening to your pain. Her harbour is inviting, a sanctuary. You enter her waters.

By then it's too late. You're swamped by the third sister before you know it. She's known for cut eye and sharp tongue. She can cut a grown man to the quick with... why, simply with words. Her tongue is quick as a lash and razor sharp, so too her eyes. She doesn't miss a thing--and she lets you know it. Others, too. Everyone knows now. The third sister is fierce. Unrelenting. A force to be reckoned with. She just doesn't stop. You wish you could get away. But it's too late.

The 3 sisters have snagged you, caught you, pulled you under.

There you go....down, down, down into the darkness.

Where it's cold.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

gun shy

The sky was overcast. Shades of grey. So, too, the water.

Nanabijou, when I first came over the overpass, was invisible, behind a grey sheet of sky, but as I walked along the shore it materialized faintly, as if through a gauze. Or a nylon stocking. A faint outline. Barely there. I read once that this is how newborn babies see. As if through a veil.

If you crouched slightly by the dried grasses and the eaglehead driftwood, the water was gun metal grey. Walking along the shore, past the first lookout, I stopped to watch the mallards paddling contentedly, oblivious to any grey sensibility. The muskrat was still there, chewing her greens by the shore, a ball of fur. Stopped to scratch her ear with her hind leg. When she left with a deft glide, the mallards gleaned her leftovers.

This is the best I can do with my hand-me-down camera. I've been trying to get a 'nice' photo of the hooded mergansers. Our harbour is a way station on their path south from up north. They come here in the fall and hang around for a bit, then they're off to other climes.

Highly prized for meat, I think for as soon as I spy one, it is already far away from shore or with a blink of the eye, diving under water.

Shy of humans, all of who are presumed to be carrying a gun. So, I stand at the shore, sighing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

patchwork pigeon paradise

look closely, the close-ups are found in the patchwork facade of a downtown PA building just north of the city bus terminal on Water St.

I wonder...
who owns this building? have they heard of urban renewal?

While there is beauty in decay, didn't this building suffer a fire some time ago now? Isn't this tourist site/sight for sore eyes ready for a makeover? or has the urban malaise of neoliberal cutbacks overtaken civic pride?

well, at least the pigeons will be warm this winter!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

'Celata' means hidden

Often, what appears to be hidden is actually right before you. You simply need to look.

Sometimes it's right there, on the ground below your feet. Like this tiny greygreen bird foraging on clumps of weeds, that surprised me the other morning. I almost walked right by her, and perhaps I have many a morning. But the other day, with a dusting of snow on the ground, her ittybittyness called out.

She was darting about the weeds, nipping under leaves, hopping onto dried up stalks, dashing under cover. She was lively and quick.

She's dull and plain--so they say. Her cap is grey, her coat dusky olive green, her underside yellow. Nondescript--so they say. She was so tiny and all alone. It was the day the snow and the north wind howled into town.

When I saw her, I thought, Oh my God! a warbler! what is this fall warbler still doing here? Has she been left behind by her flock? forgotten about? Was she too busy having fun and forgot to leave? then having missed the time to migrate, she's now left alone. How will she manage with old Boreas, the north wind? with Keewatin, the northwesterly wind? with our wicked winter?

She'll never survive.

I already had her dead. I imagined coming across her frozen little corpse one morning. I wondered if I should try to catch her...what should I do? ...maybe I could bring her home and put her in a cage and then release her in spring.

Maybe you could use a fishing net, offered Pentti, who had come up the overpass. I don't know, I think I need some expert help; I'll email the bird expert.

Turns out she's an orange-crowned warbler. "Vermivora celata". Her orange crown hides underneath and isn't visible unless the feathers are raised.

Turns out she's one of the last to migrate in fall, sometimes leaving as late as Sept....or October....or November.

Turns out she's a solitary bird. Used to being alone. Sometimes she joins a flock of mixed migrants--chickadees, kinglets, vireos, juncos. She's not discriminating, any other small bird will do for companionship--that is, when companionship she craves.

But she's ok on her own. Like her orange crown, her strength lies hidden. Her resilience hidden in her small delicate appearance.

She builds a nest on the ground, often on a steep slope (that's where I saw her, on the ridge of the overpass). Perhaps she was born there on the slope, in a cup of a nest made of leaves and fine twigs, bark and rootlets. Lined with fluff and down, and a tuck of fur. Maybe snagged from the sheddings of Bleusie or Felix as they walked by.

The boreal nesting type leave the latest. So, I don't need to forage my fishing net out of the garage. I don't need to put her in a cage and worry about keeping her wildness alive 'til spring. What was I thinking, anyway? She won't freeze. She's not abandoned.

She's just different.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

an unknown angel

...left this pair of attached angels in my garden last summer when Israel had invaded Lebanon and was bombing indiscriminately. To me, this unexpected gift was--and is--a sign of hope in the dark. I know the despair in my heart lightened when I found these angels gracing the ground. They were left by the orange lily (also a gift) that I planted in the earth for sustenance, an orange lily of hope for peace in Lebanon.

I christened the 2-headed angels, "Us" and "Them" because we are all both. Everyone on earth is both "us" and "them" at the same time. There is no division. We don't live apart. Our hearts beat together. No surgery can cut apart our Siamese twinness.

By so naming this gift of grace, I reclaim the 'us and them' war-making rhetoric of US policy that has infected many a reader of mainstream media. That creates a false divide based on fear and ignorance--and a whole lot of greed and capitalism.

Now, as you can see, one of the angels has a broken wing. That means we have work to do in healing the wounds of war that are drumming fear and hate into hearts.

Below, is my letter to the editor that was published yesterday (Sat. Nov. 10) in our local newspaper, The Chronicle Journal. I wrote it in response to a woman's letter. Her letter was a support-"our"-military response to an article the CJ wrote about the local peace group (of which I am part). We went out leafleting on the national day of action to draw support to get Canadian troops out of Afghanistan. The CJ article was very well-written, and they published 2 great photos. The letter to the editor, however, was ....let's just say, not angelic in spirit. Here is my response:

In answer to being told that “protesters… talk about things that they don’t know about.”

Most citizens who take an oppositional stance to the government’s deployment of Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan have to be informed. It’s not easy standing for peace today. Desiring diplomacy rather than death—there is no sugar coating military operations; people, civilians, “insurgents,” soldiers, animals, and environments die—puts a Canadian citizen on the defensive these days.

I know because I have had to defend the dove numerous times. Defend the freedom to demand peaceful solutions, not military solutions.

I’ve done my homework; so have lots others like me. We’ve cut through the rhetoric, the Dept. of National Defence’s million dollar plus "communication strategy response to operations in Afghanistan" (i.e. pro-military media campaign). We’ve resisted pressures to tow the patriotic line, at work, at board meetings, in our neighbourhoods, even in our homes.

I do know of what I speak. I do know of risk. That is why I take my words and my body out on the street, into the public eye, write letters to the prime minister, my MP, to this newspaper. I risk to say: No to War. I dearly wish that no one, no matter who, no matter where, has to feel the fear that war brings.

I am for peace because the fear that war creates is beyond
the deepest anxiety.
I know because last summer my entire
family was in
Lebanon when it was invaded and bombed
Israel. Last summer I feared watching the news.
Last summer I feared sleeping. I woke with a start each
morning at 5 am
feeling that something terrible beyond
my control was about to happen.

Well, it was happening. I almost lost my mind.
I know I lost something.

I had post traumatic stress for months after.

Please don’t patronize people by assuming that you know how we think, what we’ve experienced. Tell me what you think, but don’t tell me what I think. That is not democratic.

Peace is not a soapbox, an infection or a protest. It’s a strategy, a dream and a song. I hope people are listening, for the sound of her wings.