Thursday, June 13, 2013

the tree of life on my morning path

The other day I went for a morning walk upstream McVicar's Creek. I went with my friend Lilian Mattar Patey. I first bicycled to Shuniah Knox United Church, where Lilian is interim minister, to meet her. We then walked north through the neighbourhood, behind Balsam Pit and along Margaret Street to reach the trail by the creek. Along the path, we saw a bunch of marsh marigolds ringing a swamp. Swamps always catch my eye as 'swamp' or 'bog,' which translate to 'suo' in Finnish, is in the very name of Finland in the Finnish language: Suomi. A few steps later on our path, we saw this amazing tree in someone's backyard. It was shining in the morning light; there was no missing it. The tree reminded me of the comforting and desirous beauty of the Tree of Life. It's sheltering arms, perfect symmetry, expansive canopy, circular space, and dusting of white flower petals caught our eye.  
Continuing on our way, we saw this pile of huge stones. I told Lilian that in Suomenusko, the old Finnish beliefs before Christianity came to Finland, stones as well as trees were seen to have spirits. People conversed with stones and trees for healing and for wisdom, going out into the forest for the medicine of trees and stones. Of course, stones and trees have been symbolically important to many peoples and cultures. I told Lilian, well, I don't need to tell a Palestinian like you of the importance of stones. Today stones are the remnants of the Palestinian houses that Israel has destroyed and demolished. Palestinian youth take up stones as resistance against occupation. Indeed,  a new documentary called The Stones Cry Out uses the metaphor, reality, and spiritual strength of stones to tell the story of the ongoing Nakba of Palestine, focusing on its Christian population and heritage.
Lilian's family story is part of the larger dispossession of Christians from Palestine. In the short 6 m. video above you can hear Lilian tell some of the story of her family's displacement from Palestine. She was born in Haifa, but because of the Zionist militia takeover in 1948 her family was forced to flee and found refuge in Al Quds / Jerusalem; however, they eventually met more tragedy. By telling her family's story, Rev. Mattar Patey hopes that people will broaden their understanding of the Palestinian heritage of what is now called  Israel. In 1948, Jerusalem was designated an international administration zone yet, as Lilian's story is an example, since 1967 Israel has taken large parts of it by force and today by demolition and the continuing displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Since burying her father, Lilian has not been back to her home.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

fledgling crow

There are all sorts of things to worry about in the world, from the increasing brutality meted out to the peaceful demonstrators at Taksim Park in Turkey who just want to preserve a small urban green space, the US turning its surveillance state upon itself and blanket-spying on its own citizens through the collecting of their digital metadata (and anyone who sends an email, text, or phones someone in the US), to the Senate scandal in Canada where welfare cheats like Senator Mike Duffy  live high off the hog on the public purse and the ongoing violence in Syria and its spillover into northern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, causing the Lebanese Army to deploy in Tripoli in hopes of stopping the snipers and machine gun battles. Just the other day, the old souk where I loved roaming about in the heart of Tripoli was the scene of sniping and shooting. Depressing.  

So, why do I worry about one fledgling crow that was kicked out of its nest four days ago by mom and dad crow? I was worried that the neighbourhood cats would get it at night, especially the first few days when fledgling crow was ground level. I was relieved to see that in trying out its wings it managed to hop onto the bottom rung of the railing outside my garage. It stayed there a long while and at one point, when its  head was bobbing downward, I thought it was dying. Was it even eating anything?

However, I shouldn't have worried at all about that scruffy looking fledgling crow. It's perfectly natural for crows to boot out their fledglings to teach them how to survive, to get on with life. I found that out after I dug out a few worms and threw them to fledgling. He looked at me with alarm, squawked, and, frightened, clumsily jumped away. I thought it would injure its wings in getting away from me. Leave it alone, I read. Do not interfere.

The parents still keep a close watch on fledgling crow and swoop in now and then to give it some food. One of the crows dive bombed my head as I was working in the garden, sending me a warning to leave its child alone. I can hear another fledgling, too, two doors to the west. Fledgling must have a sibling. The parents, the resident crows, have been busy scaring off people and squirrels, flying around, and encouraging the fledglings in their crow arts.
The next day, the fledgling had progressed to the top railing and began short hop flights from one post to the other, trying out its wings. It looked awful clumsy. Yesterday I saw it skim fly downwards across the back yard, over the hedges to the back lane. It cawed plaintively there until its parents came to the tell it what to do.

With its parents in the neighbour's plum tree cawing loudly and hammering and gouging the tree's branches to get its attention, it managed to fly to the tree's lower branches, although its wings first tangled in the foliage before it steadied itself.  It spent the night there.

Today, thankfully, it is sitting even higher, on a top branch of the still higher Manitoba Maple, surveying the area that will be eventually become its territory. No wonder crows notice everything. Since they are fledglings they have been patiently looking everything over, casing the place for danger. Soon fledgling crow will lose its awkwardness and learn its predator ways.   

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Calling of Directions

image source

In April, which is poetry month, I attended a poetry workshop with Marilyn Dumont, one of my favourite poets. To prepare for the workshop, she asked us to collect words that are part of a history, or that someone at a specific time would use. Naturally, and because I had recently attended a Finno-Ugric drum workshop with Dalva Lamminmaki, I turned to my Finnish heritage. Also, I had been thinking of words that can call up beauty, so I had been scribbling words of pleasing sounds into my scribbler. In the end, I wrote up 10 lists of words. 

Here are two lists: 

reindeer skin
birch bark headdress
spirit animal


At the workshop, Marilyn asked us to play with the word cache we had collected and let the words lead us to new patterns and sounds. We were to convey something palpable through juxtapositions, through sound synchronicities. Dwell in disorder, she said. Pay attention to images, textures, colours. Commit to unfolding language, following sound to discover meaning. Above all, we were not to think about product, but to enjoy playing with language. In my playing, I combined some of the words I had collected and, eventually, playing with space too, I shaped the poem below. I added a title and fiddled with a few words and phrases.

The Calling of Directions
Itään: to the East

As stars slept
rocks journeyed
Deep blue dreamt of dancing
Gifts scattered, flying from
the rumble of reindeer,
the utterance unnameable.

Etelään: to the South

On the mountain carved with syllabics
in the forest of illusions
Whispers dreamt red ochre
Rattle rained flying antlers
in a shaman language
          old, drunk, ancestral.

Länteen: to the West

Rattle scattered blue sound,
echoing soft inscriptions
Small bells dreamt cold water pearls,
falling forever forward
River rained moon-eyed fish,
          silver-skinned delicious.

Pohjoiseen: to the North

A shape-shifting old woman,
skiing overhead, on the horizon
a surprise of animal gifts
Lime green sky laughing
Snow-maiden follows Drum across
the upper branches of the Great Tree

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Travels on a Finno-Ugric drum journey

The scent of burning sage signals the opening of ritual space.

Small bells circle, gently breaking up energy.  As the drum stick swishes across the reindeer skin stretched over the frame, sussuring sounds spiral outward.  

Soon, the drum begins its song, and she is sent on her journey into a tunnel of darkness.

As the beat of the drum vibrates through her, different animals' faces appear one by one before her closed eyes. Squirrel. Blue Jay. Crow. Rabbit. Deer. Dog. Moose. Raccoon. Mole. Bee. Wasp. Butterfly., it was too big. Was it Rat? No, it was Mouse. Mouse! she wondered incredulously, was Mouse to be her Spirit Animal?

No. Suddenly Ilves appeared.

Image source

His large yellow eyes loomed before her, staring into her soul.

Suddenly, she was on the back of Ilves, the  large huntress. The cat ran through the back woods. It was night, winter, snow covered the ground. Ilves ran powerfully through the dark woods, snaking through the trees, comfortable in its territory. Running, running. The dark night sky, a canopy of indigo overhead, was filled with glittering stars that glinted back from the snow fields. Running, running. Flying past snow covered trees. Flying over snow encrusted ground.

Suddenly, she was sucked into a small hole in the earth, pulled down a vortex, her arms and hands last, waving. The lovi had opened up, sending her deeper on her journey.

She found herself under the earth, swimming amongst the tangled roots of trees, of the birches, poplars, balsams and black spruce above. She pushed the roots aside, swimming through their tentacles. She was unimpeded. Her arms were strong, her hair long, weaving smoothly through the tendrils of roots. She swam and swam. 

She entered deep indigo blue water, dark blue like the sky above. She was swimming deep along the bottom of Lake Superior. The place where silence was born.
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A large sturgeon floated by.

A white door opened to the right, a ghostly portal beckoning her. Light emanates from it, pulsing soft rays of haunting enticement. She swam through the watery portal, passing through it.

She found herself on a cliff. But now she is Ilves. Her hands are large powerful paws and she is running in the forest, along the edge of a high cliff. She runs and runs. Her energy is boundless.

There is a large valley below. She stops to bask in the sunlight, curls up on the edge of the cliff. It is a sunny day, spring.  All seems calm and fresh. Then, she is told to fly off the cliff.

She jumps. She sails, soars through the sky. She lands on all fours on the earth in the forest. She is on a canyon floor. She starts to dig and dig. The earth is black, soft and rich with decay. The scent of decomposing earth fills the air.

She finds a bone, one bone. It is not big. She digs and digs. She finds some pages. They are loose; they flutter in the wind. Then, her digging done, she leaps and flies straight up into the sky.
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It is is night again, indigo blue, the sky covered in stars. She is a woman again. She is floating on her back, streaming through the night sky as if floating downstream in a river. She floats and floats, restful like a baby calmed by a warm bath until she lands by a big rock at the shore of a lake.

She climbs up on the rock and sits and looks across the water. It is Midsummer Day. The waves lap softly. The sun is warm. The air is calm.

She stands up. She is naked.