notes to friends

 

Friend A I love that you you threw a typewriter, a few boxes of books and a couple other things into the back of your car and drove across the country, leaving behind a painted red fridge in a turret across from a park and that in your new place we cooked on a hibachi on your back stoop and in your kitchen too, which always smelled like Joy dish detergent and in which kitchen you made possibly the world’s best meatloaf and that you are the person I know can call whenever my black forest cake falls over.

Friend B:  A prism in my window catches the light in a way that it shines on your ‘star charting’ picture in my office. My painter’s-dropsheet-furniture-covers are because of you. No one makes better bruschetta.

Friend C:  You may be the only person I know who hates bathtubs and you are definitely the only person I think of whenever I (still) stuff a sandwich into a container that was made for sour cream.
I love how you love playing the piano.

Friend D: Your laugh cracks me up and the way you ask servers in restos to guess which of us is older and how you tell them before they answer and the fact that you wear rubber gloves to do dishes and play catch with the dog while you’re on the phone.

Friend E:  You are one great dame and each time I think of you I’m reminded that there is really no higher aspiration for a woman. Thanks to a purple gallinule in my kitchen I think of you often.

Friend F:  I love that you are literal and that we share the beautiful DNA of speaking bluntly and that every walk we’ve ever taken stays with me, bits of each coming back as so much beach glass, hot city streets, gardens, and tea.

Friend G:  Who else would I call to ask why a certain scarf purchased in Halifax makes me so happy and who else would without hesitation give me the perfect answer.  I picture you paddling the Mackenzie River.

Friend H:  I love the story of why you paint butterflies.

And to friends a million miles away and those much much closer, some I’ve known forever, others I hardly know but the knowing feels like so much more. To book friends and food friends, to sharing the street friends, to friends who are family and family who are friends. To friends I’ve never met but which lack of meeting means almost nothing where our friendship is concerned.

To all of you, thank you… for being a friend.

kitchen gallinule

 

 

let me not shake your hand

 

Am hoping there will be much good iso-fallout, not the least of which can we please stop shaking hands… hugs and cheek kisses (among friends/family) are fine in my book, but I’m done with handshaking and, frankly, I’m feeling better already at the thought of not having to entertain another damp, limp wristed greeting or the equally horrifying bone crushers that are meant to prove… what exactly? or the pumping shake… screw you pumping shake.

And the aftermath. All that stranger sweat on your hand. It’s really quite disgusting, the whole process. Who invented it and why have we so blindly been DOING this for so long???

All of this even more of an issue because of, well, pandemic of course, and the reminder that we are a germy species. (Howie Mandell was ahead of his time.)

So ta ta handshaking.

Hello hand over heart (or lung or clavical… anything in that area really). And, unlike handshaking, I propose an open, ambidextrous approach.

My contribution to the iso-fallout.

You’re welcome.

Pass it on.

(& no, I don’t want to do fist bumps, still too close… also possible sweaty knuckles, ew)

a note for nova scotia

 

Dear Nova Scotia,

We first met somewhere on Cape Breton, remember? Gosh, yonks ago now. And we didn’t know you well then and assumed you were similar to Ontario, that there would be lodging everywhere, that we’d have our pick of places but that wasn’t the case, was it? And as we hadn’t booked a room for the night we had to drive well INTO the night to find a room amongst all that forest, all those cliffside ocean views, which quickly turned into deep darkness as we continued to find no place to stay… the steering wheel being gripped a little tighter in the process, given those thin, winding, cliffside roads.

And then… a place. But would there be a room?

There was.

A funky little room in a motel on the edge of who knows where. So dark we couldn’t see anything around us. Did we even have lunch that day? No idea. Only remember that we were starved for dinner so we asked the owner of the motel if there was a place we could buy some food, or get a bite to eat.

There wasn’t.

And what there was had closed hours ago.

But, he said, if we didn’t mind a sandwich he’d try and make us one himself.

Which he did and which I can’t remember what it was except wonderful.

In the morning we saw that the motel had a mini putt range and I’m sorry that I don’t remember the name of the place because I’d like to send it some love today. And to all the places we’ve visited in the many years since including my favourite tea shop where the owner proudly talks about the science of tea and his insistence on supporting only fair trade leaves and a most brilliant new library with a rooftop cafe (and the old one too, where staff once helped me look things up on microfiche), an off grid cottage, the hammocks of the Bay of Fundy and Halifax too and outdoor showers and the power of standing in the doors of Pier 21 where my mother and father and sister stood decades before. The easy chat in a pub you’ve never been to and the way you can bump into friends while walking down a busy street. Annapolis Royal’s gardens and fruit and the way it rivals BC wine country and Niagara combined. Small towns with parcel pick-up (still) in grocery stores (I’m looking at you, Mahone Bay). The fact that you create people who dream up dreameries and the way it’s possibly impossible to go anywhere without ending up talking to a guy in the park who was once the Harbourmaster of the Port of Halifax and who now likes to dance with his wife in the open air on a summer evening in a downtown garden. Because despite the slice of paradise that you are, dear Nova Scotia… your beauty is legendary… it’s the people, the people, the people…

And the friends we’ve made. Love to you, especially.

Dear Nova Scotia… I can hardly wait to see you again.

 

this is not a review: ‘to speak for the trees’, by diana beresford-kroeger

 

Second time I’ve read this. Probably won’t be the last. So much earth info tucked into the story of how a Canadian orphan became an internationally reknown conservationist. And a few other ‘ists’.

Sent to live with family in Lisheens, Ireland, (Lisheens is the anglicized version of an Irish word for ‘stone circle’), Beresford-Kroeger had the luck of growing up in a world of ancient Celtic knowledge and Brehon Laws (which were ahead of their time insofar as considering equality of people and respect for nature). Living through the depression and the years of WWII in relative poverty, she remembers her childhood as a world rich with appreciation, wisdom, and lessons in how to quietly contribute in ways that were/are of benefit to all life forms. That was the Brehon way.

“From my childhood… I’d been taught to… always look for ways to improve the world around me. I’d never had any money… instead I gave back via other means.”

It was also the beginning of her lifelong interest in healing the earth, understanding at an early age that trees are more than places to picnic under but function as the lungs of the planet. Eventually it began to occur to her that people didn’t need to travel so much, shop so much, drive so much, have so much, and destroy so much.. She became an advocate of simple living, but it was trees, especially, that remained her passion and to speak for them in a variety of quietly powerful ways has been her mission ever since.

Divided into two sections, the book initially follows the author’s life from that childhood deep in Druid lore to her eventual contributions as not only a conservationist, but a biologist, botanist, research scientist (during which time she discovered cathodoluminescence), scientific advisor on genetic modification, writer of bioplans, international speaker, environmental activist (saving, among other slices of the planet, a section of boreal forest the size of Denmark, now a UNESCO site).

In the early ‘90’s she propagated hellebores from Bosnia to raise money for women affected by the war in the former Yugoslavia, which paid for 15,000 surgeries and electrocardiogram machines for Doctors Without Borders and a safe house in the city of Tuzla. Later, she launched The Millenium Project, sending out 750,000 seeds and saplings to 4,500 recipients over a period of years, all native species, all propagated on her farm. She is also a fierce advocate for pollinators, sitting on boards and fighting to legislate chemical-free areas around farmers’ fields.

But the book isn’t actually ABOUT any of this.

It’s about her life as it relates to the natural world, her path to knowledge and discovery… with chapters such as ‘Comfort in a Stone’, ‘The Yellow Box of Paints’, ‘No Burden for a Woman to be Educated’, ‘The Science of Ancient Knowledge’, ‘The Sumac Flower’, etc. It’s mostly about paying attention.

The second half contains ‘The Celtic Alphabet of Trees’ in which are listed 26 trees and shrubs, each with their own short chapter of fascinating tidbits such as medicinal properties and information on weather watching… (a halo around the moon means a change in weather and if there are one to three stars within the halo, they represent the number of days until that change).

Aspens, for instance, are harbingers of weather patterns if you know how to read them. And who knew there are 25 species of wild apple trees, all of which now rare or endangered and that it’s these wild trees not the cultivars that are most important to pollinators and that bees were once revered, and protected by Brehon Laws.

“[The Druids]… honoured the tapestry of life around the honeybee. These workers were considered to be an extended part of the family. Births, marriages, deaths and anniversaries were announced to the bees. Grief was always shared with the bees in a form of non-verbal communication.”

She says things like this:

“We are all woodland people. Like trees, we hold a genetic memory of the past because trees are parents to the child deep within us. We feel that shared history come alive every time we step into the forest, where the majesty of nature calls to us in a voice beyond our imaginations. But even in those of us who haven’t encountered trees in months or even years, the connection to the natural world is there, waiting to be remembered.”

And reminds us that the fight for climate change is a long game and that it CAN be fixed with faith, determination and buy in. The DOING of something positvie, even something small, by millions of people would have an effect. Which is different than shouting the odds and blaming The Other and grandstanding. She’s talking about quietly doing something together.

She has an idea: that if every person on the planet planted just one tree per year for the next six years, we’d stop climate change in its tracks.

“Three hundred million years ago, trees took an environment with a toxic load of carbon and turned it into something that could sustain human life. They can do it again.”

Of course she recognizes that not every person is able to plant even one tree but says even a simple pot on a balcony is helpful… keeping in mind there are those who can plant more than one tree per year. Her point is that however small we feel, we have the power to be part of a huge collective if only we stop waiting for a BIG CHANGE,  or a big opportunity or a BIG player to make the first move… all of which would be splendid, but while rattling cages might vent some frustration, it’s the power of ONE small action,  times millions of people, that could actually effect real change.

An example of this is evidenced by what’s happening as a result of the current shutting down of so many polluters. Smog has lifted, water is cleaner. That’s how quickly it happens. So she’s right, it CAN be done by many people doing small things. The key is to understand there will be no social media ‘likes’,  no recognition, no applause, awards, or even signs of change for a very long time… The key is to do the right thing anyway. With conviction.

“… we can fight climate change… we can band together to take on government and industry; we can keep informed of plans to destroy forests and fight them at every turn”

And to keep on doing it long after the media no longer pays attention to you.

On a smaller scale, she says, “we can take on the role of guardian and steward within our own neighbourhoods and towns, as has been done to great effect in Winnipeg… The people of that city have come together to protect their elm tree… These efforts have inspired others to do even more… If you have a large tree on your street, make sure your local council knows that you value it. Every opportunity to vote is an opportunity to put someone who cares about forests in a position of greater power and authority.”

She talks science in easily understood ways. 

“There is a deity in nature that we all understand. When you walk into a forest—great or small—you enter it in one state and emerge from it calmer. You have that cathedral feeling and you’re never the same again. You come out of there and you know something big has happened to you… We now know that the alpha- and beta-pinenes produced by the forest actually do uplift your mood and affect your brain through your immune system…. The beneficial effects of a twenty minute pine forest walk will remain in the immune system’s memory for about thirty days.”

And admits how much we don’t know.

“We still can’t explain how water gets to the top of a tree—how the plant defies physics and causes water to run uphill. With such fundamentals still eluding our understanding, how can we cut down a forest? Just imagine the arrogance and greed of that—and the short-sightedness.”

Because, yes, we have SO MUCH TO LEARN from nature. Cutting down trees without considering the effects is madness. Polluting for the sake of making and buying things we don’t need and getting to places we don’t need to get to is a habit not a necessity.

The reason I re-read this book, is the same reason I re-read a lot of books on trees and nature generally… because of learning how to be on this planet.

One suggestion the author makes along those lines… she suggests we take a moment to become a tree…

“…palms up, arms outstretched… tilt your head up, too, and let the sunshine land on your face, your hands, the rest of you. Feel the sun on the surface of your skin. With this act, you are becoming like a tree… The feeling you have on your skin is a dance with the short-wavelength energy of the sun. This dance has a name in the ancient world of the Celts…. song of the universe.”

The purpose of which is connection… which applies to everything. To us and trees, us and each other, everything and everything. Because the more we understand The Other, whatever and whoever that is, the better off we all become as a result.

So go on, don’t be shy… palms up, arms outstretched…

We have so much to learn.

Prevent the next pandemic; protect nature.

 

 

this is not a review: ‘personal geography’, by elizabeth coatsworth

 

Personal Geography was published in 1976 when Elizabeth Coatsworth, an American woman of privilege, was eighty-three and reads as promised… ‘almost an autobiography’, written from journal entries spanning a lifetime, and including poetry, opinions, snippets and random thoughts as well as travelogues of requisite once-upon-a-time tours and junkets to places like Egypt, Jerusalem, the ‘Far East’, a cruise on the Great Lakes, Palm Springs, Toulouse. She writes about marriage to naturalist Henry Beston and their eventual move to Chimney Farm in Maine where they lived quite simply and how, after all the palaver of the ‘what one was expected to do’ years, it was the ordinariness of walking through meadows that turned out to be the highlight.

It can be tiresome to hear the privileged complain of their privilege, how their tiaras give them a headache, etc.,  and happily Coatsworth doesn’t do anything of the kind… she neither apologizes for her privilege nor regrets it, but simply says this was my life… I’ve come to prefer meadows.

“But after seventeen years of study in school and college I never noticed from what direction the wind was blowing. I didn’t know what to do for a burn, or the names of any but the commonest flowers. I could not have recognized a bird song, or gone to market and made a wise selection. I could not hem, judge a person’s character; and I didn’t know the names of the streets which I had passed by daily for years.”

She writes also about class systems, gender inequality, and various other subjects that resonate in the way of everything old being new again with bits of wisdom throughout that note, as a species, we are not quick learners.

“… I find I have a vast respect for close observation and an independently arrived-at conclusion. A world in which newspaper headlines and editorial opinions, or television news, or articles compressed from magazines for monthly digests form the basis of the intellectual pabulum is not very interesting. Most conversations are little better than quotations without quotation marks.”

 The kind of book that feels like letters from a favourite aunt.

“A personality, to be a work of art, must first have quality and second be ruthlessly simplified. You must be able to say of such a one: “The Eighteenth century is his hobby”, or “I never see squills without thinking of her.” A personality must have recognizably distinct likes and dislikes on almost every side. If a few of these are unexpected, so much the better…. In all this I am a lamentable failure. I can’t dislike even gladioli whole-heartedly. I do not know who is my favourite author… [but] a few things emerge… My favourite fruit is raspberries. I love the lonely ruins of civilizations. And if I could paint I should paint nothing but pools of water and their reflections… not lakes, nor rivers, nor waves, but wet New York pavements mirroring street lamps and the bright inhuman reds and greens of taxicab lights; and the dark grave reflections of grass in the long puddles of country ruts; and rainwater glazed with clouds in the granite hollows of a rock pasture; and the faces of people reflected back, small and intense, from the deep girandole of a well.”

Written of a specific time and place but, as the title indicates, the geography is more about the interior journey and the writing contains that unique something that feels timeless and borderless and taps a collective nerve and is easily relatable… if one is the mood for relating.

 

 

 

this is not a review: ‘pilgrim at tinker creek’, by annie dillard

 

The pleasure of this book for me is that I can dip into it whenever I want to travel the Blue Ridge Mountain countryside, which has been a fascination for me ever since hearing as a kid the song ‘Country Roads’, which I sang alone in the backseat of my parent’s Oldsmobile as we drove north for summer holidays… me staring out the window at endless forest and imagining living a solitary life in those woods, making my own orange crate furniture… take me home, country roads…

Until my mother would inevitably say can you please put a sock in it. Or words to that effect.

Tinker Creek is in West Virginia. The narrator is unnamed but feels like Annie Dillard. Also Thoreau. Non-fiction pieces cobbled into chapters from reams of journal entries. The attention to details in nature thrills me. There’s no point in giving examples… the thing has to be read to be appreciated, otherwise I could as easily say frogs, bulrushes, English sparrow, landscape, polar ice, sunlight, rain, thunder, a gravel path, the egg cases of a praying mantis, the thin membrane of an onion, that sort of thing. The kind of person it would be a joy to walk with through the woods or along the shores of Tinker Creek but I suspect she is one who prefers to walk through nature alone.

I get that. So do I. For which reason the writing and the reading is the perfect vehicle for us both.

“Every year a given tree creates absolutely from scratch ninety-nine percent of its living parts. Water lifting up tree trunks can climb one hundred and fifty feet an hour; in full summer a tree can, and does, heave a ton of water every day. A big elm in a single season might make as many as six million leaves, wholly intricate, without budging an inch; I couldn’t make one.”

**

Here is the Country Roads (John Denver) version I remember. Still gets to me and now, in these strange times, also reminds me that as a kid singing this, it didn’t occur to me I was singing about somewhere in another country… I was simply singing about nature, affected by the effect it has, which is everywhere and belongs to no one. Borders are human-made and humans aren’t bright.

Sending the world a little love. Without borders.

 

~

(Also, as a Briny Books Bingo marker… it goes on ‘A book that’s been sitting too long on your TBR pile’.)

 

we still have art

 

Sitting this morning with tea in a purple mug and looking at a painting on the wall opposite, yellow flowers in a stone jug, not quite sunflowers, the jug on a small turquoise table beside a bowl of oranges, a couple comfy chairs and much greenery to suggest a patio, and despite its note of contented solitude it welcomes friendship, intimate chat, laughter on a fine afternoon.

It’s the oranges that do it.

wordless wednesday with words

 

Blog challenge: shadows

Laundry year round and so grateful now that the sheets no longer come in as planks.

 

Bought this obelisk for 50 cents or two dollars or whatever from a guy at a rather make-shift garage sale outside an apartment building who said he was leaving town to go live with his mother in Florida. He was in his fifties at least and there was something sad not jubilant about his plans and he seemed to put a great deal of weight on the sale of these bits and pieces as if it was going to help his cause and every time I walk past this thing (which I love) in the garden I think of him and hope he is well. Whoever he is.

 

My parents gave us the gift of a wheelbarrow when we moved into this house. After a couple decades of hard use it finally rusted out and has since been put out to pasture near the blackberry bushes. I would like to grow cucumbers in it this year.

 

Chairs for tea and sunrise watching. Fairies live in this vicinity.

 

Unfortunately the picture doesn’t show my beloved cat socks.

 

This candle, never used, smells exactly like everybody’s dad’s aftershave. It’s lived on our patio table for at least two years and sometimes when I’m sitting outside and want to conjure up a certain memory, I lift the lid, close my eyes and inhale… and it’s nineteen seventy something again.

 

#thepowerofshadows

& a poem.

 

 

book title poetry (#1)

 

Taking a page from something started who knows when by who knows who and apparently a ‘thing’ but only recently appearing on my radar, I grab an armful of books from the shelf nearest to me and make the first of a series of book title poems and the making delights me, this new favourite thing in this time of finding new favourite things.

*

a manual for cleaning women
asking
how to be both
lives of girls and women
seeing lessons
moving targets, culverts
beneath the narrow road
the alpine path
across the bridge
a room of one’s own
(small change
is
various miracles)
our lady of the lost and found
to the lighthouse

—in this house are many women

excellent women

**

 

 

wordless wednesday with words

This is a picture of *a room lit yellow, which may appear orange, which forces me to tell both an orange story and a yellow one.

Orange

I love everything about orange, the vibrancy of the colour, the spelling and sound of the word — it sounds awake  — and the smell of orange blossoms and how that orange tasted right off the tree that time a thousand years ago in Florida and how avocados grew nearby and the way Florida grass feels on bare feet, different than our grass, and the rain that day, coming down so hard I wanted to cancel our flight but the Florida people said don’t worry, it never lasts, and it didn’t, and the tangerine tree near the avocado one and the dear Peruvian woman who picked a bagful of tangerines and ate them as she walked home while the Florida people clucked their tongues and said they were too full of seeds.

Yellow

I am nine or maybe seven. I am in my room when the door slams open and my dad stands there in his Hawaiian shirt, a Sweet Caporal between his lips, the smoke making him squint as he yells What’s your favourite colour???? and the volume and intensity of the question, the shirt, the smoke, the squinting, it unsettles me, terrifies me a little if one can be only slightly terrified, and I’m not ready with an answer and I can see that he’s expecting one quickly. He is not a man who likes to wait around for things when he’s wearing his Hawaiian shirt because that means he’s working at something in the house or the yard and is in no mood for dawdling. I can barely think of ANY colour much less my favourite. Do I have a favourite? Yellow, I say, and then he leaves (goes to Canadian Tire as it turns out) and returns with a gallon of paint and before you know it the walls of my room (and the ceiling) are canary yellow and before long so is my toothbrush and a new pair of slippers and jeans and pyjamas and it feels like every gift I’m ever given from that moment on is yellow. It’s only when I move into my own place that I can avoid yellow and I avoid it for decades, including being the yellow piece in board games. And then one day it stops. And, along with orange (and turquoise and green), it becomes my actual favourite colour.

~

* The yellow room is an installation (by Kosisochukwu Nnebe) at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, currently part of an exhibition called ‘Made of Honey, Gold and Marigold’.