my bit of sky

 

There is a framed series of photos on my kitchen wall. Clouds scudding across a Florida sky. Each photo shows the exact same square of sky above a couple of palm trees, as seen from a poolside chair so many years ago I was still using 35 mm film and my trusty Pentax.

There are only four shots. But they represent the whole morning and my idle joy in having nothing to do but read… no idea what I was reading, but possibly The Portable Dorothy Parker  (I remember her from around that time) or River of Grass,  by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, about the almost decimation of the Everglades. In other words not a novel. Am guessing my mood couldn’t have been focused enough for a novel if I was able to take notice of the sky changing every so often and carefully positioning the camera to take precise shots (film was expensive) between and above those precise palm fronds.

Those aren’t the actions of someone engrossed in a novel.

The first photo in the frame shows a clear sky with only a wisp of cloud. The second, a larger, but still small, cloud moves in from the left. By the third shot, the sky is mottled with cloud cover, though wispy still, and by the fourth, heavier clouds have moved in and I probably decided it was time to gather my pool toys and go have lunch.

I love these pictures, the memory of a holiday, yes, but also a reminder of how this follows that, how time is passed and passes, and continues…

Someone once told me they rarely look up. I was astonished — how can anyone take the whole sky for granted? But it occurs to me that maybe it comes from our habit of looking *for* something… something useful, or unusual, something to compare ourselves with, as in looking at people, or something beautiful, as in a sunrise or sunset or rainbow.

Each morning I stand outside in approximately the same place to greet the day and every day I look at the same slice of sky above a cedar hedge in the space between two very tall spruce. And every day the sky is never the same. Sometimes the colour of Laurentien pencil crayon Peacock Blue, sometimes another shade. Sometimes speckled or fluffed or water-colour-streaked with cloud. Now and then picture-worthy… most often not. Over the years I’ve seen flashes of lightning in that space, the occasional plane on its way to Toronto, and one year the Snowbirds performed for a local school named after a fallen comrade and I stood in my backyard and watched, in awe, as they swooped and ducked and dived in that very bit of sky.

It is also, apparently, part of the Trans Canada Flight Path for geese.

There’s nothing magical about that slice of blue, it’s just the one I happen to most often look at. Not from a lounge chair and never for an entire morning as you do on holiday, but just as habit. Sometimes I go outside and look up, without realizing it even, with maybe a question on my mind…

And a cardinal flies by in answer.

 

 

i prefer walking quietly, alone, however…

 
I make exceptions for certain people.

And dogs.

And always birdsong.

But this morning I would welcome the company of a serious bird brain, someone who could tell me who’s singing from the top of every tree, following me with very obvious intent to serenade.

The sound is too big for a chickadee dee dee dee.

And it’s not a robin, or a cardinal (& so ends my song recognition repertoire).

A botanist would be handy too. I’d ask what is this shrub in pink bloom that every year I swear I’ll make a note to go back and find when it’s fruiting so I know what kind of shrub it is and then always forget to check…

But the only person I see is a guy standing at the creek, facing the morning sun, just standing there, and then he raises his arms in salutation.

I recognize the impulse.

And so I walk very quietly by…
 
 
 

celestial smoke and mirrors

 

The other morning the sunrise was all thin layers of acid tangerine and atomic yellow, like some psychedelic celestial torte.

 

Today, sunrise is invisible. The sky, stone grey. Nothing edible.

I read somewhere that the colours are an optical, not exactly illusion,  but an effect created by various molecules in the atmosphere and their length and/or density and/or how they line up and/or etc. on any given day.

The point being that everything, it turns out — this rising and setting, the spinning and movements of planets — all goes on in exactly the same way every day, which means that—

—it’s only our vantage point

and therefore our perceptions—

that change.

 

 

it’s the small stuff that connects us

 

From Welcome to the Hood,  a work in progress.

Glynnis is wearing pink cotton shorts, a striped tee shirt, support hose and brown sandals. Her toenails are painted red. She is only 56 but lives in a nursing home because she is epileptic with brain damage—the kind of brain damage that has rendered her almost childlike. She can’t function on her own. Or even walk. If I don’t visit for a week or two it takes her a minute to remember we’ve ever met. Her parents are close to ninety. Until recently she lived with them. She tells me all this, matter of factly. She thinks the nursing home isn’t a bad place but occasionally has issues with the oatmeal.

She likes colour. So do I. It’s what we talk about. The colour of everything. Look at the bird, I say as I wheel her past a cage in the sunroom, he’s such a beautiful bright blue. She laughs, says that’s not a bird. What is it then, I ask, and she looks at me, back at the cage, then at me again. It’s a bird!  she says, still laughing. I never know what part of her is confusion and what part is just plain smart-ass funny. I think she likes it that way.

I take her out to the courtyard where no one ever goes. Tables and chairs, umbrellas, gardens, a walking path, a bench under an ivy-covered trellis; it all makes for good optics when the inspectors come but in reality it’s too much trouble for the staff to move people outside. Instead they’re crowded around a TV screen near the nurses’ station. No one looks at the set. Most nod off. Some watch the comings and goings in the hall, others beg to be taken back to their rooms.

None of them has the slightest idea there’s a courtyard full of sunshine on the other side of perpetually drawn shades.

There’s a purple hibiscus bush that reminds Glynnis of one her mother has. Her mother’s garden is magnificent, she says, and then we pass a window where we see Marion in her room staring out at something. When she sees us she taps on the glass, points. Marion doesn’t talk much, mostly she sits alone in the dining room and counts her collection of plastic cutlery. But now, this tapping… I’ve never seen her so animated.

At first I can’t tell what she’s pointing at and this frustrates her, she points harder. Maybe she means the hibiscus. I point at the hibiscus. No, no, she shakes her head. I want to tell her to open the window, but it would be too complicated. She may not know how, it may not even open. I don’t want to frustrate her further. She hangs her head as if giving up, then looks at us again, makes a face, annoyed, sad, says something, points. Jab, jab, her finger tapping on the window, intent on getting her message across.

“What’s wrong with her?” Glynnis says.

“She’s trying to show us something.”

“Who cares.”

Glynnis wants to get going.

Marion keeps tapping.

Finally, I see what it is. A bird’s nest tucked into a niche in the trellis. I show Glynnis. She laughs, says her mother has a bird’s nest. Marion smiles, her whole face relaxes and as each of us, from three different vantage points, stare at the bits of grass and twigs, it occurs to me that in this split second of discovery we experience the wonder of this tiny thing in exactly the same way, with exactly the same joy. And in that fraction of a moment I see the connections between us and know that the differences are only an illusion.

tell me about your walk

 
Tell me the beautiful bits, things I might not see if I walked where you walk.

dsc08625_1 Because we need to see beauty more than ever.

More than ever.

And through the eyes of each other.

dsc08623So tell me about a poem that came to you one day as you looked at this scene or that one and how it made you go home and count your blessings.

dsc08642And how this tree or that corner or this bench makes you remember a friend and a conversation about bread.

dsc08650Tell me about trees taken down with saws and others taken down with teeth. And tell me: where is the dam?  (Also:  where is a naturalist when you need one to explain where is the dam?)

dsc08629dsc08648 dsc08635Tell me about the sound of birds you can’t see and about a loved one who is flying across the ocean at this very moment, homeward.

dsc08622_1dsc08661Tell me about the litter you pick up or don’t pick up and about the bike you once found abandoned in the woods just there and how you wonder where abandoned bikes go… and why ducks’ feet don’t get cold.

dsc08652 dsc08638 Tell me about the neighbourhood stray.

How he appeared at the window one day when your cat was sitting on the sill and they both nearly scared each other to death and how neither of them have gone anywhere near that window since.

dsc08659Tell me about the brim of your hat and how you tilt it upwards because you want to let every drop of vitamin D into your eyes.

And the splash of red you see in a bush, which you assume is another Timmy’s cup and when you get closer you see that it’s not litter but a bird.

dsc08654Tell me about the man doing tai chi in the park and how you’re grateful for all the goodness he’s putting into the air. And how in the very same park someone left a hoover and a giant bag of household garbage.

dsc08657dsc08627Tell me why you walk.

dsc08651Tell me it’s to clear your mind, to remind yourself there’s more than madness in the world. Tell me it helps you see that despite all the anger, fear and hate, there’s no value in anger, fear or hate because that’s not how things work, that’s not the essence of what we are.

Despite all appearances, that’s not the essence of what we are.

Tell me you walk to refuel because refueling is necessary… because this isn’t a time for idleness.

Tell me you walk because there is so much beauty.

And so much work to do.

this is not a review: ‘why shouldn’t i drop litter’? by mj knight

 
I’ve recently set out on a quest for trashy reading and have been happily led to what appears to be not only a most wonderful book on the subject of litter but to a whole line of (very smart) books being published by Smart Apple Media, primarily for schools as far as I can make out, but they’re such excellent things it would be a shame not to flaunt them more broadly.

Formatted as one of those hardcover, mini encyclopedia for kids, Why Shouldn’t I Drop Litter?  opens with a colour photo of autumn leaves on the ground and the reminder that this, too, is called ‘litter’, leaf litter.  The difference being that “Nature has ways of dealing with things that are no longer wanted…”

And with that perfectly passive aggressive irony, we enter the book by addressing a few facts about ourselves and how much we throw away every year (about five pounds per person  EVERY DAY). That *you*, personally, don’t throw that much away doesn’t matter. It’s not a problem that’s searching for someone to blame. It’s a problem that requires everyone to take responsibility. At least everyone who lives on the planet.

The pages, 32 of them, are beautifully laid out and not crowded with information in the way this style of book can sometimes be. Nor is its intention to scold or even shock. Rather, it seems only to want to remind us of the consequences of litter, that something which seems so trivial and innocuous has all kinds of horrible consequences.

Hedgehogs, for example, tend to get stuck in yoghurt containers because their quills make it impossible to back out.

Used or tangled fishing lines are often cut and left in the water (because we’re such geniuses). And if you can’t understand how this is dangerous for birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, etc…. google fishing lines/wildlife  sometime. Meanwhile, here’s a two minute story with a happy ending.

And those plastic holders that six-packs come in? If you haven’t yet heard, all kinds of birds and animals, fish too, get them wrapped around their beaks, bodies or necks and die that way. If you see one laying around, please pick it up. You may save a life, and you won’t die of cooties.

Oh, but if it’s germs you’re worried about, consider the gum that’s all over pavement everywhere. It costs between $2 and $3.50  PER PIECE to scrape off. Apparently no one has yet figured out a better way to remove it. Probably because all the money and brainpower is working on how to inhabit Mars (which will only remain gum free until we get there).

One of the biggest problems in the matter of waste is that which comes from fast food restaurants. Our convenience is apparently nature’s problem. It’s no small potatoes what we choose to support with our dollars. When we give all the money and power to fast food places we shouldn’t be asking ourselves why standards are slipping everywhere we look.

(Of note: interesting how people will throw money at the burger joint that happily pollutes the world for profit, but the same person resents paying a few extra bucks to keep a community well supplied with garbage cans.)

The problem is always us.

The solutions too.

It’s about the choices we make.

Anyway, the book is part of Smart Apple Media’s ‘One Small Step’  imprint, which seems designed to inspire engagement in our individual slivers of the world, to encourage us to understand that problems like litter are not someone else’s problem, but something we can work together to improve.

I think it would make dandy reading for families that give a hoot.

~

Also, if you come across books that deal effectively with the subject of litter, garbage, recycling, you get the idea… please let me know. I’m compiling a list for The Litter I See Project.

A million thanks.