Winter Solstice, 2018

Today gives us sunshine, here in my particular piece of the Northern Hemisphere, and a reprieve from howling winds and slashing rain. How appropriate, on this day to mark the return of the light. The skies have been dark and lowering, and have seemed to hem us in to smaller space – and now, viscerally we unfurl and stretch and luxuriate, however briefly. 

 

Yes, this day marks the first day of winter, my imaginary friend, and the longest night of the year; but it also marks the fact that the days grow ever longer from this point to the summer solstice. I am reminded of Janus, that Roman god of portals and doorways, the god who looks forward and backward at the same time. Even as we enter the northern winter, and nature around us seems at a standstill, underground the work of preparing for the vibrant growth of spring carries on …roots burrowing deep into soil to build a strong framework, this burrowing, hibernating, and seeming rest simple a less visible energy. As Janus reminds us, to move forward one must remain firmly rooted, whether to build anew or to make radical change. 

 

The ancients, it seems had a way of acknowledging the solstices, the equinoxes, the cross-quarter days as portals of movement around the wheel of the year – the seasons of the year as circle, the years as circles that spiral, the spiral itself a potent symbol of ever-upward movement that rests upon what went before. 

 

‘Tis a symbol that resonates powerfully for me. May you find light and cheer in this festive season, and discover the wonder and beauty in nature’s quietness. Blessings of the solstice. 

 

Pincer Tree, photographed by John Lake.

Golden Autumn Afternoon

A sparkling warm November day, just enough of a chill to remind one of the passing of summer… The prosaic chores of the garden – pruning the delicate little Japanese Maple whose limbs seem somewhat ungainly, bare as they are of leafy covering. The satisfaction of a newly-purchased pair of offset pruners; clean, effortless cuts and the shaping of nature to a more tamed presence in this tiny suburban enclave – the tree is a thing of marvelous symmetry now. The rustle and crackling of leaves to be removed from gutters, raked from paths, and settled into garden beds to provide cover for plants and birds in the cold months to come. The garden looks to be slumbering, for the most part, though some brilliant late season climbing roses splash blooms across the fence. It is not the exuberant, multi-hued show of colour of the light half of the year, but the pleasing shapes and bones of the garden, the muted yet glorious autumn colours, the visceral sense of quietude and readying are a different kind of tonic and respite. Thickets of various shrubs, bright with berries to feed the birds, groupings of lingering flowers in sheltered spots: these are tonic. The palpable sense of repose, the winding down of summer’s frenetic energy – perhaps best of all, no sound of mowing or blowing machinery: this is respite. An afternoon in the autumn garden may be a marvelous metaphor for what our collective spirits require…

 

Yet who am I, to suppose a cure for the world’s ills? Nevertheless, this much I shall assert: that slowing down to enjoy the grace of everyday tasks, and the humble beauty we create and sustain is vital to human lives, as is some everyday quiet, some respite from the world of frenetic, mindless, unending ‘work’ that we are increasingly absorbed in.

 

I wish you a golden autumn afternoon, my imaginary friend. Some place and space where time slows down, where you lose yourself in the pleasure of homely tasks, where you end the day giving thanks for the joy of being merely alive.

autumn garden

Oh, April…

Oh, April…

 

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee

With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,

And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,

And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

∼  excerpt, TS Eliot, The Wasteland

 

The lilacs outside my door are poised: soon they will blossom forth, but not yet, oh, not yet.

And this is how I feel, my imaginary friend – not here, not there, not yet. Memory and desire swirl around me, bringing up new budding tendrils each day; around me a vast sea of the barely-glimpsed colours of unopened flowers, while a lowering grey sky hems me in, viscerally. April’s refrain: not yet, not yet, not yet.

 

april rain 2

WildMagic

The word magic, my imaginary friend, conjures up mental images that run the gamut from Harry Potteresque to stage-magician-sawing-a-lady-in-half – perhaps my title is not aptly chosen. For who among us does not weary of the new-agey earnestness of spell casting books, cries of “it was magical’ applied to every conceivable posting on social media – and, after all, all we not all a little tired of illusion and sleight-of-hand, especially as practised by politicians?

 

Forgive my foray into the dictionary here – the Oxford Dictionary of English, naturally – which offers up these predictable definitions of magic in numbers one and number two places, respectively:

The power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

Mysterious tricks, such as making things disappear and reappear, performed as entertainment.

 

But scroll a little further, and you will find this:

 

A quality of being beautiful and delightful in a way that seems remote from daily life.

 

Worth repeating, that one; “a quality of being beautiful and delightful in a way that seems remote from daily life.” For this is what I mean when I speak of magic, and wild magic carries an aura of unpredictability about it as well. The writer Guy Gavriel Kay speaks of this in his books of the Fionavar Tapestry, where he writes that wild magic introduces the element of randomness, which brings choice to the lives of all creatures…for without that randomness (both good and evil) we should be condemned to live out our scripts precisely as the playwright wrote them.

 

Where words fail me, I resort to imagery of one kind of a wild magic, for here is place that seems far from the troubles and cares of everyday life, where beauty and delight reside in every turn of the path.

 

Wild Magic

 

I suspect, though, that there are many kinds of wild magic – surely falling in love is one? Falling in love, making a friend, the company of animals of all kinds, the energy of the sunrise, the mystery of the stars…Shared smiles, small kindnesses, a good book or a compelling movie, the act of listening to another with one’s full attention, silence when required and speaking out when imperative…A sense of joy and wonder at the world, tempered by the recognition that our striving for justice and fairness must never cease, for that very randomness of the wild magic means that other beings may need our care and attention.

 

The world could use a little more wild magic, I believe, though one does not require a wand or a book of spells to summon it. It resides in all of us, somewhere – though perhaps some places are more conducive than others to rekindling that sense of wonder. And as beautiful and remote from daily life it may be, in the end, one ought remember it in every day …for this, this is what brings meaning to our lives. May you have wild magic, my friends.

Wish To Be There

As I composed an email to a friend this morning, I was struck by how much of the really important was left out of the narrative of my recent life. Here it is, then, my imaginary friend: not exactly how I spent my summer vacation, but a deeper picture of how my life unfolds these days.

There have been losses and grief – I do not want to minimize these, though they have helped me to understand how to participate more intensely in the meaning of my brief life. There has been work that I am proud of – at the same time as being insignificant in the estimation of the world, no doubt – which makes me think of how much ‘work’ matters to my life. ‘Work’ is not always the same thing as a job, maybe, though I think that work that is satisfying is an integral part of the story of my life. There has been time for play, naturally – wonders of mountain lakes, entrancing trails, rivers rushing, and serene swimming holes, time with friends and family that has been memorable in ways that casual socializing cannot match. The pleasures of my summer do not make for riveting reading, I expect, but my quest for the quiet, unassuming pleasures of the day has taught me much. I think, in fact, that my life seems to be an escalating curve of learning, making my steps a little friskier in spite of the steepness of the road at times. I always want to see what is around the bend!

We humans are puzzling: we long and strive and yearn for the good and the beautiful, while we compel ourselves, some of us, to confine our dreams and ambitions to the conventions of our society, whether we live in city neighbourhood, small town, or country hamlet. As one who is decidedly unconventional, this has chafed and irked me for much of life, this attention to the trivial, the superficial, the unimportant. That sense of being rubbed the wrong way though, becomes less and less important as I simply become more me. The inner me is the real me, and the me I choose to show to the world…convention be damned.

The friend that I wrote my email to this morning gave me this lovely little objet d’art some years ago, and attached a note to the back saying “Wish to be there”. My friend, I think I am there, and that is what I most wished to tell you, and could not find words for…

With all my faults and failings, turmoil and despair, missteps and meanderings, I am in that place of joy. To friends real and imaginary – come with me.

Summer Morn

Is there anything so magical as a summer morning, my imaginary friend? Energy and optimism, the sheer sensuality of the glory of the day…the high spirit of pleasure, sweetness of sun caress, all things reaching for the sky…The forest as I walked in it this morning pulsing with life as the growing things revel in an abundance of light and warmth. Birds have perfected their morning chorus to a veritable orchestra, and last night’s rain shower has left its fresh, invigorating scent and a few lingering drops to moisten my skin. The loveliness of rain drops as I push through brushy fronds; total immersion in my idea of paradise.
I am one who loves my country’s four seasons, and I believe that autumn is my favourite time of year. This summer, though, hints at glorious days of perfect beauty – or perhaps this is merely my reaction to the end of a long winter and much-delayed spring.Days of perfect beauty may be rare enough;here is one to carry in my heart, to thrill with each and every moment, and to share with you. Beauty, I wish you.

Summer Morning, AJ Casson

Mothering Day

I am not sure I like the Hallmark idea of Mother’s Day, my imaginary friend. Somehow I feel more comfortable with suggesting we honour the quality of mothering; perhaps because I am not a mother myself. Of course, I have a mother, and this I know beyond a shadow of doubt: the puerile, banal, and stereotypical view of motherhood makes her cringe.

Mothering is nurturing, fostering, feeding. It is aspirational and inspirational, also it is the daily mundanity of practical tasks performed over and over again. It is the sublime, the ridiculous, and perhaps even the sacrificial. It is teaching, guiding, and growing – and above all, it is a vast, all encompassing love that sparks and kindles and transforms.

There is a lovely metaphor for mothering in the forest, as in these mother log images. (Here on the West Coast they are called nurse logs, but you will allow my poetic license.)

photo: VivianLea Doubt

photo: VivianLea Doubt

The tree topples and even as it is decaying it harbours new growth, feeding and nurturing for decades and beyond. Mothering is not limited to the human or animal species, nor is it confined to the female, or those that have physically given birth. Mothering is an overarching principle of the cosmos, rather, and the source of all that is great in human cultures – the reverence for life and love.

Mothering Day might become, then, not just a day we take mom out for brunch…maybe a day to celebrate that mothering resides in all of us. That this western culture could use more mothering qualities…For the most marvelous aspect of mothering, is, I believe, the fierce strength of allowing one’s child, one’s creation, one’s heartbeat – to become its own self. That it has been birthed, cradled, cared for, and allowed to grow…and as it grows, to reach for the stars. That maybe those stars are the suns of another universe…
Love and gratitude for all those who are motherers.