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.

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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.

Local Colours

One twilit evening I was returning to the Comox Valley – having been away for some time – and  was graced by the glorious sight of a full moon rising over the Beaufort Range at the entrance to the valley. There are many beautiful sights here, but that one has stayed with me in an intensely visually evocative way…a vision that evokes the beauty of home. The islands of Denman and Hornby arising out of the soft fading light and the Salish Sea, on the right, and the majesty of the Beauforts on the left, the full moon over all…I am drawn to call this place ‘home’ because of its beauty. A few miles further north, one exits the highway into Courtenay and the charmless landscape of strip malls and big box stores begins; whether you head further north, turn to the ferry, or out to the airport, the landscape has been transformed in less-than-imaginative ways, and the visions of stunning beauty all around hard to see. One travel writer had the audacity to tell the truth of this bleak sort of pilgrimage around the Valley a few years back, and the local government and chamber-of-commerce-types  immediately began bleating about how terrible this was…alas, ‘tis the truth, nevertheless. One could follow the beaten path and never discover the grandeur and immensity of what is here…As so few of the travel and tourism writers do, apparently. Or maybe, more to the point, they simply want to highlight their advertisers…indeed, most writing about this place reeks with the odour of advertorial, my imaginary friend.

It is the movement of rainwater from the snow-capped mountains, through the streams and creeks and lakes and rivers, that has brought the silt that created the marvellously fertile farmland, and the estuary, with its teeming life of all kinds…food is grown here, and some local eateries actually serve this home-grown food, and this is a food culture that is innovative and nourishing and with its own distinct terroir. Wineries, craft breweries, natural soda makers and a distillery have sprung up to compliment and complete this food culture, and a variety of artisans who strive against the might of the chain and fast food restaurants to bring food and drink to the table that is authentically made and grown here. Move off of the main travel arteries, and look around and you can find food with the influence of dozens of different cuisines, served with love and pride and sense of home that no franchise will ever match, and with the taste that proclaims ‘Comox Valley Grown’. Take a bike tasting tour of local farms (and wineries) and understand what this means, this land…once, indeed called “Land of Plenty” by its First Nations denizens. Perhaps the big city has more three-starred chefs…but here you will find chefs who have been taught by the glory of the fine local products available.

Also, my imaginary friend, there are artists here. Artists of every description, working in every medium, which includes the many fine musicians and writers and performers, of course. Tucked away in corners, for the most part, or playing at a local pub, some of them well-known and others not, but all contributing a depth of soul and vision to the place that could never have been planned…though I would argue that it is their collective artistic vision that keeps us true, in some small way, to the soul of the place…

Ah, the soul of the place…Some would say it is the glacier, to the west,  overlooking all – called Queenesh by the local First Nations and said to be the remains of a white whale that was carried to the mountain top by an epic flood. The story has been handed down in fine story-telling tradition, and I admit it is this First Nations vision that most captures me as to the soul of the place. To the east, the Salish Sea and marvelous beaches and sand dunes and low-tide wonders – kayaks and windsurfers, fishing and sailing boats, and in the middle, the farmlands and the river opening out into the estuary…which must be the heart of the Comox Valley, if not the soul.

Hiking and biking trails abound here, not all of them easy to find…you might have to ask a local. Perhaps that is the particular charm of the place: like many small towns, you can stop and chat with a stranger, who will at least point you in the right direction. Often you might hear a story or two, and there is certainly a rich oral tradition of First Nations history. Every place has its collection of stories; here, perhaps, they are more accessible…off the well-traveled sheep paths, in any event.

For it is the stories that the locals tell that will give you a sense of this place, both the magnificent, and the mundane…look to the images shot hastily from a cell phone, perhaps, rather than the magazine perfect images. Disregard the thinly-veiled advertising pieces and venture to discover the experiences that are around every corner, many of them free to enjoy. Ask an artist what draws them to this place…this is the ultimate tourism, my imaginary friend. The ethos, the feel of a place is geography and human geography, language and dialect, history and social organization, work and play – hundreds, if not thousands of intangible elements. Can it be discovered in the museums or markets? The answer is yes, but only partially; the discovery of a place resides in the daily experiences of the life of the inhabitants.

I will leave you with this, a hastily-shot cell phone image…If you ask me, I will tell you where it is, and I will share a story or two.

Spirit of Snow I Wish You

Photograph by MJC, Vancouver Island

Photograph by MJC, Vancouver Island

Snow blankets Vancouver Island these past couple days…this can’t be said to be unusual, though it is a bit of a rarity here. The pattern of our winds mean mild, wet winters for the most part – oh, we have had our share of winter’s wetness already, though the first official day of winter is yet to arrive. Yes, the snow is a welcome relief from the grey, lowering clouds of past weeks. I don’t really mean to write about the weather, my imaginary friend, though I am intrigued by the fact that it seems to dominate the lives of town dwellers in ways that seem curious. We are, after all, mostly well-sheltered, not to mention moving about in our cozy vehicles. But even I, who spend several hours each day outside in the mountains or forest, even I have not been immune to the weeping skies.

The first pleasure is the lovely stillness, the quiet hush that is perhaps the greatest loveliness of snow. Snow softens the tired ugliness of city, and clothes the banal landscape of suburbia in marvelous draperies. The evergreens look particularly gorgeous; branches gracefully bending under weight of white. Beautiful lines and swirls and evocative shapes are everywhere, yet the quietude is most striking. Of course, part of the physical property of snow is to mute sound, and no doubt there is less traffic about in the land of few snow tires. But this quietude seems to invite us to go deeper into that mystery…

Even as I snowshoed through gently falling flakes and gathering twilight, the world about me was lit softly by the expanse of white reflecting everywhere, and back up into the sky…only a day or two earlier I would not have been able to find my way so sure-footedly at dusk. So this light, this quality of reflected brightness is another loveliness I welcome.
Winter comes: under cover of snow warmth the land busies itself with the tasks of the quiet time, the inner time, the time to root deeply to bring next year’s harvest to fruition. Another turn in the wheel of the year awaits: the snow invites us to revel in the quiet and reflection that sustains and nourishes us, that prepares us for the growing time. May you have a little snow this season, in spirit if not on the ground.

Who Are You? Can You Remember?

I sit in my favourite, ancient chair to write this afternoon, my imaginary friend – I have been away from it for a rather long time. It is a pleasure to envelop myself in its comfort, and naturally I have a cup of “Kick Ass” coffee to enhance the moment, not to mention the sun streaming in my windows. My morning hike sparkled with this oh-so-welcome sun after too many days of rain; a lovely lunch; the familiar motions of making cookies and enjoying the sugary smells…a day of simple content.

The best part of my day, however, has been the discovery of a marvelous book: The Elegance Of The Hedgehog, by Muriel Barber. One of those books in which one meets a ‘kindred spirit’, to invoke Anne of Green Gables – well, one of those books in which you meet yourself, maybe. I shall whole-heartedly recommend this novel, though it is certainly not my intent to write a book review…indeed, I am only halfway through the thing. Wanting to prolong the sheer enjoyment as long as I can – is it not exquisite to find such a book? Movie? Music? Art?

There is a remark in the book that perhaps we write to find ourselves, and I am moved by this, in the context of the story… The very literate, cultured, articulate, and intelligent concierge of a Parisian apartment building who endeavours to appear stupid and morose to the buildings’ wealthy residents, understanding that this is their assumption of who she is…and who troubles to look beyond their assumptions? One or two do, of course – ah, but I am just getting to that part! In any event, another of the characters writes to meet herself, she says, to move beyond those assumptions of the shallow and preoccupied she is surrounded by.

What is profoundly moving about this, I suppose, is that we are all the ‘victims’ of assumptions by the people we encounter in any given day – that the way we dress, where we work (or not), what kind of car we drive (or not), where we live, in what restaurants or stores or galleries or museums we are found in – any one of these details, taken singly, is enough for someone, somewhere to form an assumption of us that may have no bearing in reality. When I say victim, I mean this: at best, any or all of these details describe a minute piece of us, the most trivial and the most superficial aspect of us, indeed. Why does this matter?

It may or may not matter individually – many of the people we interact with daily are likely acquaintances or chance-met strangers, and presumably as individuals we have other, deeper relationships. It obviously matters very profoundly to a culture, though, in a million ways I shall not explicate, save this: the idea of being able to look at and acknowledge another human with openness and a smidgen of genuine curiosity is a great void in Western culture. That every time our eyes slide over someone…shiftless bum…teenage thug…bag lady…slotting them into a precut jigsaw puzzle, we lose a piece of our humanity. In case it is not evident, the jigsaw pieces of ‘attractive woman’, ‘powerful man’, ‘pretty girl’ (and so on…) are also dehumanizing…and not only to the objects of our gaze, but to ourselves.

Who are you, my imaginary friend? Maybe more importantly, who might you become? What vast longings and wellsprings of joy have been squeezed into the jigsaw shape someone else assigned, that you gamely try to fit within the puzzle?

canyouremember

Je T’aime

Now, I must say good bye to you, though you are already gone. And I do not know why I must write this: this, the most difficult of all things to put into words. It is not within my powers of expression to write the words that would be a fitting eulogy, though perhaps I might be able to capture something of how I find myself wanting to live in that deep certainty of joy that you taught me. That joy lives in me, viscerally; that even as I weep, I feel its call to experience deeply and fully with no reserve. This is the gift you have given me, which is beyond words.

Still, I shall write some more words. That you once told me that simply to hold my hand was your idea of happiness. That when I fell asleep in your arms, you would not move for fear of disturbing my rest. That in those moments of fine rapture we murmured ‘babe’ to each other in tone and feeling that echoed the great love language of English poets. That your delight in loving me was the greatest compliment I have ever been paid.

That you told me you would try to find a million ways in which to tell me that you loved me. That every time you told me that you loved me I was thrilled and moved to the centre of my being. That you will never again tell me that you love me; even so, it lies here in my heart and cannot be dislodged or shaken.

We do not get to the final movement of our symphony, you and I. I shall always envision you in the glorious, heat-soaked foothills landscape; the sky, and the possibilities, endless. Some echo of our music shall linger there forever, I believe. Our human hearts grapple with the mysteries of love and life and death and loss…perhaps it is simply to comfort myself that I write these words inadequate to tell of my love, and my desolation. But this, this I feel with a certainty – that within this cauldron of swirling memories lies the promise of rebirth, for to love another is to immortalize some part of ourselves.

I find I cannot say good bye, and words of love spoken to empty air bring no consolation. To return to the beginning is perhaps to honour the spiral of life and death – I shall live with the joy of having been loved by you. Je t’aime.

openheart