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

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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.

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.

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.