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

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.

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

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