Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Circle of Life

“So a cheque makes you old, huh?” comments my cheeky son about my last post. No, Kevin, but looking back reminds me of the passage of time.

Nearly 42 years ago, Al and I set out for our camping honeymoon in a VW Beetle. The Beetle had a hole in its muffler and backfired every time we went down a hill, of which there were many in Cape Breton.. On the second day of our honeymoon, a man walked by as I was cooking supper outside at the picnic table. He asked Al if I was a good cook. Al said yes. Right answer!
We continued to camp as our family grew. Thirty years ago, when we camped, my parents sometimes joined us. The kids whooped it up on their bikes as they zoomed through the campground.  Mom and dad sipped their afternoon tea and cheered them on as I cooked supper at the picnic table.
We still camp, and we still make noise, and we still eat well. Last week, our annual family campout  included four adult children, three in-laws, five grandkids, and three grand-dogs. It’s still a hullaballoo, but this year as Al and I sat by the ocean sipping our Happy Hour wine and watching the children play, our kids were cooking supper at the picnic table.
Ah, the circle of life! 

Recently I read something to the effect that time is giant circle, which holds us all in its embrace. We can’t fall out of the circle, because it is closed. I like that idea, which I’ve tried to show with a mandala. (A mandala is a piece of art in the form of a circle, often with symbolic meaning.) The mandala shows a series of trees – a bright green sapling, a mature and sheltering tree in full growth, and a craggy tree clad in autumn browns and oranges. There’s new growth as well, including a tiny sapling growing out of an old stump.

Five years ago, when I made the mandala, I was grappling with a growing awareness of the questions and changes that aging brings on.  I used the trees to explore these questions, and to depict the cycle of life, particularly as it relates to women (hence the silhouettes of girls and women under the trees.). The trees each have their own beauty, and their own role in the forest community. Even dead trees are important as “nurse logs.” As these trees decompose on the forest floor, they generate warmth and create nutrients that are just right for seeds to sprout and seedlings to begin their new lives. Old logs incubate new life, and without nurse logs, the forest would be a poorer community. In my tree studies, I also learned that trees in a forest community, as opposed to stand-slone trees, are less likely to be damaged by storms and high winds – they shelter each other, and bend together. The diversity of a forest community makes it stronger.

The tree image illustrates well  the circle of human life. People are born, grow, mature, and in their turn nurture new life. Even if they don’t physically give birth, all people can contribute to community life. Those who come before us are important in the circle, too, since we grow out of the fertile ground they’ve created for us. In the same way, we’ll contribute something of our essence to the world that continues after we’re gone. 

The glowing centre of my mandala represents the source of this life. The trees dig their roots into it, and water flows around it. Personally, I call this source the Creator and Sustainer. The glowing centre reminds me that the circle of life does not have a vacuum at its centre, that we can rely on this source to hold.

I think with gratitude of the Source, and also of all the people who have been part of my community – not just my birth family, but the old folks at church who were interested in my progress, aunties and uncles who encouraged and affirmed me, teachers who challenged me, friends who listened, children whose insights have given me new eyes to see, even folks who disciplined me when I strayed. They are all part of the circle of life, in which we are held and embraced.


  1. Thank you Jess! I love reading your blog, it gives me words to my thoughts and feelings even though I am 30 years younger than you. I feel that these thoughts can surpase space and time.

  2. I love being reminded of nurse logs... a really wonderful story of the circle of life.