Saturday, 26 October 2019

The Season of Locking

Four blogs have been discarded on the cutting room floor. My muse, the crow, who in better times was always squawking at me to pass something on to you, seems to have her head tucked in under her wing and is snoozing.

You Tube image

“Go it alone,” she murmurs sleepily when I poke her. Okay, here goes number 5...

Driving through the backroads of Southern Ontario around the Thanksgiving weekend was pure delight. For some, fall is a sad time, but I just love almost everything about it: the leaves sporting gorgeous colours, the sun’s distinctive mellow glow, the seedy heads of weeds waving in the ditches
-that’s October.

November? Well, now, that’s another story. No colour, lots of wind and rain, a reminder that winter is coming. Wouldn’t it be good to just skip November? Lock it up and throw away the key? It turns out I’m not the only one feeling this way. I came across this quote on my FB page today. It’s a theory devised by Kurt Vonnegut and presented to a graduation class in 1978.

“There are six seasons instead of four.  The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time.  I mean, Spring doesn’t feel like Spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for Fall and so on.  Here is the truth about the seasons.

“Spring is May and June!  What could be Springier than May and June?  Summer is July and August. Really hot, right?  Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins?  Smell those burning leaves.  Next comes the season called “Locking.”  That is when Nature shuts everything down.  November and December aren’t Winter. They’re Locking.  Next comes Winter, January and February.  Boy! Are they ever cold!  What comes next?  Not Spring.  “Unlocking” comes next.  What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not Spring. They are “Unlocking””

Brilliant! We’re approaching the season of Locking: the planet is shutting down for maintenance.

Oh, wait, there’s a slight stirring. Is my muse going to step in and finish this for me? But all I get is a question. “So what?” she mutters.

I ponder Vonnegut’s message and come up with this: like much in nature, the cycle of seasons applies to life, too. There’s a season when life is springy, when creativity flows and new ideas sprout faster than the weeds in our gardens. There are hot and fertile seasons, when ideas blossom and become beautiful realities. There are mellow golden seasons, when we rest and enjoy the fruits of our labours.

And then comes Locking. We run into a brick wall. Nature – and the flow of life – slows down and eventually shuts the door. Then comes the dormancy of winter. That’s when blogs pile up on the cutting room floor ...

“So that’s why you’re silent these days,” I say to her.

“Aha!” she squawks. “You’re finally getting it. We crows know to keep quiet if we have nothing to say. To be perfectly blunt, I don’t think you have a whole lot to say right now. So why don’t you just put a sock in it and give it a rest?”

That’s blunt, alright. If you have nothing to say, say nothing.

“So what do you think, Crow?” I ask. “Is this Forever? Is it the end of Crow Day One?”

“Knowing you, I doubt it,” she says scornfully. “But I for one will be happy to take a break, catch up with my friends, just do some lollygagging around. This coming up with words and wisdom on a regular basis only works if you’re growing and learning and have something to share. What are you doing to grow yourself?”

Ouch. That hurt.

Locking and Winter don’t feel like good seasons to be in. But nature teaches us that rest is a necessary part of growth.

Crow settles back into her napping mode. I reluctantly let her go. I’m going to miss her. But then again, I know that you can’t keep a good crow down. When the season of Unlocking comes, she’ll be stirring and restless and ready to begin again.

And when she does, I’ll be there.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Making space

At the beginning of August, we pulled our trailer out to Seaview, a place where we’ve been camping every year since 2011. It’s very quiet, with only 4 campsites located right on the edge of the ocean. Every time we pull into our campsite, we breathe deeply and feel the tensions drain out of us. This is our special space.

We were coming away from a busy time: a 3 week trip to Newfoundland, coming back to a garden desperately crying for our attention, followed by a family get-together which I think of as our holy hullabaloo. We were tired. People at a certain stage in life eventually realize they are not as young as they used to be.

As in other years, I took along books, journals, my sewing equipment and projects, and my computer. Somewhere in the next four weeks, I trusted that my creative muse would begin calling me. But not right away. First I would rest. First I would stop doing, and start being.

It started well enough: long, long sleeps, afternoon naps, reading, chatting, quiet times. But it did not take more than a few days before my mind began agitating for something else. Shouldn’t you be doing something? I asked myself. Shouldn’t you be writing your next blog? Or maybe work on an art project? Isn’t it time to get moving, get productive?

“It is our tendency in daily life to become goal-oriented,” says Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Creating Space. “We know where we want to go, and we are very focused on getting there.”

Because society encourages us to reach our goals, stopping doesn’t feel so good. I was uncomfortable. How can I get things done, if I don’t set some goals for myself? And there is sooooo much to do! People of a certain age also begin to realize HOW MUCH is still left undone in our lives. What about that memoir I was going to write for my children and grandchildren? And those boxes of photos that need to be sorted? And the one hundred and one ideas I have for quilted art projects? Not to mention the friends I want to invite to dinner, and the commitments I have, and the travel spots on my bucket list?  And how about that blog, eh? And your cupboard full of unfinished projects? So how can I stop? How can I just sit there, not doing something?

As I was thinking about this, a quote appeared on my FB page: “You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, [or a special place by the ocean] where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”  (Joseph Campbell )

Almost right below it, just in case I didn’t get the message the first time: “Each of us has the ability to create harmony and peace simply by engaging our hearts. ... if we sit quietly within our space ...” (Textile artist Lorraine Lea Turner)

And yet another post with a quote by former UN leader Dag Hammarskjold: “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you hear what is sounding outside. And only he who listens can speak.”

It was like Facebook was giving me my orders: sit quietly in your space. Listen to your life.

And so I stopped. Sort of. Like a car that slows down, I sputtered along, only more slowly. I started several blogs. One was about basil and how much I loved it.

basil with our homegrown tomatoes, onion, and garlic, a shot of balsamic vinegar: oh, yum.

Another was about rocks: do they talk to us? The blogs went nowhere. I pulled out some artsy things, looked at them, and put them away again. Apparently, stopping is what I needed to do: sleep, read, eat, walk and sit by the side of the ocean. And listen. (Of course, there were other things I did that needed doing, the ordinary things of life -- but my creative work was put on hold.)

Yes, there are many tasks awaiting me. But there will never be enough time to do it all. (People of a certain age realize this!) How can we know what’s important and what’s not, how can we know what to let go and what to dive into, if we don’t stop to listen to our lives?

A few days ago, a friend asked me, “Have you stopped blogging, or have I just missed seeing your posts?”

This blog is my way of telling you what’s been going on.

PS: I’m happy to say that last week I spent part of every day in the studio, and it was my happy place.

a brand new piece...not done, but well on its way. 
And I got back to work on this one, my impression of a Newfoundland fishing village.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

209 and counting

Last week, my Facebook page reminded me that four years ago I put up the 100th post of CrowDayOne. My, my, my, how time flies!

Here we are at Post 209. The Old Crow has slowed down some, but she’s still carrying on. Perhaps it could be said of the old gal, as it was said about Elizabeth Warren, “Nevertheless, she persisted!”

Elizabeth Warren had something to prove when she kept talking, even though she was told to be quiet. In re-reading the origin of this phrase at,_she_persisted  I was struck by her passion for justice. I wish I had her guts. But I don’t have that single-minded passion, and that’s not why I write.

To get an insight into why I am still writing (and to explain this to the patient RS who spends many a Saturday evening alone in his man-cave while I poke about in my studio putting the finishing touches on my post), I did a little research on blogging. I was blown away by what I found. Did you know that there are probably 500,000,000 blog websites existing in the world today? You read that right, people:  five hundred million blog websites! 2 million posts go out each day.

The first blog came out in 1994, and still exists ( -- the author is in the cannabis business!). In the last five years, the average time for writing a post has steadily grown from 2:24 hours to 3:28 hours. (And some posts take weeks to put together.) The blog post length for the same period rose accordingly, from 808 to 1151 words. The median average time spent reading a blog article is 37 seconds. (source: NewsCred) Really? 37 seconds? Aghgh.

There are many reasons why people blog.  Some blog to grow their business, such as the cannabis dealer. Then there are professional bloggers who write to attract advertisers and make money; blogging is their full time job.  In a recent survey of 1500 bloggers, 9% reported they make between $1,000 and $10,000 a month and 4% make over $10,000 a month. That’s serious money. But the vast majority makes less than $3.50 per day. I am part of the vast majority, in fact, I’m at the bottom of the heap with a big fat zero. Just reading about how people made money at blogging left me fuzzy-headed, which explains the big fat zero. There are people who establish niche blogs on a single topic, like food or fashion or declutterng – Jamie Oliver is one of those. Some of these bloggers get really big and bring fame to the authors.
Hasn't happened yet!

 And then there is the Reverse Blog, developed because users have “a disdain for traditional blogging.” (Well! Imagine that!) Reverse blogging is almost like creating an online magazine to which many people who focus on an issue will contribute, and to which many readers subscribe.

And then there’s me, “the personal blogger who keeps to the spirit of traditional blogging (disdain, pffffttt!) We express “ideas and beliefs in a diary-like fashion.” Blogging probably got its "disdainful" reputation from folks who had nothing to write about but did it anyway.

Whatever. It appears that, like many traditional bloggers, I am like the lonely goatherd in the Sound of Music, yodeling out to the world, hoping someone will hear. Sounds a bit lame when you put it like that. And with 5 hundred million blogs out there, who needs another one?

The bottom line: I do! I write because I have to. It’s what I do. When I first began CrowDayOne, it was my vehicle for expressing everything that I had been carrying in my heart for a long, long time.

I finally figured that at age 65, perhaps I had enough discretion to put it on paper.  In retrospect, I realize that I’d been writing in my head since forever. That’s what I was doing when my eyes glazed over during everyday conversations, and I tuned out of lectures, discussions, sermons, and the noise of children arguing. More than once I heard them tell each other at the dinner table, even though I was sitting right there with them, “Oh, Mom’s not here, she’s writing.” Weird, but true. And after a little more digging and research, I found out I'm not the only one to feel this way. “I write because the little voices that live in my head tell me I must,” says one writer, and I know just what she means. I write to figure out what I believe and think.

I write to squawk about issues that disturb me deeply. I write because I need to tell someone, somewhere, what I’ve discovered about hope in dark times. I write because I believe we are all connected, and what I experience is probably what you’ve experienced too, and isn’t it great that we are not alone? I write because I am human, and the human condition is endlessly interesting to ponder and wonder about. I write because my story may illumine your story. I write because I love the look of words on paper, the beautiful way they take shape and fly off the page into maybe just one person’s heart, but one is enough. Other people sing, or paint, or run a marathon, climb a mountain or dish out meals at the soup kitchen --  because they must. I write. Simple as that. All the statistics about blogs? Irrelevant.

And what about you, reader? Why do you read? I’m so grateful you do...there are so many other things you could be doing with your precious “average time of 37 seconds” that it takes to read a blog – pull a weed in the garden, execute a few jumping jacks, take a trip to the bathroom, put dishes into the dishwasher or load laundry into the machine, hug someone dear – but you’ve chosen to read this. Thanks!

There! #209 is ready to send out into the world. And onward...

Word to Remember: Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard with your face on it. ~Erin Bury

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Kudos for Pater Familias

It's Saturday morning and I have a to-do list. But before I can get out the door, two little feet enter, attached to granddaughter Grace. She’s come to “help” Daddy, who is picking up things at our house.

“Hi Oma,”she says cheerfully. “I brought my Elsa doll along so we can play.” And somehow my to-do list evaporates. I'm a sucker for 4-year olds.

And so for the next half hour we do things together. She draws a picture of Oma, and writes my name all by herself.

It's added to the fridge door, along with the photos of good times.

 We string necklaces together. We pick up some spilled screws with a magnet. We carry things into the car. Truly, it's fun. And we didn’t even play with Elsa.

Then I realize that tomorrow is Father's Day, and if my husband had not become a father, and if our son had not become a father, I wouldn't be having this delightful time. I know that Father’s Day is a commercial construct, and expectations of what a father should be are absurdly unrealistic in the commercial world. Still, I’d like to honour fathers – and all the men who have been like fathers to us. It doesn’t take a lot of shuffling through the memory bank to come up with some visual images of times which may have seemed quite ordinary, but have left a lasting impression. .

The first is not a memory, but a time captured in a photo and passed on as a family story. I am a very active toddler, and we are immigrating. The weather is bad, and my mother is stuck in her bunk, terribly seasick. So it’s dad who chases after me, who changes my diapers. It’s not a role he’s been taught, and his efforts are clumsy enough to make my sick mother laugh, but he does it.

Then, I am about 6 years old, exploring the countryside with dad. He takes my sister and me over to a fence. One by one, he lifts us to his shoulders so we can see over the hedgerow. There’s a lake behind it, and – oh, wow! – in the middle of the lake floats a log with turtles sunbathing on it. It’s the beginning of my love for nature. Later, I am a teenager, growing a small garden as a high school science project. Patiently, he stands beside me, showing me how to plant the beans, hill the potatoes, thin the beets, and now I still hear my dad’s voice when I am working in the garden. Dad was always there ... sometimes he embarrassed us, sometimes he annoyed us, sometimes he frustrated us – fathers do that! –  but he was there. To paraphrase a common meme, 90% of caring is just showing up.

Many years later, the Resident Sweetie is loading the car. He’s taking our sons, aged 7 and 5, one of whom has just conquered bedwetting, camping for the weekend. No moms allowed. They return Sunday evening, grubby and sunburnt, wet sleeping bag in tow, and full of stories. “Dad made the best supper,” exclaims the oldest. And it was...ta da ...Hamburger Helper! (They still like it, I think.)

He participates in the potty-training, coaches their soccer teams, becomes “Mr. Mom” when I am out of town, takes them for hikes, attends the father-child event at school. 

He works hard at a job that’s not always fun, to supply their needs. He hugs and holds and dries tears.

He, and all fathers like him, are the unsung heroes who don’t appear in the commercials, but do appear in their childrens' lives in ordinary ways, steadfast and committed. And are still there for them whenever they need dad, even though they are all grown up.

And now I watch our three sons parent our 7 beautiful grandchildren. Guess what they’re doing? They’re taking them for walks to discover nature. They’re in on the potty training, they’re helping their children pick out gifts for mom on Mother’s Day, changing wet bed sheets, cooking Hamburger Helper dinners, being “Mr. Mom” when their wives are out of town, coaching soccer,

reading them stories

accompanying field trips, showing them how to create something beautiful, working hard to give them a secure childhood, and best of all, bringing their children to visit Oma and Opa on a regular basis so we can play and laugh and visit with them.

Here’s to the men in our lives – not just the dads, but also the grandparents, uncles, friends, mentors, in-laws, spouses, sons and more – who showed up when it counted, who have taught us, not in grandiose gestures, but in everyday actions, by word and example, what it means to be a father.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Delight or Dilemma?

The peonies are blooming, big fat pink globes swaying in the breeze. Just bend down and take a carries you right back to childhood’s scents and sights.

And here are the irises – frilly yellow petals perking up a corner of the yard.

The bleeding hearts are still dancing daintily from their curved stems, and the first red, red rose of summer has appeared on the trellis by the shed. This back yard is a gardener’s delight.

And also, unfortunately, a gardener’s dilemma, overshadowed by a big question mark. The question is this: is our garden helping or harming the earth?

You see, my eyes have been opened to a problem. My enlightenment has come about bit by bit. It started when a friend posted a blog about native plants and their importance to wildlife habitat; almost in her footsteps, one of my blog-subscribers suggested I might consider some native plants for our pretty garden that I’d been bragging about. Then came the books, such as Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy.

Then, two weeks ago, the latest prod: a workshop with the inviting title “Attracting Birds, Bugs, Butterflies and Bees to our gardens.” The teacher looked like a sweet woman, but she was fierce about her cause.  “The insects are disappearing,” she said, mincing no words. “It’s not just nice to attract wildlife to our gardens. It’s imperative.” And our lovely ornamental gardens are not doing a good job at that.

There are numerous studies to prove that insects species are declining at an alarming rate, and you can't really argue with the numbers. You can read all about this at This is distressing reading, but it is important. This is our world, and there is no Planet B. Reading the information available to us is like studying the instruction manuals for Preserving Planet A. We've been pretty arrogant in the past, thinking we know it all. But we don't.

Insects aren't sexy or cute, like the panda, so they don't get a lot of attention. But, say the scientists, they are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems; they pollinate plants, are food for other animals, aerate our soil, shred plant and animal debris, control other insect pests, and even, in some nations, provide a protein-rich food source to humans. But they are disappearing at the rate of 2.5% per year. That doesn’t sound like much till you do the math and add it to what has already been lost. Within 100 years, this planet may well be barren.

The main reason for this decline is the way we do agriculture, removing thickets and trees from the edges of fields, draining wet areas, using herbicides and insecticides that kill off the grubs that continue to renew the soil. Climate change is also a contributing factor, but so are the ways we take care of our urban spaces. And that's where our gardens come in.

The reasoning goes something like this: most pollinator insects have evolved alongside certain host plants. They are on the lookout for those plants, and no matter how colourful and attractive our gardens are, filled with exotics from Japan and hybrids bred for gorgeous colours, these insects will not come visit your flowers for the simple reason that they don’t recognize them. We take pride in our neat and tidy gardens, but insects are looking for messy places to hide and nest. I ask myself if my lovely peonies are just taking up space, while starving butterflies and insects are desperately looking for sustenance.

I am not so naive as to think that if I fix up my garden, the problem will be solved. “However,” says Tallamy, “because nearly 85% of the U.S. is privately owned, our private properties are an opportunity for long-term conservation if we design them to meet the needs of the life around us.” (My guess is Canadian statistics are similar.) “We need to redesign residential landscapes to support diverse pollinator populations and complex food webs, store carbon, and manage our watersheds.”

"So," I ask my workshop leader, "does this mean I have to tear out my peonies, irises, and other beauties and replace them with goldenrod and willows? Are you saying I can't plant geraniums and petunias in our patio pots anymore?"

Well, at least there's one "goodie" in here. I planted a trailing mint, which attracts lots of insects.
She smiles. “We call this ‘editing’ the garden,” she says gently.

So that’s what I’m doing: I’m editing our garden. I am thankful there are many good things going on in our yard – the pond attracts numerous birds and insects, the shady back corner is mostly native, the herb bed is abuzz with insects all summer long, and the garden has been pesticide-free since the beginning. We have native shrubs like huckleberry and oregon grape providing berries in winter. But I can see some places where change could happen.

Right now it is just an exercise on paper. The RS is not so sure about this, and the workshop leader tells me that she does offer marriage mediation services. We may need it!

Saturday, 25 May 2019

What a Wonderful World

Our Small Worx group at the quilt guild issues a challenge about 4-5 times a year. We are given a theme on which to create a small art piece. This month’s theme was, “What does Climate Change mean to you?”

“Oh look,” says one woman, holding up an imaginary piece of art work. “I’ve already done mine. I don’t believe in climate change – we’re just going through a normal cyclical change. So here’s my piece: nothing.” Okay then!

There are people on one side of the fence, and there are people on the other. NASA reports that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. I’m on their side. (See  But facts, figures and arguments will not change the minds of someone who has their mind made up. This is not an argument I want to get into. Instead, I’d rather build bridges.

This quilter also admitted that the earth is suffering and we need to reduce our carbon footprint. Here we stand on common ground and I’m thinking that 100% of the world’s population would agree. Polluted oceans, smoggy air, pesticides in our food, increasingly devastating storms, flooding and drought, extinction of species ... and that’s just the tip of the rapidly melting icebergs. A few quilters did lovely pieces focused on species at risk. Anne's piece contrasted Louis Armstrong's evocative classic "What a wonderful world!" alongside Pete Seeger's ballad "Where have all the flowers gone?"

So what does climate change mean to me? Mostly, I feel sad about the state of the earth, our home. And sadness can lead to fatalism, a feeling of despair because there seems so little I can do. Is it too late to fix the earth? And is that the message I want to portray? How can I cultivate hope – not airy-fairy hope, pie-in-the-sky hope, but hope that energizes me?

I pulled out a few unfinished pieces I worked on last year. I did them as I was reading Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. I was trying to portray in pictures what I was learning about our journey from despair to hope.

The first piece is our starting place. My alter-ego, the crow, rests in beauty.

The created world is beautiful and it is holy ground. In the Biblical narrative, God ends each period of creation with the words, “It is good.” Skies and seas, mountains and plains, towering giraffes and tiny ants, sun and moon, trees, fish birds: amazing! And we are too, all of us, living together in a web of life, dependent on each other, whirling about in an ever-expanding universe. There is so much to be grateful for, so much to appreciate. It’s important to get in touch with this beautiful world, to nurture our feelings of connection.

But reality tells us that we’ve messed up the beautiful world. And that’s the message of the second piece. The crow is in distress as she beholds a broken world being consumed by flames.

We must face the grief we feel for the suffering, broken earth and all its creatures. We must get real and understand that in an industrialized society such as ours, we have lost our sense of the sacred, of our connection to the earth and its Creator, and to each other.

Fortunately, we are not alone. That’s the message of the third piece. There is no large crow in this piece; it is one bird amongst many.

Look around, and change your perspective. All is not hopeless. There are millions of people  and hundreds of thousands of organizations working to restore what’s been broken. We can do little on our own, but in community with others, we find hope.

The last step in this process is to find our own work that reconnects us to the world and to others, so that we can be an agent of healing. Some are called to pick up litter on their daily walks. Some may get involved in politics, or write letters, or do research. There are streamkeepers and peacemakers, wilderness guides and storytellers, all of whom remind us that the earth and all that dwells thereon is a sacred trust, to be treated with the utmost care and love. We need to join in this great work, and do what we are called to do to restore it to its original beauty.

As I was finishing this piece, the doorbell rang. There stood two little girls. Earnestly they told me that their school has been paired with one in Uganda and they are raising money for it. Last year, they bought windows. Now they want to buy solar panels. They were excited about the possibilities, and so was I. This school, and these girls, are engaging in work that fosters connections, and that gives me hope for the future. Perhaps that’s naive...but I choose to join them.

My latest works feature nature themes, and I tried to make them as beautiful as I could. More and more, I am drawn to the work of reminding others that this earth is a sacred place; I do this through my art and writing, in my church work with children, and in everyday conversations with neighbours and friends. In so doing, I feel as though I am facing the mess we’re in without going crazy. It gives me hope.

And that's how I answered the question, "How do you feel about climate change?"

I call this piece "New Growth from Old". It tells the story of how old decaying wood creates a wonderful home for new saplings. It all works together to continue the cycle of life.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

The Old but Not Dead Club

When our dad was in his 80s, he once said to me, “I had no idea that old age would involve so many infirmities.” He’d had a heart attack, several TIAs, and his eyesight was slowly diminishing because of macular degeneration. He had left his family behind when we immigrated, and so he had not experienced the day-to-day life and challenges of his own parents as they aged. Now he was realizing that the things he loved to do might not be possible anymore, no matter how strong his will, or how healthy his lifestyle.
Dad as a young man...

and here he is at age 80, before the disabilities struck in earnest. . He loved swimming!

As I’m aging myself, this seam of thinking is a rich vein to mine. “You’re only as old as you feel,” they say. “Mind over matter,” they tell us. “Stay active to keep the grey matter functioning,” advise the experts. Keep doing your exercises every day, and you won’t lose your mobility. It sounds so good and hopeful. We all hope we can remain independent, walk upright with our faculties intact, enjoy life to the utmost, until one night we fall asleep forever in our own comfy bed and awake in heaven – a sweet and seamless transition.

I’m thinking about this today because I’ve been reading a delightful book, "On the Bright Side – the New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 years old.” Several years ago, I’d read his first secret diary which he wrote at age 83 1/4. Hendrik lives alone in an assisted living centre in downtown Amsterdam. He decides to write a diary entry every day to keep the grey matter active. He doesn’t want to go stir crazy, so he instigates the Old But Not Dead Club to plan activities and outings for himself and his merry band of friends – visits to various restaurants, classes in chocolate making, etc. Every day he takes a walk as far as his legs will carry him, then sits on a bench and rests before heading home again. Often he and his friend Geert take long scooter rides through the countryside. But all is not perfect. There are infirmities.

Hendrik faces his infirmities head on. Once upon a time, he reflects, I would have died rather than wear an adult diaper. But now that I need one, the line of the unthinkable has shifted. It is what it is. His daily walks get shorter and shorter. A member of the club sinks into dementia. His dear sweetheart Eefje suffers a stroke and dies; his best friend receives a diagnosis of colon cancer, far advanced. Some of the residents of the home are very difficult to get along with, and so is the bossy director. But the care and relationships he shares with his friends is what makes his life so precious. 

I’m not so sure that all the advice that “they” give us is so spot on. Disabilities begin appearing as we age. For most of us, that is not a matter of “if” – it’s a matter of when. No matter how hard we exercise, how healthy we eat, how many Sudokus and Scrabble games we do for the grey matter, or yoga or tai chi classes we attend, sooner or later, the wheels begin to squeak, then rust and seize up. I’m needing my hearing aids more and more, and I would be blind without my glasses. The “old hockey injury” (I fell and damaged my knee while playing hockey with my 6 year-old son many years ago) has become arthritic. The carpal tunnel condition in my wrists, though improved, limits the use of my hands. I don’t like all these reminders of my human frailty, but life is precious.

And I’m thinking about this today also because we’ve just had a house-full over the Easter weekend. Oma and Opa are not quite as spry as they once were, and it is not as easy to keep up with everything that happens around us when 16 folks ranging in age from 9 months to 73 fill up the house. The den and studio become bedrooms, and the hallways are storage space for shoes and jackets. Extra tables are set up here and there. The dishwasher runs 4 times a day, a ten pound bag of potatoes and a 5 kilo ham disappear, and plans are afoot for ... well, with my hearing being what it is, I’m not quite sure what’s happening, but I’m along for the ride. Or maybe not...maybe we’ll take a quick nap while you’re out, kids. Have fun!

In Hendrik’s diary, he observes that when Opa and Oma take their children and grandchildren to a restaurant to celebrate someone’s birthday or an anniversary, they tend to sit there looking a bit lost, waiting for one of the children or grandkids to make an attempt to draw them into the conversation – a conversation they have trouble following because of the ambient noise. And patrons of the restaurant where the Old But Not Dead Club gather may observe some of the same.  But then I think, appearances can be deceiving. It may look like the old fogies are not getting with the program, but the program is not what it’s all about. What it’s all about is an essential, invisible ingredient that makes the whole hullabaloo so significant for Hendrik and for the RS and me, and that ingredient is love.

In Hendrik’s case, the love appears in the many ways he and his friends support and care for each other, sharing laughter, drinks, adventures, depressions and joys. In our case, over the weekend, the love appears in little things: a grandchild’s face lights up when he realizes there are meatballs and mashed potatoes for supper – his favourite! “Oh, Oma, thanks!” Uncles and aunts pass the baby around, and he gurgles with joy.

The grandparents hide Easter eggs up and down the alley, and after the goodies have been gathered, there’s a grand sharing exercise to make sure everyone has an equal part of the spoils. The actor in our midst reads a child’s storybook aloud and all the children gather round to listen and laugh. Photos of gatherings in years past are shared and memories of other good times are savoured. One of the grandchildren declares that we will have a birthday party for all those who had a birthday since the last get-together (hers included, of course!), so we bake and decorate cupcakes, light the candles, sing and make wishes.

The heart stores the images of love in action, to be taken out later for further enjoyment and pondering.

Hearing and eyesight may fade, knees may need replacement, the digestive system ain’t what it used to be, but one thing, the greatest, abides: love.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

The Postman of Creation

The RS and I have turned over a new least, we’re trying. We have resumed our walking practice, which over the last few years has grown increasingly sporadic. We have a trip planned to Newfoundland this summer, and we do not want to look like those lazy tourists who only stop by the side of the road to take photos, but never get off the beaten path. It’s time to pull up our socks and strengthen those leg muscles. That’s the plan.

Now we try to get out there 5 days a week, sometimes alone, and sometimes together. If we can just get out there, it’s not hard to keep walking. It’s that first step out the door that’s difficult...

...especially when it's raining.
So Monday morning, out I went. It was a glorious day, and I had a brisk walk in mind. But first, a little detour down to the woods to see if the trilliums were blooming. They were. They stopped me in my tracks. Sometimes, stopping is as good an exercise as a brisk walk.

Do you have a magic place you visit where time stands still, at least for a little while? Where you feel as though there is nothing between you and the universe and the Creator of it all? Your heart slows, your senses are heightened, and the world is new all over again. This was my spot, and this where my detour became the main thing. “Brisk walk” was no longer part of today's plan. This, my soul told me, is a time to sit or stand still, or drift along slowly, feeling suffused with wonder. This is a time to absorb, to observe with new eyes, to be open to what messages may be waiting for you in amongst the trees, mosses, birdsong, and trilliums pushing up out of the ground. This was where I was right now, and I stopped.

The thing is, I’ve been working on an art piece featuring a pileated woodpecker, a resident of this woods, and it just hasn’t come together.

The harder I tried to impose my vision on this art piece, the tougher it became. I’d read all the literature about the bird, I’d studied dozens of photos, but I’d forgotten to stop trying so hard and instead start listening. As a visual artist, I resonate deeply with this quote I read recently by Kenneth Clark, an art historian: “Creation is a response; it is not something you have to make. You only deliver colors and shapes that the great postman of creation entrusts you to carry.” But those are just words until you put them into practice.

We’ve visited this woods hundreds, probably thousands of times. Often, as we visit it, we chat with each other, or explore nooks and crannies with the grandchildren, or use it as a path to the next thing as we take a brisk walk. But today, because I was open, I saw things I’d never seen before. Perhaps it takes a time like this, when everything comes together, including my willingness to listen and see and wonder.

I wonder how many other times I missed seeing the deep holes and torn strips of bark that showed signs of animal excavations in trees and stumps.

I wonder why I didn’t notice the old dead tree, still standing, riddled with a filigree of holes through which the sky shone.

Why had I not noticed before the many trees that had been “topped” by parks department arborists because they posed a danger to walkers; these topless trees were now 30-40 foot tall tree stumps that still contributed to the life of the forest.

Now, I was seeing this woods through a woodpecker’s eyes, a wonderful habitat and home that featured dozens of dining rooms

and a grand choice of bedrooms.

 Into this woods every spring would come a new generation of woodpeckers, needing a nest and food. In the grand plan of things, the woodpecker was tearing apart the old trees bit by bit, and as they disintegrated, they became nurseries for insects which in turn became food for other animals, and eventually warm nurturing places for new trees to begin the next cycle. The tiny saplings would grow up to be homes for more animals, insects and birds.

And I was privileged, for that short half hour, to be witness to the grand connections of all things living, myself included. It was a message to me: “Look! Listen! Know that you are a tiny piece in this great big beautiful puzzle, connected to a greater whole.” You are guardian, protector, benefactor and recipient of all that these wild and natural places have to offer.

“We all have within us,” writes Philip Simmons, “this...ability to break the bonds of ordinary awareness and sense that though our lives are fleeting and transitory, we are part of something larger, eternal and unchanging.” Unfortunately, because we’re busy with so many important things, we miss the opportunity to break those bonds of ordinary awareness.

And so I wonder: what other messages has the great postman of creation tried to deliver to me, and I, with eyes and ears closed, just wasn’t at home to receive them?

Philip Simmons, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life (Bantam Books: 2000, 2003), 152.