Sunday, October 30, 2011


A living tree is taken so I may give birth
to words on paper, and yet today
I see only Rorschach splattering ink on the wall.

"I see a sleepless angel"...
"I see a clumsy lover"...
"I see a girl crying in a Rowan tree"...
"I see Mary calling out for grace".

but my fingers are still.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Holy Smoke

This afternoon Gem and I made a wonderful visit to a local Native Museum and Heritage Park. Located on the banks of the South Thompson River, there are more than a kilometre of trails leading through the archaeological remains of a two thousand year old Secwepemc village. This major archaeological site includes a cache of over fifty unique lodges. It also features four authentically reconstructed winter pit-houses.

I spoke with a remarkable eighty year old aboriginal woman, an elder, whose stories both enthralled and captivated me. She told how in the old days, as a little girl in her village, there was always a welcoming fire. Everyone shared what they had in a circle around the flames; smoky morsels of fish and wild meat, bannock, tea. She said, too, how when you saw smoke rising from the huts, you knew you were welcome, that it was not too early to make a call on your neighbour. The whole village was blessed with a mingling of the smoke from the many fires of the community. Nowadays, she said, sighing deeply to express her sorrow, nowadays, you hardly see any smoke, and people are too busy to visit their neighbours.

There was a time when smoke communicated the presence of the holy. Where there is smoke there is fire, the fire of the scared energy at the heart of life, the hearth of creation. The first peoples of this continent experienced the communion of the sacred sweat lodge and the vision sleep ... ecstasies induced by the smoke from ritual fires. Even now, when I see smoke rising from a bonfire of fallen maple leaves or I get a resinous whiff of alder smoke from a fireplace, I sense the benediction of a spiritual, fleeting presence.

"For my days", says the psalmist, "pass away like smoke." Sometimes it's a holy thing to allow ourselves to be transformed, to be absorbed into the very air we breathe, the apparent nothing which is everything.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Clothed Body and Soul

I gather the velour infant sleeper , the little red fleece hoodie, the small Canucks hockey jersey, and the brown Carhart overalls that my oldest grandson, D, loved so much and insisted on wearing until the straps literally dug into his shoulders. All are outgrown now. They contain memories as palpable as the fabric between my fingers as I fold them neatly. Each recalls a time-woven tapestry of the three years when two of our grandsons lived with us.

I remember buying baby M that orange sleeper with the man-in-the-moon decal over his heart during that first harried week as we frantically readied a room for the boys. It speaks to me of those early days after they had arrived beautiful, beguiling and a little bewildered, at three and half years and six months old. I took this picture of him wearing them, sweetly sleeping in the borrowed crib Gem had scrubbed, in the bedroom where the sky-blue paint still smelled new and looked unfamiliar. How full my heart was that first night five years ago.

I remember the joy on D's face when he chose the little hockey jersey, how he clutched it to his chest, his face beaming. My fingers linger over the small red hoodie, and I joyously recall M, at age 14 months, lying on the grass at our summer cottage kicking his legs in beatific delight.

Parting with my children's outgrown clothing is a ritual which has always given me bittersweet pangs. Over the years, some I have given away, some I have donated to a women’s transition house where sometimes mothers and little ones show up in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Yet others, I can’t let go; the first tiny pink dress purchased by her Daddy for our daughter Sarah-Beth when she was born, The cub scout shirt with its rows of badges so proudly earned by my eldest son, Nicholas. The penguin sweatshirt belonging to my younger son, Joshua, which he loved into faded shabiness. He wore it until the opening would no longer stretch over his head and the sleeves were only a little past his elbows. I remember his words when he solemnly accepted the fact that he just couldn't wear it again, "He was a good penguin, wasn't he, Mummy?"

All these items are imbued with the souls of my children. I place them back into my memory box, adding to them the few items now outgrown by my grandsons. The freshness, sweetness and fragility of their history reach down to the very marrow of my bones. They are strewn with the songs of yesterday; tunes of dawning faith and promise and unblemished hope. They still possess the power to both nourish and elate.

Friday, October 21, 2011

October Gratitude

Here, in this deeply wooded land, I have a ringside seat to all this season holds. Each day the colours intensify. Less green, more gold and lemon, rust, orange and deep red.

Sometimes I stand rapturously with my mouth open in wonder. I wander around in a dream-like state, thinking of superlative adjective after adjective, a successive seasonal litany. The children I encounter on my daily little walks romp in a glorious shuffling of boots and fleece jackets. They gather pine cones and clutch reddening leaves in their hands.

I took my five year old grandson, M, for a walk in the park on a crisp October afternoon. Following an old ritual I recently read about, I told him to gather the five most perfect autumn leaves he could find, and that each would represent the giving of a perfect day to someone he loves. The collecting done, we stood holding our bounty on the pier overlooking the river. One by one he tossed them into the rippling water, calling out the names ... "Daddy, I wish for you a perfect day! Nana, I wish for you a perfect day!" The delight of the afternoon is as sweet, as spicy, as fragrant as a Macintosh apple.

October is a time of the fullness of ripening. Seed pods hang swollen from the memory of their petals. The orchards and fields lie bloated in their excess. Pumpkins and squash rise among their slow leaves and show their thick skins to the paling sun. Cool mornings ride on the hot air balloon of Indian summer afternoons. My arms take turns in wool and skin.

This, too, is the season of fragility. I think maybe wholeness is possible only when we embrace our fragility. It is a paradox, perhaps, that the only way to really be fully alive is to open your heart to all your life contains ... the sad and poignant and hurting, too. My heart often feels wrung, as if all the grief and joys of my life are stirring together in one large lump in my throat.

I always take pleasure in finding an apple on which birds have fed. We all make our mark on the things we touch, and the curves and arabesques of the birds’ beak is a signature to its hunger. Writing is like that for me. It is the food I carve my name upon. I feel much gratitude this October day to once again possess the strength to write.