Five Reasons to Love the Long Nights of Winter

This poem is one I wrote maybe a decade ago, but it still expresses something important to me about the beauty, peace, and comfort of this time of year.

Unwind.com

After a bright afternoon’s quickening light
To be cradled by dusk,
Its slowly sit-down darkening

To contemplate the softening outline of the old cat
Curled warm on your grey-trousered lap

To watch the women and men with briefcases and backpacks
Walk from the bus toward darkened houses

To see a glow appear here or there and know
The tired homecomings have begun

To unravel the mysteries of your heart
That can only be glimpsed when the busy sun
Pulls up its thick shadows
And the arms of the evening encompass all

____________________

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Life’s little brown jobs

I love being at home. It’s not that anything remarkable happens there. It’s that a succession of unremarkable moments, when truly inhabited, turn out to be quite beautiful.

Rae bird feederRae side view

When I have time around my actions to feel the rhythm of the day unfolding, I also have time to observe the details of my life in a way that lets me see how incredible all of this is, and that some sort of “I” in me feels privileged to be aware of it.

Just like the little brown jobs or LBJs my bird-watching friends talk about (nod to A_Span and MRM III) — the hard-to-distinguish (especially female) birds of the perching passerine family, such as sparrows or wrens, whose similarities can make their various species hard for humans to accurately identify — the moments of my days at home are small, hardly varying on the surface, but full of song.

Take today. I’m talking like someone knowledgeable about birds, but I know almost nothing. However, thanks to Bob at Gilligalou Bird Inc. in Almonte, ON, I know more today than I did yesterday. Tuesday on my way to meet a friend for lunch I stopped in at Gilligalou to ask how to put suet into the feeder I had bought the other week at the co-op. You’d think it was easy, but at my first go, I felt totally inept. Bob interrupted his own lunch to answer my 15 minutes of questions about what birds eat, and to explain the importance of small to large seeds, nuts, and mealworms, and some of the best ways to provide these.

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He told me about Gilligalou’s specially formulated blends, with no filler, that give wild birds optimal selection and nutrition; showed me various styles of feeder; talked about habitat; and reassured me that I’m not being a bad citizen if my feeders go for a few days without being filled. The birds will come back, but they will establish a habit of eating at my house to the extent that I provide them with a reliable food supply, water, cover, and nesting opportunities.

So today I spent a fun and messy half hIMG_20160106_133307our with seed and suet. First, I filled my old feeder – left behind by the home’s previous owners – with seed for the perchers and the ground feeders.

 

Next I crammed two types of suet – a peanut blend, and a mealworm blend – into the different holes of the wooden IMG_20160106_133422hanging feeder I bought the other week at the co-op. It’s the first time I’ve held a mealworm, and although they made me jump for a second, I’m most intrigued.

Next step: a proper feeder with rails for the ground-feeding birds, since there is nowhere for them to land on the seed feeder I have now. In the meantime, I’m trusting they will continue to gather the big seeds from the snow where they fall as the smaller birds eat. And after that: well, I have dreams, but I’ll be happy with life’s LBJs.

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17 January, 2016 – Update: This week’s visitors include chickadees, juncos, a multitude of posturing jays, a male house finch, downy woodpeckers, and a discriminating cardinal.

Waking to the world

We are home!

Moving in

Last month, I moved. From a 14-year sojourn in a house in the city of Ottawa, Ontario, with a large vegetable garden, mature trees, and friendly neighbours, within walking distance of shopping centres, bars, and the library, from this place that had always treated me well but always felt too jangled for my soul, my spouse and I packed cats and belongings to install ourselves on a two-acre wooded plot an hour west of downtown, outside the small Ontario town of Almonte, in rocky, farm-strewn Lanark county.

Let’s be clear. I am not a farmer nor a back-to-the-land-er. I am a city-bred, wireless-loving, grocery-store dependent woman, who knows how to grow almost every vegetable for my own freezer but is ignorant of – or at least shielded from – the hard work and hard choices that go into raising animals, growing crops, and making a living on the land. I’m a tree hugger and plant singer, toad minder and deer talker, rock thanker and grass patter, and I will be slightly out of step wherever I live. But I am not afraid of the dark, or of solitude. I am not afraid of the woods, or the wind. And I am deeply relieved to be away from the asphalt and cement, and to find, surrounded by the world, the softer, fuller breaths that lie in my depths.

Maple Sugar, 1 May 2015

Maple Sugar

All my life, I’ve lived in small cities, with their buses, bustle, and myriad choices for entertainment, employment, and shopping. But all my life, it’s been on visits to my grandparents’ dirt-road rural summer home in Clifton, Virginia, or at the ocean on Prince Edward Island or Virginia Beach, or standing against the sea air at the rocky coasts of Tofino and Gabriola Island in British Columbia, that I have felt like my real self. Camping on school canoe trips in Algonquin Park, canoeing in Temagami, hiking outside Banff… this is when and where I have felt in step with the world’s music.

Morning view from the sheep porch June 2015

Morning view June 2015

My new landscape does not have everything. It does not have ocean or mountains. It is pastoral, settled, mostly on the grid, thoroughly – although sparsely, compared to town – inhabited by humans. I do not have, and do not plan to have – although I would if this were 20 years ago – the care of cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, and chickens. What I do have is trees, rolling countryside, rocky outcrops, barely visible neighbours, animals – both farm and free – living all around and sometimes spotted by me, and an independent, inter-dependent, community ethos that feels like a meal I’ve been missing.

Video: Three deer, June 2015
http://www.evernote.com/l/AZhquziP9p5J25j2z0Q7PgPvVFsLNX1_Bro/

This is only the beginning. I don’t yet know how different my experience may be here outside town, with regular visits from deer and with sheep grazing next door. Already, I feel a change in myself as I sniff the breeze, as it awakens in me the possibility of a greater awareness and a greater appreciation of what I have mostly thought of as ‘nature’ but now realize is simply ‘the world’, living its own life. It’s a return to an earlier state in me, when, as a child, I knew that I was part of a fabric whose weave included all of existence.

Meet_the_Flockers_2

The sheep next door

When I mow the lawn with my battery mower, I keep my eyes sharp so as not to run over tiny toads. When I drive to my job, in the city, I watch closely for rabbits, chipmunks, and deer bounding across the road… or turtles, who in no way bound and are thus so vulnerable to rushing traffic. At night, I go to sleep in the dark, with a backdrop noise of frogs and distant coyotes; occasionally I’m awakened by the dream-jarring screech of hunter or prey, twisting abruptly through the night. When I dig in the garden, I can wear something resembling pyjamas, with no one but the next-door sheep to cast an eye my way. When I need a boost or a tool or a hand with a tiller or a dozen eggs, or a jar of honey, I call a neighbour, and assistance is rendered. When I stride downtown in my rubber boots, I feel right in step with myself.

Some of this is not much different from life in the city. There is loud machinery, as the land is worked and buildings are put up. There are dead animals along the road, hit by fast-moving cars. In a few years, I will need to clean my septic system, paint my house, repair the porch. I have friends along the road. There is a library in town. And people are people: kind, helpful, honest, private, industrious, or not.

But who am I? How will I be shaped by the unceasing green and rolling vistas, shaped by the world that I encounter each morning?

Audio: Waking to the world
https://www.evernote.com/shard/s408/sh/4f6188c9-b887-4df6-a2fd-cc5f998bd7e0/cfc0acd5728019f202094a2cd5717af5

Importantly, how will my writing reflect the change? I’ve taken a hiatus from the blog and for a short time will be posting here less frequently, as I plant new seeds and harvest a new creative vision. I aim to offer a richer harvest, as I wake up to the world.

Five Reasons to Love the Long Nights of Winter

After a bright afternoon’s quickening light
To be cradled by dusk,
Its slowly sit-down darkening

To contemplate the softening outline of the old cat
Curled warm on your grey-trousered lap

To watch the women and men with briefcases and backpacks
Walk from the bus toward darkened houses

To see a glow appear here or there and know
The tired homecomings have begun

To unravel the mysteries of your heart
That can only be glimpsed when the busy sun
Pulls up its thick shadows
And the arms of the evening encompass all

____________________

Another day

Another day with the sun in the sky, and the earth turning round it
Light easing through the slatted blinds

Neighbours’ voices floating in
Cars slipping by

Purple bendy straw in my glass, shifting in the fan’s air
The world cannot be any other way

My bedroom, sanctuary
Of old, beloved things

Seen from the same angle
Dependable, year after year

Beneath the patina of familiar finger grease
New perspectives lurking

Give it a shine with a sideways glance
Spread by the steady cloth of attention

And see the change that ripples up
The world cannot be any other way

____________________________

For that next bright dawn

The geese, all week,
have been flying. Home.
Away from this sharp promise of snow
cutting through crisply darkening skies
south, to the crucible of summer.

Their far-carrying call
slicing through the high, cold air
picks up our hearts by the scruff
and deposits them, safe
but shaken and absurdly hungry
for that next bright dawn in March.

_____________________________