Monthly Archives: December 2015

Migratory geese and lessons

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There is a small park along the shores of Lake Huron just outside my city – a park in between the city and its bedroom community. The park is a public park although there are many days one can visit and be completely alone.

When we were a young family, my sister and her children, my mother, my father and my aunt and uncle would convoy our long journey – twenty minutes in the car – to this park where we would set up a mini-kitchen on wheels, barbecue and briquets, lawn chairs, badminton net, coolers, and fold-away picnic tables. If we could find a shady treed area, we settled in. Back then the trees were not so tall and protective (many young saplings), so we would erect the large umbrellas that we had borrowed from our home’s backyard.

On other occasions in the summer and fall, we would set up our tents and trailer and camp for a few days or more. A short walk in our flip-flops and bathing suits, the blue waters beckoned. Long days on the beach; evenings spent around a bonfire. Idyllic.

These are true gifts that we pass on to our children.

My mother died one year ago and I find myself these last few days in an in-between state – between grief and contentment. Between letting go and holding close.

A year before she fell and was hospitalized, my mother gave me a scrapbook that she had made. The scrapbook reflected my life from childhood through the decades: baby, graduation, wedding, pregnancy, my children as babies, their childhood, their graduation, a son’s wedding; she had included newspaper clippings from when I had opened two stores. This simple, unadorned scrapbook reflects a life-time ago. A life before dementia.

In one of the old photographs, my father and my two sons are holding hammers, wearing hard hats when the three of them knocked down a doorway in our home. My boys are four, maybe five, years old – their hammers are yellow.

Today one of my sons (after university and working) is now a carpenter, too. He went back to learn the trade a year after my dad died. Papa would have been pleased.

My son framed a copy of this photo and hung it on the wall of his apartment; beside the photo, he hung his papa’s tweed cap on a large brass hook.

Many of the photos show our family celebrating holidays – paper streamers crisscrossing the ceiling; Christmas cards hung on simple white string; tables laden with Christmas crackers and noise-makers. And always present in my childhood photos sit an older couple who rented the upstairs apartment of my parents’ old house.

I remember that my mother always invited them for holiday gatherings and Sunday roast beef dinners. My mother was kind and thoughtful. Even as a young child I instinctively knew that my mother was compassionate – I believe the seeds were planted then, in me. I saw it in all of her actions.

When the couple grew older and older, and one by one disappeared from our family gatherings (and the photographs), I have keen memories that it was my mother who took meals to them on a tray with pink flowers. Sometimes I would trail after her up the stairs to see what mysteries lay in this apartment (that we were told was off-limits).

Once I followed her into the bedroom and found my mother consoling the wife. I was too surprised to see an adult crying in plain view to ask any questions. Later, the ambulance arrived and I did not see our tenant again.

Another snapshot captures my family dancing – chairs and furniture pulled back against the wall to make room for a dance floor. My mother and father, my aunt and uncle, and my cousin, my sister and me…all of us dancing with joy and abandonment. Arms flailing, bodies gyrating, Christmas red and green paper hats still on our heads.

We danced a lot in our house when we were growing up. We used to dance before the war, during the war and after, according to my mother. We danced our sorrows away, she would say. My aunt used to win dance competitions in their home town in England; years later, she and my mother would dress up in their fancy frocks (that spun when they twirled) most Saturday nights. We would be heart-broken because we were left behind.

One time when my mother lived in a long-term care residence, we picked her up and brought her to the cottage that we rented on Lake Huron. My sister and I (as my mother and her sister) love to dance and we often turn up the music and let loose while preparing our evening meal. While our mother stayed at the cottage with us, she required a lot of care and attention, but every afternoon at four, we cranked up the music and danced. One on each side of her, holding her upright, we sashayed, cha-cha’ed, line-danced with our mother. If we had let go, she would have crumpled to the floor.

The neighbour photographed the three of us attempting the Electric Slide – not even dementia could steal that piece of joy from my mother as she swayed in perfect tempo. She has her sunglasses on, and her head is thrown back with laughter. In the photo she looks younger than her age (90); she looks happy. I make a note to myself to include that photo in my scrapbook.

My mother insisted that she wasn’t very smart in school, that her brothers and sisters were the brains of her family. But when I find an old Bible of hers and I open it, I find an inscription in blue ink: To Gwen, for perfect attendance.

My daughter-in-law was standing beside me when I opened the book, and we looked at each other and our eyes welled up. I gave the Bible to her and my son as I know they will honour my gift. It is evident in their home and in the well-worn items that they still cherish that pieces of the past mean something to them: an old vintage chair that we gave them when they were in university many years ago; another old floral chair that was her grandmother’s – both chairs made the final cut when they moved from rentals into their first newly-bought home.

I sense and see traces of my parents in everything, in all, like wisps…

I text my sister, It’s time, and the two of us drive to the green park that is along the shores of Lake Huron, the same park where we have spent so many seasons of our lives, and where now my father’s and my mother’s ashes are strewn. Some under the pines; some flung out in the blue waters of Lake Huron.

We get out of the car and we are silent. We walk under the pines and stand still. We have each wrapped ourselves in our mother’s shawls (one pink, the other peach); it is a damp day but a mild one.

We stand still and breathe in the traces of fall and winter, and after a few minutes we return to the warmth of the car where we have decided to meditate.

Twenty minutes later my cell phone app chimes that our meditation time is up, so we decide to walk along the paved road that trails the lake’s shoreline. As we turn the bend of the road, we sight hundreds of Canadian Geese along the water’s edge.

Many steps later and we sight first, a solitary Snow Goose, then  Canvasbacks wading alongside the Canadian Geese. The further we walk, there are more geese. It’s migratory time. (The Snow Goose is clearly lost.)

The geese are hard-wired to set off to far-away places in the spring and in the fall. These birds will follow their instincts, the sun, the moon and the stars; they will ride the air currents that flow above the winds and the waves.

There is a time and a season for all things. A time for balance. A time for harmony and Oneness.

Joy and laughter; sadness and sorrow. I am learning that the two states are not exclusive of each other. They are interconnected.

I look around at the geese perfectly aligned along the shore lines of Lake Huron’s blue waters – a blue that always takes my breath away.

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Occasionally we stop and share my binoculars to study the birds, the sky and the water; we snap some photos.

And then we continue walking along the path that trails along the shoreline of Lake Huron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sunrise, hoarfrost, and a doctor’s appointment

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Hafiz…This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.

I am  fiercely protective of my morning rituals – watching the sky turn pink behind the dark outline of houses, trees, and hydro poles; my first cup of steaming, hot coffee; writing three pages on my foolscap pad; some yoga stretches; completing my 108 set of tai chi; my breakfast green drink; and our daily walk along the river – so when I find myself in the early hours driving along the highway to my yearly appointment, I am quiet.

On the lonely road our solitary car is zooming along; we pass utility poles that loom at us at evenly spaced intervals. On day trips we would normally sight a gathering of birds perched on the wires – red-winged black birds, crows, starlings, mourning doves or sparrows, but the dark sky hides them this early dawn (although I suspect the birds have finished their wee hour morning birdsong and will return in the daylight).

I close my eyes for a few minutes and when I reopen them the sky is beginning to pinken along the far off horizon; the subtle pinkish glow contrasts the dark blurry shapes of trees, shrubs and brush. The farm fields, one rectangle after another, are covered in hoarfrost as the last remnants of fall harvest – stubbles of corn stalks amid the tilled soil – stick out like coarse cotton threads among the white blanket. The hoarfrost is indiscriminate and has painted everything in its path.

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In the light I can now sight the barrel-shaped hawks crouched in the high branches of bare-naked maples, ashes and sycamores. I am too far away and the car is moving too fast so I cannot discern if the hawks are Sharp-Shinned or Coopers. The green conifers hide other inhabitants so I am robbed of the thrill of bird identification. Tangles, thickets and brush are also hiding places. All are white this morning.

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Only moments ago my husband and I were moaning about the early hour and our lack of sleep. We become silent. We watch the magnificent view and we give thanks.

When we arrive at our destination, we find that the waiting room is full. My husband who thinks ten people make a crowd opens his book and he does not lift his head for the next two hours.

I forgot my book and my Kobo is not in my bag.

The lady who is straightening the piles and piles of old magazines is intent. At first I think she is a volunteer or she is part of the staff. She hovers over the magazine piles and adds to them – used magazines that she takes out of a cheap plastic bag. She is wearing a zip up jacket that screams I Love Christmas! It is red and green with patches of Christmas stories all over it, and Rudolph’s requisite bright red nose – glowing – flaunts the middle of her chest. Her earrings are Christmas bells (of course!) and when she moves across the room, they clink and clank. When she finally takes her place beside another patient, I catch a glimpse of her socks – Christmas-themed, too. Later, she removes her Rudolph jacket to reveal another long-sleeved top and it, too, flaunts holly and berries.

(Later, on the way home, my husband comments about Christmas lady, and I say, I thought you were reading?)

Christmas lady has settled in to read one of her precious magazines, so I divert my attention. I comment aloud to no one in particular (like Shirley Valentine, I often talk to the wall) that the huge clock on the wall tells us it is 8:10. It has been 8:10 for the last half hour. Some people chuckle.

The man who is sitting beside me (who I now will forever know as man who is sitting beside me) tells me that he has been fooled by that darn clock over and over since he arrived at 7 am. Now there is a collective sigh in the room: we all realize that our doctor is at least one hour behind schedule.

Man who is sitting beside me begins to talk. I recognize the signs of a story-teller.

And so he begins..

He should be in Florida – the northern part on the side of the Gulf of Mexico – but he is waiting for a diagnosis about his wife’s health. They will not make their yearly trip to their beloved trailer in the woods by the cove. Now I sit a little straighter; I lean in. (He had me at the mention of woods and water.)

I sense a man of nature (my joy button is resonating!) and he does not disappoint me. For the next half hour he regales us about oyster catchers, plovers, terns, pelicans, cranes, and herons. They are so bossy, he says. Where we kayak in the Pineries, the herons are graceful and elegant, so I have learned something new.

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Great Blue Heron, Pineries, Ontario

His trailer is nestled in a wooded area where he and his wife enjoy the deer, bald eagles, and even black bears. I thought black bears was a Canadian thing…so I am learning more things. When I confess that I didn’t know bears lived in Florida woods, he continues to tell me about more of his sightings in his little piece of heaven.  Monarch butterflies, as they return home during March and April, are abundant and loons grace the cove with their heavenly song.

Another lady interrupts his tale and adds that she saw a number of camouflage-suited men with guns along the road beside the woods on her way into the city.  (Clearly, we are all out-of-towners.) Man who is sitting beside me informs us that it is deer season. (People who live in the woods by a cove know these kinds of facts.)

Interrupter lady, who is a farmer we learn, picks up the thread of his tale and she, too, talks about wildlife – foxes, deer and wolves.

The clock tells us it is 8:10.

Now the nurse yells out a name and man who is sitting beside me jumps up like he has won the lottery. Interrupter lady (the farmer) and myself and others shout Good Luck!

A new patient sits beside me and turns to me and announces that she is 89 years old and sincerely hopes that the doctor is on schedule because she has an exercise class at noon.

I laugh out loud and heads turn.

I sense she is a talker. And I am correct.

And so she begins…

Later, she pulls up her sleeve and exposes her thin arm to me and inquires, Do I know what this rash is?

I tell her that I have no idea what the rash is and that I am not a doctor.

She laughs so loud and so beautifully that all heads turn and many smile.

Many hours later on the drive home, my husband answers one of my questions, Do you mean the farmer, the man who lives in Florida for six months, or the 89-year-old lady who tried to give you shingles?

I thought you were reading?

This I know for sure…joy and reverence come in all shapes and sizes. Life is short. Look for the joy within each and every moment, whether the moment is deeply profound or mundane – a sunrise, farm fields covered in hoarfrost, a clock that perpetually marks 8:10, a room full of people waiting to see their doctor.

Joy and reverence begin in awareness; it begins in the conscious decision to be mindful. It’s how we co-create each day.

I turn to my husband and simply say, That was a good day. 

It’s not over yet, he reminds me.

As the car hums along the old highway, I look around and see that the birds are perched on the wires of the utility poles.

 

 

 

I want to do the happy dance!

You are amazing!

Recently I read that there are now 60 plus million blogs on WordPress and 14 plus million WordPress.com sites now on the Internet. (Source: http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/field-notes-wine-tourism-conference-2015/marjorie-presenting/)

Sixty plus million blogs!

Further, WordPress statistics inform us that 409 million people are reading 20 billion pages each month!

Those numbers mean nothing to me…they do not compute. I cannot even begin to comprehend such numbers. But I do know this: there are not even 60 million people in my country, Canada, where I write. (Canada’s population is about 36 million.)

This I do understand: Sixty million is an ocean of words; an ocean of creativity; an ocean of beautiful and evocative thoughts and musings.

And I am a part of this ocean.

When I was much younger, those numbers would have intimidated me and I would have convinced myself that the other sixty million (minus me) were more articulate, eloquent, smarter. I allowed a lot of subconscious fears to manage my daily offerings. I am fairly certain that fear of sixty million blog comparisons would have ruined me.  I would have stopped writing.

But a funny thing happens on the way to…well, maturity? – wisdom, creativity, awareness, expansiveness…all gifts that I have picked up along my journey. And I am wise enough today to recognize that those gifts are inherent within all of us – whether we discover them, or not. (It seems to be a human frailty to lack this awareness when we are young.)

So today I read those statistics and I want to cheer, to pump my fist in the air, and to dance the happy dance – Yes, we are all in this together, trying to make sense of our individual worlds, yet coming together in this great collective blogosphere. 

Sixty million plus blogs. Millions of writers. Millions of creative souls. Millions of writers who want to make a difference in the world. And millions of writers who just write because they want to write.

I’m awestruck!