beauty overshadowed

 

Sometimes I feel that beauty has gone out of fashion.  All around us beauty sits waiting to be discovered, to be noticed, to be appreciated.  We are busy getting annoyed at some political wrangle, getting frightened over threats beyond our control, getting apathetic because we are overwhelmed.  Beauty sits waiting for a glance and in return she lifts us up, makes us draw a quick breath of joyful surprise. So, even if she is out of fashion, I present her today in two forms.  One is the just opening flower…plumeria or frangipani or as I sometimes call her ” Hawaiian girl’s ear flower” .  She smells like vanilla and as you see, she has kept me waiting all summer in hopes of this cluster of blooms.  The flowers are formed as twists and they slowly unfurl in hot humid weather.

The other picture is of a sunset over Georgian Bay.  I have never seen one quite like it.

Woody Woodpecker

 

Ladies and gentlemen… here he is, fresh from Hollywood, just as raucous, cheeky and impudent as ever… your favorite and mine, Woody Woodpecker! It is very hot and sunny in Muskoka.  Confused birch trees are gently dropping their small brown leaves in the still air. Not a breath of wind disturbs the bees as they gather the last of clover nectar.   All is tranquil until Woody appears on the scene.  With a series of screeches he flaps around the property, examining the bark of various trees.  After a few half-hearted pecks he immerses himself in the leaves and branches of a choke cherry tree and makes a feast of the ripe fruit.  He hangs upside down, his red poll conspicuous in the leaves.  With a squawk he flies off to the next fruit tree, cackling as he goes,.  He flies very low from one tree to another so that I sometimes get the impression he is dive bombing me. The white underside of his wings make a show as he flaps around from one tree to another.

I always loved  cartoon Woody Woodpecker for his naughty ways and loud voice.  Well, here he is in the flesh and feathers! He hung out in our back lot all afternoon and probably went off to scare up a little feminine companionship with his cackling laugh and pesky ways.  Never a dull moment with Woody!

Snow Sculpture 2020

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The town is full of snow sculptures. This one is mine. What caprice of wind and snow crystals, driven into my sheltered garden made this form? Layered and swirled, like thick cream or icing, fine and sugary, it sits transforming my old yard furniture into an untouchable beauty. There’s such a variety of line and texture that I could look at it for a long time. Is it just that ordinary spot where I sit and have a drink or entertain friends when it’s too hot or humid or dark to eat indoors?

In Spring I sit outside alone, in my warm jacket that shields me from the cool breeze. When the crocuses are just up or when the daffodils are still sheathed in that sap-scented green that means life, life again I sit out there alone. How many winters, how many summers?

Feast of the Three Kings

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Yes, I’m a day late. The kings were late too, right. This image is taken from the stunning collection of nativity scenes from all over the world that is housed in St. Joseph’s Oratory here in Montreal. I know, the picture is not stunning but – be proud of me – it’s the first picture I have ever transferred from my phone to WordPress.  Marvel at this modern miracle. The nativity scenes at the Oratory show how people from all over depicted their idea of the Nativity mirrored by their own culture. The good news is that the whole collection is on permanent display, year-round. There is even an activity room for the kids where they can make their own Nativity figures and drawings.

In fact, I went to the Oratory yesterday, close to a site of an errand, to do my outdoor cardio. There is a formidable set of outside steps where summer pilgrims sometimes ascend on their knees. To be honest, one used to see a lot more of that in years gone by. Having huffed and puffed up to the top I decided to explore one of the staple tourist attractions in our city. This huge building houses a vast church with a formidable organ, a smaller chapel, a mysterious and candle-lit foyer with various relief sculptures of St. Joseph and even the crypt of Frere Andre. Even though he has now been made a saint, no one calls him anything but Frere Andre. He was the humble doorkeeper at the college across the street for many years. It is through his force of will and mobilization that this complex was built. Of course, that was in the old Catholic Quebec of the early 1900’s.

I always thought St. Joseph got a bit of a raw deal and I love his trade, his devotion to family and work. Frere Andre was like that too. Just an ordinary guy who did extraordinary things.

I love the feast of the Kings. I love this idea of traveling far just on hope, on faith that something wonderful will happen. I bet St. Joseph was surprised to find them knocking on the door. At home, my Nativity scene only has two kings. About fifty years a dog whose only devotion was to my mother, grabbed one of the kings and hid away to gnaw him into pieces. To our shame, we were much more worried that the dog had poisoned himself than about the fate of the third king. Anyone who ever asked was told, “the third king is still on his way.” These days I try to act as stand-in – traveling around full of hope and faith. Time to dismantle the Christmas tree!.

Happy New Year 2020

 

   

  

We enjoyed a green Christmas. A little snow had fallen in November but much of it had been washed away by rain. Yesterday heavy snow fell over Montreal. Such a snowfall always makes me look more closely at my surroundings. The neighbor’s black cat sitting on a snowy step, the intricate lacing of tree branches highlighted by a heavy white burden or my bird-bath wearing a solid heavy cap are all new and interesting to see. It is so easy to walk through the neighborhood, not even noticing my surroundings. The still white and clean etching of snow turns every street corner into a novel sight. Young children are no longer stumbling along, clinging to the hands of their parents. Today many were pulled along in traditional wooden sleds. Today, to my surprise, I saw a black labrador harnessed to one such sled, pulling away with so much enthusiasm that the baby was bumped along to his obvious delight. The snow was perfect for snowballs and snowmen so, of course, heavy for shoveling. My neighbors fall into two categories: those who are out cleaning their driveways and walks while the snow is still falling and those (like me) who make sure the steps are safe for the mailman and consider my duty done.

Our winter is very long and the early darkness is hard to bear. I think of my garden sleeping now but ready to burst into color at the first faint warmth of Spring. It never fails me with the early snowdrops and crocus. It’s not even New Years’ Day yet and I am longing for Spring! I wish all of you happiness and good health in 2020. This will be the year of seeing clearly.

Thank you Mr. Van Horne

steam-train-1442795In the train, the first train

to run over the brand new tracks

sat Sonya.

The clank, the hiss, the slamming of doors

as the huge weight of steel, wood, coal, luggage, passengers,

moved slowly out of Windsor Station.

The jolts, sudden lurches, settled into

a steady rocking flow out over the St. Lawrence plain,

into the barely lemon sky of late afternoon,

over new bridges, immobile under this first test,

proud and nonchalant.

Sonya sat upright, her new hat

pinned on

for fear the sweating effort of shoveling coal

the blaze,

the terrible power of steam,

would blow it off her head.

Blow her little jacket off, her dress, her petticoats,

Leaving only her black lace-up boots,

protected by the foot-board of the plush seat.

She would sit, young and naked, a figurehead

for the mighty train, delivering its power,

its majesty, its unraveling of the future.

If the young porter invited her to the dining car, she would murmur,

“Oh, no, look what has happened to me.”

A glance down at her white body

seated like the wife of Pharaoh.

And he, in his new uniform,

the collar a little stiff around his Adam’s apple,

fallen already in love with her at that instant,

would pull down the window sash, take her in his arms,

and together they would float out into the just-evening sky

decorated with a few pale stars.

Up over Lake Ontario while the new train

plunged fearlessly on over the Canadian Sheild.

 

 

End of a drought

Nothing has escaped the pen, the keyboard, the soft yielding lead of the pencil for a long time. It has been about three months since I was able to write anything. No sitting at the table before a blank paper, no jotting things down, no type and backspace – just a horror of writing anything at all. In desperation I went to a poetry workshop led by a wonderful teacher. Larissa Andrusyshyn is a very talented teacher, prodder, encourager, with many a trick up her sleeve. Did you know, for instance, that the little paint color cards you pick up in hardware stores when you are agonizing over whether your living room wall should be black or morning cloud are blessed with the most wonderful names? ” Barely banana” ” shy meadow” ” storm cloud” ” trumpet voluntary” How could you not slip one of these wonderful phrases into a poem? I’m off to Canadian Tire to get my own pack this morning.

It is such a relief to feel the first little trickle of life come back to an activity I love, one I love to share with readers. I’m not going to church today. I’m going to work on two pieces Larissa evoked, coaxed, simply expected me to write yesterday. The long sheets of white embraced my lists, my sentences, my rhymes, my crossing out, my arrows. Something emerged, something a little rough, a little flowing, opening up just at the end.

They say when you fall off a horse you should get right back on. I had to chase my poney over hill and dale for many sad weeks but, oh, how good that warm steady movement feels now.I’ll post the poem when  I think it’s ready.

Dem Bones, dem bones…Osteopathy

 

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I’ve been wanting to write about my visits to the College of Osteopathy Studies here in Montreal for some time. Some family members urged me to go and have someone look at my knee about two years ago. To my surprise, some gentle manipulations made me feel a lot better. Since then I have sporadically gone back for help from the friendly students of this college.

I had a hip replacement about eight years ago which was a great success, thanks to my wonderful surgeon, Dr. Paul Stephenson. He did a brilliant job and I’ve been dancing a jig ever since. So, you can see I literally have one foot in the camp of strictly conventional medicine.

Well, not quite, obviously, or I wouldn’t be visiting the osteopaths. When I first went, I was a bit skeptical and researched what exactly osteopathy is. The whole field of “alternative medicine” is rather mysterious for someone who worked in a conventional hospital for years. I came to some understanding of the term “Naturopathy” through an explanation that defined it as a branch of medicine that added nothing – like drugs and took nothing away – as does surgery.

What intrigued me very much was the history of the founder of osteopathy. He was an American doctor, son of a Protestant minister, who practiced during the Civil War. Dr. Andrew Taylor Still lost his wife and all his children to an epidemic and, grief-stricken, he decided to develop a different kind of medicine that would improve on the methods he had seen employed during the war. Of course, amputations, use of heavy sedatives, radical surgery and his own family experience with illness were powerful motivators.

Drawing on his medical skills and his personal religious convictions, he put forward a method of treatment that saw the patient as a whole being made up of body, mind, and spirit. There is a strong tradition of “laying on of hands” to heal, clearly set out in the New Testament and in the Book of Acts which certainly was part of Dr. Still’s philosophy. I was fascinated by this aspect. I had a vivid memory of being taken as a child to the gentleman who treated the rugby players in our gritty Welsh town. Jack Lyshun was a natural healer and manipulator, skilled at “fixing up” formidable players of the toughest brand of football. Following a mysterious infection, I was unable to walk properly. After a few sessions with “Jack”, I was as right as the implacable rain of my hometown and the whole episode was forgotten.

These thoughts and memories ran through my head last week as two students of the College, under the watchful eye of their instructor, observed how I stood, walked, shifted from foot to foot. They did more than observe and diagnose. They “laid hands” on me, gently, firmly, surprisingly at some moments. One of them manipulated the elegant scar of my hip replacement surgery. He explained that the scar was rather like the seam in a piece of cloth. It tended to draw the tissue, to bunch it up. Of course, hip replacement is a profound business. I am always shocked to see how far down the pin that holds the replacement in place reaches – almost to my knee. In X-Rays it leaps out, solid and white among the shadowy images. Skin, muscles, tendons, the socket, all this and others, of which I am mercifully unaware, are sundered, manipulated, replaced, repaired by the surgeon. Such a surgery is a controlled assault. Osteopathy’s approach of touch, pressure, manipulation is quite different.

My whole body was under scrutiny – and was treated. The other leg, the “good” leg has had years of compensating, adapting, relating. And why? So that I can go up and down stairs, run for the bus, swim, drive the car, make love, dance, climb a ladder – all this and more. Poor good leg that never complained and yet spoiled her gait because of the “bad” leg.

The two young people pulled my toes (a terrible point of shyness as I think my feet are not beautiful) rotated my ankles, took hold of my leg and applied pressure. They made me turn on my stomach and pressed my back. From time to time, one of them would exclaim about “feeling” something. He could notice some sort of current of energy.  They seemed to know what they were doing. Good thing, since I did not. There was something satisfying about simply surrendering to their attention, their manipulations, their instructions.

And now, at home, what is the result of all this? My toes do not hurt anymore. I always ascribe the pain in my feet to arthritis, but one student said, no, it was all part of the alignment of the right leg. My knee is better but I still have some pain higher up. I will go to see them again next week.

Osteopaths have a difficult time being accepted in this province. The College des Medicins traditionally fights against any other profession encroaching on what they think is remotely related to conventional medicine. Midwives, for instance, had a terrible time getting recognized and encouraged to practice. There still remains something mysterious about osteopathy. But then, one could hardly say conventional medicine is free of mystery, even that it is transparent. The bottom line is ….does it work? Mercifully, it does for me.