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.
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!
Roll around world.
Take winter away.
Let Spring step out.
Let blue skies stay
just for a while.
We know you’ll come back.
But roll away, Winter.
You’ve had your day.
( Wasn’t this a strange thing to find on my windshield yesterday?)
Spring has been a very long time coming in this town. All of April was cold, cloudy, snowy, rainy, generally miserable. We’re well into May and it’s not much better yet. We had torrential rain today followed by one of those exasperating beautiful and weird sunsets that consist of a brilliant strip of sky at the edge of a heavy dark sky. Clearing up just in time for night!
I went out for a walk and ended up in the grocery store. I was buying limes for a yoghurt cake I plan on making tomorrow. Three teenage boys come to my house quite often and cake must always be in the house. Spring flowers were on display. There were some spectacular hyacinths carrying their heavy scent out over the flower pots and garden ornaments. An employee hurried by and saw me admiring them although daffodils are my favorites. For me that scent of sap, of Spring enchants me even more than the drowning perfume of the pink and blue hyacinths.
She stopped for a moment, sharing the wonder with me, touching the tiny bells on their firm stems. “Look, they’re so perfect. They look like they’re plastic, right? They’re perfect enough to be fake, eh?” And so we stopped sharing and I went away from the flower stand.
This is what is in my garden now. Growing out of the dead leaves of last year, through the ugly fence. So wonderful in their neglected blooming, so domestic and uncared for.
They say we might have a little sun tomorrow. Oh, and on the way home two of the three boys were on the other side of the wide mains street, calling and calling , ” Granny, Granny” and they were’nt even my grand-kids! So that was my consolation.
At last night’s Good Friday service we sang for a long time. Orthodox Christians sing what are called the Lamentations of the Virgin and also the Cannon which show the many Old Testament references to Christ’s burial in the tomb. ( think Jonah in the whale). I must say my faith is very clouded and in some ways I envy people who entertain no doubts about their faith whatever it may be. I even envy confirmed atheists for their conviction. Anyway, I still love to sing these long and profound services. Last night after it was over, one of the choir members began to sing by himself in that dark chapel I understood it was the many verses of the Lamentations. He was singing in Romanian in a melody that was not familiar to me. It happened that during this Holy Week the daughter of a couple who have attended our church for many years died. I went to sing at the funeral on Thursday. Last night that single voice brought home to me the reality of all the parents who lose children. The idea of God suffering and dying as a human was in that music. The world and the human spirit can be very beautiful in spite of tragedy.
It is very cold for Pascha this year. In the cemetary I was amazed to see snow melting and running away in a beautiful little stream in spite of the bitter wind. The bright sun was strong enough to do that. So Pascha brings in hope for better days.
Hello pale blossom.
Hello damp cool green beauty
so frail, so delicate
forcing your frail delicate way up through
dark dense earth.
Hello faint hope, hello rebirth
hello vanquisher of winter,
pale bell that heralds all the rest.
Golden trumpets and scarlet or dark frilled tulips
and later roses, lilies , dahlias and exuberant vines.
You, small and modest are first.
Herald of change, of relief from cold and dark.
Hello snowdrop and welcome.
These are white goats, not sheep. The rams had long grey horns, not tightly curled but twisted close to the head and then jutting out. We saw them just outside a rather touristy sea-side town. The shepherd looked like a professor of philosophy with his grey beard and stick. He nodded gravely when we asked if we could take a picture of his flock but his black and white border collie fixed us with his steady eye as if to say, “Take your silly picture, but if you go near even one of them, you’ll have me to deal with!”
The other wonderful thing we saw yesterday was a hoopoe, quite close up. I have learned not to fumble for a camera when a bird or a fox or anything that might take flight is the wonder of the moment. I just look and look and afterwards I can find a picture and read all about it. How I remembered this was a hoopoe, I cannot tell. Please take a moment to look for a picture and you will see why I was so enchanted. This pinky/brown bird, about the size of a small pigeon sat beside our car and he very politely unfurled his crest of black and white and then flew off as we gasped at the beautiful patterns of his wing and back feathers. Wikipedia says he was the messenger to King Solomon about the Queen of Sheba so seeing him was a fitting end to Valentine’s Day.
Some cities strike me as being a good fit for human beings. Cordoba is one of these. It is easy and pleasant to walk about the old city, for so long the capital of Spain. It’s famous “patios” or courtyards constantly surprise with tempting glimpses into the colourful flower-filled lives of residents.
How wonderful it is to walk along the boulevard that runs parallel to the Guadilquivir River and to look down on the wide banks, preserved as a natural habitat for many water birds. Yesterday we approached the Roman Bridge to walk over into the Old City. We were puzzled by the sound of intermittent bells. When we peered over the parapet we saw a large flock of sheep making it’s way along the bank of the river. We never saw the shepherd. How wonderful to see this in a modern European city in the 21st. Century!
The Roman Bridge is just that. Recently designated a pedestrian walkway, it is guarded by a statue of St. Raphael ( an archangel, in fact). He is the guardian of the city and in the past he was credited with saving Córdoba from the plague as well as other misfortunes. As we stepped off the bridge we faced an arch marking the walls of the city. There was a particularly tall column with another statue of St. Sebastián. No building in the Old City can stand higher than this statue! No Cordoban family is without a namesake of this patron and he is also the protector of travellers. ( read the story of Tobias in the Old Testament to see why)
Next time a little about the Great Mosque of Cordoba ( now the Cathedral). It is a truly astonishing mish-mash of architecture, art and devotion sitting in the shadow of the Jewish Quarter, birthplace of Maimonides.
Cordoba, my new city heart-throb!
Everyone is complaining about how cold and cloudy it is this winter here. We are not. It is wonderful walking weather. Not too hot or dazzlingly sunny. Yesterday we went to the famous Playa de los Muertos…beach of the dead! It is a wonderful long stretch of tiny pebble beach well protected from the ravages of commercialism by being just inside the boundaries of a national park. On one side, just over the boundary, is a large commercial port. It is surreal to turn one way and see the ancient remains of volcanic outcrop and then turn the other way to see a huge ship and cranes. That seems to sum up Spain in many ways. We shop at a modern supermarket that might be anywhere save for the special section devoted fo ham ( the culinary religion of Spain) where several large pork legs, complete with trotters are fixed ready to be sliced. We drove to a village, Lucainena de las Torres, reputed to be one of the prettiest in the country. Indeed it was. The drive of over twenty kilometres was made over a road carved across stony mountains with hardly a guardrail to be seen. Few were the stretches where two vehicles could safely pass each other. Approaching one of the many blind hairpin bends therefore became a white knuckle exercise in case we came face to face with a motorist going the other way! One of the few places it was safe to stop and regain our composure was a jaw-dropping site of many acres of solar panels. This plant was out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by many blossoming almond trees. Sometimes I think I am in a science fiction movie.
Although it is too cold to swim, a little paddle in the clean clear waters of the pebble beach was in order before the scramble up the steep hillside to the car park.
The long bitterly cold period that lasted over the holidays has finally broken. In a day or so we will go back to the usual grumbling about shovelling the steps and dark days. We will forget the anxiety over the possibility of frozen pipes that had our taps trickling and our kitchen cupboard doors left open. We will forget the little pang of visceral fear that struck as we dug out a car. ” I could die out here” . We will forget the dismal conviction that our battery needed a boost and the disbelief at hearing a tape on the CAA call response that informed subscribers that ” Due to an overload of calls………” No rescue for you, darling.
One thing I will not soon forget however, is the sight of garbage collectors collecting post Christmas feast rubbish on a dark evening serenaded by a howling wind. I was stuck behind the truck as it inched its way down the narrow street, clogged with snow and cars parked every which way. Unusually, the driver got out from time to time and helped. It took a long time to creep down the street. There was no impatience from any driver behind the garbage truck. Yes, the workers get ” good money”. Still, the physical stamina, the resistance, the constant exposure to the elements make for hero status for these workers, in my mind. Is it better in summer with the heat and stench of rotting food and the effort needed to haul and throw heavy bags and bins?
I have other heros, of course. Firemen, policemen, teachers, politicians, priests ( catch the humour when you can folks!) are all in positions to perform honorable deeds. The difference between them and my grimy sweaty, swearing heros is that mine have no opportunity for corruption. They have a hard job and they do it or they are fired. The difference between a street lined with garbage and a clean street is easy to see. No ambivalence, no moral grey zone, no slacking the pace.
Next time you’re stuck behind a garbage truck, don’t toot the horn . See if you have a spare bill to slip the driver at the intersection just so the crew can warm up with a well deserved coffee. It feels good to show appreciation and to see an amazed garbage collector’s face.