The beach, when we reached it down the slippery stone path, was mostly underwater, all stones, no sand. Lake Huron was startlingly calm, a clear blue flatness mirroring the sky, demarcated by a thin line at the horizon. We were inside a globe of blue and white, the round world holding us in its sphere. The sky held long wispy clouds, like strands of wool pulled apart by giant hands, delicately stretched thin. A couple of tall trees with gnarly twisted roots were strewn across the stones, pulled up by another passing giant, this one careless. I picked my way over stones and driftwood of all sizes, watched from a distance as Conan taught the boys to skip stones, the ripples reverberating neatly on the glassy lake. They were tiny people at the corner of my sight, specks. I stood still and breathed in the strange comfort of our smallness.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: gnarly.
I have been asking my soul the past weeks what it needs from me. On Friday, I sat by a creek in the city, still in my warm down coat, listening to the rush of water, feeling the earth and sun again. I asked my soul what it needs. I tried to decipher what came to me in return. I think about the Tarot suit of Swords. The cards seem to get bleaker as the numbers rise. But it’s a progressive journey, a necessary one. I have heard it described as the death of the ego. Swords cut away. Does the soul need the death of the ego to find its truest, deepest form? In my life I’ve collected some skills, knowledge and experience, but again I find myself in an eddy, swirling, confused. Everything is endings, untidy endings. One meanders into another. They drift. When external adornment is stripped away, I am left looking for the parts of me that abide. And what I hear from my soul is “I need you to trust me.” Why is that so hard?
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: decipher.
Today I decided that the last few days have all been part of my ritual. Once I voiced my need to reclaim my soul parts, everything that came in my path seemed something I needed to hear and remember, as in a dream. The walk to the falls and everything I found there, our sudden decision to drive home towards the storm, the relief of my safe return followed by the small crisis that caused my family to temporarily relocate. The wind that split the tree that fell on the hydro wire. The brief blaze of electrical fire. The loss of power to our home. When I walked up to our house today to check on the state of our street, I found large pieces of the tree sawed and moved off the road, the wires back up, the two concrete poles that had crashed replaced by wooden ones, the power restored. I was amazed at the efficiency of it, at the resilience of this complex system. I walked back to meet my kids and realized that the supple green leaves of tulips were poking up everywhere under the snow, the purple crocuses were still blooming confidently, the forsythias were newly burst into yellow flower. I collected all of these images to reclaim what I saw in them – the vitality, the resilience. The sidewalks were slippery and piled with grainy wet snow so I walked through back alleys. There I found murals in secret places, giant paintings of black and purple birds, of blue waves. On an impulse, I stopped at an indigenous art store. I purchased a tiny stone turtle to place on my altar at home; and two post-card sized prints, one called Blossom, which reminds me of the stubbornness of spring, my own stubbornness. The birds sang all through the rain this afternoon – cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, the mockingbird that annually sets up shop by the train tracks. Later, at home, I lit a candle, I spoke my intentions, I reset my altar. I included a small piece of the fallen maple, felled by the power of air moving; a round stone from the ocean, smoothed by the force of water. I reclaimed and reintegrated. I asked for my fire back knowing that there are always dangers. Fire brings risk, but so does wind, so does water, so does burying oneself too far into the earth. Life is a balance, discernment and risk. I can do both. I need both to be whole.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: purchase. No attempt for brevity here. This day, this past Monday, I knew what I needed to write about and the writing prompt became an action prompt. I admit it’s possible that I stopped at the little store so I could fit this word into the unfolding of the day. Sometimes that happens: words become actions, actions become symbols. That’s part of what ritual means to me.
I am determined to reclaim the parts of me that have gone missing. Parts of my soul, parts of my heart, some of which I irresponsibly gave away, some of which I feel were unfairly stolen. From the Wolf Den lodge near Algonquin Park, my two friends and I hike over to Ragged Falls, pulled by the cathartic roar of the raging water. We are in awe of the wild water, the huge jagged ice surrounding it on all side. We climb upriver to where the Oxtongue River is dark and deceptively still. I tell them we must keep going, one more bend, then one more: here. I find a place to sit in the snow and watch the river as it swirls in small eddies, curls of current wrapping around each other, twirling. I recognize the playfulness of the river, feel the wind cold on my face as if it too is teasing me. I am buoyed to recognize the delight and mischief all around me – even in the wind, even in the wild thundering of the falls – to feel it mirroring something in myself that I have been missing. I am moved by the range of a single river in all of its moods: vital, whole, powerful, hiding nothing. Back at the lodge with our tea and handwork, we muse on a plan to collect my missing parts, reclaim the spark that has felt depleted. I lay down some elements of a ritual to retrieve, reclaim, and reintegrate. I realize that I have been reluctant because I am afraid that the path to what I ask for sometimes takes circuitous, dangerous turns. My friends remind me that I must put into any ritual a disclaimer, some fine print: “in a way that is safe and healthy for myself and my family.” Yes, that’s what I forgot last time and the time before. That’s what got me into some of this soul mess in the first place. Now here I am, wiser, finally learning what I had asked then to learn.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: missing. A short trip north before the strange spring storm hit last weekend and sent us racing home again. I found this word waiting for me when I got back. It fit so well.
I volunteered for a few years for an organization that gleaned fruit from urban backyard trees. Each pick was a small puzzle to solve. The promised ladder was not available or the fruit was clustered too high or some of the volunteers were afraid of climbing. Boosting on shoulders happened, and tools were devised to pull down branches for easier reach. Someone might go down the street to knock on doors for an extra ladder. Sometimes one or two agile climbers startled the rest of us, shimmying up to the highest branches, unencumbered by fear. I was slower, stayed low, but loved being in trees. I loved those June evenings leaning nestled between branches abundant with cherries, hands gently gathering, shoulder-bag full. I’d look down at the city streets radiating away from me, up at the wide sky streaked with warmth. Everything I wanted was within reach.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: abundant. With an ice storm in the forecast this mid-April weekend, I look ahead with longing to trees heavy with fruit.
My garden each year rapidly turns the corner from lush to neglected. Now, in early April, my heart leaps at the green shoots piercing up through the soil, the tiny purple and yellow crocuses, the anticipation of lilacs. It’s impossible to believe that in two more months the mint will already have run amok, in three the raspberries and gooseberries will hang heavy, in four that I will have thrown my hands up in the air and let it all go wild. Right now it is still a promise, a potential, barely even a plan. Maybe this year I will do better. I will decide what should stay, what should go. I will weed, prune responsibly, build better fences. I will channel skills I am painstakingly learning in the rest of my life.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: lush.
I’ve learned to mark time’s passing by the moon in recent years. Often, I am at home, and the full moon gleams down from high above my neighbours’ roof as I undress. On summer nights, I sometimes stand or kneel or lie in the grass in my small backyard and bask in its luminous kindness. One summer, I find myself in a canoe in Algonquin Park one full moon night, on a cobbled street in Gdańsk by the Baltic Sea the next. And then rewinding one cycle of the sun, I am in an Ontario hardwood forest, a tended fire within shouting distance, on my own semi-solitary vigil within dense circles of community. With a sleeping bag and a brace of mosquitoes I sit through one almost endless night and watch the moon’s glow painstakingly creep its way across the forest floor. But morning always comes, I learn, and then another day, and then another moon. What do I need to find myself at home? Could it be myself and the moon only, wherever I am?
Word prompt: luminous. From my current daily writing by email with three women across the continent.
We climbed up an alternate route, off the trail, always the way it was done, scrambling hands and knees up the muddy slope, me in the heat deciding to take off my boots. Once I took them off, I wanted one more step and then one more, and then stubbornness took over. A spring awakening of my thin skin through all those hours exposed. Over sharp rocks, cool mud, soft moss, tough roots, the prickly dried grasses of last fall emerged not so long ago from under the snow. Brushing by swathes of trillium in bloom, delicate lady’s slippers, columbine. Up to the top of Old Baldy, high up above the hawks wheeling, deer tracks nimbly preceding us out to the rocky outcrop. I climbed down to a lower ledge, held my back tight to the rock. I couldn’t remember whether vertigo was a fear of heights or a pull towards the edge, the fear that one will be lured to jump by the strange magic of earth’s gravity. Of course I imagined leaping, circling boldly with the hawks, suspended in air. I didn’t imagine the plummet.
Word prompt: plummet. Daily writing practice by email with three women across the continent. This is from the backlog.
The things I track now are subtle. The blooming and fading of the frost landscape on the small window beside which I sit to write each morning daily traces for me the brittle extremes of this year’s cold winter. Each day I notice where the sun comes up: at mid-winter in the far south-east, almost past the window’s right-most frame; and now, this week, at the season’s turning-point towards spring, I see its incremental shift, heading daily slightly east again, where on mid-summer mornings it will rise dead centre, painfully blazing despite blinds tightly drawn against its radiant heat. I could have been tracking wolves and moose in the deep snow of Algonquin Park this weekend, and a few years ago –restless, searching – I would have moved every obstacle to go, and did. But now, something has changed: my insides have shifted. A week ago, I backed out. I want to be here. My attention has shifted its scale, expanded the small life around me like a magnifying glass, revealing an intricacy of patterns I am only now slowly tuning in to see.
Word prompt: subtle. From a daily brief writing practice with three women across the continent who I have never met in person, but who now show up in a very real way with the power of their words in my inbox each day. This is my week to choose the words we write to.
Long-legged, four-footed mammals usually move in a direct register walk or trot, hind feet stepping perfectly in the tracks left by the front, imprinting a long, almost straight line that thrills me every time I see it, especially on a wide expanse of clean snow. I’ve learned that it’s important to respect the tracks of animals, that these hold a piece of their spirit, and sometimes, if we’re trailing close behind, a little of their living warmth. I love finding squirrel, raccoon and pigeon tracks in city sidewalks, set in concrete: a gift, a reminder of what can’t be tamed. My younger son and I, rushing somewhere the other day, step directly in a patched square of sidewalk, still setting, leaving our boot prints firmly behind. The next day snow covers our tracks, but I know we’ll encounter them again in spring: I somewhat embarrassed by our carelessness, he beyond thrilled to be thus memorialized.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: register.