To maintain equilibrium takes effort. The self that flew through the streets a few days ago now feels earthbound, heavy, hampered by heat and menstruation, weighed down by small sadnesses, by worry, by fear. I try to stay kind to myself. It’s the only tool that works for the times when my brain tells me things I otherwise know not to be true. Perspective, my friend, perspective, I say. Perspective and compassion. Don’t get stuck here in this swampland, feet squelching and dragging through the muck, pulling you under. You will pass through it. I cautiously pry open all that is clenched – my shoulders, my belly, my brain, my heart – and gently spread them out wide. I can see clear blue sky behind the cloud layers. Infinite space, infinite opening, infinite expansion. Those are eternal. Everything else – for good or for ill – will pass.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: effort. From this morning.
My neighbour two houses north asks me over our wire mesh fences if I want two dahlias for my garden. I am hanging laundry in the sun, sliding the squeaking clothesline to my right, shaking and pinning each damp item. It is a comforting ritual. She tells me to put down stakes on either side of the plants and tomato cages around the stalks, as once they’ve grown huge and unwieldy any support offered may damage them instead. She tells me I must dig them up in the fall and overwinter the tubers in my basement. I love that she opens the gate to the yard of the neighbours between us and walks through to pass me the lumpy tubers and stalks. “I’m going to plant one here too, in John’s garden,” she says. “Does he know?” I ask her. We laugh uproariously. I imagine us sneaking under cover of night to plant flowers in the yards of our sleeping neighbours. Guerilla gardening. These spiky summer-flowering red and yellow blooms our rambling coded messages of life and death and regeneration.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: stakes.
I hum with the thrill of belonging in my body as I handle my slim metal steed through the hot city streets, speed fueling my lungs and cooling my skin. I am at the head of my small flock of two, the mother goose: glancing back, calling instructions, signaling. Modeling the appropriate mix of courage and caution. I’ve crashed only twice on the road, on the same day years ago, the first time I rode across the city. No-one had warned me of the dangers of streetcar tracks. Twice my wheels caught the slippery groove on left turns and spun free, bucking me off to the pavement’s sharp burn. No cars were close enough to hit me. I limped out of the intersection, climbed painfully back on, pedaled home; it would have been a long walk. Potential collisions explode like fireworks in my brain as I navigate the streets. I push them away, stay attuned to both danger and joy. I am alive now. There is no other way.
Back to my daily email writing group after a break for most of May, aiming for another hundred day stretch. I will continue to repost here periodically, because why not? This is yesterday’s prompt, day one: belonging.
Ninety years is not ancient for a tree, but it seems to be the lifespan of the tall maples on our street. Now that half of our neighbours’ tree has cracked and fallen, the rest is under suspicion, marked with an orange slash of paint for removal. Today the wind is wild and violent, swirling garbage in the air, tearing away shingles, knocking off tree branches. My children agonize that the second half of the tree will fall, this time on our house. Our streetscape has changed. A handful of the tallest maples have been removed in little more than the same number of years. The arch of green over our short street, the cooling summer shade, the racoon sleeping pads and squirrel dreys, we’re losing those. The street looks lopsided, denuded. I rant to myself: “If only someone had had the foresight to plant more trees fifty years ago!” But now we must be patient, place our hopes in the future. The spindly ten-year-old maple in our front yard has a lot of growing to do.
From last Friday. Word prompt: ancient. Fortunately, the maple in front of our neighbours’ house stayed up, but for days afterwards I have been seeing giant trees that were downed by that day’s violent winds. After a 100 day stretch of daily writing, my small group is taking a break for part of May. Now every day I wonder what it is that I’ve forgotten to do…
Most of today we spent on the Leslie Spit, a human-made piece of land jutting out into Lake Ontario. Built mid-last-century for vague harbour-related purposes out of sand, silt and stone, it’s now a hybrid of ongoing filling operations, wildlife conservation, and educational programs. Thousands of migrating birds stop here in the spring and fall, are caught by careful means, weighed, banded and recorded. It’s an odd bit of hospitality: a mist net, a small cloth bag, upside-down weighing in a narrow tube, a tiny metal band clipped to one thin leg.
Each child in turn is shown how to put out their hand, how to gently contain a bird with the other, how to release it into startled flight. Warblers, thrushes, red-winged blackbirds, a cowbird, a grackle. There’s one left for me, a tiny yellow-rumped warbler, a small bright bit of fluff and feathers nestled in my palm. The sky is blue and clear, white birches rise pale against red dogwood stems and spindly green horsetails. The city skyline looms across the water, airplane traffic bustles overhead. I love these stark contrasts, this complex urban co-existence.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: hospitality.
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.
This morning, I felt spring clarity and space. Brightness, despite the raging storm. I did not want to fritter away any of my day. I began to clean my desk, sort through handwork baskets and supplies, organize projects, read through a pile of library books on textile art. I made a list of projects that need to be finished or begun: knitting, embroidery, my grandmother’s diary to transcribe and translate. As I tried out a Japanese sashiko mending technique on a torn shirt, I heard a crash. “A tree branch is down across the road!” one of my sons called out. Pause. “It’s landed on a car!” Pause. “The wire is on fire!” I jumped up, ran downstairs. The afternoon took a detour. Our neighbours’ huge maple had been split in two by the wind, wires were down and a concrete hydro pole cracked to the ground. Fire flared briefly on the wires. A confused robin dashed about underneath the debris. The fire crew arrived in minutes. The power will be out for a couple of days. We are fortunate, with family in the city. We have relocated. My plans are derailed for the moment, everything a little off-kilter. The new moon is tonight, but my dream for ritual is deferred. The streets are icy, treacherous and bleak, the wind howls, the rain continues to pour. The small spring flowers are crushed under the snowy crust. But as the ice pelted my window this afternoon, I heard a loudly vocal cardinal, still frantically singing.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: fritter.
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.