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…
This morning, I woke early, considered getting up to write, then got back into bed and curled up cozily, mind drifting. I thought, maybe it’s more important to lie my head on my husband’s chest, listen to his heart beating, take in his warmth, than follow whatever wants to drag me out into the world. I wondered how many years we have left together. I wondered which of us will be left mourning the other, which one’s last days will be untended. It’s all thievery at the end, I’m starting to suspect, all bits and pieces dropping away. The happy ending, if you get it, is the middle part, when you might not even notice because of life pulling every which way. After that, who’s willing to tell the rest of the story? The truth is, I’m no longer skimming ahead to find out what’s next. I’m going to linger here for a while, savouring each word.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: thievery. From one day last week.
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.
My thoughts keep coming back to the beach at Lake Huron this week, like they did to Ragged Falls the week before. This visit was perhaps the first time I have seen the lake so flat, so purely transparent, the stones beneath the surface glistening and smooth. I know that beyond the stones there are sandbanks, normally impossible to see because of high waves and strong currents, normally something found only through touch, through trial and error and trust. Many times I’ve walked out in this lake into wild waves and crawled painfully back along the stones, unable to keep upright in the fierce pull of the water, feet and knees bruised. This time, the water is smooth, deep, accepting: both a mirror and a revelation. I am humbled and instructed by the lake’s vast integrity, the space it gives me for both rage and calm.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: transparent.
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.
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.
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.