Lament

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Lament

I remember the hawk well. One moment the garden was empty, next he was there, on the ground beneath the feeder, feeding, or rather, fed. I didn’t see the kill. I walked past the window on my way through the kitchen from somewhere to somewhere, and there he was, perched upon a pile of feathers. Whatever the victim was, all edible evidence had disappeared and only the feathers remained. I guess the hawk saw me, sensed, or caught the sound of the camera. Within a second, between click and click, he had flown.

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I went outside to look at the wreckage of what had once been alive. Feathers and blood. The grim reality of avian life in my Little World of Island View. Between cats and hawks, a great deal of destruction is handed on from generation to generation. But although I have witnessed nature ‘red in tooth and claw’, I have seen nothing like the devastation caused by the avian flu. We tried to follow all the appropriate instructions, but the passerines all vanished and they never came back. We still have a couple of mourning doves grubbing around on the porch and back step, but I can remember counting, one day, sixty or seventy perched in a cluster on the clothes line. Pine grosbeaks used to swarm, now to see one is a big event. We still get the occasional evening grosbeak, but the grey jays have vanished, as have the swallows who used to nest in our garage. We know of a pair of cardinals in the neighborhood, but they rarely visit us. We can hear a Greater Pileated Woodpecker in the distant woods, but they no longer dance and play among our trees. A few years back, we had a garden full of bees balm, but no bees. Last year we saw very few butterflies, though they used to be regular visitors. Our hummingbirds have become occasional visitors, and I do miss seeing them.

I long to see again all those beautiful creatures, the cat bird with his endless imitations, the orioles with their songs, even the sparrows seem fewer and further between. As for the garden, the crows have taken over. A family of seven caw in the trees and visit regularly. They are sharp, wise creatures and I am always bemused by their aerial manoeuvres. They still sit on the garbage cans once a week and announce their triumph to the world. But woe betide if you leave a plastic bag alone at the roadside. They make short work of it with their shiny beaks ad the bag’s interior is soon strewn all over the road for you to pick up and everyone to see.

Impact

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Impact

This photo comes up from nowhere, springs into your half-awake mind, diminishes your reality. W5: who, what, why, when where? But there is no who, save the person bearing witness to this moment in time, and you, the double witness who also contemplates and is therefore complicit.

Do you recognize this scene? Is this a moment in your life? Are you the one who struck the match and lit the flames in the lower corners? And are they even flames? Or are they moments of glory, flashes of fireworks, the world coming alive in a moment of combustion when light and dark are mingled until, fiat lux / let there be light, and the world is reborn, light and form, drawn from darkness, and earth and sea divided into separate realms. In principium erat verbum / in the beginning was the word and the world was born / reborn in this verbal-visual instant between sleeping and awakening, when dreams gain substance and ideas take on form and shape and grow in the observer’s mind until creation sparks into life.

Who now knows what will be, what might be? We see. We bear witness. We paint, draw verbal pictures, take snapshots, unfold our souls, placing them on paper and canvas capturing them by camera in snapshots … but What’s it all about, Alfie? Do you remember the film? The suspension in space, the knowledge that all is absurd, that this is a jigsaw puzzle of the worst kind, with no solution, no answer, and every path bifurcating before us, and each of us wandering in a maze, a labyrinth, with an entrance, but no exit.

Do you think up or down, when you’re floating in a space without gravity, where nothing is substantial and all the rules you ever learned no longer hold? The roller-coaster rolls on and you hang on, and sometimes the sun comes up and sometimes the sun goes down, and is that the first light of morning or is it the last light of day, and how can you be sure?

And where is it anyway? Have you ever been there? And if I told you where it was , what time of day it was, or what time of night, would you believe me? And if not, why not? And who and what am I? And why do you trust what I say? And why would you trust me, when you have never met me, and you do not even know who I am, or where I am, or what I am, and even I do not really know who I am or why I am, and why does any of this matter?

It matters because we need faith, we need substance, we need hope, we need to believe in something other than ourselves and beyond ourselves. We still want to wake in the morning and see the dawn. We want to grasp it in our hands, not just in our minds, and know that there is light beyond this darkness, there is hope beyond this gloom, there are better things ahead. See that forgotten candle? Pick it up. Take that match. Strike it against the box. Now light that candle. Take it out. Show it to other people. Encourage them to light their own candles.

Sometimes we need to enlighten the world, to turn it round, to reject it as it seems to be and to recreate it in our own image.  But take care: the image of the candle is not that of the laser beam or the searchlight. One by one, the small people, we must join together, and like tiny stars and light up the firmament. I cannot do it alone. But together, you, and you, and you, and you, if you walk with me, we can do our best. And that is the best we can do, in this, as Voltaire’s Candide once called it, the best of all worlds and the only one we have.

 

Squirrel

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Squirrel

He’s here for the food on the picnic table, of course. He’s been here before, even in bad weather, and he knows where the treasure is: buried beneath the snow. I can’t believe he’s out in this. He should be in some little squirrel cave, tucked in, nice and warm. One of my best friends told me he was going to drive to Halifax today. What drives people out on a day like today when the snow is deep and still accumulating, when visibility is such that I can hardly see beyond the trees at the edge of the garden, when more snow, higher winds, drifting snow, and blizzard conditions are all around us. There is also the possibility of ice pellets and freezing rain when the snow finishes. “Stay home, little squirrel, stay home,” I told him. “It’s not a good day for travelling. I can hardly see the road through the falling snow.”

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Squirrels are tough, though. They must have Welsh blood in them the way they tunnel and dig. Unsnubbable on the trail of some winter seed and totally defiant against wind and weather. “Did you see him?” my beloved called out. “See who?” I asked, clicking away busily with my Christmas camera. “The squirrel,” she said. “You should take a picture.” So I did. And another and another. I caught him first head down, back towards me, guzzling, deep within his snow cave.

 

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He reminded me of Lorca’s roosters: “Los picos de los gallos cavan en busca de la aurora / the roosters’ beaks dig in search of the dawn.” I wanted him to come out and look at me, to show me what he had found. I didn’t have to wait for long. Then it was in (click) and out (click). What a cheeky chappy.

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I wonder why I always call this squirrel ‘him’. Maybe I never learned enough about the birds and the bees when I was a child. I find it hard to tell the difference between the genders of animals unless they have antlers (male) or, like the birds, they have distinctive plumage. Then it is much easier for me to tell them apart. I had a tortoise once, back home in Wales. I called him Henry, don’t ask me why. It took me two years to find out that Henry was actually Henrietta.  I guess I was slow on the uptake. Dai Bungalow: not much in the top storey. Or should that be story? There, I’ve looked it up:  storey in the Oxford Dictionary’s English English, but story in Webster’s American English. Oh dear, there are some things I still have to look up.

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So there he is, Mr. Squirrel, perched on the balustrade, about to make his final farewell. Fare well, Mr. Squirrel. Come back soon. I am so glad you didn’t decide to drive to Halifax.

 

 

Dandelions

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Dandelions

My flowers drink water dosed with chemicals to keep them alive.
They survive in the vase on the kitchen table,
refusing to crumple. They fly bright flags as if trooping
their colours for Their Majesties, the King and Queen.

They withstand both sunshine and shade, neither wilting
nor fainting under the hot summer sun. In this house
there dwells no queen, just a domestic pussy cat,
Princess Squiffy, who knows she may look at a Queen.

“Your Highness,” say Cape Daisies as pussy cat passes.
“Ma’am,” say Peonies and Pansies, bending their knees.
Outside my window, the garden fills up with onlookers:
still-green Tomatoes, Clematis, and a tall Hollyhock.

A multitude of weeds crowds onto the lawn. Dandelions
spread splendiferous, waiting to take plebeian selfies.
Plebs, they are, vox populi, people’s voice, people’s choice.
Some ancient god must have loved them very much,
for they are ubiquitous, and totally indestructible.

Comments: A glittering plain of ice scintillating in the early-morning sun stretches across the garden. The deer visited us last night, self-invited to a bright moon Maritime Kitchen Party at the bird-feeders. They danced the dark away, leaving lunar craters half-empty with doubt, half-filled now with sun and shadows.

Now is the time to recall the flowers that blossomed last summer. Now is the time to purchase flowers and hold them captive in vases on the table looking out the window at the places they should be. Ground Hog Day, St. Valentine’s Day, St. David’s Day: each day brings new flowers. Wistful we look at iced-up sidewalks, frozen lawns, and glassy roads. We long for the freedom to roam among flowers and plants, without these -15 C temperatures, without these chill north winds that chill us, cutting to the bone.

Today, I will risk a journey to the flower shop or the super-market. I will indulge my need for light, and color, and the tang of hyacinths floating across the table-top. Tomorrow, I will take pen or camera, and I will bear witness to the breath-taking brevity, the shortness and beauty of this floral existence.

Take These Chains

 

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The Great Chain of Being … Happy

The Great Chain of Being, a concept applied to Medieval Literature by Arthur Lovejoy, suggested that all beings are related in hierarchical structures that link them from top to bottom in an ordered chain. I have always liked that idea and see myself as one among many voices, past, present, and hopefully future that feel and write about the joys of living on this wonderful planet that we inhabit. This thought immediately poses the question: do we write from joy or sorrow? Obviously, it depends upon the individual. Equally obviously, we can write from joy at one stage of our career and from sorrow in another stage.

Antonio Machado phrased it this way: En el corazón tenía / la espina de una pasión. / Logré arrancármela un día: / ya no siento el corazón. I felt in my heart a thorn of passion. One day I managed to pluck it out. Now I no longer feel my heart. Machado is a seemingly simple poet, but that simplicity is oh-so difficult to translate and imitate. So: what happens if we write from that interior passion and then, one day, we wake up and the passion has gone? Good question. Some people stop writing. Others take to drawing. Others take photographs. In my case, I have sat in a south facing window just gazing at the sunshine reflected off the snow and pottering through my favorite poets.

Francisco de Aldana is one of my favorites and I am drawn to reflect on these lines: Hallo, en fin, que ser muerto en la memoria / del mundo es lo mejor que en él se asconde, / pues es la paga dél muerte y olvido. I finally discover that to be dead in the world’s memory is best of all, since the world’s wages are death and forgetfulness. While these words will seem gloomy to some, to me they express the joys of retirement, the wonders of just sitting and looking out of the window, the escape from the necessity to produce, to achieve, to be ambitious, to grow a career, to drive myself on and on. “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” Words of wisdom from the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies.

When I sit and stare, I also think, observe, and remember. And I see things I have never seen before: how light changes the world, how sunshine falls on the petals of flowers, how texture is changed by changing light, how light slips through the fingers like water or sand. The end result is an inner peace that accepts things for what they are and the world for what it is.

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In my privileged case, and I realize just how lucky I am and how fortunate I have been, I have grown to appreciate the tiny things, the small achievements. And small things now satisfy me: the completion of a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw, the nature of light, the beauty of an orange, peeled and tasted, its life blood still fresh upon my fingers and gracing the air, words prancing in lines and chains across a page, the dance of shadow on wall.

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Wise old bird

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Wise old bird

What do you say when you have nothing to say?

The owl he was a wise old bird,
the more he spoke, the less he heard,
the more he heard, the less he spoke, :
there never was such a wise old bloke.

I look out of the window and watch the snow accumulate. We have set out seed for the chickadees and errant wild birds who fly in and out and and never think about us. So cold, these days, even colder these nights. We have it a fire and keep it burning. We hope it will ward off the frost demons who wait outside our windows, grinding their icy teeth.

Yesterday, in the middle of the storm, the crows descended and danced upon our snow. Snow dance, crow dance, a ‘we don’t really want to know’ dance.

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Do they survive on the crusts we bestow upon them when the crusts grow stale? I really don’t know. Cold weather charity. Christmas charity. A turkey at every table, once a year, and three hundred and sixty days without enough food to eat … my conscience: can it be as clean as the white, crisp snow when I go three hundred and sixty days without thinking about those in need until prompted to do so by a radio show?

I look out at the falling snow. My iceberg garden is a fresh blank page on which I can write whatever I want to write. Right now I have nothing to say. My interior crow has lost his tongue and can neither twitter nor tweet. He is lost within the white wilderness that fills his interior mind. My crow, he is a wise old bird … I think he will think about his next tweet …

 

 

 

 

Light

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Light

We are so lucky, those of us blessed with sight, doubly lucky if we have the time to stop and stare and look around us to see light falling on objects or filtering through plants and flowers. Last fall we placed two unused mint cuttings in water glasses in the kitchen window and the clippings rooted and grew. Almost by chance, I caught their beauty, leaves translucent, the window filled with sunshine, as I was walking by. A macrocosm, this picture province in which I live; a microcosm, my house where light falls on objects and transforms them.

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Here are our mini carnation pinks. We were given them on December 21, 2018, by Gwn and Victor, and still they thrive. We lost some, just a few, and to the rest we added a new bunch. Here are the smaller heads, nipped off and placed on the table in single rose glasses. The light from the window flows through flowers, water, and glasses to create a flow of warmth and joy. Sometimes, we travel the world in search of beauty, only to return, disappointed, and discover it at home.

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Last, but by no means least, I looked up from my journal and saw the light catching the leaves of this houseplant, given to me in 2010 by Barry and Susan. Plants and flowers survive in our house, thanks to the magical skills of my beloved. I try to preserve their beauty in image and word. The ephemeral, caught for a moment in the camera’s eye, and preserved, if not for eternity, at least for a little while longer.

I sometimes wonder if the souls that thrive and perish in these plants think like the indigenous in the Oaxaca Valley that life should be lived and not petrified in pictures. Maybe they don’t want me to trap the consummate  beauty of light falling on their leaves since their capture on film in still life and inanimate form prevents their migration from one plane of existence to another. Who knows? I don’t. Maybe one day I will find out. But in the meantime I will continue to celebrate the innate glories of light on leaf and to share them with you.