Thursday, November 19, 2020

Misplaced

I notice you,
sweet rock dove,
soaring with effortless grace above our towers of grey. 

You are grey, too - 
the soft colour of sea foam,
reminiscent of the view where you truly belong: 

Cliffs.  High above crashing waves.
You would have moved among them effortlessly. 

Now you're here, with the rest of us,
navigating a chaos of obstacles and noise;
traffic and high-rises; soot and confusion. 

A poor replacement for your wave-swept precipices. 

No wonder you wander, as I do,
perplexed by the strangeness of where you find yourself. 

Neither you nor I were made for this sort of crowded chaos. 

Somewhere, deep in both our beings, lies the memory and longing for those cliffs,
and the soothing whisper of the grey waves beneath them. 

They call you Pigeon. 
I call you Kindred.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Ontario Birds

Purple Sandpipers
It's been a while since I've written a blog entry.  The world has changed so much; continues to change.  We all know this; there's no need for me to re-hash it here.

My one consistent solace has been birds.  The warblers and thrushes, waterfowl and songbirds, migrate like clockwork, completely unaware of the current pandemic or the political turmoil south of our border. Borders are irrelevant to them.  And so I find comfort in their tiny eyes, their fluttery wings, their vibrant or muted colours.

Purple Sandpiper Range Map (allaboutbirds.org)
I took a walk the other day to search for a Purple Sandpiper.  There had been reports on ebird.org that Purple Sandpipers were being sighted in a nearby area, so I took a chance.  Why are they so special?  Well, as you can see from the range map, it's quite rare for them to appear in Ontario at all. They breed and migrate in very remote northern regions, though they can very rarely be seen around the Great Lakes. 

These elusive creatures had been spotted at Pipit Point at the Leslie Street Spit in Toronto, which was about an hour's hike one way.  I got up before the sun, and was on the trail as the sun started to rise.  I was mostly alone on this solitary hike, though I did pass the occasional cyclist or runner.  I was actually surprised I didn't run into more birders, eager to see this rare appearance.

Finally I arrived at Pipit Point, and scanned the rocky shoreline where the waves of the lake were splashing gently.  No signs of birds at all, only mossy-covered rocks.  I climbed over some boulders and made my way to a different viewpoint. 

2 Purple Sandpipers on the left; Dunlin on the right
Suddenly there it was - a Purple Sandpiper.  Quietly walking along a large boulder, periodically pecking at the rocks.  I recognized it instantly.  The overwhelming feeling of wonder is hard to explain.  Up until that very moment, the Purple Sandpiper had been a mythical creature; something I had only ever seen in photos; something that lived so far away from these southern shores that I'd never imagined I would see one.  And there it was.  Just like that.  A few moments later, a second one joined it, as well as a more common Dunlin.


Purple Sandpiper

I sat on the rocks for half an hour, watching them as they walked back and forth along the rocks, oblivious to my presence.  Part way through, a flock of unidentified birds swooped over the lake in the distance, and without warning both Purple Sandpipers and the Dunlin immediately took to the skies and joined the flock, flew with them for a few seconds, and then circled around and came right back to the rocks where I was.  Why?  For what hidden reason did this happen?

Birds have so much to teach us.

Jen and I have recently revived our Ontario Bird Flashcards project and increased the number of cards in the deck to 100.  All of our own photography was used to create these beautiful cards. They have a photo of the bird on the front and the name of the bird on the back.  We have been completely floored by the response we've gotten - we've sold almost 500 decks since the pandemic began. I guess birds are offering a comfort to many people during this time.


We still have some remaining if anyone is looking for holiday stocking stuffers.  You can watch a cute little video about our bird cards here:   https://youtu.be/A9DgdJ_OIpU

Cards are available for purchase on our Etsy shop at this link: https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/820429876/ontario-birds-flashcards

Stay safe out there everyone.  We will get through this. 

Blackburnian Warbler

Scarlet Tanager

Tennessee Warbler

White-throated Sparrow

Wood Ducks
Yellow Warbler


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Still I rise


I never thought I’d want a tattoo.  While I was always able to think of multiple images that could represent what is deeply meaningful to me, the truth is that I have so many passions (music, nature, poetry, science…) that I couldn’t fathom how I would choose just one or a few of those things to mark myself with permanently.  I have never been able to settle on one thing – one hobby, one skill, one career, one way of being.  The path in life that I have followed is far from linear; often not even coherent.

So what is it that remains the same?  Change.

Though I resist it, I simultaneously embrace it.  How can I not want to know what’s just around the next river bend, or just beyond that dark, frightening forest?  How can I remain still, as afraid as I often am, when there is the unknown, just beyond my reach?

The phoenix is an ancient, mythical bird from Greek folklore.  It is said that a phoenix constantly cycles through a death and rebirth.  It dies, in fire and ashes and smoke, and then is born again from these flames, simultaneously brand new and yet still the same. 

The symbolism of this is one that I resonate with.  My life has been a series of constant deaths and rebirths.  I rarely speak about my prior “lives” to most people, as they seem so far away as to belong to someone else entirely.  Yet I simultaneously recognize how deeply these past periods of pain have formed and shaped me.  From chronic physical & emotional abuse, to briefly being without a home, to a relationship that tore me apart; from being given label after label, diagnosed but never ‘cured’, dark months of severe depression and thoughts of ending my own life; the painful loss of loved ones; the soul-tearing journey that is seeking fertility treatments; the loss of my sweet little raspberry-sized baby…

These selves, these lives, these versions of me – some are so far in the past that I am only vaguely aware of how they shaped me; others are immediately present, the wounds in my heart still open and baking in the sun.

So who am I but this – this constant cycle of death of the Self, the Ego, and the inevitable Re-births?  I have learned that pain and suffering is not something to be feared.  Pain in this life is a given; that much I have learned through my various iterations, if nothing else.  Even that emotional, soul-crushing pain where it felt like I would never breathe again, never live again, never be myself again… it is not ‘bad’.  It just is.  It is a part of me, no better or worse than the other parts of me.

Most days I feel perpetually 17, as if the years had not since doubled.  I am still that wild, awkward, un-tamable creature with the intensity of love and despair over life that for some peaks at 17 and for me seems to have remained constant.  If I could go back in time and tell her just one thing, it would be this:

Life is so much more intensely beautiful than you could possibly imagine; and also more intensely full of pain than you could ever fathom living through.  Yet you will.  You will die inside and you will be born again.  You will think that you cannot possibly ever be the same person, and nevertheless be reborn into the exact same core of who you are… just more so, each time.  Do not get stuck, do not cling to one single idea of who you are or what your life should be – the most unexpectedly painful and beautiful things await you.  Yet you will still be you, perpetually 17.

Once I realized how much I resonated with the mythology of the phoenix, it became quite clear to me that this was quite possibly the only thing I could ever permanently mark my body with, because it is the only part of me that will always, always remain.  The cycle of destruction and resurrection. 

The experience of sitting down and actually getting it was almost spiritual.  I knew, going in, that my extreme sensitivity would likely cause the experience of pain to be more intense than is typical for this part of my arm, and I was indeed correct.  The process of slowly tracing the outline of the phoenix felt like knives slicing my skin.  I clung to my worry stone (given to me by someone who has also experienced intense suffering and rebirth), and breathed into the pain, rather than trying to escape it. 

There is no real growth, real beauty, without being forged in fire.  The pain became an offering, a gift to myself; just another micro-death and re-birth.  The energy coursing through my arm after each small application of ink was almost pleasurable; the intense cocktail of chemicals inside me doing their job to process the pain.  I had tears in my eyes for a good while, though they didn’t fall.  They weren’t induced by the physical pain; rather they were a release of emotion, at this promise that I was making to myself.

Why place something permanent on my body, where I will see it every day?  As a commitment.  A necklace or purple hair or a change of clothing is temporary and can be taken on and off or hidden.  This tattoo, for me, and the process of getting it (it took a year of thinking about it before I finally went and did it) is a commitment to the Self and this process of giving myself up to Life.

I do not know what is to come; I do not know how much it will hurt nor how beautiful it could possibly be.  But I am done hiding, I am done making excuses and I am done letting the small self win.  17 years of self-growth, therapy, journaling, meditation, exploration, various spiritual practices, have led me here.  This was not an easy decision nor one made lightly.

The phoenix tattoo is a commitment to that; a commitment to embrace my shadow self, the ashes of the previous incarnations of who I have been.  You can see the specks of these ashes falling from the black shadow phoenix on my arm, representing how impermanent it is.  The firey, re-born phoenix rises behind the shadow self, and flecks of fire come out the top, also representing the impermanence of every re-birth and new self that we become.  We are in constant motion and change. 

I didn’t want just a single phoenix; I needed both, the old and the new; the dark and the light; death and rebirth.  Pain and suffering makes up just as much of me as love and light does.  None of it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  It all just Is.  Just as I simply Am, and do not need to chase one identity or the other, or conform to any single shape.

I am everything; a river in constant motion; a phoenix rising from the ashes.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

autumn raspberry











sweet, tiny fruit
we barely knew you.

autumn came all too soon
and you
fell
unripened.

~

The wind came, wild and cold
and helped us mourn you:

We took you,
in the darkest of nights
with us to the lake.

The waves pounded the shore
the gale pushed back against us
as if all the entirety of the elements had come
to witness the ceremony.

we held you in the palm of our hands
while the winds blew fiercely
and our fingers went numb as we ran out of matches trying to light incense in the wildness.

I guess you didn’t want incense
the wind and waves and darkness were ritual enough.

The waves crashed against the shore and white spray went everywhere,
over us, over you,
baptizing all of us, a family: a very brief family.

~

little one.

we kissed you goodbye
and with all our strength and love
sent you flying out into the night
into the wildness.

All life has meaning.

Even the briefest whisper of life that was yours
gave us motherhood.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

a love poem to the sea.

Nazaré, Portugal
no one else can
bring me so thoroughly to my knees;
knock me over, choking on salt water and
gasping for breath

or lull me
into a trance,
wave swells slowly rocking these
helpless limbs.

She also knows
how to dance with me
and we play,
entranced,
as I dart to and from the lapping waves,
daring Her to reach my feet.

She always lets me think I am winning before
that unexpected surge
crashes
icy cold;

an assertion that
only She
has the last word.

And when I’m
              in Her
and the undulating waters rise high enough to
              fill me
with terror;

I know now
to swim towards that fear
and instead of being knocked over,
drowned,
by Her power,
I instead rise and fall with Her.

Farther from shore, but closer to safety.

She is
the ultimate Mistress.

There is no safeword here.

Instead I must submit
to this rising and falling;
the ebb and the flow;

Let Her consume me, dissolve me, re-shape me.

There is never a reprieve
no rock for this little mermaid’s rest,
until her Mistress is good and ready.



~~~


Monday, September 23, 2019

Goddess
















I will not rest until I have
walked every shoreline
let myself be tumbled by every crashing wave;
soothed by every ripple.

I will not sleep until I know
the song of every bird
the name of every leaf
the depths of every darkness.

I cannot rest
until I have been
drenched by every storm cloud
burned by every flame;
blown by every wild wind,
and been still with every hill and field.

I am infinitely finite,
being re-born again, and again
you do not know Me,
yet You know all of me.

Fall
to your knees,
amidst these fleeting moments,
and know Me, as you have always known
Yourself.

This Mystery.  Reciprocal Worship.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

let go



the unknown
it beckons.  

this cave;
this dark entrance;
an abyss.

You may be the light that
guides me into these depths;

but I am the spark, the song 
that will
show you where to take me.

I am not afraid
of the dark,
of these infinite depths within.

No.

(Then what is causing this trembling,
this infinite reluctance to let go,
this approach and retreat?) -

this Tower
has already crumbled;
this Phoenix
has already been turned to ash.

So.

The fear is of
re-birth;
this re-claiming
of Desire and
strength.
To own the ability to create, and to destroy.

I am ready
to be un-done.

Unravel me
and maybe
I will let you witness
how I weave myself together.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

On Kindness, Politics, and Social Media


PSA:  This is important to me, so I'm writing about it.  I make no claims to speak for anyone else but myself. I am just one person trying to make sense of a crazy world just as much as anyone else is.  Maybe it will help you to read my thoughts and maybe it won't.  

tl;dr :  Let's all be kind to each other and create safe spaces where we can share disagreeing viewpoints without being hurtful towards each other.  





Social media is a strange space. Everyone uses the space in different ways, ones that are too myriad and idiosyncratic to all list.

Typically I have used the Facebook platform to keep up to date with what's happening in the lives of friends and family, to share various photos and other things I find interesting, or to keep in touch with the communities of various specific-interest groups that I belong to (eg. local geocaching groups, Ontario birding, etc). 

Lately I have been sharing a lot of information about current changes in the political landscape in the province that are directly affecting some of the most vulnerable families in our province. These changes are also very worrisome for the future of my chosen profession, and my colleagues and friends are concerned on a number of levels.

In the past I have shied away from posting anything with the potential of being controversial on social media, because I know how quickly things can escalate in a landscape that is largely posturing and where we are disconnected from the very human people behind the words we use.

However, some of the current issues are simply too important to me to stay quiet about.  A Facebook page is like a home, in a way - I say and do whatever I like in my own home, and you are free to leave if you do not like it.  But you are also quite welcome to stay if you disagree with me.

In other words, I will never "unfriend" you if you voted for someone that I do not like.  You are welcome in my space, even if your views are entirely different than mine.  You can comment, you can debate, you can show me facts and statistics and respond to my reasoned arguments with reasoned arguments of your own.  I have very dear friends with strong political views that occasionally verge on being completely opposite to mine.  We debate heatedly, but we also listen to each other very carefully, with complete respect, and occasionally we change each other's minds, or at least make us think about something we never would have otherwise considered.  This is the beauty of living in a democracy.  

When politics becomes polarizing, part of people's intimate identities and even quasi-religious (on BOTH the left and the right), it bewilders me.   But I will never close the door and not listen to your voice just to make myself more comfortable.  There are certain things that I value very highly, and this is one of them.  Occasionally people cross my social-media path who others would perhaps "block" or "unfriend" without a second thought.  And, to be fair, if you come into my home (whether my actual home or my personal social media space) and you insult or bully or are otherwise aggressive towards myself or people I care about, I won't tolerate that.

But if you want to come into my space and disagree with me, tell me why you think my ideas are faulty, show me another side of an argument I may not have considered, share your views with me even if they are completely opposite to mine - you are welcome.  I'll even make you a cup of tea, and we can talk.  And debate.  And argue.  And still care for each other as human beings.

So, I have a simple request:

I will continue posting pretty much whatever I am inclined to post on my social media platforms.  Instagram tends to have more pretty pictures, Twitter tends to be almost entirely politics, this blog is largely travel writing and other musings, and Facebook will continue to be a jumble of all of those things.

If you find you don't agree with something, or want to say a viewpoint that might be unpopular, you are always, always welcome. My only request is that you remember, before hitting "enter", that your words are being said to real people. So think about how you would say it if they were in front of you.  Think about how to disagree and still be kind.  Still acknowledge that whoever you're talking to is human, and just as scared and confused and worried about the world as you are.

I want my home, whether the physical or virtual manifestations of it, to be a safe place for others.  

So, I'll keep sharing, and you keep commenting.  If you disagree, I will hear you, and I'll probably disagree back. Maybe you'll change my mind.  Maybe I'll change yours.  Maybe none of that will happen, but we'll both develop a deeper understanding of the others' viewpoint.  

Be kind to each other out there.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Winter Getaway - Golden Lake, Ontario

I'd forgotten the utter silence of the woods in winter. They are devoid of the usual twittering of birds, mammalian rustles, wind moving leaves.
Nothing moves in the woods in winter. Not right here, right now, anyway. Here on the Lake of Two Rivers trail, in the middle of a sunny February afternoon, everything lies sleeping under 40 inches of snow. The snowshoe trek is exhausting, so I stop periodically to listen. Absolutely nothing. A soothing, trance-like sort of nothing.
*****
I love Ontario. Even though I have been to the expanse of the Serengeti, the remoteness of Iceland, the impressive fjords of New Zealand, the white sand beaches of Fiji, the rich historical streets of Europe, there is nothing quite like this wild province we call home. It was with this in mind that Jen and I booked our most recent trip - a four day getaway about four hours north-east of Toronto (Renfrew County, near Pembroke). As the date of the trip approached, we watched the weather forecast with increasing concern. A massive snowstorm was approaching, and it seemed like it would hit the hardest on Tuesday morning, the day we had planned to leave.
After some quick readjustments and a last-minute search on AirBnB, we decided to leave on Monday night instead, and drive up to Bancroft late after work in order to get ahead of the storm. We had reached out to Aileen of Suite in the Bush, who kindly accommodated us at the last minute, including setting things up so we could check ourselves in around midnight, as it was the earliest we could get there after work.
Night driving long distances is something that I find soothing - makes me nostalgic for the days when I used to drive to Ottawa every Friday night for choir rehearsal. Once we got out of the city, there was hardly anyone else on the roads, and when there was, I'd calmly let them pass us. We were in bright spirits, happy to be heading on a mini-vacation after almost a year since our last one. We arrived at Suite in the Bush just before midnight, and entered our little home-away-from-home apartment quietly so as to not wake our hosts who lived in the main house above. The apartment was very warm and cozy when we entered, as they had stocked up the wood stove for us. We loved all the personal touches, from the basket of snacks, the cold drinks in the fridge, the super-soft king-sized bed, the option to make hot chocolate, and the lovely decor. We were also surprised by the breakfast menu, full of different delicious options to choose from for the next morning.

After settling in for the night, we slept quite soundly and were ready for our homemade breakfast upstairs in the host's kitchen for 9am. Jen had selected a grilled croissant filled with cream cheese and strawberries, and I had french toast. It was very nice to meet our host and chat while she prepared us our yummy meals. There was also plenty of coffee, fruit, yogurt, and fruit juice to have while we waited. We felt like we were in a luxurious hotel rather than someone's home!
After saying goodbye to our host, we were on the road again, headed in the direction of Killaloe (where Beavertails were invented!). The sun was shining and the skies were clear. As we checked our phones for the weather in Toronto and saw the mess the city was in, we were even more grateful we had made the last-minute decision to drive up a night early.
After getting some last minute supplies in Killaloe, we made our way to our final destination for the next three nights, a small little cabin on Golden Lake. The snow was just starting to fall as we arrived, and we were grateful that our host already had the cabin ready for us and allowed an early check-in! After parking the car, we settled into our charming little cabin, and got fully prepared to be snowed in.

Jen playing on the frozen lake

The next morning, everything was covered in a huge blanket of snow. We made our breakfast leisurely and then made our way over to Greystone's office, where free-for-use snowshoes had been left thoughtfully outside so we could explore. There was a small patch of woods on the property, so we didn't have to go far.
It took us a while to get our “snow legs”, as snowshoeing in knee-deep snow was more challenging than we thought it would be. We both fell a few times, trying to get our bearings. We didn't mind – the snow was fluffy and soft, the sun was shining brightly in the sky, and the woods beckoned us forwards.
With my longer legs, I found it slightly easier to get through the deep snow and so I uncharacteristically led the way, creating a path for Jen so she would have a bit of an easier time. We looked all around us for evidence of life, but it seems all the creatures were still asleep or hanging out elsewhere – not a single track disturbed the pure white blanket all around us. We wandered for an hour, trying to follow what we felt like was a very faint path that was slightly indented in the tall snow – or perhaps it was an illusion and we were just forging our own. Regardless, we stumbled upon some interesting structures, likely belonging to the camp that the map shows nearby.
After our adventure, we went back to the cabin to warm up, have a snack, and then head out to Jen's car. The snowstorm had partially covered the vehicle, and the snowplow had done the rest – three sides of the car were almost completely snow-covered! We got to work with our shovels and spent about an hour digging the car. Back home this would have quite annoyed us, but since we were on vacation it just added to the fun adventure! Getting the car out was complicated by the layer of thick ice under the wheels that kept the wheels spinning, but we persevered and finally, exhausted and wet and cold but elated, the car was free! We high-fived, and headed into the little cabin to have a well-deserved late lunch.

Algonquin was the adventure for the next day, and headed out to the Visitor's Centre which was about an hour's drive from the cabin. We checked in with staff to see which trails were open and accessible, and spent some time watching the winter birds at the feeders out back before heading out to the snowshow trail.




The trail we had chosen was moderately challenging for a snow-shoe hike, and we went slowly but steadily forward through the trees, thankful for the well-packed trail that we could follow.
The trail was a beautiful winter wonderland, and our slow pace allowed us to take it all in even more. Being present in each moment (mindfulness) is always so much easier for me when I am away from the fast-pace of every day life. Here, in these silent woods, it's so much easier to let my body settle into the way the deep green needled branches hang heavy with snow; let the soft dee-dees of chickadees all around us consume my hearing; let the cold air fill my lungs.


My personal and work life may currently be in an extreme state of anxiety-inducing chaos, but here, in these woods, in this moment, looking out over the white, grey, blue, and green of the ravine and the frozen river below, I have a small reprieve from that. Those things are not here. Only this moment, this breath, is.
***
No winter Valentine's week adventure is complete without a fancy dinner, and Alton Brown's delicious Steak-au-Poivre recipe, paired with garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes and gently steamed green beans, did not fail to disappoint.
We drank wine, sat by the gas fireplace playing board games, and adapted quickly to the slower rhythm of a snowy winter getaway. We couldn't have picked a more perfect cabin, with the beautiful frozen lake right outside our window and very lovely hosts who even offered to mail our forgotten lens cap back home to us! Another place to add to our list of places to return to when we don't have time to venture too far from home.
Mystery large animal tracks (?) the frozen lake






View from the cabin at frozen Golden Lake during the snow storm