Pages

Friday, 5 December 2014

Good Morning

The swans are back.  

We watch for them every winter, anticipating their return to our fields, lakes, and sea shores; the southern end of their annual migration. They begin to arrive at the end of November, a few more each day, until - quite suddenly, it seems - there are large flocks of them gathered throughout the valley.

This morning our grey weather has returned.  The brief, snowy interlude has passed, and it is raining.  The clouds are so low that the mountains that encircle our valley seem to have disappeared, and the mist rising from the forest blurs the boundary between land and sky.

Farm fields, edged in tall dark ranks of fir and spruce, hold silvery mist in their hollows, the swans appearing like ghosts within it. Adolescent cygnets, still soft grey, can disappear entirely into the the translucent swirls, appearing again like apparitions right before you.

The lake, its waters perfectly still, reflects the silver sky above so perfectly that you can see the clouds more distinctly by looking down than you can by gazing up.  

Along the shore, swans mingle with geese and ducks, the elder statesmen of the waterfowl world, maintaining their aloof dignity even as their neighbours squabble and gossip all around them. Less than graceful on the strand, they move into the water and transform from stolid matriarchs and rounded worthies to something more akin to angels.  

A flotilla of grand, white birds sails across the water; silent, graceful, its movement so smooth that it barely ripples the surface. They don't take from the reflection of the sky, but add to it:  A symmetry of silver and white, forming perfect heart-shaped Valentines each time a head is lowered to touch the water's surface.

I am not their only audience.  

Heron sentries posted along the edges of the water pause from their quest for small silver fish and raise their heads to watch the swans sail past.  

Gulls, ever noisy and inquisitive, swoop and dive around them, and are completely disregarded.  

An eagle circles overhead and then settles in the bare top of a tall, dark fir tree, his keen yellow eyes watching their progress as the flotilla sails beside the shore.

There is a sort of peace to be found in regarding these creatures, in feeling the rain on my face, in watching the movement of the birds, and in admiring the quiet beauty of the scenery. I am reluctant to leave it. My fingers grow cold so I stow my camera and don my gloves.  I open my umbrella.  And still I stand and watch, and listen, until I know I can linger no more.

I return to the warmth of my car, and then to the warmth of my house, grateful for my time with the swans this morning, and for the camera which allows me to save their images for another time.  I make a cup of tea and get breakfast on the stove. I return to the routines of my day.

This afternoon when the sun is setting, I'll see the swans again. They'll wing past my window on their commute from estuary to inland fields, still as silent as ghosts, and seeming to glow in the light of the lowering sky:  A gift of the season.

I hope that wherever you are today, and whatever you are doing, you'll find the time to pause, and look, and listen to the world around you.  I hope that the gifts of the season are yours to unwrap, and that they warm your heart, capture your imagination, and lift your spirits.  Have a joyful day.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Good Morning


Something fairly amazing happened here this weekend:  On Thursday, we had record high temperatures, but then the weather changed and on Saturday morning we woke to snow.

Two things happen when it snows here:

The first is that drivers panic, and with some good reason.  Our mild temperatures mean wet snow that packs into a layer of ice, and day-time thaws in sunny areas followed by night-time freezes can turn our streets into asphalt skating rinks.  When you combine that with the fact that, because we have so few snow days each year, few drivers here buy snow tires, you get some fairly spectacular results. 

Wise drivers choose to stay off the roads as much as they can on snowy days, making the busy streets outside my home much quieter than usual. That quiet announces the presence of snow before we even look out the window.  We are always grateful for it.

The second thing that happens on a snowy day is that people go outside.  We know that the snow will last but a few days before the rains return, and we want to enjoy the landscape's brief but oh-so-beautiful transformation.  Parks are busy with children at play, and walking trails see a lot of traffic.

The trails are still quiet, though, in the early light of a weekday morning and, although the centre of the trail has been well travelled, the snow on either side is largely untouched by human traffic.  It tells the tale of forest creatures coming and going across its expanses; the story narrated in footprints of birds, deer, raccoons by a pond, and even this morning a single bear, who made his way up the steep hill beside the trestle, used it to cross the river and then headed down the hill on the other side.

Most of the forest near the trail is coniferous.  The broad fans of evergreen branches catch the snow and the needles hold it, making layers of white and deep green that follow the contours of the hillside in a rhythm; a Christmas-card-perfect picture of winter.  

In places there are alder groves, their silvered trunks rising from the blue shadowed snow like swift brush strokes on watercolour paper, ending in branches as delicate a tracery as lace.  

Near the water, the cottonwoods crowd, their bare branches holding the snow as they reach out over iron-grey water.

This morning I hear the high pitched scree scree of two eagles calling to one another from the tree tops. Their white heads and black feathers make effective camouflage in the winter scenery. Even following the sound of their voices, I'm unable to distinguish them amid the snow and branches. 

Content to know that they are there, I cease looking for the eagles and carry on along the trail, my patience rewarded by the sight of a magnificent, white-headed giant, soaring along beside me at shoulder level as it follows the course of the canyon below.

On my way home, I pass by vineyards, the grapevines bare and sculptural now; black twisted arches marching in rows across rolling white fields.  The yards are edged by willow, its yellow ochre twigs standing out against the monochrome of snow.

In a sheltered field near the road, a flock of swans are breakfasting on the grass beneath the snow.  They've chosen a spot where the snow layer is thin but, even so, they blend with the landscape. Were it not for the soft grey cygnets among them, I might not have noticed them at all.

Overhead, great flocks of geese pass by on their morning commute from inland fields to estuary.  They are growing in number now, our year-round residents joined by their migratory cousins, with vees that sometimes number close to a hundred. They're flying very high this morning, far enough above that I can't hear their calls but near enough for me to admire their swift-moving silhouettes against the pale blue and shell pink of the early morning sky.

I'll continue to enjoy the flights of geese and swans as they wing past my window while I work today, grateful for the theatre nature so generously provides.  I'll pause now and then to sit in the sunny spot at the end of my couch and watch the world go by. I'll admire the way the snow crowns roses in the garden, and smile at children making snow angels on our yet-untrammelled lawn.  I'll enjoy the contrast of comfortable warmth and chilly view, and savour this snowy day for the special treat it is.

I hope that your morning has been a happy one, that your busy-ness has room in it for quiet and reflection, and that the day brings you a thousand small gifts you can unwrap with the anticipation of wonder. Have a joyful Monday.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Good Morning


The weather is changing.  The soft grey flannel overcast of first light was torn into streamers by a chill breeze, then swept away to reveal blue sky studded with puffy clouds of white and dark grey. There are large clouds looming in the south east: a great bank of leaden grey, as heavy and substantial as a wall.  The sun, still quite low in the sky, breaks beneath them and above the hills rimming the valley, to shine a warm-hued spotlight on field and forest.

The temperature has dropped and the wind's cool gusts make me tuck my neck down further into the warm folds of my scarf.  I can feel the moisture in the breeze on my cheeks and my fingertips tingle when I remove my gloves to use my camera.  

On the marsh at the edge of the estuary, rushes and golden grass are distinct in their outlines, perfectly drawn against a background of bare branches and blue hills.  The surface of the water changes constantly:  still and mirror-perfect one moment, stirred into dancing ripples the next.  No ducks light upon it but patient herons, spaced like sentries, fish along the edges of the river channels, so still that one can miss them entirely until - suddenly - they strike, and lift their heads from the water again, their beaks holding wriggling silver-bright fish.

Geese and swans fly overhead, on their way to the fields beside the bay, where they will breakfast on the rich green grass made lush by autumn's rain before venturing out into the protected waters of the bay.  

Such a contrast between the two birds:  The geese travelling in great, noisy, somewhat disorganised skeins that ravel and unravel as they move in flight, the swans so silent you can hear the swish of their wings when they pass overhead, maintaining position in perfectly symmetrical vees.  On the ground they intermingle; a great crowd of large birds all intent on finding their morning meal, but still distinct, the geese's browns and greys blending into the landscape, the swans' bright white glowing against the emerald green background of the fields.  In the water, both assume an almost unworldly grace, moving as smoothly and precisely as if set to music.

There are gulls too: Incessantly noisy, greedy creatures, they gather in number wherever food might be found.  I have no love of their noise, but have to admire their strong instinct for survival, and I can't draw my eyes away from them when they are in flight. They play with the wind as if it were a living thing (which indeed it is), flying into the face of it and then letting it hold them suspended, or carry them in a swooping dance along the great sweeping curves of its current.

Along the edges of the trail that follows the top of the estuary dike, bright red rose hips are an abundance, suspended jewel-like at the ends of crimson branches, in brilliant contrast to the few vivid yellow leaves clinging to the brambles.  Among them, the dried remains of tansy and Queen Anne's lace sway in the breeze; sticks crowned with tiaras.  I gather some.  Their sculptural shapes are hard to resist and, placed in a tall vase, will make a pleasing arrangement for my living room.

In the village beside the bay, people are busying themselves with the first errands of the day.  They make their way from the bakery - its windows steamy from the heat of the bread ovens - to the cheese monger, to the fish shop, and on to buy some wine: most of life's essentials and a few sweet luxuries all to be found within a few short steps of one another. This is the time of day to pause and greet friends or to daydream over a cup of morning coffee while admiring a view of the water.

Some of us will head further down the road when our errands are done: Past farm fields glittering with a morning dew so heavy that at first glance it might seem like frost; past flocks of sheep, grazing heads-down in grass so tall that their rounded backs appear as dun and grey hillocks spaced across the acreage; past contented cows, huddled together, their breath making soft white clouds in the morning light.  

The road will wind around again, and cross the highway - its course as crooked as a brook - past more farms, another small village, and a century old church, its yard full of stones that tell the valley's history.  

The road narrows there to a single lane, passing under a railway bridge almost as old as the church, and then across a wooden bridge that offers only a single lane for traffic but a wide walkway for those on foot; a remnant of a simpler time.  Beneath it, the river - so low in the summer you could walk across it without wetting your knees - runs full and swift, eddying in small whirlpools near its banks.

I continue on, past farms and vineyards, and forest and field, over another bridge, into town, and home again; a circle of some miles.  

The sun has broken through again and, although I am reluctant to end my morning's travels, I climb the stairs, grateful for the broad windows in my living room that bring the light and air indoors.  I'll settle to my chores now, pausing once in a while to listen to the quiet, and to accept with gratitude the beauty of the view.

Whatever the weather where you are, and whatever the view from your window, I hope you find the opportunity to pause now and then and listen to the quiet, to breathe deeply and draw in both calm and happiness, and to appreciate the gifts your time and place have offered you.  Have a joyful day.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Good Morning

It looks like November today: Not the November of bright blue skies we've had this year, but the Novembers remembered from years past - grey and moody and a little bit dark. 

It's not raining but there is so much moisture in the air that when you step outside your cheeks are kissed with a fine mist, not cold but cool, and so gentle that you want to tip your head back and drink it in.  That mist, imperceptible to the eye when near at hand, gathers in the distance to wreath hilltops and tall trees in scarves of soft dove grey.  It seems a living thing, rising wraith-like in streamers from the woods to join the clouds above.

The colours of the landscape are more subdued at this time of year, but they are there still:  scarlet rose hips and the crimson branches of the dogwood, delicate huckleberry branches tipped in deep pink, ochre grasses edging the roadsides, and everywhere a million shades of green, from the palest silver green of old-man's-beard lichen hanging from the bare silvered branches of ancient maple trees to the dark blue green of the spruces in the deep forest, all of them rendered more vivid against the grey background of the sky.

The fields seem impossibly green on a day like this; shockingly alive against the still pewter background, their rolling expanses populated by stolid cattle and busy geese, all eating their morning salads.  

The swans are back, standing out in bright white groups among the greens and greys. We watch for them each November and are always delighted by their return.  They're one of the joys of winter here, and the first sight of them winging silently above the estuary lifts my heart more surely and simply than any Christmas light or decorated tree might do.  They are majestic and, when lit in flight by early morning light or setting sun, nothing short of magical.

The maples and oaks, white-trunked alders, and tall cottonwoods are all bare now, encircled by carpets of fallen leaves not yet returned to the soil.  Their branches reach up to the dove grey sky, seeming to grow less solid the higher they reach, turning from pillar, to beam, to filigree.

Once the leaves fall, the small details of the landscape draw my eye.  Moss gardens flourish on grey granite outcroppings and wrap tree trunks and branches in inch-thick velvet.  Lichen in a thousand different forms flourishes among the moss.  Tiny mushrooms pop up overnight, conjuring images of faeries dancing in the morning dew. I find myself pausing again and again on my walks and leaning in; admiring each small frond of fern, each tiny mushroom gill, each jewelled droplet of mist caught on the edges of the grass.

I return home from my walks with fewer things in my foraging basket at this time of year, but with a full heart and a calm spirit. I am often soaked to the skin and always grateful our warm home, dry clothes, and a cup of hot tea around which to warm my fingers.  

I curl up on the couch and review the sights of the day, often getting out pencils and paper to capture images from my walk while they're still fresh in my mind.  Then, with appreciation for the gifts of the day, I stir myself to begin my chores.

Whatever the weather where you are, and whatever this Monday brings you, I hope you are able to find a few small moments to gather your gifts around you.  Enjoy them with a grateful heart.  

Have a joyful day.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Good Morning


It's a double-sock, warm sweater, scarf-wearing kind of day here. Cold! (Or as least as cold as it ever really gets in my corner of the world.)

Hard frost has dressed the landscape in white lace and diamonds and ground mist rises to wrap it in a gauzy white scarf.  For a few brief moments after it appeared over the shoulder of the mountain, the sun, shining through the mist, painted the clear sky a pale lemon yellow.  It's faded to the palest blue now: beautiful in a way that wants me to reach gloved hands out towards it, and to bundle up and go outside.

In the garden, the moisture in the ground has frozen, forming the soil into small crystal-capped columns of surprsingly consistent shape.  They make a mosic floor around the tough chrysanthemums who bravely bloom despite the chill, their warm fall colours contrasting with the morning's whites and greys.  

The huge, dried, deep-berry-purple heads of the hydrangea bush are gorgeous.  Each small flower edged with a layer of frost crystal fur that sparkles when the light catches it.

House sparrows shelter in the hydrangeas, cheeping brightly to one another as they flit from branch to branch.  From time to time they dart across the empty street to roost in the tall holly tree, where they breakfast on the bright red berries.

Crows perch on the telephone wires.  Not their usual raucous selves this morning, they seem to be conserving energy as they wait for the sun's presence to be felt.  When they do speak, their rusty voices are made visible by white clouds of condensation.

It is a day to keep hands thrust deeply into pockets.  I draw my scarf up closer to my chin and my toque down further over my ears as I walk towards the river.  My boots leave yellow footprints where they lift the frost from the mat of fallen cottonwood leaves beneath my feet.  

I clumb to the trail at the top of the dyke and, from there, I can see - even through the row of silver tree trunks that lines the river bank - mist rising from the water like steam from my tea kettle.  Just barely visible through the mist, a single, hardy fisherman is casting his line into the deep back eddy where Grandfather Trout often hides. I wonder if he'll catch him?

Most of the leaves have fallen now  When I look up into the branches that arch over the trail, I see not the green and yellow stained glass canopy that greeted me just a week ago, but instead, an intricate, interlaced filligree of wrought iron.  Through its openings an eagle is visible, circling overhead.  Its scree-scree-scree carries on the crystal air as it calls to a companion roosted in the top branches of a snag on the far bank.

It's time to gather rosehips, and I have my foraging bag with me.  It fills quickly, a bounty of bright red that looks impossibly cheerful; a promise of warming teas and tasty jelly spread on toast at my winter table. Preparing the hips for drying will be my first chore of the day.

Foraging bag brimming, I continue down the trail beside ice covered expanses of shallow water, left by last month's rains  The ice is patterned by successive freezes into a swirling arrangement that summons to mind 1960's psychadelia. 

My path circles back towards home, along the sidewalks of our neighbourhood. I pause to admire roses, still blooming, their petals edged in crystal, and back yard gardens of sturdy kale and brussels sprouts.  It takes a dedicated gardener to work the soil when winter comes, but these are their rewards.

Once home, I put the kettle on.  Hot tea! In a big ceramic mug I can wrap my hands around.  It warms my fingers.  A perfect beginning to the day.

Whatever the weather where you are, and whatever your plans, I hope your day brings you the gift of cozy comfort, a few quiet moments in which to enjoy the beauty around you, the blessings of companionship, and a joyful heart. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Good Morning

Our days this week have been a series of blue crystal beads strung on the necklace of autumn, clear, and perfect, and catching the sunlight on every faceted surface. 

The sun sits at a lower angle in the sky at this time of year, and its light is different.  It catches the edges of things, outlining every newly-bared branch in phosphourous white, shining through coloured leaves as if lighting a cathedral window, plating the trunks of alder and cottonwood with platinum and gold, and brightening the woodland's mossy velvet  into vivid green, delightfully detailed miniature forests.

Geese fly low in the sky, their chests and under-wings highlighted by the almost-horizontal rays, soft and smooth as old burnished pewter, each feather clearly visible, seeming so close that I might reach out and touch them.  They are headed to the estuary to feast on rich grasses and small fish.

Along the roadsides, heavy dew clings to the delicate red branches of huckleberry bushes, the tiara-crowned remains of Queen Anne's lace, and tall, gold stocks of grass.  It glints and sparkles with bright light and miniature rainbows as I walk by.

Farm fields are almost impossibly green - the kind of emerald attributed to Ireland - born of recent rain and new growth; lush, abundant, they roll into hillocks and tumble into dells as they follow the shape of the land.  Now and again I spot a small gathering of deer, breakfasting in the fields, at leisure in the sunshine.

The lake is polished glass, perfectly mirroring both the clear sky above and the hills and trees around it, the stillness broken at the edges by gatherings of ducks.  The reeds at the water's edge are busy with red winged black birds.  Remarkably quick, they flit from spot to spot, lighting for only a moment before moving on.

It is cool enough this morning to make my fingers tingle and to chill the tip of my nose bright pink.  I'm grateful for my warm hat and wishing for my camera, left behind this morning to encourage me to simply pause and enjoy what's been given us.  And I am enjoying it. There is so much to see, to hear, to experience that my walk has left me with the same feeling of fullness I experience when pushing my chair back from the table after a good meal.  It's a luxury, this feeling.

My pace slows as I walk, and it takes me much longer to make my way back to the house than it did to leave it.  My pulse slows, my mind quiets, and my spirits lift.  The tight fist of tension I held within me unfurls, and my spirit opens fingers, then hands, then arms to the glory of the day.  This is not the surge of excitement a person feels when embarking upon a new adventure, but it is joy; the quiet kind that sneaks up on you, the kind you suddenly realize, regard with mild amazement, and treasure before it slips away again, as fleeting as the blackbird's flight.  And like the blackbird, I will remember its quicksilver presence again and again throughout the day.

I wish you joy today too, and moments of brightness and beauty.  I hope you feel their darting presence wherever you are today, and that you're able to pause a moment to let them lighten your heart.  

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Good Morning

If November had a poster child, I imagine it would be a day like today.  It dawned clear blue and cold, with a breeze strong enough to cause the tops of the trees to sway and dance in the morning light. 

Most of the maples and plums have shed their leaves but the huge cottonwoods down the road cling stubbornly to their gold foliage and, in the yard across from me a picture-perfect pear tree boasts both green leaves and lush, golden fruit.  

There is a fully leafed tree directly opposite my window.  Its heart shaped leaves are varied shades of green and yellow. The sun is directly behind it right now, and the leaves glowing: Nature's stained glass.  They flutter in the breeze, entrancing in their grace.

Bevies of small birds swoop and glide from tree to tree, breakfasting upon bright red holly berries and the orange fruit of both pyracanthus and mountain ash. There are other berries too: The black olive-like fruit of neatly trimmed laurel hedges stands in perfect contrast to the pure white of unruly wild snowberries flourishing in the cottonwood groves.  Beside them, wild roses weave medieval tapestries; ruby hips glowing at the tips of golden branches.

A congress of crows has gathered this morning on the telephone wires, raucous in their conversation as they begin their day with a good gossip. They break suddenly and I look up to see an eagle soaring overhead, riding the cold wind in spirals, its wings extended motionless as it rides the currents upward.  It is headed towards the river, uninterested in crows when there are salmon for the taking.

A group of children passes by below, on their way to school, dressed now in winter coats and, for the first time this fall, I see mittened hands.  The girls wear brightly coloured tights beneath their skirts but there are no snow boots yet.  Instead, running shoes of almost every hue - some neon-bright - clad feet that seem too large for such small people.  They'll grown into them soon enough, I'm sure.  :)

I sit drinking my first cup of coffee, savouring its comforting warmth while making a list for the day ahead. Only three items on my list:  Do the laundry, sew an apron, work on a card design. A list of three is all I allow myself on any given day.  Within that limit lies the hope that I might actually finish my chores before I go to bed.  

I hear my fella stirring now.  He sleeps longer since his illness, but he'll join me soon.  Time to ready breakfast and begin my day, but I will pause again, I'm sure, to enjoy the sunshine and the view. 

However you spend your day today, I hope you'll find some quiet moments too.  Whatever the weather where you are, I hope you find some small seasonal gifts to lighten your spirits. 

Have a joyful day.