Thursday, 16 July 2015

Good Morning

Some mornings I am completely seduced by the allure of reading.  The "to do" list written prominently on the blackboard by my kitchen clamours for my attention, but I ignore it.  Healthy Me tugs at my conscience, whispering in my ear that I should really go for a walk, but I pretend not to hear her.  Instead, I stay in my pyjamas, brew a pot of coffee, and settle in to read.
I'm book-wealthy just now, having made a trip to the library this week and then been given books as well, and this morning their siren call was impossible to ignore.  I curled up on the couch, plucked the first book from the top of the pile and settled in, dividing my attention between my book and the sunrise scene coming into view outside my front window.
The novel, a detective mystery, was action-filled and interesting, busy with sinister villains and a complicated plot. 
The sunrise was exactly the opposite. 
The sky grew paler at its edges and then began to blush. faint pink spreading upwards from the hilltops. It caught the trails of cloud just above, and deepened into something altogether different - a vivid fuschia limned at the bottom with an edge of glowing phosphorus - then continued its gradual flow of colour across the sphere above. 
The book drew me back again.  The family dogs, stolen by the villain's henchmen, were in danger.  Would they survive?
I read on until the changing light once again drew my eyes from the page.  The view from the window was magical:  the clouds had gathered together to form a few tall cumulus stacks - orange shadowed with lavender grey - that sailed upon a sea of pink and mauve.  
As transitory as a single breath, the colour in the sky began to fade, not disappearing so much as growing quiet. The clouds settled into shades of peach and grey, the blush behind them receding, giving way to the palest, most delicate of blues.  Peach faded to yellow, then brightened to white, and the sun, having made its appearance above the shoulder of the hill, shone directly in my window.
On the power lines across the street, a crowd of raucous crows shouted their morning news across the neighbourhood while a covey of mourning doves in the tree beside my balcony hoo-hoooed a gentler good morning to each other. 
A breeze came dancing down the street, ruffling leaves as it passed my way, and in its wake the neighbourhood woke up. 
The ginger cat who owns the family across the street climbed onto the roof, arranged itself so it could drape front paws and head over the edge, then settled in to watch its humans enjoy coffee on the steps just below.
Two women, with the serious stride of those who walk for exercise, strode along the pavement discussing their plans for the day.
The first city bus of the day went by, mostly empty, a few seats occupied by still-sleepy passengers leaning their heads against the window as they nodded their way towards their destinations.
An old man walked a tiny, perfectly groomed white dog towards the park, pausing patiently every few feet to allow his small friend to sniff fence posts and shrubs.  Both took their time; the man gazing at the scenery around him, the dog gathering news of other pets who'd passed this way before him.
My heart, quieted by the peaceful scene outside, told my spirit that all was right with the world, then urged me back to bed. I set the book aside, - heroes and villains could wait a while - tucked myself in, and drifted back to sleep.
However your day has begun today - busy or quiet or some balance between the two - and whatever your plans may be, I hope you find a peaceful moment in which to enjoy the gifts it brings you, and to shelter in the calm.  Have a joyful Thursday.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Good Morning

I woke well before dawn this morning, the stars still bright in the arching cobalt bowl above, the air blessedly cool, and decided to watch the sunrise from one of my favourite spots at the lake.  I quickly dressed, filled my backpack with breakfast and camera, and set out to walk there. 

The streets - usually loud and busy in my neighbourhood - were quiet.  Only the occasional car whisked by. Here and there along the way, yellow light spilled out from kitchen windows: early risers preparing for the day.

By the time I'd left the houses behind to walk along the edges of the marsh, the first blush of morning had appeared above the hills to the east and the chorus of birds that each day announces the coming of dawn was in full voice.  Hidden among the low bushes, scrubby trees, and tall golden grass that are the marsh this drought-y summer, they made their presence known in a volume that only sheer numbers can bring, each tiny set of lungs filling with the morning air and exhaling song upon the softness of the breeze.

When I reached the lake the sky was lightening, scarfed with wispy cloud, and tinged with pale blue, peach, and butter yellow, all reflected on the water, the edges of the landscape blurred by rising mist.

I unpacked my breakfast, poured my tea, and settled in to watch and listen.

I was surrounded by a choir of frogs.  From their seats among the lily pads their voices rose together, discordant, ranging from high pitched ribbits to something as unmelodic as the twanging of a rubber band; all matched in their enthusiasm for this morning conversation.

Fish rose for the morning bite, an occasional flash of silver above the misted water; more often a quiet "plop," leaving concentric ripples in its wake.  A kingfisher, perched on the railing nearby, watched them intently before diving to pluck his breakfast from just beneath the shining surface of the lake.

Two otters surfaced just beyond the edge of the lilies, and regarded me with curiosity.  Then, having decided I was not a threat, swam by and climbed onto the shore, disappearing lightning-quick into the thicket of willow that overhangs the water's edge.

A heron, resting unnoticed on the nearby trestle, took wing and passed not six feet overhead, the creamy-yellow undersides of his wings glowing in the not-quite-sunrise light.

And still we sat, the chorusing birds, the choir of frogs, and I, to greet the sun as it rose above the blue hills to the east.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Good Morning

I've traveled the road to the bay so many times it is as familiar to me as breathing and yet, still, each time I wend my way along it, it offers me new gifts. 

Today the roadsides are cottage gardens. A tangle of blackberries and wild morning glory form the hedge, the bright white trumpets of the morning glory flowers turning their faces to the sun while beside them clusters of berries ripen in various stages, acid green, and red, and deep almost-black purple all found together in each single cluster.  In front of the tangle, expanses of tall golden grass are trimmed with roundels of white Queen Anne's lace dancing in the morning breeze, while magenta vetch, ragged blue chicory, and tall clumps of bright yellow tansy crowd up against the edges of the pavement. 

Here and there, accidental fruit trees grow, sewn by birds or by careless passers-by who've tossed away their apple cores or plum pits and left them there to grow.  The trees are heavy with fruit now, their newest branches so laden that they bend like bows, arching towards the grass below.  Small green apples, thumb sized pears, clusters of bright red plums hanging like grapes among burgundy red leaves all promise abundance in the months to come.

Our unusual weather has caused many forest fires and the sky is hazed with smoke.  It's a worry but - as with everything in nature - the smoke brings its own gifts too.  The skies both morning and evening are intensely coloured, and the landscape washed with filtered, golden light. 

This morning, the newly risen sun washed the sky above the bay with lavender and apricot, reflected in the dancing ripples of the breeze ruffled waters below.

I ate my breakfast picnic at a table in the park and watched the morning unfold: 

Barn swallows and purple martins swooped and soared in an intricate dance above the shallows.

Gulls wheeled overhead, uncharacteristically quiet, as if they too were taken in by the morning's majesty. 

Small brown rabbits peeked at me from the edges of the undergrowth and then, when I'd been still for long enough, ventured out onto the grass to continue with their morning meal before fading silently into the shadows once again as an eagle swept by overhead.

The eagle, for one single, breathless moment, hung perfectly silhouetted against the pastel sky, great wings outstretched in flight so seeming effortless I was surprised by how quickly it was gone.

A single fish jumped in the deeper water, the circular ripples left by its course making a contrasting pattern on the satin surface of the bay.

A heron stood across the way, perfectly still, a totem to patience and calm planted at the water's edge.

The village had not yet stirred.  There were no human voices, no passing cars to mar the perfect quiet of the moment. 

Peace settled itself on my shoulders like a blanket.

My breathing slowed.  My heartbeat calmed.

I made my way home slowly along the winding road.

I wish you a happy day today.  Whatever it may bring you, I hope you find a quiet moment or two to enjoy the beauty that surrounds you.  Open this Friday like a gift, enjoying both the wonder of its wrapping and the worth of the treasures found within.

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.