Saturday, 24 June 2017

Life Lessons in the Garden

Gardening season is in full swing, and so  I’ve been wondering what the garden might have to tell me. I've been listening carefully, and it seems to me there are lessons in among the dirt, the plants, and the bugs, lessons that apply to life if we just open our hearts and listen.

1. Even ugly things have their uses.

Gardeners know that you need to let the daffodils and tulips die down completely if you want them to bloom again next year. The dying leaves, though not attractive, have a purpose: they store up nutrition for the bulb. If you remove them too early, just so things look nice and tidy, you won’t get much bloom next year.

I think about this as I recover from a time of mild depression and grieving. How tempting it is to censor the sadness, to tidy it up and put it away and move on. But the process takes time and needs to complete its work to be effective. I need to believe that deep down, new life is being prepared, to burst into bloom in the spring.

2. Stuff will fill a vacuum.

Strange as it may seem, gardening is not just about tending the growing things, but also tending the empty spaces.

When we left for our camping trip, the RS cleaned up the garden to within an inch of its life. But when we returned after 10 days, the weeds had sprouted everywhere. It took a few days of hard work to get things back into shape.

Empty spaces in a garden  are important – they allow air to circulate, for instance, and define borders. Empty spaces in our lives are important too, creating areas of rest and peace. But it sure is easy to fill up the empty spaces with junk – meaningless entertainment, mindless distractions and more –  if we are not careful.

3. Not every seed will grow and thrive.

Our green bean plot has been a huge failure this year. We planted lots of seeds, knowing some wouldn’t sprout because they were infertile. But only a very few came up, and the cutworms got those. Many of the failed seeds were eaten by unseen predators of the buggy kind who live underground, doing their nasty work in the dark.

When I look around at my art projects, or any creative work I’ve done, I realize that much that was begun in hope and anticipation never did bear fruit. This is a hard lesson to bear. I wish everything in life had a happy ending. Not so. I do believe that nothing is wasted -- just as in the garden the cutworms and sow bugs grow from our generosity, I too grow and learn from the aborted projects that are in my closet.

There’s still time this summer  to plant a bean patch in a different spot. Perhaps at the end of the summer I’ll be able to post a photo of a pot of beans. Or maybe not. That’s life.

4. Unexpected guests can add a great deal of beauty and delight  to life. (But you have to let them in the door.)
The sunflowers (foreground) and the foxgloves both are uninvited guests in our garlic patch. Both add charm and beauty.
 Foxgloves are unexpected guests in a West Coast garden. They spring up where you never planted. Your garden is all nicely planned, and then, there they are: in the middle of the garlic, on the edge of the fishpond, horning in on the potato patch. So, like the unexpected guests who show up on your doorstep just when you had other plans for the day, you make a choice. Go with the flow, or go with the plan. Each has its benefits. But as for me, I’ll go with the flow – I love these unexpected visitors, who provide beauty and delight,  and as a bonus, a whole lot of nectar for the bees.

5. If you feed them, they will come.

This flicker visits occasionally.
We’ve added a new feeder to our garden this year, with better food and a new design. And of course, the ripening berries are a big attraction too, as well as the water flowing into the pond. The birds that are now filling our yard resemble the landing strip at Pearson International Airport, zooming in, taking off, jockeying for landing rights: chipping and house sparrows, pine siskins, goldfinches, hummingbirds, a blackheaded grosbeak, chickadees, juncos, robins, towhees, a nuthatch, and a flicker; even a pileated woodpecker made a brief stopover.

So if you feed them, they will come. Any parent of grown kids and any party planner knows this is true. Lay on a feast, and they’re there. And that adds a lot of pleasure to life.

There’s one more lesson I learned, by accident, for which I will not share a photo. It’s this: if you accidentally step in dog poop (a grand-dog's unexpected deposit), the stink will follow you around for a long time. No further elaboration needed, methinks.

I posted something similar in an earlier blog (“Crow on the Go in the Garden,” May 10, 2014) .

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Bucket List Musings

No, no, it’s not Saturday.

I know that this post is totally out of whack –normally the crow squawks only on the weekend. And lately, she has grown silent, anyway, so why post this in the middle of the week, and why post at all?

So I’ll explain: it’s my birthday today, and I get to do whatever I want. I sent the RS off to his normal Tuesday activity, the woodcarving group,  even though he offered to stay home and help me celebrate. He started my day right by bringing in the first rose of summer, and I know there's several bottles of wine to choose from when Happy Hour arrives, and then there's tickets to a concert with Murray MacLaughlan, so that's all good. But first, I need some alone time.

He’s perhaps a little hurt that I would choose alone time rather than together time. But I need this morning to sort out a bit of life and to look ahead at the coming year. Besides, we’ve had a lot of together time lately. So thanks, sweetie, for indulging me.

I’m using you, my readers, all 14 of you, in place of my journal today. The inner crow seems to need to do this, and mine is not to question why.

A year from now, I’ll be 70. (“The Lord willing,” I hear my parents whisper in my ear. Never assume anything.) Oh. My! How did that happen? Yes, I know, a day at a time, a year at a time.

Chin hairs, gray hairs, wrinkly skin and all: that's me at 69.
When people mark special days such as this, it’s not uncommon for their thoughts to turn to the things they hope to do yet in the time that is left to them – a bucket list of sorts. The RS and I have created bucket lists from time to time, and whenever we revisit the list, we realize that the dreams that were in the bucket five years ago are no longer dreams we care to pursue. In fact, the bucket list is growing shorter, not because we’ve given up on living a full life, but because we’ve changed, our hopes and dreams have changed, and, I think, we’re appreciating more and more the life we have in the here and now. Where you are, that’s where you’re supposed to be. Appreciate each moment for what it is.

Still, there are a few things left to do. When my dad was in his 70s, he decided it was time to write the story of his life. This was on his bucket list. This is not unusual in our family, by the way. I have manuscripts of various ancestors on my history bookshelf. They are amazing treasures to help me understand who I am and where I came from.

Dad was ever a quester, trying to figure things out, and since his handwriting was nearly indecipherable, he began writing his autobiography using a typewriter. However, when he saw what a computer could do, he was excited. (“look at that, you can cut and paste right on the screen, not with a scissors and scotch tape!”) This was in the dinosaur days of the computer, on a Commodore 64! He set up a table in the guest room, and every day he entered his sanctuary and worked on his labour of love using a painfully slow  hunt-and-peck method to record his memories, beginning with the family history stretching back into the 1800s. There followed the story of his own birth family,  the story of my mom’s family, his memories of the war, their courtship and marriage, and everything that happened after that – children, immigration, community involvement, aging, travels and more.

Dad moved on to an early version of the Windows computer and learned that system (but never learned to type faster!). He only stopped when his vision narrowed to almost nothing because of macular degeneration, in his early 80s. By that time, he had caught up with his life story, but he often said to me, years later, “The story isn’t finished yet. If I wasn’t blind, I would add more.” And I would say, “Don’t worry dad, I will finish it for you.” Thirteen years later, that is still on MY bucket list.

I’ve been thinking how best to do this, and of course, as an oldest eager-to-please child, feeling guilty that I have not fulfilled my promise. Recently, however, I had an aha moment when I realized that if I write my story, I will have finished Dad’s earthly story, too. And telling my story has been in my personal bucket for a number of years. Each time, I think I’ll start, and each time something doesn’t work out for me. Perhaps I wasn’t ready yet.

But if not now, then when? And if now, then  how, and what? I love writing, and I think I could happily spend hours in front of the computer screen, but I also love art, and my family, and friendships, and CrowDayOne, and other wonderful things that make life rich. It’s a wonderful dilemma, isn’t it? So that’s why I needed this morning, to look ahead at the next year and sketch out an idea of how writing and quilting a memoir might happen in the middle of living the life I have. One thing I know, it will have to include quilting too.

Writing all this down and sharing it with you, for some reason, generates creative thoughts, which I hope to put into practice in the next year.

What needs to happen now is this: I need to begin. Stay tuned, and wish me blessings on the endeavor.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

There is a time...

"There’s a time for everything," says the wise writer of Ecclesiastes, "and a season for every activity under the heavens." So true, so wise!

In some cultures, a crow is considered a symbol of wisdom. A crow may have helped the writer of Ecclesiastes formulate this chapter. At least, crows often inspire a blog theme for me. So for the past few days I’ve been watching crows at our campsite. These “wise” crows were pretty wary, staying away from places where they could see people. But the minute we were out of sight, they swooped down, pecked a hole in our garbage bag, and were feasting on scraps. There’s a time to stay out of the way, and a time to jump right in and do your thing, apparently. Should I blog about that? Nah.

When we shooed them away, they made a real racket, indignantly letting us know that we were interfering in their good luck. But later, a crow landed on a picnic table at an empty campsite nearby. She seemed to be quite content to sit there quietly, checki6ng out the neighbourhood. There’s a time to squawk, and there’s a time to be silent.

Hmm. Now there’s a topic with possibilities. If you are a regular follower of CrowDayOne, you may have noticed that lately, the crow has been pretty quiet.

There is a time for everything: a time to speak, and a time to listen. And right now, I’m finding myself doing a lot less squawking, and much more listening.

These past 4 years of writing this blog – starting with my 65th birthday –  have been such a pleasure. For a while, I was just bursting with discoveries I wanted to share with you, and it was so gratifying to have many of you tell me, “Really? That happened to you, too? You’re thinking about that, too?” Apparently, many of us  are living parallel lives, wondering about the same things, pondering the mysteries of life and the spirit, experiencing the same frailties and frustrations. Whether we are younger or older, men or women, dedicated believers or dedicated searchers, we have so much more in common with each other than we perhaps knew. Writing the blog has been an eye-opening experience for me, learning about our interconnectedness. It’s been the best lesson ever!

But lately, as I’m fast approaching my 69th birthday –  I’ve found I haven’t got so much to say. The older you get, I’ve found, the less you know. It’s a very humbling experience.  So, as the wise campsite  crow showed me, it must be time to listen. 

Listening is not just using your ears, I find. You can listen in so many ways. Currently the RS and I  are camping along the banks of the mighty Fraser River, with lots of lovely walking trails. So we are “listening” to nature with all of our senses: sight, smell, touch, and taste as well as with our ears. The listening brings us peace and rest.

And we are listening with our hearts as we attend a play and a concert that feature the three grandgirls who live here. How beautiful children are, and how much hope they give us for the future.

pardon me while I brag a little: Geneva played Charlotte in Charlotte's Web at her school. Here she is posing with her friend Wilbur. Some spider, some pig!

Aerin was "some cow!" in the same production.

And Karina sang her heat out with the Pacific Mennonite Children's Choir Concert. So beautiful!
We listen with our hearts, as well, as we participate in the life of friends and family. Some are sad and grieving as they experience loss, illness, disability and looming death. Some are joyful as they participate fully in the life they are living, enjoying travels, children, making plans. We listen with our hearts, and our hearts grow bigger to encompass it all. Perhaps that’s the way it is with you, too? We’re listening to life: the sadness and sorrow, mixed up with the joy and the gladness. It’s hard to separate the two strands. Right now, words don’t cut it. It is time just to listen and ponder.

I feel the same way as I experience anxiety  for our world, for our nations, for the environment, for the differences that separate people and make enemies of those who are, after all, not so different from us, who have the same hopes and dreams. What to say about that? My listening involves storing these realities in my mind and heart, processing them, waiting until I know it’s time to squawk, know just what words to squawk as well.

I’m finding that this time of listening is not giving me many answers, many formulas to make it all better, not many nuggets of wisdom to pass on to you. But the listening is an experience that is also enriching and a blessing in itself.

Above all, as I commit myself to this time of listening,  my spirit listens for the voice of my Creator, the source of all creation and creativity. I listen, waiting to hear and feel that little thrill of excitement that tells me, “This! Yes, this is something you need to share.”

And when that happens, the crow will squawk again. Maybe sooner, maybe later. After all, there is a time for everything.