Snowfeathers

February 10th, 2021

Even the snow seems different here. Today, as I walked back from coffee with a friend, the flakes clumped and drifted down like small feathers. I am hardly the first to make this comparison, as i remember Robert Frost noticing the “easy wind and downy flake” as he stopped by woods on that famous snowy evening. Now, helped along by my astigmatism, they look like little whirligigs or dandelion fluff drifting down on a windless afternoon.

It’s the kind of snow that comes when it’s not really all that cold outside, barely above freezing, but it gives the snow a lot of interesting things to do and shapes to take. It isn’t cold enough for it to stick to the sidewalk, but cold enough so it doesn’t instantly melt, and today, when a gust of breeze came up, the little clumps of flakes were rolled into tiny balls the size of pillbugs, and went racing down the street for a few feet before disappearing. I had never seen that before, despite a number of winters in snowy climes.

It’s a peaceful afternoon, rather like being inside a snow globe while the outside world is rushing about its business. I am not watching the impeachment on TV because it feels like inviting an assault. I am recovering from a rather calamitous mishap with the file of my second play, which required me to hire someone to retype it from scratch, so it’s now someone else’s problem. I no longer spend much time fretting about vaccines, or border restrictions, or even Covid itself very much, since the answer to everything is “who knows?”

And yet, I feel ill at ease in the same way I always do when finishing a project. I don’t have anything to do, and I am not good at that. I am nowhere near ready to take anything else on, so I guess I just have to sit with a case of the jitters for a while.

Or maybe a better expression for me would be “walk with it.” Here in Victoria every walk is restorative. So why am I sitting here typing this, when I could bundle up and go see what their world looks like with feathers falling from the sky? Good question! Where are my gloves?

Well, I’m back. Here is the world I walked through, although snowfall is so devilishly hard to capture with a camera that I had to settle for “snow fell.” I’m rosy cheeked and ready for a glass of wine by the fire, practicing gratitude as snowfeathers drift down outside in the gray light of this winter afternoon.

The Light Comes Brighter

January 19th, 2021

One of the great gifts of having studied literature is the number of poems I carry with me from memory. Yesterday, walking toward the cliffs at Dallas Road in Victoria, I was practically blinded by sunlight that had seemed so muted only days before (photo here).

Wow, I thought—just one month beyond the winter solstice, and the light is really changing. I thought of the first lines of one of my favorite poems, by Theodore Roethke, and it seemed so apt.

The light comes brighter from the east; the caw
Of restive crows is sharper on the ear.
A walker at the river's edge may hear
A cannon crack announce an early thaw.

Yes, the light does come brighter now. And in so many ways.

First, spring is on the way. That means so many more opportunities to explore this beautiful island in the months ahead.

Second, the United States will get considerably brighter once the scourge has been removed from the White House.

Third, I just finished the first draft of my second play. It’s not good enough yet, but it exists.

Fourth, I have gotten my first cruise assignment==not until 2022, but a sign that it looks as if that part of my life will resume.

Yes, the light comes brighter. I turn my face to greet it.

Swan Lake at Solstice

December 20th, 2020

The first time I tried to explore Swan Lake in Victoria was a collection of mishaps. I thought I knew how to get there and spent about a half hour unintentionally touring several neighborhoods in Victoria. When I finally got there, I took the wrong path and dead-ended. By the time I was on the right path it was starting to rain, and the only washroom, which by that point I desperately needed, was in the Nature Center, locked up tight on Sundays.

I vowed to return, and I did so today, one week later, for a lovely amble around the perimeter of the lake. The name Swan Lake conjures up images of dancers in tutus, and of course there were none of those, but sadly no swans either. I had to settle for a number of very friendly ducks, and a variety of birds hopping and perching in the thickets along the path.

The sun hugs the horizon at the winter solstice this far north for the eight hours between sunrise and sunset, and even on a day free of rain, the light remains low all day. Perhaps it the drama of sky and shadow that sets the mood for thoughts about beginnings and ends and how, just as the Dao teaches, each contains the seed of the other.

Fall lasts a long time here, but at some unnoticed juncture it was over. The trees are bare now and their fallen leaves are brown with the rain that has left them limp and flattened on the ground. In the past I have found this mass of slippery, gluey detritus quite unappealing, but today my mind opened to a greater appreciation of the season one of my favorite poets Gerard Manley Hopkins described as the time when “worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.”



It is hard to square those exquisite, perfect words with something naturalists call “leaf litter” and gardeners give the quintessentially unpoetic name “mulch.” But it is only our species that needs words for it at all. For the tiny creatures that call it home, and for the plants that produced it and will use it again in a never ending cycle of transformations, it is simply what the moment offers before moving on to something else.

if I felt poetic today I might write an “Ode to Mulch,” to give it the honor it deserves. Instead, I will acknowledge that we exist in different realms, one in which I struggle to find meaning and to set it down in words, and the other, which just is. As Hopkins says in another poem, “these things were here and but the beholder wanting.” Of course it wouldn’t be poetry if it didn’t suggest more than one way of thinking about it. The beauty he describes in the poem couldn’t care less if any human being beholds it. But from the human perspective, we have all probably said a million times, when we just stop to watch and listen, “wow! I never noticed that before.”

And so it is with the wanwood that leafmeal lies. Now, at the solstice, at a time where time cracks open to allow rebirth, personal vows take on potency. Mine is to be a better beholder, starting quite literally with what is under my feet.