Tuesday, 29 December 2020

A simple bowl of soup


When I was in my teens I was friends with an older, Catholic woman from Poland, who had been in a concentration camp with her family when she was young. That experience made her very very kind and understanding of suffering others couldn’t comprehend. It also made her unable to believe in the longevity of another’s friendship.

Wanda helped me survive a terrible time in my life when I was on my own and the world was very uncaring. She taught me to appreciate many things. She kept plants in her house, hundreds of them, it seemed to me, and her Saturdays were devoted to carefully moistening each one just to the degree that it needed, resting them in her tub in batches to soak up that necessary balm. All of this, and in fact much of what she did, seemed excessively careful and labour-intensive to me. At the same time it impressed me deeply, and somewhere hidden inside a part of me longed to live as she did.

She gave me my first house plant, a small coleus that I named Vanya, after my favourite character in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Such a beautiful and precious being deserved a beautiful name. But I was so afraid I would kill it. If not for Wanda and her confidence in me, I wonder if I would ever have discovered my love of plants. 

There is much more to the story, but I will end here, except to explain this picture.

One of the things Wanda introduced me to was the notion that boring food could be made delicious. One day at lunch she opened a tin of Campbell’s tomato soup, just like I’d had a million times as a kid, but Wanda didn’t just throw it in a pot with milk and water and stir. As it heated she sprinkled dill weed - a thing I had never heard of – into the pot. When she took it off the stove she added a big dollop of sour cream and a little more dill weed.

At last, she put the bowl in front of me and I tasted something fine. 

Every once in a very blue moon, in honour of my long lost friend, I make myself a bowl of her simple amended soup, and for a moment I am discovering life with her again.

Thank you, Wanda, wherever you are. May your dreams be kind to you.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Autumn Is Here

 This just out:

It's Autumn.

It is a beautiful day. There is something in the light that whispers, I am here. We are winding this hectic season down. Autumn is upon you, and soon, the rains will come.

There is a brightly suited goldfinch at the feeder. The bees are more relaxed in the wake of showers. Everything, however imperfect, looks beautiful. The sounds of chickadees, of my neighbour speaking in quivering Italian with her daughter, then laughing, the soft insistent rush of traffic a few doors down, a distant cry of a crow.

I love this place. This life. This flawed and momentarily tranquil self.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Who's Nina Simone?

Recently I heard someone say, "Who's Nina Simone?"

This is one of the shocks that reminds you that time is passing, and people are being born and the times that were so important at the time, are never seen by them, and never mean anything to them. It's like being on a single wave on a long beach. You're just one bubble in the great long curving line of foam, and every wave behind you is chasing you up the shore. And soon enough you'll break across the sand and cobbles and that will be it. And the next wave coming will never have heard of Nina SImone.

Well, this is her.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Yard Bird Babies

I don't take a lot of photos of birds in my back yard. I'm too busy gazing at them with curiosity and delight. So once again I thank Wikimedia for supplying a stand-in image for me.

This is a white-crowned sparrow. This is the first year I've had these visitors, and they are much shyer than the chickadees and finches, far far shyer than the starlings and their young. But they've gradually decided my small enclosed yard is a safe place, with lots of food and water and plants to hide behind. They're ground-feeding birds, so I don't see them at the feeder. Sometimes they get brave and graze underneath it on fallen seeds, and since the feeder is so close to the window I get to see them frequently. But today! Ah, today.

Today I was sitting in the yard, away from the feeders so as not to be in the road, drinking my tea and pretending to read my book. A pair of adult white-crowned sparrows appeared in the yard with two very young-seeming, but large, offspring. They were maybe three metres from me at first, looking for food or, if they got close to each other, begging for food (babies), stuffing food in mouths (parents), or chasing each other off of choice tidbits.

Over several minutes they worked their way down the yard and garden toward me. I began to realise that the juveniles weren't behaving the same as one another. One worked busily, like the adults, and that was the one most likely to demand food from the folks. The other seemed a bit of a dreamer.

This one wandered slowly, by a meandering path, in my direction. I of course remain still when their are birds nearby, but I was surprised by just how close this little one came.Oh, I forgot! When still about a metre and a half away, s/he picked up a piece of food from the grass and moved it around in her beak as she carried it. It seemed like a tiny blade of grass or some such thing.

It was a feather. S/he didn't eat the feather. It was more like you or I might roll a straw around in our mouths while we ponder life. 

At last s/he was so close s/he disappeared from sight and I held my breath, waiting for a peck on my bare foot. None came. She curved back into sight and made her way over to the bird bath, which had been losing runoff into the grass below it and was now lightly trickling down. Baby hopped back in surprise when a drop landed on her. She moved forward again and hopped back again when another drop hit her. Over and over she hopped out of the stream of drips and then set into it again. She began rubbing her feathers against the wet grasses--short, to my eyes, but tall as she was and then some. At last she fluttered around in the wet grasses and miniature shower and had a lovely little bath. Last I noticed her before they all nibbled their way from the yard, she was lying belly down in the cool dirt, wings slightly extended, enjoying the sensation (presumably) as her sibling remained busily feeding on everything in sight.

It had never occurred to me that two such young birds would be so very different in personality as these displayed today. S/he didn't seem sick at all, just a bit dreamy. (I can identify; my childhood was largely spent staring at tiny insects and revelling in the sensation of walking bare foot in hot road dust and warm cow pies.)

What a wonder and a joy it has been to spend this season with the young who have spent so much time in my yard. I am grateful to their parents for bringing them, and to Erminia for renting me this place, and to B.C. Housing for subsidising my rent. It is a miracle. A miracle to see, and be, and witness.

Image: "White-Crowned Sparrow / (Zonotrichia leucophrys)." Photo by Wolfgang Wander. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Bug-Eyed 'Neath the Rising Sun (plus The Hag of Beare)

It’s not often I hear the crows wake up, and after them, the gulls, and finally the traffic on the road that fronts our building. In fact, this may be the first time, in this place, because I’ve only recently realised that my CPAP machine makes such a racket blowing in my face, there's not much chance the road noise is going to keep me awake.

So. I have to admit I’ve been neglecting my lovely little blog. I got VERY busy months and months ago and all such frills as this fluttered to the back of the desk, so to speak. My most inspired writing lately has been tweeted out at 280 characters a pop. I've actually quite taken to Twitter, as a lovely place to meet souls with similar interests and souls who can stretch my mind a bit. I have two accounts, and one, which began as mainly a news-following and issue-plumbing account has become, quite by accident, almost entirely taken up with chat about The Archers, the long-running rural soap produced by the BBC. A little Higher Thought still occurs, helped by switching to See Latest Tweets rather than allowing their algorithm to dictate what I see. But a lot of the accounts I used to follow just seem to have withered away.

The other account is largely focussed on birds, spiders, and other wonderful things. I decided I needed a place on social media to go and just see uplifting things—gardens, wild places, wild creatures. Somehow as I gained more and more bird and bug friends my plants got crowded out, but it still serves the same purpose. It is a place of restoration and rejuvenation, playfulness and gosh-wow.

In both accounts I have found people I like a lot and make a point of keeping in touch with. The Archers community is especially cohesive and I have begun, just begun, to feel like a part of the gang. For someone who hasn’t had a gang for a very very long time, this is a nice feeling. 

Every now and then I have the urge to bare my soul, though I’m not above deleting those tweets the instant I publish them. (Okay, I did that once.) But on the whole I just play with words, joke around, say encouraging things, swap info, tell tales, and LOL. And with these months of lockdown, those have become key to preserving my mental health.

In a couple of days, I’ll be turning 63. Mind-boggling. Though it seems at best firm middle age to me now, I remember thinking of this as extreme ancientness at one time long ago. I now think in terms of learning acceptance rather than striving for change, as regards my own life. And I have a lot more understanding of the adults that seemed so hard-hearted and obstructive when I was young, and those peers who were unbelievably cruel and lacking in courage and integrity.

How different it all looks now. If only I had known then how ill-prepared they were for living, as I was, and how little their actions reflected on me. 

Ah, well. I feel a bit like the Hag of Beare this morning. Though I was not hanging out with kings, and I am not withered with grief. But that casting an eye back over the years (and the hours of a sleepless night!) has echoes of that poem.

The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare
TCD MS 1337, p. 42 (olim H. 3. 18)

The Old Woman of Beare said this when senility had aged her:
Ebb-tide has come to me as to the sea;
old age makes me yellow;
though I may grieve thereat,
it approaches its food joyfully.

I am Buí, the Old Woman of Beare;
I used to wear a smock that was ever-renewed;
today it has befallen me, by reason of my mean estate,
that I could not have even a cast-off smock to wear.

It is riches
you love, and not people;
as for us, when we lived,
it was people we loved.

Beloved were the people
whose plains we ride over;
well did we fare among them,
and they boasted little thereafter.

Today indeed you are good at claiming,
and you are not lavish in granting the claim;
though it is little you bestow,
greatly do you boast.

Swift chariots
and steeds that carried off the prize,
there has been, for a time, a flood of them:
a blessing on the King who has granted them!

My body, full of bitterness,
seeks to go to a dwelling where it is known (?):
when the Son of God deems it time,
let Him come to carry off His deposit.

When my arms are seen,
all bony and thin!
-the craft they used to practise was pleasant:
they used to be about glorious kings.

When my arms are seen,
all bony and thin,
they are not, I declare,
worth raising around comely youths.

The maidens are joyful
when they reach May-day;
grief is more fitting for me:
I am not only miserable, but an old woman.

I speak no honied words;
no wethers are killed for my wedding;
my hair is scant and grey;
to have a mean veil over it causes no regret.

To have a white veil
on my head causes me no grief;
many coverings of every hue
were on my head as we drank good ale.

I envy no one old,
excepting only Feimen:
as for me, I have worn an old person’s garb;
Feimen’s crop is still yellow.

The Stone of the Kings in Feimen,
Rónán’s Dwelling in Bregun,
it is long since storms (first) reached their cheeks;
but they are not old and withered.

I know what they are doing:
they row and row off (?);
the reeds of Ath Alma,
cold is the dwelling in which they sleep.

Alack-a-day (?)
that I sail not over youth’s sea!
Many years of my beauty are departed,
for my wantonness has been used up.

Alack the day (?)!
Now, whatever haze (?) there be,
I must take my garment even when the sun shines:
age is upon me; I myself recognize it.

Summer of youth in which we have been
I spent with its autumn;
winter of age which overwhelms everyone,
its first months have come to me.

I have spent my youth in the beginning;
I am satisfied with my decision:
though my leap beyond the wall had been small,
the cloak would not have been still new.

Delightful is the cloak of green
which my King has spread over Drumain.
Noble is He who fulls it:
He has bestowed wool on it after rough cloth.

I am cold indeed;
every acorn is doomed to decay.
After feasting by bright candles
to be in the darkness of an oratory!

I have had my day with kings,
drinking mead and wine;
now I drink whey-and-water
among shrivelled old hags.

May a little cup of whey be my ale;
may whatever may vex (?) me be God’s will;
praying to thee, O living God,
may I give . . . against anger.

I see on my cloak the stains of age;
my reason has begun to deceive me;
grey is the hair which grows through my skin;
the decay of an ancient tree is like this.

My right eye has been taken from me
to be sold for a land that will be for ever mine;
the left eye has been taken also,
to make my claim to that land more secure.

There are three floods
which approach the fort of Ard Ruide:
a flood of warriors, a flood of steeds,
a flood of the greyhounds owned by Lugaid’s sons.

The flood-wave
and that of swift ebb:
what the flood-wave brings you
the ebb-wave carries out of your hand.

The flood-wave
and that second wave which is ebb:
all have come to me
so that I know how to recognize them.

The flood-wave,
may the silence of my cellar not come to it (?)!
Though my retinue in the dark be great,
a hand was laid on them all (?).

Had the Son of Mary
the knowledge that He would be beneath the house-pole of my cellar!
Though I have practised liberality in no other way,
I have never said ‘No’ to anyone.

It is wholly sad
(man is the basest of creatures)
that ebb was not seen
as the flood had been.

My flood
has guarded well that which was deposited with me.
Jesus, Son of Mary, has saved it
till ebb (?) so that I am not sad.

It is well for an island of the great sea:
flood comes to it after its ebb;
as for me, I expect
no flood after ebb to come to me.

Today there is scarcely
a dwelling-place I could recognize;
what was in flood
is all ebbing.

Murphy, Gerard. Early Irish Lyrics: Eight to Twelfth Century. Oxford: OUP 1956

Found on Mary Jones's wonderful site, the Celtic Literature Collective.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

“They Are Not Long” by Ernest Dowson

They Are Not Long
by Ernest Dowson

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam.

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses,
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

The Latin reads, “The shortness of life prevents us from entertaining far-off hopes.”
Horace, (Odes 1.4.15).

Image: “The path at the Hermitage” by Casey Wolf

Saturday, 9 November 2019

The Beautiful World of Europa

Harvest time in Jona, Switzerland

Oh, what a lucky one I am.

This fall I had the opportunity to travel to continental Europe for the first time. I visited relatives in Switzerland and a friend in Italy, spending two weeks in either country. 

One of the things I like most about doing things I've never done before is that they are never in reality as I could have imagined in fantasy. The plethora of bicycles in Switzerland, the number of Vespas in Italy; the quiet voices of the Swiss and their blissfully music-free restaurants; the welcome given to dogs in Trieste--in buses, in restaurants, all over the place. But I won't try to say anything definitive about either place, or dredge up any brilliant insights to sprinkle through this post. Instead I will let a few photos speak for the places visited, and leave it at that.

Jona, Switzerland



Neuchâtel (and the Laténium)

St. Gallen

Venice, Italy


Grazie, Danke schön, good night!

Images: All photos © Casey June Wolf  (2019).