📝 Rhythms of Place

It’s Jots & Doodles drop day! Issue 11, with a focus on some of the nuances of place is now available on the Jots & Doodles page.

In many ways this issue is an extension of my last blog post. I’ve been trying to write a poem every day this month (with moderate success), and as is often the case, my poetry is anchored in the realities of the place where I live. One of the realities right now is truncated daylight; I drive to work in darkness, and I have to bring a headlamp for my after-supper run/walk outings. The first two poems come from thoughts and noticings while I’ve been out-and-about in these darker times of winter. They speak to place because even in the global experience of the moon’s presence, there is a particularity to how moonlight shapes the mood of night in any given place. Even though people around the world walk paths and roadways, my feet know the paths of this place best. When I notice the moon or a leaf or an animal track or a sound, I am never bored while walking the same routes time and time again. To know a place is to go on daily noticing walks. Running, skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, biking, or driving are good, too. It’s the noticing, the paying attention, that makes the difference.

Living in a particular place comes with its routines, whether they are of our own making as is reflected in “Saturday,” or those associated with the rhythms of life around us. As a child, I remember waking up most mornings to the sound of graders grumbling to life in the highway maintenance yard just up the road from our house. We’ve lived where those rhythms have included loons and boats and dogs and traffic, but here, it is trains. Whether they bring delight or displeasure, these rhythms cannot be separated from the places where we live. I choose to let them be reminders of where I belong.

So, I’m grateful to be here in this house by the marsh, in this small town on the prairies, in this region that leans more north than south, with winds that come from the west more than the east, and with more dark in winter when I am more likely to notice the glow of the moon. I’m grateful for the things God has taught me here.

🌐 The Flat World & Me

This flat world we hold in our palms does not spin, but it pulls us into its orbit through tap, swipe, scroll and makes our minds spin with endless images and trivial-alarming-banal-important-irrelevant information that somehow becomes real and alluring, exciting and vital.

How did we ever live before flat worlds became our whole world?

At what moment did I choose to be a spectator rather than a participant with the grit of gravel under my boots, the smudge of earth on my jeans, my face, my hands?

At what point did I sink into mere consumerism rather than developing the skill and patience of observing and notating the non-pixelated, unfiltered, uncropped?

I need the uncurated world. I need to see the forest and the logged-off cut blocks, the fields and the gas plants and pump jacks, the emerald-green lakes and the ones stale-green with algae, the wheat and the weeds. I need the lush green of meadows and rancid road-kill in ditches and delicate flowers and gooey mud and birds and rodents.

Place is all of this and more, and it is too rich and full to fit into pixels or the binary codes of the flat world. Pixels tell me nothing about the sandpaper rub of dirt between my fingers, the feathery tickle of a bird eating sunflower seeds from my hand, or the pleasant shock of the wind whipping my breath away. Binary code tells me nothing about the actual lived-life of the person who used flesh-and-blood fingers to tap the text that bubbles on my screen. However connected we are in the flat world (and we certainly are connected — often in very helpful and important ways), something is always lacking. Emoji libraries will never be large enough for our whole selves.

To know place is to be rooted in the particularity of place and people and community rather than spinning through the dizzying orbit of text-tap-swipe-scroll-snap-chat. To know place is to hold it in the muscle memory of experience, not just the visual memory of a social media feed.

To clarify, this is not meant to be a rant against technology. It would be hypocritical of me to decry what I myself use. For several years now, I have pursued a goal to understand more fully what it means to be rooted in the place where God has put me, and my words here are simply my reflection on how that is going. Sometimes I need to remind myself to stay grounded, keep my orbit small in scope but deep in wonder. The flat world invites me to a voyeuristic curiosity; being rooted in a particular place encourages the curiosity that leads to deeper knowing and understanding and gratitude.

I want to know this place better through exploring the physical world around me, whether that is by identifying birds in the marsh or bushwacking up a mountain or tending a garden or watching the snow fall in a silent parade of delicately formed flakes.

I want to know this place deeper by listening to people I can reach out and touch. I want to hear their stories — ones of origin and ones of becoming and brokenness and restoration and everything in-between. I want to be better at seeing behind the behaviours and the bravado to understand the particularities of place and experience that have shaped lives.

And very simply, the more time I spend in the flat world, the less time I have for this beautiful, wonderful, wounded, scarred, floundering and flourishing world that surrounds me on all sides. This is where I belong and I want to live here with wisdom and with grace.

Poems for November

When life gets busy and overwhelming, I start looking for poems, which forces me to notice things and find words to capture them and today I found this:

Saturday’s frost still
crouches in shadowy
crevices, determined
to win the daily game
of hide-and-seek
with the sun.
Today is Tuesday.

And then I found this:

In a fading blue sky
flocked with geese flying south
a single goose
breaks rank,
goes east
alone.
I wonder why.

📝 Living in the Mist

October is coming to a close. The leaves are rarely in the trees, mostly on the ground. Mornings and evenings are chilly and often frosty. Some days the chill stays even when the frost doesn’t — yet. Some snow has come and gone. Soon it’ll come and stay. Most mornings are shrouded in heavy fog, which makes the already dark drive to school in the morning even darker. They’ve been re-paving a section of the route I drive and haven’t repainted the lines yet, just some dots to show where the center line should be. Dark, fog, no guiding lines to reflect the boundaries of the road…feels a bit like life sometimes. We do indeed live by a kind of faith, whether we want to admit it or not, I think.

There has been much to be thankful for in this past month, but not necessarily any more or less than other months. We just are more open to a collective sort of thanks-giving when we’re given a day off work to reflect on all the things we should be grateful for and probably are, but maybe those things aren’t always the truly important things and maybe we still mostly take everything for granted. Maybe. And maybe stress and Hard Things grind the shine off our thanksgiving and we feel ashamed to be offering something so worn and bedraggled when really this sort of thanks-giving is probably the most authentic and honest of them all.

Yes, I do have much to be thankful for, and yes, my gratitude has some worn edges and stretch marks and too much of the month felt like driving through the dark in the fog on a road that still needs lines painted on. You’ll likely hear echoes of this in this month’s Jots & Doodles. I struggled to come up with an overarching theme for this issue, partly because I didn’t want to just default to thanksgiving because Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October. I want to encourage thanksgiving as an attitude of the heart beyond a certain day of a certain month. So the Jots are not connected to a theme and neither are the Doodles, for that matter, but they do reflect some of my thinking and observations over the past few weeks. I’ve been challenged and encouraged…and I’m still processing (and probably always will) what it means and what it looks like when I say that I live a life of faith in God, the only truly Faithful One.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1 Issue 10 can be found here, or by going to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu. Maybe you’ll find some words that resonate with you and encourage you. I hope so.

📝 Leaves

The season of gold has arrived here on the prairies and I treasure it. Yesterday, I stood on the top of a mountain and marvelled at the valleys aglow with yellow and orange. Today, I view gold and red and russet trees framed in my living room windows, a life-sized art gallery. I love autumn.

This month’s Jots & Doodles is a tribute to leaves in all their seasons. I can’t imagine a world without leaves, yet we tend to only really notice them when they first arrive in spring and when they flare their fall farewell. The title poem, “Leaves” came out of an attempt to listen to the leaves, to pay attention to the aural ambience they bring to each day. Doing so made me realize that leaves bring a unique music to our world. I’ll miss them and their song throughout the winter months.

When I was taking biology in high school my teacher-who-was-also-my-uncle taught us how to identify trees by their leaves, bark, seeds or cones. The school was in Oklahoma and the variety of trees there far surpassed the popular, fir, spruce, pine, aspen regulars back home. The prairies where I now live are not exactly known for their trees, but they are everywhere, interspersed between fields and linking us to the mountains not far away. I love knowing the names of things, so I’ve learned to pay attention to all the unique characteristics that enable me to correctly identify a tree. “Family Identity” brings together what I’ve learned through people like my teacher-uncle, and what I continue to learn from Jesus about how my actions and attitudes identify me.

The final Jot in this issue, “The Fall” is a reflection on the deeper realities of autumn and the symbolism and metaphors of death that accompany this season. The closing question of the poem is one I continue to wrestle with as more and more of what I see and hear around me feels and looks like death-in-progress. Yet Jesus calls me to an abundant life with eternal promises. Living in that dichotomy is what keeps me returning to his words of hope and salvation and strength.

I’m grateful for autumn, for the blaze of colour that spreads across the land for a brief period each year. I’m still treasuring the mountain top views from yesterday’s hike. I will never not love autumn, but I will also never not continue to learn from this transitional season of death and decay.

Jots & Doodles Vol. 1 Issue 9 can be found here, or by going to the Jots & Doodles page in the menu.

📝 Abundance

And just like that I’ve shifted from sitting in the quiet abundance of sky and clouds and mountains and trees to a proliferation of lesson plans and an overabundance of teenager-ness. I know that’s not a real word, but for now it seems to capture the broad array of behaviours, perspectives, and attitudes that bubbled and bumped into my classroom yesterday. It was an exhausting first day of school.

It is evening now and I sit again watching an endless river of clouds slowly ripple past the bedroom window. The sun spreads a warm blush across the horizon. The colour will fade to grey and eventually to night-black, but there is goodness here and it settles me, slows my mind, reminds me that I am surrounded by a grand generosity.

This month’s (one-day-late) issue of Jots & Doodles is a reflection on abundance and generosity. I choose doodles that emphasized clouds and sky because the prairie sky feels like a generous gift to me. Even when it is full of angry storm clouds or is an expressionless grey or a texture-less blue, I am drawn to its vastness and variableness.

I’m still processing many thoughts about generosity, particularly as it relates to God’s generous creation and character, but I’ve tried to capture snippets of my reflections on this topic through the brief “jots” included in this issue. Thinking about God’s generosity forces me to look at the world around me differently, to consider how I should live in response to it, and it definitely leaves me with questions that I need to keep pondering. Because sometimes life seems to fall short of the abundance that Jesus said he came to give. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I may be determining abundance and generosity by the wrong criteria.

And sometimes (all the time!) I just need to rest in the knowledge that God is enough and in his generous grace, I lack nothing. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. Psalm 23:1-2

You can view and print Issue 8 here, or go to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu.

⛈ Rainfall Warning

A Sunday Reflection

Water pours from flat grey skies.

Although the land is parched and

oh so thirsty,

we grumble at the inconvenience

of wet upon wet upon wet.

I read in Isaiah’s book:

“You heavens above,

rain down my righteousness;

let the clouds shower it down,

let salvation spring up,

let righteousness flourish with it;

I, the LORD, have created it.”

Yet we grumble against any

inconvenient truths springing

from God’s righteousness

because our declarations of rightness

water our wishes just fine,

thank you very much.

For all our watering,

we remain soul-dry parched.

We thirst in the midst of

abundant, righteous rain.

☕️ Moments

A Saturday Caesura

I’ve not been very consistent with Saturday Caesura’s over the summer months, partly, I suppose, because as a teacher, the entire summer feels like a pause, a chance to slow down and breathe differently. The rhythms shift to something less structured, less demanding, and in that shift, my thoughts and words have floated along, loitering somewhere in the shallow backwaters away from the currents that are actually going somewhere. In short, I’ve felt unproductive.

I want to write something profound, something that has dug deep into my thoughts and soul and won’t let go until I’ve word-wrestled it onto paper, but I have only mundane thoughts — nothing that seems even remotely important in the grande scheme of the world and of life. How do I write faithfully without being trite? What if my words are as empty as they feel?

The reality is that my thoughts and words are often trite and empty because I can be so focused on productivity that I lose the value of rest and reflection and observation and lengthy pondering. Our propensity to equate success with productivity has actually robbed us of meaning, purpose, and relationship.

Last week I joined a few other hikers to attempt to summit two significant mountains in four days. Once we were up high enough to assess the first peak, we realized that it was not feasible within the time frame we had allotted. It was hard to walk away from that goal because something within us wanted to say that we had climbed both peaks. That would have been productive, successful, noteworthy.

What we did instead was climb the second mountain and spend the majority of the day wandering open alpine spaces with time to sit at the peak and simply revel in the expansive view. There was time to notice rocks and lichen and resilient alpine plants. There was time to pause and breathe differently. I didn’t leave that mountaintop with any profound thoughts or wizened words, but I did leave knowing that those moments mattered.

“All we have is this moment, but what we do with each of these slow, present moments will add up to something.” (Shawn Smucker*)

May you live this day, this week, knowing that each moment is a gift, whether it is one spent “getting things done” or spent resting, reflecting, healing, grieving, rejoicing, praying, learning, leaning…

*This quote is from Shawn’s August 5, 2021 newsletter. You can read more of his writing at shawnsmucker.com

📝 Joy

It’s midsummer and we’re on Heat Warning #110, or something like that. Our heat warning parameters are normal summer temperatures for some folk further south, but ‘normal’ has become a concept fraught with relativity and ambiguity and sweat. Apparently. So here we are, grateful that at least we have air conditioning in the truck if no where else.

It is also time for a midsummer issue of Jots & Doodles, a ‘bonus’ issue I’m squeezing in so I can meet my goal of 12 issues this year. As always, there is a bit of back story to both the jots and the doodles.

First, this issue includes actual doodles on the front cover, because what better way to introduce the theme of JOY! It includes doodles of enjoyable things (to me!) like fields and mountains, pebbles and flowers (of course!), and things that just are: sun, rain, wind. I find joy in these sometimes, but not always. I’m wondering if this wrestling with what gives us joy one day and not another, and what not only doesn’t give joy but actually snatches it away is part of what it means to be human.

A secondary theme (unintended) in this issue is daughters. The drawings within the zine are of three daughters — two are daughters of dear friends, one is my own daughter as a baby. I chose these drawings because I was thinking about how we express joy, and their facial expressions helped me explore some its nuances. Sometimes joy radiates from our faces, lights up our eyes, explodes into song or laughter or worship. But there are also times when joy is less about how we look or feel, but how we live. It is contentment and gladness and gratitude and wonder. It is also faith, comfort, and strength. It promotes peace and serves others. It is a fruit of the Spirit, evidence that he is at work in us regardless of circumstances. We are so easily derailed by circumstances, aren’t we? And then we choke on the words of the apostle James who tells us that we should “consider it pure joy” whenever life gets really bumpy and hard. Which, of course, is precisely why joy is a fruit of the Spirit. We may know what it is like to feel happy and glad, but the deep cultivating work of joy comes from surrender to what God is doing, not what we can manufacture from the bits and pieces of our lives.

The three little pieces I have written only scratch the surface of joy. So much more comes to mind even now as I write this. The first explores joy as wonder, the second, joy as contentment, and the third, joy as Jesus’ desire for us. God actually desires us to have his joy. I’m still letting that wrap itself around me because trying to wrap my head around it just leaves me in tears — it is a truth so profound and beautiful and … just… wow.

You can find the Joy issue here or by going to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu. May it spark some joy in your life!

📝 Generations

For a portion of the semester with one of my grade 12 classes, we focus on how values and beliefs influence our decisions. We examine how this plays out for characters, relationships, and societies in literature, as well as evaluate our own beliefs and decisions. We also compare the differing values of various generations and the choices that have resulted. The Internet is full of data, much of it conflicting, about the core values of Traditionalists vs Boomers, Millennials vs Gen X or Y or Z, or whatever title is being attached to the most recent demographic; however, the data is less important to me than the conversations and questions that students have as they explore the generational profiles. One surprising thing always comes up: students are harshest in their judgement of the values and beliefs of their own generation. They inevitably look to their parents and grandparents as having better work ethics, morals, and empathy. They worry for their generation.

Unlike my students who are an emerging generation, I am an “inbetweener.” My parents are aging, my children are adults; I’m in between them both. This is hardly a new phenomenon; for all of human history, our roles and responsibilities change as we move through the generational cycles. My parents require more physical care than they did several years ago; my children require less physical care, but still need parental support.

I’ve taken some of my thoughts about generations and turned them into the next issue of Jots & Doodles. The art “doodles” in this issue is gleaned from some of my older work that has been tucked away in sketch books and journals but seemed to fit with this theme.

There are only two “jot” pieces this time because one of them took up more space than most “jots.” For the first one, I was thinking about generational cycles and since I was also doing laundry that day, the metaphor sort of stuck — and works to the degree that metaphors are both appropriate and limited. Maybe it will get us all thinking about the core value of love and how it can affect our ability to both give and receive from one another.

The second piece is about fences, which on first glance has nothing to do with generations. I did the pen & ink drawing years ago simply because I was drawn to the contrast between the old fence and the new one. I actually titled it, “Generations” at the time. My thinking about the two fences has evolved and shifted over time, but when I actually sat down to write about them it took me a while to understand what the key focus needed to be. Was it about aging and the need for the next generation to fill the gap? Was it about the ultimate failure of one generation and the success of the “new and better” ideas of the next? I finally realized that aging and failure and success will come for every generation even if our perspectives and purposes may differ in their focus. What will determine our impact on each other, our communities, and our world, is how our values and decisions stand the test of time. Legacies are the product of time.

You can find Issue 6 of Jots and Doodles here or on the Jots & Doodles page listed in the menu. As always, it is free to download, print, and share. Your feedback and thoughts on this topic are also welcome!