☕️ Small Things that Matter

A Saturday Caesura

Totally random and completely unrelated to anything else in my day, I went to bed last night thinking about cotter pins. Weird, right? I mean, who thinks about cotter pins when you aren’t in immediate need of one? I do, apparently.

Whether large or small, split, hairpin or bowtie, cotter pins perform a purpose more significant than a simple piece of bent metal might indicate. They hold things in place, keep things connected, provide a final measure to prevent things from flying apart, coming undone, falling off. I doubt that any farm could function well without a few cotter pins involved somewhere.

What if we used our words like cotter pins?

Image: http://www.thomasnet.com

☕️ There’s a daisy…

A Saturday Caesura AND Jots & Doodles

The artist Georgia O’Keefe once wrote that “in a way — nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and it takes time like to have a friend takes time.” O’Keefe knew something about taking time to see a flower because many of her paintings are of flowers. The most famous one, a single white Jimson Weed blossom, sold in 2014 for $44 million. Maybe the new owner doesn’t have time to see flowers in their natural environment, and the painting provides an opportunity to “really” see. Maybe the value of a painting is that it preserves a beauty that normally fades and falls away in the cycles of seasons.

In art and in literature, flowers are often heavily imbued with imagery and symbolism. My grade 12 English class just finished reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet where an emotionally distraught Ophelia prattles to her bewildered brother: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance… And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts….There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.” In most contemporary circles, we have lost much of the folklore and symbolism associated with particular flowers, but we maintain flower traditions for Mother’s Day, anniversaries, funerals. Red poppies are synonymous with Remembrance Day. We have national flowers (Canada’s is Cornus Canadensis, the Bunchberry) and provincial or state flowers: Alberta’s is the Wild Rose, a prolific presence alongside roads and fields across the province.

Whether we pay close attention to them or not, flowers capture our collective imagination on some level.

I don’t attach particular meaning or psychoanalytic significance to flowers, any more than I care about star charts and the zodiac, but contrary to Georgia O’Keefe’s generalized conclusion, I do notice flowers. I first began paying attention to them during my childhood roaming of the forests and meadows near our home. When I found out that flowers actually had names, I wanted to know them all — not the confusing Latin ones, but the common ones like butter-and-eggs toadflax and bedstraw and saxifrage. I pored over wildflower identification books. When our family travelled somewhere, I watched the roadside swish by, looking for recognizable snatches of colour — blue chicory, yellow goldenrod and salsify, magenta fireweed. I met my first Mariposa lily from the window of a vehicle, grateful that my father understood my love of flowers enough to pull over so I could have a closer look.

I grow flowers in my yard that are not native to this area, but I’m grateful that they don’t find the cold winters so disagreeable that they refuse to grow and bloom. I extend an open invitation to indigenous ‘wild’ flowers to make themselves at home on this patch of land I claim to own, so I have hybrid lilies and irises and harebells and wild roses and false solomon’s seal and lily-of-the-valley all living together in harmony. I see them all and they fascinate me. It has taken time to make friends with them, but it has never been time wasted.

This month’s Jots & Doodles zine contains some words and images that arise out of my appreciation for flowers, and especially, my gratitude and worship of the God who saw fit to include them in his creation. May your eyes be drawn to see — really see — the flowers around you, and your heart opened to know — really know — the creator of them all.

☕️ Seasons

A Saturday Caesura

Spring has finally settled in to stay. The snipes are back, the trees are leafing green, night temperatures are staying above zero. The sun-snow-rain-freeze-thaw-frost of the past few weeks felt too much like the in-school-online-school-open-close-isolate-vaccinate of the ongoing coronavirus season. So much tossing to and fro, back and forth, in and out. It feels like rest for spring to just. stay. put.

This past week a friend and I met in a park for an after-work picnic and overdue visit. The summer-haunted warmth of the evening mirrored our friendship, one that has found deeper roots while standing together through a particular life-storm. I love that the all-season friends in my life come from all seasons, ages, backgrounds, experiences. I am grateful that they embrace relationships in ways that promote beauty and unity in a world increasingly prone towards the ugly and divisive. It feels like a settling and a hope-sprouting spring.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and whatever else it is for me, this day usually becomes a reflection on all the seasons of motherhood. So much delight and pain wrapped up in a single role. I have regrets. I have treasured memories. I have tears. But I am grateful for this season of being a mother to adult children. It feels like a settling and a fresh-washed spring and a joy-filled grief-tinged blessing.

Tomorrow is also our 40th wedding anniversary, and if motherhood has predicable seasons as children grow from newborn to adulthood, marriage seasons come and go with regular unpredictability. We grow, storm, stagnate, forgive, compromise, love, laugh, cry, cling, withdraw, pray, pray, pray, give, cherish, for better or for worse. Forty years. Two-thirds of our lives. We are not the same people who pledged to have and to hold till death to us part all those years ago. And yet we are still uniquely us, aged and shaped by forty years of individuality and togetherness. I’m grateful for this season of continuing to grow in oneness. It feels like a settling and a long, languid summer and a rich undeserved blessing.

He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty…and fills your hearts with joy. Acts. 14:17

☕️ A School Week

A Saturday Caesura

Students filled the desks in my classroom again after almost three weeks of emptiness related to spring break and COVID-removals to online teaching. We were happy to be back, to see actual faces and whole bodies, to feel the comforting illusion of normalcy.

On Monday a few students needed a reminder that English class is for English, not for Bio or Math or CALM or Duolingo or searching for truck parts online. But mostly we read our books and experimented with odes and word sonnets and parsed gerunds and crafted truisms and raged at the unjust treatment of Jutta and cried real tears when Werner died and WHY WOULD THE AUTHOR DO THAT ANYWAY!

We talked about iambic pentameter and the plums no longer in the icebox. We practised the art of paying attention to our world and shared grad photos. We vented about COVID and named our aspirations for the future. We wondered why Monday always comes after Sunday and determined that we would never be careless people like Tom and Daisy. We blamed the masks for our shortness of breath after coming upstairs to Room 210 because farm girls could never be that out-of-shape. We made excuses for unfinished work and tried to complain about the sub in another class and satisfied the burning need to talk about how that novel ended.

About mid-week I realized that my plan to retire in three years (maybe?) means I would no longer have this messy delight of teenagers in my life.

I already feel the shape of emptiness forming in my heart. It is heavier than I ever thought it would be.

☀️Dear Author of Life

I’m noticing the fine details you have woven into your Grand Story, the one that begins and ends with you, but somehow includes plump pussy-willows and robinsong and purple prairie crocuses blooming in the midst of April snow. I love how these details matter to you.

I’m wondering if you were thinking in hyperbole when you introduced the stars, the galaxies. Did you craft their far-reaching layers just so that we would have a visual metaphor for infinity? You established the motif of light and dark very early in the story, but the way you nuance it by scattering a shimmer of aurora borealis across the night sky is an extravagance of poetic language beyond words. Was this to remind us that light and dark aren’t mere symbols for good and evil, but the foundational syntax of beauty?

However, I am somewhat befuddled that you would actually add characters such as myself into a setting so vastly creative and finely tuned. Pardon me, but don’t we just deface the setting, complicate your story line? Haven’t we pretty much blown up your original outline for how this should all go? Your devotion to keeping us in the story is staggering. In human terms, an author who inserts her/himself into their own story seems a bit narcissistic, in need of a cameo appearance so we don’t forget that they are the mastermind behind the craft. But you insert yourself into your story to remind us that we are necessary and dearly loved and redeeming us is the only way for the story to end as you have always planned. This has been a love story all along, hasn’t it?

Today, I see trees waving tiny new leaf buds and in that intricate detail, I glimpse the height and width and depth of your love and I respond with humble praise that I am here in this particular place, part of your ongoing story, flawed but not written off the page, a redeemed character within your story of redemption.

With sincere gratitude,

One of your beloved

The Dr. Dolittle Day

He was weasel-cute and wore summer on top with winter on bottom, in seasonal transition just like April weather. The snow white dot on his nose might as well have been a light bulb for all the camouflage it provided. He was exploring our woodpile, much to the consternation of a squirrel who has been stashing stolen sunflower seeds there. This particular weasel is not the weasel of today’s story, but he might be a grandchild or great-grandchild of the one I encountered one fall day shortly after we moved into this house...

I had school work to do that day and the sun was shining, and nobody in their right mind studies indoors when the sun is shining. So I arranged myself and my books in a spot of sunshine along the south wall of the house, facing the trees in the park next door. It was not a focused study session. There were birds to watch and a weasel…a weasel? Yes, it was definitely a weasel (in full summer attire) that trotted past me on its way to the park. He slipped under the fence and disappeared into the tall grass on the other side. I saw the grass moving to and fro as he rustled around for a few minutes, then suddenly he was sliding back under the fence, somewhat awkwardly this time. His mouth — his whole face — was full of a rather large, hapless mouse. Well, well, look at you, Mr. Speedy Mouser-Weasel…

He bounded up the low rise from the fence, heading straight towards me. I sat still, wondering what he would do, wondering if he could even see me over the bulk of his mouse. On he came, the mouse’s tail a dangling pendulum. And on he came, stretching his neck high to keep from tripping over his meal. And on he came… okay, little guy, can you see big ole me…just sitting here…in plain sight? I was beginning to wonder what I would do if he ran right over my legs with his big, rather dead mouse.

We both reacted at about the same time. I opened my mouth to express my concerns about his travel trajectory, and he opened his mouth to drop his mouse. Right by my feet. He looked at me briefly, then scurried around the corner of the house. I looked at the dead mouse briefly, leaned around the corner and yelled, “Hey, you! Come back here and get your mouse!”

He kept going. Of course. I’m not Dr. Dolittle after all.

So there I was, just trying to study in the sunshine and now I had a dead mouse at my feet. Dead mice are rather distracting, and I was debating about whether to move the mouse or move myself back inside the house, when the weasel suddenly appeared from around the corner. He calmly walked to the mouse, looked at it, looked at me, picked up the mouse and trotted off once again.

I leaned around the corner and called after him, “Thank you!”

I sat back against the house and chuckled to myself. That weasel just obeyed me. Unbelievable.

The Stories We Keep

One of the reasons I write is because I need to process things, to get ideas out of my head and on paper where I can begin to make sense of them or discover some new perspective. Although most of my “processing” remains in my notebooks, I write here because I want to invite others to think and ponder along with me. But we are more than just processors of ideas and questions and observations. We are storytellers and story-keepers. Our lives are anthologies of stories bound together and nestled into a larger, grander story whose opening line is “In the beginning, God…”

I keep stories that have changed my life or perspective, forged new growth or wisdom, or made me laugh or smile. Stories can do all of these and more. Above all, stories anchor me to my place in the world. From time to time, I want to revisit some of these stories, not because my life is anything special, but because, actually, it is. And so is yours.

I’ve done some housekeeping here at Sola Gratia. You’ll find a new page just for stories – some of mine, and hopefully some of yours as well. Soon you’ll also find a page just for Jots & Doodles — Volume 1 Issue 3 will be available soon!