☕️ What’s in a Name?

A Saturday Caesura

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love mountains. Even as a child, all that rock and snow and majesty captivated me, saturated my soul with goodness. I eventually learned that some mountains have names, and being able to call a mountain by its name somehow made it more of a friend than the other nameless ones. I viewed maps and learned the names of more mountains and that mountain families were called ranges, and then I read books and learned that mountains weren’t just piles of snow-capped rock; they had features as distinct as my nose and eyes and freckles. Peak, alpine, glacier — those were the most obvious ones, but then I learned about seracs and scree, cirques, saddles, and cols. And fun-to-pronounce names like krummholz, bergschrund, arête, and nunatak. Mountains still captivate me, heart and soul, but they are no longer generic entities imposing their glorious mystery onto the landscape. When I look at a mountain or hike to its summit, I now name what I see and yearn to learn more.

So I’ve been thinking about naming and the difference it makes when I don’t see just a tumult of colour in a sub-alpine meadow, but I’m able to say, “Why hello, Moss Campion and Pink Mountain Heather and lovely little Wintergreen.” (I like to think that I’m on such friendly terms with flowers that I needn’t bother with their formal, scientific names). Likewise, the vast night sky seems less vast and unknowable when I recognize Big Dipper, North Star, and Orion’s Belt.

Naming is an invitation to move from abstract, general knowledge to a deeper form of knowing that gives us language for the stories through which we share our learning and our experiences. Naming can be a matter of utility and function, as is the jargon specific to vocation, profession, business, politics, and sport, but even more than the practical and necessary, naming can be a way of paying attention. And paying attention is a way of knowing our world. Paying attention is a way of halting the blur of activity and productivity. Naming and knowing help us prioritize presence over performance.

And this practice of presence is why naming has become more important to me. Where my devices encourage me to scroll, swipe, refresh, repeat, naming forces me to get the binoculars and look closely — is that a Cedar Waxwing or a Bohemian Waxwing? Where my day-to-day life pushes me to go, go, be, do, naming makes me be still and listen — is that insect-like buzzing a Grasshopper Sparrow or a Clay-coloured Sparrow? Naming invites me to turn from the distractions and enticements of the faraway and beyond to focus on the people and places right here in this small but endlessly knowable piece of creation where I live.

I do not wonder that one of the tasks given to Adam in the garden was to name the other creatures. I think God wanted Adam to have intimate knowledge of the world he was placed in because that world, then and now, points to the Creator who knows our names, who is himself present with us.

☕️ Jots & Tittles & Scribbles

A Saturday Caesura

Whenever my husband sees me staring out the window with my thin blue notebook and a pencil in hand, he asks me how the ‘jots and tittles’ are going. On some days I answer, “Fine.” On other days, I sigh. Sometimes my mind swirls with words and images practically begging to be embodied on the page. Sometimes the words seem to have flown south or gone into hibernation. Or something.

I have another notebook (brown, spiral-bound) and a whole set of pencils, though the latest favourites are H and B, sometimes F. This notebook contains my “scribbles.” When lines and curves and dots won’t cooperate to make words, I repurpose them for other ways to create images.

Creativity is about observing our world and taking the bits and pieces, the broken shards and the impossibly intact, and using them to tell a greater story about beauty and truth and wholeness.

I’ve been trying to use what I have —jots, tittles, scribbles — to tell this grand story of grace and redemption, but it’s a story we all can tell through our unique callings and abilities.

And this story? It’s one our world desperately needs to hear. We need to hear.

Mountains are not easily reduced to jots, tittles, or scribbles…
I could scribble prairie skies for days and days.
Marsh ❤️
My addiction — alpine meadows.
A tree growing on a rock.
How does life flourish in such impossible places?

☕️ The Almost Didn’ts

A Saturday Caesura

The first three weeks of school in the midst of a pandemic with all its uncertainties, regulations, and anxieties has left me feeling like the world and my words are speeding by, the shape, form, detail lost in an indistinguishable blur. One of the reasons I write is to pay attention and to notice things, to find beauty and discover wisdom and wonder. Lately, my eyes and ears and heart have found it difficult to focus on anything in the jumble of life zipping past the window. I’ve not noticed so many things.

So I’m grateful for the things I almost didn’t notice.

I almost didn’t notice the skies pockmarked with dusky clouds and reverberating with the animated chatter of hundreds of geese making travel plans, discussing weather forecasts, channelling the energy of young ones caught up in the excitement and anticipation of their first Great Migration.

I almost didn’t notice that the trees have shivered and shimmied out of some of their summer garb, letting it drop in disarray at their feet like a discarded memory.

I almost didn’t notice the gradual slouching towards darkness that cloaks the morning commute with mystery and evokes a comforting cup of hot chai tea.

I almost didn’t notice the shifting colour palate of the marsh, not so long ago a richly nuanced green, now a motley gold-russet-chocolate-lemon that flavours and textures this year’s marsh fall fashion.

I almost didn’t notice the tracks trespassing on the newly graded road a few hundred metres from our home — a young bear venturing out to leave his bear-foot mark on the edges of society. I wonder if he felt brave and adventurous.

I almost didn’t notice the tears forming above the mask. The voice behind the mask was trying so hard to be brave. Even in a pandemic, school is already the safest place to be for too many teens. I wish I could give hugs.

I wish I could list all the things I didn’t notice. They probably contained so much beauty and wisdom and wonder. But I missed them.

☕️ Fall

A Saturday Caesura

Yellow leaves, (and a few greenish ones), lie in scatter formation on the back lawn. Three trees lie there also, more shattered than scattered, victims of core rot and the 90 kmh winds that accompanied a severe thunderstorm earlier this week. The leaves lost their grip in that wind, but they are also succumbing to the inevitability of fall. Fall once felt at least a summer away, but now here we are, easing into late sunrises and early sunsets, golden fields, fading flowers…falling leaves.

Fall is a “back” season: birds fly back south, students and teachers go back to school, vacationers head back to work. Eventually we will turn our clocks back an hour and settle into the extended darkness of winter. This year, we wish we could also go back to some pre-pandemic normalcy. If we had a sense of control in our lives before, we’ve lost our grip on it now. We skitter-scatter with the winds of uncertainty.

The downed trees splayed across the lawn are an obvious aberration in the back yard; their tragic posture is clearly “not normal.” But the reality is that only three trees fell; all of the others are still standing — a rather normal thing for most trees. The winds of last week didn’t topple them, nor the winds of yesterday, and neither will the winds of tomorrow or next month, or possibly even next year. “Normal” still surrounds us; some truths and realities haven’t changed just because others have. Uncertainty about some things doesn’t mean that everything is toppled and uprooted. I, for one, need to pause and remember this.

We can go forward rather than spend our days longing to go back, trusting that ageless truths and the God who is Truth will not change. Ever. No matter how the winds blow, trees fall, or pandemics spread.

☀️Cardiography

A Sunday Doxology

Praise God who forms the hearts 
      of all and sees
the ones that beat too fast,
the ones who are broken, 
     wandering, lonely,
calloused, wounded, 
     faltering...
faint, stubborn,  
     despairing, deceived.

Praise God who can bring healing
     to all these hearts 
        so disordered
        so prone to malfunction.
You make us whole and create in us
     wise, faithful, yielded,
     discerning, obedient,
     joyful, undivided,
     steadfast and secure
hearts
that beat to the 
rhythms of 
your own
heart.

☕️ Waffling

A Saturday Caesura

I made waffles the other day. Just saying that makes it sound like a big deal, but the real achievement was in cleaning the cupboard where I discovered the partially used package of buttermilk pancake mix (expiry date: distant past). What made me pause and ponder wasn’t the waffles or even the viability of the pancake mix, but the word waffle itself.

The Dutch origins of waffle are connected to wafer and in certain contexts can refer to a honeycomb-like weave. But from its English roots, to waffle is to be undecided or unsure.

I’ve done my fair share of waffling lately.

Over the years, I’ve also encountered a few Waffle Makers. You’ve no doubt seen them, too. They come with a few standard features: a raised eyebrow and some questions — “Really?” and “Wouldn’t it be better if…?” or “Are you sure?” Suddenly your sure conviction begins to wobble, teeter…and you are all in a waffle.

Sometimes we need Waffle Makers who will step in and stop us in the midst of a decision and make us waffle and wrestle before we move forward. These Waffle Makers genuinely desire to create in us deep wells, full and overflowing with wisdom and discernment.

But there is another kind of Waffle Maker whose questions and raised eyebrows come from judgment, jealousy, or even malice, and what they leave behind are recesses where discouragement and insecurity can pool and stagnate.

And sometimes we get ourselves stuck in waffle-mode and we need to hear the same words Elijah spoke to Israel and 850 wayward prophets: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him.” *

That was rather unambiguous and very unwaffle-like.

*1 Kings 18:22

☕️Anticipation and Delight

A Saturday Caesura

I spent the month of April anticipating spring, watching with delight as snow white gave way to earthy browns, and most recently, to hints of green.  And now spring is here.  The anticipation is over.  Life continues.  And isn’t that how it goes? We look forward to something – graduation, career, marriage, children, travel – and when the waited-for-thing arrives, we celebrate and then pack up the party hats and slip into something more comfortable and ordinary and continue with life, and sometimes in that ordinary continuing we stop finding delight.  

At some point everything we wished for in spring seems humdrum, run-of-the-mill, so what, or whatever. We anticipate the fresh new leaves of spring but complain about raking them in the fall.  We delight in lush green lawns but are annoyed at having to mow them each week. 

Occasionally we’ll do or see something that sparkles with delight – an evening BBQ on the deck, a drive in the countryside, a hike in the mountains – but mostly our days are smeared with the nondescript colours of ordinary.  So we make sparkle our quest but too often lose the ability to discern between what is real and meant for delight and what is illusionary and results in despair.

We live as if wonder and delight cannot be found in the mundane and exist only in the extra-ordinary, the superfluous, the majestic, the miraculous.  But what if wonder and delight are woven into the fabric of creation?  What if we took our eyes off the Big Shiny Things and found delight in something as ordinary as a cloudless sunrise, the gentle touch of a spouse, a moment of laughter with a friend, a muskrat swimming in the ditch. 

We live as if anticipation is not a sustainable emotion, its life-span restricted to that liminal space before the big events, significant changes, momentous moments.  But what if we stopped reserving our anticipation for the Big & Memorable and lived each day as if it is in itself an anticipation, a continual expectation of yet another day and another and another.

What if the reality that life does continue is extraordinary and delightful and wondrous and anything but ordinary.

Trees & Community

A Saturday Caesura

I love trees. I oogle and marvel and stare at them. I draw them and photograph them. Of all the trees I love, two specific ones regularly cause me to pause.

One was once a solitary landmark on a hill, a magnet for photographers. I loved that tree and its defiant hilltop stance. Now the aging tree stoops, the trunk splintered and bent, the few remaining branches locked in an awkward tangled bow towards the ground. Once an icon of prairie fortitude, the tree now stands berefit of dignity and strength.

If you didn’t know the old tree in its youthful years, you wouldn’t know where to find it now. Even I have to look carefully to see its misshapen form, hidden as it is in the copse of young trees surrounding it. An expansive community of roots holds them fast through the storms that continue to assault the hilltop. I often imagine that these spry saplings are shielding their broken ancestor from exposure and ridicule, protecting its dignity, promising to carry forward its legacy of holding ground, of standing firm.

The second tree is a more recent discovery, but it is also bent, never to stand tall and straight again. Some accident or force of nature caused its trunk to nearly break, toppling the rest of the tree to the left where neighbouring trees caught it before it could crash land. In spite of its awkward right-angled jog, the trunk is thick and strong. Prolific branches still birth leaves in spring and bid them adieu in the fall.

I imagine this tree spending a few years apologizing to the friends who faithfully keep holding it up. I imagine the friends reassuring it: We’ve got you. No worries. We aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We’ll just grow through this together. And no, you aren’t a burden. I imagine the tree finally stops apologizing and accepts this grace and lives its gratitude with each new leaf, season after season.

We can learn a lot from trees, I think.

On Telephone Poles

A Saturday Caesura

Old telephone poles parallel the railway that tracks along the northern edge of our little community. The poles are weathered by years of exposure to wind and sun and rain and snow, by years of stalwartly carrying generations of conversations. A few poles topple eastward, arms askew, having succumbed to westerly winds. Some are half-tangled in trees whose roots permitted them to grow tall while the poles, anchored but rootless, stand lifeless, and now — purposeless.

Thick black lines draped over their extended arms still link them to each other, but no longer provide a link between communities, between people. No words shiver, shimmy, and slide from pole to pole. In some places, lines dangle in severed, broken silence .

I wonder about things old and seemingly useless.

How many words of desperation and love and buisness and flirting and gossiping and fear and courage and news and warning and reassurance coursed through those lines held so carefully on extended arms from pole to pole to pole for miles and miles for years and years? Did we pay attention to those poles and lines when we needed their presence, when we depended on them to stand strong and true through every storm? Or were they…just there — taken for granted in the landscapes of our lives.

Like the aging poles, we are still linked as communities and as individuals, but the links are rarely as visible: underground cables are safely tucked out of sight and weather, wireless waves miraculously deliver conversations to our purses and pockets. Pole-less technology may seem more efficient, but I wonder… I wonder if the connections between us are as strong as those old thick black cables held so carefully by pole after pole.

I wonder about things old and seemingly useless: the stories they tell about where we came from, but also the stories they reveal about who we are now.

I wonder.