☕️ 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

☕️ Lilies

A Saturday Caesura

Almost ten years ago, someone brought several potted lilies to our son’s funeral service. After everyone had gone home and the other bouquets of flowers had faded and withered, I planted the lilies beneath a cluster of trees in our backyard. It was an act of hope that they would survive the winter — that I would survive this loss.

Since then, the lilies have bloomed every year, and each year I have learned more about living with grief.

In preparation for this year’s Great Backyard Redo, I moved the lilies last spring — built a raised bed specifically for them, watched them bloom in early summer, and then worried that their roots would be too exposed to survive the deep freeze of winter.

I began looking for signs of life as soon as the snow melted this spring. For the longest time there was nothing. I started to consider that these lilies could actually die and the thought began stirring and renewing the grief that had brought them to us to begin with.

I began breathing again when they began poking up green.

They had survived another winter.

The lilies are now thick with golden blooms. The taller ones will soon add splashes of burgundy red and I’ll keep breathing in the beauty and breathing out gratitude that although death is inevitable and grief is inescapable, life is full of unfathomable generosity and goodness.

☕️ Destruction & Restoration: rethinking change

A Saturday Caesura

We (as in the friend-who-owns-a-backhoe), took out all the trees, dead and otherwise, from our backyard. This was a Hard Thing for me. The day before the Hoe of Destruction arrived, I wandered through the yard, noticing, touching, remembering…crying. Although I had already relocated my perennials and Justin’s lilies, most of what existed in the back yard was never planted by me, and I loved all these wild and wonderful green growing friends. They were so beautiful and so welcome, even as they always seemed to welcome me.

They are all gone now.

I know we needed to deal with the dead and dying trees, but I wasn’t prepared for losing everything else, too. So…I’ve been grieving this week.

But I’ve also been discovering.

I discovered shady hideaway places for the ferns. They seem to be enjoying their new homes beneath the remaining willows and tucked at the feet of a small copse of trees in the front yard. I enjoy the lacy sweep of their fronds uncurling in among the grasses and wild roses and honeysuckle. I envision more woodland shade-lovers adding texture and colour beneath these still standing, living trees.

I’ve also discovered the western sky. With no trees in the foreground, I can now watch sunsets from my deck or bedroom window rather than having to scuttle out to open spaces in the marsh to catch the full effect of the evening glow-show. I love the prairie sky as much as I love trees, so it’s felt like a fair-trade deal to exchange one for the other.

The yard itself is still a mild mess, but a Tractor of Restoration with tools like rototillers and harrows will do its thing and eventually there will be green grass and a new garden spot, which I am already “garden-scaping” in my mind. It’ll have space for the veggies I love to grow, but also nooks and crannies and islands where perennials can flash their colours and re-texturize the backyard view. We’ll re-instate the fire-pit (a necessity), add a clothesline (my wish) and an archery range (his wish) and some gravel by the sheds because it’s the practical thing to do.

I’m still adjusting, but I’m also realizing that a bare patch of ground is an invitation to possibility. Like many of us, I’m often most comfortable with what is. Even when what is isn’t really working all that well, it’s hard to accept that what could be might hold promise even though it requires change.

So, here’s me learning (once again) to let go of something I held dear and finding ways to embrace and appreciate change.

☕️ 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.

☕️ Messes & Marvels

A Saturday Caesura

This morning I sat down and wrote some thoughts for this caesura. Thoughts about vulnerability and virus variants and stuck supertankers and murder and violence and other egregious acts against fellow human beings. I wrote a lot of words, but I don’t think they were very coherent. Sometimes I just need to dump everything on a page and let it sit there in a mess for a while. Someday when I will come back to the word-tangle, maybe there will be a clear line of thought that is worth unravelling.

So today’s caesura is not about those thoughts, but about some images from this week. Images like the tiny “hairs” lining the edges of a baby lupine leaf. The lupine is in my classroom at the moment, escaping the heat of the greenhouse until it’s warm enough outside to give it a more permanent home in my yard. I noticed the hairs because they caught the early morning light coming through the window and created a halo around each leaf frond. The glow drew me in for a closer look. Remarkable.

In true northern prairie fashion, it snowed on the day after the first day of spring and I don’t want to talk about how much it snowed or how horrible the roads were, but I do want to talk about how the snow is now melting drip by drip off the edge of the roof. Sometimes a few drops will drip in unison, other times in succession. They remind me of a hand-bell choir. I wonder what song they would make if each drop dripped a note on the scale. Would it be a lament for winter? Or an anthem for spring’s arrival?

The Christmas cactus I bought as a gift for a friend (that I never had a chance to see at Christmas because of Covid) still sits in my kitchen window. It bloomed this week. The brilliant pink blossom looked like an exotic bird from some distant tropical jungle, and even though Christmas came and went ages ago, this blossom was the best possible gift for this week. There are two more budding gifts and now I’m not sure my friend will ever see this particular plant.

Sometimes I need to leave my thoughts in a muddled mess of words on the pages of a notebook I can close and walk away from. And sometimes I need to leave all the messes of the world (beginning with my own heart) at the foot of the cross and focus on the small but extraordinary blessings each day contains. Often I can view the messes with more clarity and understanding when I filter them through the lens of God’s intended goodness for his creation.

☕️ Gifts

A Saturday Caesura

The first story I remember writing was about a cougar. At the time, I was positive that it was the greatest story ever written. I have only vague memories of what I actually wrote, but I can guarantee it was everything you would expect from an elementary school student: sentimental imaginings, clichéd descriptions, and gaping plot holes. I remember this particular story because writing it made me realize for the first time that the ideas and pictures in my head could become words on a page, that writing wasn’t just about copying letters or spelling words correctly or answering study questions in full sentences. I’ve not given much attention to story-making in the years since that failed masterpiece, but I’ve developed a love for story-finding among the bits and pieces and images of daily life.

The first picture I clearly remember drawing was of a poster-sized blue garbage can with big eyes, an open lid for its mouth, and “Feed Me” (or something similar) written on its belly. It won an anti-littering-on-the-playground contest which was monumental to my little-girl-self, not because of the prize (which I don’t even remember), but because I realized that I could draw and that I enjoyed drawing. At first I mostly drew animals. Okay… horses. But eventually a charcoal cat and a moose and mountain goats and even a cougar. Later, I realized that drawing people was somewhat similar to drawing animals; I just had to change the shapes and features and lines and proportions and perspectives — in other words, everything but the actual drawing techniques. Even later, I learned that artists call pencil crayons coloured pencils, and now I have a glorious array of them. They are still my favourite art tool.

Over the years writing and drawing have been relegated to the When I Have Time portion of the calendar. I regret this. I realize now that what I lacked was not time, but a proper understanding of the gift they are to me. For the past several years I have tried to be more faithful in using these gifts. I write and draw nearly every day, even if it is only for a few minutes – a quick sketch, a sentence or two. From this habit, comes a new project: a zine I’ve entitled Jots & Doodles, which combines inked images from my sketchbook with poems and reflections from my writing notebook.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1: Issues 1 & 2

As a gift to anyone who happens to stumble across this blog, I am making each issue of Jots & Doodles available as a PDF download. They can be printed on a single sheet of paper and folded into a booklet (see instructions below). They are the perfect size to tuck into a card or a pocket or an envelope, attach to a gift or pin on a bulletin board. If they bring you (or someone you know) some encouragement, I’d love to hear about it!

Gifts are only gifts if they are given.

Source: https://tellingcambridgetales.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/how-to-fold-a-zine/

Note: please notify me if there are any issues with the download links. Thank you.

☕️ Snippets

A Saturday Caesura

Some weeks happen all helter-skelter. Undone to-dos, interruptions, diversions, uh-ohs, and not-agains. Normal stuff occurring with abnormal frequency. Even the weather tried to squeeze all four seasons into a single week. Life seems more manageable when everything practices distancing, takes turns, behaves in orderly and predictable ways.

My thoughts were helter-skelter, too. None of the usual slow mulling and processing of an idea, an image. Just snippets of this and that — some that stuck and some that slid away.

Snippet: I was riding my bike on the indoor trainer upstairs. I look out the window, but the scenery doesn’t scroll by like it usually does when I cycle outdoors. The neighbour’s house just sits there. So do the barren trees, the snow, the fence, the street off to the left. It is boring. But that day I noticed that the snow was pockmarked with little indentations, like a scatter plot with a cluster under one tree and a spray of them in all directions from there. Each indentation was where a sparrow or a red poll sat to munch on a seed from the bird feeder. The word that came to mind when I saw all these mini-dining spots was feast. A feast spread across a yard-sized table. I lingered on the word feast — it felt rich and welcoming.

Snippet: Dean always does the supper dishes as I clean up and put food away. One evening, an evening when I had after-supper plans of my own, the kitchen sink clogged when Dean tried to drain the water. What followed was well over an hour of checking sections of drain, ramming first the small snake and then the big long unruly one through pipes with strange angles until finally the water flowed, drained, disappeared like it was supposed to. My plans? Forgotten. Neither of us could have done that job alone. Sometimes love and commitment looks like wrestling snakes and unclogging drains together.

Snippet: my writing and art have happened in snippets between the demands of teaching school, but each snippet of time has been soul-nourishing. After a season of questioning why I write or draw, I’ve started a project that seems like a perfect fit for my “jots & doodles” and it has renewed my vision for being a faithful steward of the abilities God has given. I’ll share more about this project next week!

Snippet: Because our annual teacher’s convention this week was virtual, I had a rare opportunity to go for a weekday lunchtime walk and on my walk I met a girl who was walking her puppy. Puppies are adorable. This puppy looked like he had a significant share of Jack Russell genes and had no concept of “stranger danger.” He was full-body wiggles and tongue-slapping smiles and isn’t-this-the-BEST-day-ever and can-I-be-your-BFF and isn’t-life-just-GLORIOUS! And I walked away feeling exactly all that but with the wiggles on the inside, smiles sans the tongue thing.

Snippet: I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Ps. 27:13