Wednesday, October 10, 2018

banjo and a purple finch

There is a beautiful place in my house that shines in morning sunlight. The windows look into the front juniper where I placed a bird feeder a few weeks ago. The birds love the sheltered branches and opened spaces in that juniper.

So I sit on my big brown couch practicing backwards rolls on my banjo; watch the chickadees, nuthatches and purple finches flashing in the morning sunlight as they come for seeds in the juniper.

Do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink
or about your body, what you will wear...
look at the birds of the air;
they do not sow or reap or store away in barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. 
(...also, I help!)
In a world inundated with news about disasters and people not having enough food or drink or shelter, these words may seem cavalier ... but they are also part of an assurance that we are seen.  That a heavenly Father is working behind the scenes, or in the scenes, and that we are a part of his work.

My Saskatchewan bird book describes purple finches as not really purple, but birds that look like sparrows dipped in raspberry juice.  Well.  For so many reasons, that is now the bird I look for
in the morning sunlight.

One parked himself on the feeder for a while before hopping onto a bare sunlit lilac branch
where he sat and watched me practicing my backward rolls on the banjo, tilting his head to the side, listening to these strange sounds... and I looked right back at him and kept playing.
After a few minutes I put my banjo down and he flew away.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Northern Lights Bluegrass Festival

We set up the tent to the sound of a banjo, waking up at night with loons calling from the nearby lake.  Ate breakfast in the morning with a penny whistle in the distance  and a raven circling close to our camp site with a strangely distressing call

I attended a song-writing break out session led by Tim - the stand up bass player from The Barrel Boys.  Some of the things he said were:
-inspiration may or may not happen.
-pay attention to what is on the fringe because the most interesting things do not show up on the most well trodden path.
-you cannot surprise yourself.
-turn off the filter.  write fearlessly.  later edit mercilessly.
-liberate the creative process by putting things in a box. restrict your options.
-do some free writing every day. 5-10 minutes. then walk away and make coffee
-find the surprise.
-if the idea is outside of yourself, you just need to execute the form. it is less attached to you
-commit to one thing ahead of time. helps to restrict possibilities

The last part of the song writing break out session, of course, was to partner with someone and take a shot at writing a song.  Tim set the restrictions: make this a sad song.  Write a sad song about an animal at camp.  My assigned partner and I tossed around a few ideas, and decided to go with a story about the raven I had heard at breakfast.  We decided it was a sad raven.  We had a few ideas and lines down by the end of the break out, far from done.  The raven story stayed with me... woke me up early in the mornings in the tent till I "finished" it. 

I have written exactly one song in my life.  That was on the shore of a river somewhere in northern Ontario part of the way through a college choir tour.  So here you are - the second song that I have written.  About a sad raven at the Northern Lights Blue Grass and Old Tyme Festival at Ness Creek.
Melody still to be determined.  So no, not technically a song!  A few days later we heard 2 owls hooting at each other in the late afternoon haze.  Sounded territorial but I've rarely heard owls, and certainly not in the daytime.  So maybe they were mad owls.  Sad ravens.  lonely loons. and cheeky blue jays. So many songs could have been written about the birds we heard and saw! But I digress.  (clearing throat). a Sad Raven.

Camp was built on raven land
nests high in the trees
song and smoke and raven's call
drifting on the breeze.

Raven voices reckless
while the banjo's and penny whistles sing
baby raven trying to fly
trying to take wing

mama circling back to you
calling calling
mama circling back to you
calling, calling

light has faded in the smoky sky
and the dew falls wet on the still, black wings
this little baby couldn't learn to fly
while the banjos and fiddles sing

mama circling all around
calling calling
little baby raven on the ground
calling, calling

Camp was built on raven land
nests high in the trees
song and smoke and raven's call
drifting on the breeze.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


Somehow in this sorting of things in our deep fall cleaning I started thinking about my neighbor Fran. She's been gone 6 years now. 

She would lean over her back deck watching the birds, watching the seasons, watching my children grow.  We often visited when I worked in my garden.  She'd hear me sneezing and call "Hello!!" across the fence. 

After her Keith passed away I could hear her singing through her open kitchen window
"One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that's all I'm asking of you ..."
I'd never heard her sing before.

She told me one summer afternoon that if I heard her talking to Keith, it wasn't because she was losing her mind.  It was because after a life time of talking to someone, it was hard to stop. 

And so she kept talking to Keith. She was not very strong any more.
She got baptized that summer 
in the water of her backyard fountain.

Her pastor told her that every day as she heard the water running over the rocks, she could remember this day - remember whose she was. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

September morning

September stillness settles into the crevices of the morning.

Yellowing leaves stand damp after yesterday's rains;
birds are waking slowly.

A child says goodbye to her grandma
and sings to herself as she walks past my house on the way to school.

My self-seeding snapdragons stand tall, sending rockets of color skyward.
I transplanted himalayan poppies, some new lilies, delphiniums, and crocuses over the summer.

As they settle in with these fall rains I look forward to seeing what another summer will look like.
In the meantime, the winter, the snow, the months of dormancy will overcome them.

September stillness settles into the crevices of the morning.

In the crevices, I am resting.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


The planets spread out along the horizon,
Mars gleaming a pale orange low in the east
Saturn piercing the darkness toward the south
Jupiter shining in the southwest.

I spin slowly on the grass beside the river,
watch the planets' steady light
among the glimmering stars,
Randy pointing them out one by one.

We sat on the grass,
saw a satellite fly high overhead,
watched a jet blinking across the sky,
laughed at my inability to name the stars
in the summer triangle ... after all these summers together.

I should study.  Next time I'll know them:

Maybe it was after looking at a night sky like this, that Bruce Cockburn wrote these words ...

Lord of the starfields
Ancient of Days
Universe Maker
Here's a song in your praise.

Wings of the storm cloud
Beginning and end
You make my heart leap
Like a banner in the wind.

O love that fires the sun
Keep me burning.

Lord of the starfields
Sower of life,
Heaven and earth are
Full of your light.

Voice of the nova
Smile of the dew,
All of our yearning
Only comes home to you.

O love that fires the sun
Keep me burning. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

playground friendships

she inserted herself seamlessly into their monkey bar routine
not butting in but waiting confidently for her turn
stepping in between the brothers
for her turn to swing across

understood the relationships
watching out for their little sister
called her "little sister"
made sure that she had a chance to swing, to play

and when they were all hot and thirsty
she offered them a drink of water from her 7 Up water bottle
she knew they were thirsty too

it was only when she cried out
after a swing came back
to unceremoniously cuff her on the head that
one of the older kids who had been playing

confidently swinging
playing those games with rules that
morph with the day and the playmates

quickly came to her aid
made sure she was alright
called her back - once

then she came back to us
called me Grandma too
asked me for a push on the swing

My view from the deck as I think about the gifts of this day.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

hillside crocus

Riding, then walking, we see
brown grass, sea gulls sailing
geese coming in low
juniper with purple berries covering the hill
and tumbling over the hillside
moon rising
ice drifting down river.

Walking and then bending low, we see
brown grass, grey sage, one purple blossom
mostly closed and pointing upward
surrounded by a family of fuzzy stalks not yet opened
and once we have seen one
the hillside erupts into purple sunlit song.

Have I always been blind to this
purple song on a barely spring hillside,

or did I never walk on a high bluff
while the snow still melted from the river bank
and the pelicans and sea gulls
celebrated their return
to my Saskatoon shores?