Thursday, December 13, 2018

sand and snow

The book's yellow spine had "Egypt" written in bold, block letters.
At the table beside the bookshelf, a tall dark-haired woman shed her jacket and settled into the sunlit chair.  Her partner - for conversation? for lunch? for life?  sank into the chair across from her, sun shining across his shoulders as well.  His back was to the book about Egypt and all other books on those shelves.  Our eyes met once, accidentally, before his gaze shifted quickly to his partner, and I back to Egypt.  My son is there.

My prairie-bound soul is not sure what that means; that he rides camels and sees a horizon marked by pyramids, learns a language spoken across desert sands and around bedouin camps.  What words is he speaking, people is he seeing, smells and sounds swirling around him while I crunch through new-fallen snow under a Saskatchewan sky?

Friday, November 30, 2018

becoming storytellers... and advent

I have another series to add to my advent collection - Steve Bell's Pilgrim Year. It will join others on my coffee table and beside the Christmas tree... and this morning I simply have his companion song "May It Be Done" in my earbuds on repeat.

Randy brought our tree home yesterday - cold, tight and tied up. We balanced it in the tree stand and poured warm water into the well.  Over the evening its branches settled into their well tended shape and started filling the room with the scent of balsam. We'll decorate sometime in the next few days. 

Each year there are new stories to add to our family - new adventures, new struggles, travels and friendships.  And each year there are stories not told - my son travelling through Egypt has given me snippets and snapshots of his days, but I look forward to sitting across the table from him and hearing the stories pour out. 

I love stories.  I love well-told stories.  I love gut-wrenching true stories that shape us.  I love stories of redemption.  I love stories that children tell, and the ways they tell them.  I love the stories that intersect with Jesus, and shift and change in that intersection.  I love the opportunity of Advent to tell the stories of faith to another generation.  I love the way Advent helps us to become storytellers, rather than deferring to the professionals.  These stories become more familiar each year, and they shift and shimmer as we journey through our lives, so that different parts of the story shine differently through the lens of each year's events. 

I am gaining respect for storytellers who are not afraid of a story that is in process. Telling a story, letting the story heal. Telling a story while unsure of how the story will end ... letting the telling of the story reveal the healing.  I am used to carefully sculpted, scripted story telling so that I can control what I say, and what I reveal.  There is a beautiful, vivid color and courage to stories still at work in people's lives. 

What do we do with a story that is not yet done, that is not done shaping us, not done finding resolution, not done intersecting with our Creator and Savior? 
Advent is about waiting - even though we know that actually the event we "wait for" has already happened.  We count the days to Christmas, and we long for the story to resolve in our own lives.  So Advent can become a rehearsal, and walking with the wise men following their star, walking with Mary as she lives out the consequences of her "yes" to the angel, walking with Joseph as he stumbles through a commitment that he does not understand, walking with shepherds, blinded in the night by a strange announcement...

Friday, November 23, 2018

traveling library 2

My mom talked about reading books over and over again as a child.  She talked about pretending that she had not read the books before, could not remember the endings, so that she could be surprised.  

I have lately wondered about those books of mom's.  How did those books get to her?  How many books?  What kind of boxes carried these books to children who were living in Saskatchewan in the 30's and 40's?  WHICH books did she read?  And why did I never ask mom when she was here to be asked??  So I have begun to ask questions of libraries ... in Beechy and Herbert, and to ask questions of friends.  The answers are beginning to come, but in the meantime I've been wondering, and writing about what might have happened when my mom was little, and loved to read. 

As soon as the snow began to cover the dirt, the wind would tear across the field to toss it aside till the brown showed through again. She watched the hare take off across the field, only movement giving it away.  The white fur was overtaking brown of his coat, matching the earth's shifting colors.  The road would likely disappear under the snow by morning.

She kept her eye on the horizon where the road vanished over the hills, waiting for the horses to appear.  It was a game to try to figure out how far away things were on these prairies.  Things that traveled along the road were unfairly easy to judge, as they knew that journey well.  The hills were nothing majestic, but they played on her horizon.  From the north side there was a sudden rise against the sky and she could see the line of the land shift upward.  Standing on the side of the hill facing east showed her the waves of prairie rolling away for ever.

If the books came from that direction, she would eventually see a speck heading towards her.  Steadily it would grow larger till she could see which horse was pulling the cart on its round. If the books were coming from town, the horse would just pop over the hill, almost in her neighbor's yard.

The horse popped into sight today - the dark head bobbing as she pulled the cart with six large wooden boxes.  As the boxes were pulled onto the yard she and Helen pulled on their boots, wrapped their winter jackets around their shoulders, and flew out the door. 
"Did you like those?" the driver asked as she handed back the books from his last visit.  
"Yes. Oh yes."
No choosing this time.  She was working her way through the rows of books - letting the library choose what order she read.  She had discovered that the books she loved eventually came back to her, and the books she read while waiting for her favorites were at least a doorway from this little house.  Colder weather had begun to close them all in for the winter months.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

traveling library

She ignored the rising disappointment, lifted her chin and looked again at the row of titles on the worn books.  She had been waiting for these boxes all week, had long ago finished the two books she had picked the last time the books came around.  There were no new ones here.  She had read every one before.

She closed her eyes and reached out. Blindly took one with her right hand, and one with her left. Once she had pulled them loose she saw that she was going to the island.  Anne with an e.  And one with horses.

Today she would head for the hay loft.  The turkey was occupied in the far corner of the pen, so she cut across the yard and ducked into the dusky light of the barn. Her books tucked securely under her arm, she swung herself up the ladder as she heard her name called from the house.

She had finished washing the bedding, she thought.  Maybe not.  Her mother would eventually find
her. But in the meantime she settled into the hay, running her fingers across the cover and quickly leafed through the familiar pages.  Then resolutely counted backwards from 10 ... 4  3  2  1.
Corralled the memories of this book into the back pasture of her mind and was ready to pretend she had never read the book before.

These books were her window onto the world, a passageway through the dusty summers and long cold winters.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

moonlight brims

hay mazes
pumpkin glazes

horizon blazes
little one chases

leaf that glides

sunshine thins
moonlight brims

over the horizon
flickers across river winding

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?

Friday, April 20, 2018

looking for crocuses

we went looking for crocuses
we were not expecting
   herons standing in the river
   coyote hunting for gophers
   geese debating nesting grounds
   a beaver pup running along
      the river bank,

we went looking for crocuses
   and found fuzzy patches
   sage and thistles greening

everything is coming up for air
   ready to live
   under the warming sun

we went looking for crocuses
   laughed at cormorants on a wire
   at things taken too seriously

ice jams
beaver dams
laughter slams
into shadows, who scramble
back into their
wintry caves

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday morning limericks

Words for this week: word, dwell, glory, born, receive, grace

Things I was not prepared for:
-ways that a form lays me bare.  In Monday's quatern there is a line that moves from the 1st line in the 1st verse to the 2nd line in the 2nd verse ... down to the last line in the 4th verse.  My repeating line was "first words emerge out of chaos" ... and that repeating refrain reached deeply into chaos.

-a struggle with meaning and words.  Each form requires a number of syllables, or a certain rhyming scheme ... so they force sounds to be considered before meaning.  When I write a line, and the last word is "received", the next thing I do is write a list of words that rhyme:  cleave, leave, reprieve, peeve, weave, achieve, believe, retrieve, beneath(?), grieve, heave.  Sick.  "Received."  I cannot do that with "Weaved".  or "leaved".  It has to be "wove", "left".  Nope.  Can I make it singular?  so that I can use weave and leave?  But now the last line wants to be something else and weaves lands earlier in the last line.  And limericks just want to be funny regardless of the words they hold. 

-and it seems that I will have to study sonnets.  I will read some good ones by Keats and Shakespeare.  I don't get them.  I mechanically work the rhyming scheme and the number of syllables but the cadence is off and they are wooden.

My grandsons and I had fun with Wednesday's Haynaku.  I read the words for the week to them, and explained the rhythm (1 word in the 1st line, 2 words in the second, and 3 in the third). This is what happened:

born                                             Jesus
God rose                                      was risen
from the dead                               from the dead

I                                                    We
had a                                              went to
very good day                                to Grandma's house

like to
explore the forest

child                                             child
glory contained                            glory contained
glee spilling over                         grace spilling over

And the limericks - which I do not quite feel like owning.  But I wanted to use the words "dwell" and "receive" ... so this is what happened. 
We struggle to relive the glory
He was born - we oft hear the story
Among us to dwell
Our flesh - not a shell
Holding treasure, t'was more like a quarry.

This word is a gift we receive;
not something that we can achieve.
Though constant our struggle,
understanding through trouble,
grace weaves through our lives a reprieve.

take 2:
This Word is a gift we receive;
Once spoken, the Father would weave
from beginning of time
his actions like mime
renewal of life to conceive.

And now I have to get on with other Saturday things.  Blessings in this wintry February season. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Saturday, February 17, 2018

playing with form (limited by form)

The short program in figure skating has never been my favorite.  The demands seem huge, and constraining, with little room for freedom of expression.  Within 2 minutes and 50 seconds, they must complete 7 specified elements of jumps, spins and sequences. It often feels much more mechanical than the free skate.

I am watching a lot of Olympics these days, and this specified limitation of form interests me.  There are timing or weight or clothing restrictions, space markers, boundaries, specified orders of operations. Things that matter to within tenths or hundredths of seconds or grams or millimeters in any one of the events.

This limitation of form intrigues me, partly because I do not like constraints, do not like limiting my options.  And partly because my faith is in One who stepped into a very limited and restricted form to live a life like mine.  And that continues to stagger my mind and heart.  And to defy logic.

So I am going to explore poetic writing forms for this season of Lent.  To see what artificial constraints of rhythm and rhyme do with words and thoughts.  How does form restrict meaning, or shape meaning?  or enhance meaning?!  Oh, how it restricts!  There are strict rhyming schemes in some.  So I search for a word that rhymes with an end of a thought.  And nothing comes, so I walk to the river, talking out loud with rhyming words.  (I am not crazy.)  And when I find a word that rhymes, try to construct a thought that fits.  That is so different than just writing what I want regardless of length of line and sound of words.  Or a short poetry form like Haiku where you do not use metaphor or simile or title.  Or a Landay (Thursday's form) sung more than written, likely originates in the region of Afghanistan/Pakistan, often a way of communicating among isolated women.  Edgy.  Specializing in themes of war, separation, homeland, grief, war,  Or a limerick ... which can't help but be a bit funny.  How can form do all of these things?

One more layer to add to this - each week I am choosing six words from a section of the Gospel of John that can be a focus or theme or just a word inserted.  Six elements.  Changing each week.  After only a partial week, it seems that sonnets may be my downfall.  Rhyming feels just so artificial when I MUST do it.

So I'll share some of my attempts - even when I know they fall short - because this imposition of form is the thing I am wrestling with.  How does form affect meaning?

The letter to the Philippians (2:6-7)  gives us a hint of this ...
Though he was God (or "being in the form of God")
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges (or "emptied himself")
he took the humble position of a slave ("took the form of a slave")
and was born as a human being.
when he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God...

I did some research and found some new-to-me poetic forms at  Decided on the following constraints:

Mondays - Quatern
Tuesdays - Nonet
Wednesday - Haynaku
Thursday - Sonnet
Fridays - Landay
Saturdays - Limerick or Haiku

And an any day substitution - Sestina
And let's be honest.  Though points may be deducted for incomplete sequences I may just switch out a limerick when a sonnet refuses to be written.

So the elements for this first short week (words from the first verses of the gospel of John)
beginning, word, made, life, light, darkness, gives

On your mark, get set ...

Wednesday (Haynaku)
soil frozen
still fast asleep

Thursday (Landay)
rivers know the way water must flow
but we wander, wonder, carving the land with our words

Friday (Sonnet ...  incomplete and in need of revision but Friday came to an end and this was all I could do!!)

And so the world spoken by a word spins
not so that we become dizzy with speed;
water, wind, earth, fire as he begins
to speak, to breathe life into (each living seed) [don't like this ending]

Whispers of wind run through the dark shadow
grass long dried along the riverbank gives
voice in the silence, for how can you know
One who spoke words into spaces, and lives.

The spinning the living the dying the watching
for One who breathes life and who utters a word
 ......                                                        catching
.......                                                        blurred

What do I want to say?
Or must words first be allowed to play?

Saturday (Haiku)
light interrupts dark
and a word betrays silence
a flicker of life

sunlight reflecting
water shimmering, flowing
ducks share winter ice

    Thursday, February 8, 2018

    falls like rain

    snow fell thick 
    every morning 
    balancing on the wires
    stacked on the fence posts
    covering tracks from the previous day

    temperatures play around freezing
    dropping moisture like snow 
    for throwing and building
    dropping moisture like rain

    we play with the children 
    (children bring that gift) 
    peek a boo 
    laughing while making silly animal noises
    running through the snow
    making paths where there were none
    jumping into snow banks 
    building snowmen and sliding on the paths

    conversations circle
    on the missing one
    settle intentionally and look him in the face
    paging through the photos
    remembering the pieces of a life
    finding pieces left behind
    knowing he won't walk through the door
    dropping moisture like tears

    and the snow falls silently all around
    as we drive away

    the sun breaks through the clouds 
    for a moment
    lighting the tops of the mountains