Monthly Archives: March 2014

Stood at the foot of a particular tree and looked up, watched raindrops fall a very long way, as if in slow motion,the few that filtered through into the shadow of the canopy.

Coastal redwood

Coastal redwood, northern California

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Posted by on March 28, 2014 in Beautiful Earth



If earthworms can do it, so can you

If earthworms can do it, so can you

I’m slowly making friends, building a partnership, with my clay soil, gradually over the last seventeen years. I no longer criticize, complain, despair over my native allotment, but marvel at what is possible. Guess I was attracted to the challenge of growing in the stuff, or I would have carted the stuff away years ago and bought a few cubic yards of sandy loam, which can be had from formerly fertile valleys now paved over with malls and car dealerships.

This morning the sun was angling in the kitchen windows, and though I had cleaning and packing to do, I took my camera out to record some frames. On the surfaces of the paths, which had been trampled by many feet to a slick, water-bonded foot of clay, I saw tiny piles of worm castings, like little brown squirts of toothpaste escaped from tiny tubes squeezed from underground. How the creatures managed to plow through is a wonder, but plow they did, and in the clay I could see their work, though it was invisible in the crumbly, dug beds. Something has switched on this week with the warming of the soil, as if it has reached the biological equivalent of a melting point. Two weeks ago when loosening the soil with a spading fork I came upon many an earthworm and night crawler, but they were sluggish and waiting. This week, suddenly there are castings, the grass has started to send out new shoots, and the groundwater is sinking away. The earth is gripped by a mighty force of many little muscle fibers, root hairs, dividing cells, capillary forces, swelling buds, as the earthworms labor to aerate and each kind of plant in turn reaches its appointed budding, leafing, flowering time.

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Grey-blue and tumbling
they wrestle with Sol
then break, shed light drops
and yield.


Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Arts, Poetry and Music, My poems


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There are a lot of jackasses, ignorami, liars, and jerks out there influencing the world, but calling them names won’t do any good, because it only hurts their feelings and makes you look desperate and powerless

A word of explanation, though I was planning to post only the title there. Just an impression as I research certain hot debates in education. Instead of attempts to educate us on how the various players express and support their views, there’s this pissed-off tone that would only appeal to those who have already made up their minds and came like the choir to be preached to. Come on, journalists, stop being such…

Sorry. I mean, give us information, your reasoned opinions, and stop appealing to our herd instincts. I don’t want to be part of anyone’s faithful flock.

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Posted by on March 25, 2014 in Uncategorized


Time to dust off the guitar

Time to dust off the guitar

A friend has been asking me to sing with her, to get out my guitar and we’ll go at some of our favorites, even perform at an open mic some week night. But it’s been an age since I used to do that sort of thing, and I have been living a different life, take up if not into the fiery heavens, at least into the minivan on grocery shopping errands, back home to empty the dishwasher, read with the kids on the couch, growl over one more sticky spill, help with poetry assignments at too late an hour, refinish woodwork. I hopefully set the guitar out for myself in prominent locations around the couch during seasonal house cleanings, but it was always eventually was subsumed by the lint under the couch.

Flash back to rose-colored memories of casual busking back in downtown Halifax, weekends and occasional week nights in front of downtown pubs and coffeeshops–places where people were passing through and in a weekend mood, but not obliged to listen. Only stopped if they wanted to–if they felt some sympathy with the music, or at least the effort. A kind of proto-blogging in that sense. I always started with Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” Small groups of revelers or lone street winos would come up close to lend a voice to one song or another–the winos especially knew the old time gospel hymns I sometimes sang–Swing Low, Michael Row–from the services at the shelter and soup kitchens. Sometimes someone would linger where they thought was just out of my line of sight to listen, and we’d enjoy a fellowship of folk. Usually they would eventually sneak in and drop a coin, and I would steal a glance. One older professionally-dressed man dropped in a twenty dollar bill–a fortune in my eyes.

After the first few years on my own (with a few friends that would come along for company and stop out for coffee or a beer), I teamed up with Patricia and Kate and we sang below Barrington Street where the dark office high rises echod our harmonies off the empty glass towers.

The other day I took out the guitar, not because the feeling was there, the muse or inspiration or anything–that doesn’t work as much any more for me,and maybe it was hogwash anyway. As my old friend J.B. would say, when it gets hard, when it comes down to choice, that’s where the rubber hits the road. If I need to sing as part of just living up to some of the better, then I’d best try to get on with it.

And I’ll close with this song by Corin Raymond, which I heard on CBC the other day.



We mostly fall, we mostly run

Yesterday’s morning rush–up to fix a pre-HSPE test breakfast for my older daughter, bag lunches for my sons heading to fifth grade and community college, respectively, then trying to keep the atmosphere from crackling while my younger daughter goes through her morning routine (she wakes up charged and needs quiet and calm to defuse) and then heads off off to middle school. Fed the hungry dogs and cats and sent them outside, and the house was quiet, the sky promising spring rain.

How did I come to so enjoy this moment when I am left alone by the people I love most? Just like I was never a homeschool mom at all. I luxuriate in the quiet and the prospect of a home pressed latte and time to read and write.

Yet that morning my own circuits were charged too, and I felt a strain off center. I I couldn’t sit still, nor focus. Felt a longing for something outside my normal desires, a discontent I could not address. I tried to decide whether to go outside and work on the sod removal (exercise can ease so many tensions), sit down and finish a post previously begun, engage my mind in the recall, conception, development of ideas, or maybe paint the doors and trim for the sense of completion and execution of manual skill, or work on the vacation itinerary. But I only wanted to engage my husky dog in a group howl, vibrating from the deep center, so we both felt better about our confinement in this modern life.

I should be productive, not selfishly enjoying moments stolen from my hardworking spouse; I hear him inquiring as to how much I’d blogged this week. Time is barreling on, to the day we leave for our drive to California and back, by which all must be planned and arranged. To the time we find the perfect house and have to be ready to sell this one quick, all ceilings painted, yard seeded to green lawn and beauty-barked. Toward greater challenges and darker possibilities for which we are not yet prepared.

This morning, to be proactive, after my son and I had our morning swim and I saw my daughters off with affection and a drive plan briefing, I immediately made coffee, read a few favorite blog posts, listened to Jennifer Warnes singing Leonard Cohen, and took out my guitar. Without (this time) grimacing (much) at my cramped fingers and breaking notes, sang a bit of Joni Mitchell, Crash Test Dummies, and the Song of Bernadette. Now I’m ready to roll with the official homemaker’s work.

Here’s Jennifer Warnes, and I suggest you only liste,n not watch, as the essence is in the poetry beautifully sung, not the stage presence.



Who has seen the wind? A Sunday school lesson about being born of the spirit

The Sunday school lesson tomorrow covers John 3:1-17, with an emphasis on being born anew/from above (my husband says it’s a play on words in Greek, difficult to translate) and John 3:16, that oft-memorized verse seen as a summary of the entire Jesus good news.

There are a lot of big ideas in this passage. I’m teaching eight- and nine-year-olds, though, and their minds are still pretty large. I’m having trouble with my own, however, feeling like I want the mind of a child to see these words anew.

Ability to take in and thoughtfully consider large ideas can and often does diminish with age, as the mind learns to categorize, label, tidily hang ideas up on mental pegs in labelled sections of the mental closet. An adult education instructor once told us, her WordPress students, that she would be teaching specifically to the adult mind, because it was so full, so actively working on practical, day-to-day and important mental tasks that it would actively shut out new ideas. So teaching adults was partly about convincing those full mental cupboards to open, that, yes, this information was important, multi-sensational, immediately useful, and would not be going away any time soon. It made me feel more patient toward my apparent dullness, that it was not simple forgetfulness or lack of mental acuity with which I grappled, but a biologically-driven effort of my mind to stick to the tasks that had hitherto been most important and not be distracted by new. Even that flush of recognition that she was right was part of the opening up that allowed me to pick up these new skills and concepts, and want more.

Nicodemus, Pharisee, Jewish leader, sneaks in to visit Jesus by night. Says he knows Jesus is a teacher from God and has God’s presence. Jesus cuts straight to what, apparently, Nicodemus needs to know: he must be born anew, this time of the Spirit. Those born of the Spirit, Jesus continues, are akin to the wind: it blows where it will, you hear it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. What did he mean by that? Those born by the Spirit (born anew/from above) can’t be recognized by the usual means, though they are somehow recognized just the same. They are free, their activities are mysterious, one senses them and sees the effects. When Nicodemus wonders at this, Jesus still doesn’t lay it out straight, only teases him for being a teacher of Israel and not understanding, tells him his people have experienced this and are telling about it, but the Jewish teachers/establishment don’t accept their accounts.

That’s as far as I can get with this for now. The next passage seems disconnected, or almost in a different voice, though it contains the famous John 3:16. I am intrigued with this wind-spirit passage (john 3:8); I’ve skimmed over it before, but now, there it is. That’s what I was hoping for in studying this in preparation for tomorrow, and now I’m ready to see what the children say about this. We must be born again, there is the life of the spirit, and believing (not a mere intellectual assent, but a trust and obey and live as a disciple version–as Eugene Peterson said, “A long obedience in the same direction”) in Jesus allows one to pass from the earthly, perishable kind of life into an eternal, spiritual life.

When it comes to talking about eternity, all the curriculum writers came up with was to show the kids something about taking forever by going really slow in a relay. I’m skipping that, because even an adult should know that’s not what eternal means–like a kind of waiting in a doctor’s office without any books or toys. I’m going to ask them to think of situations where a week takes forever (waiting for a birthday? a package in the mail?), and ones where it flashes by way too fast (last week of summer vacation? Special time with Dad?). I think eternal life in the kingdom of God is like the second, except it doesn’t go by too fast–the fullness and beauty and vividness and meaning just keep happening. And we’re not waiting around, but involved. That’s what I think. I might share that with the children, or maybe they’ll see it more clearly. I wouldn’t be surprised.


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