Tag Archives: Ottawa

Being rid of that which does not feed us

I have been reading Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, a recommendation of TheHomePlaceWeb blog.

The book provides solace to the soul, and that is something we citizens of Ottawa, Canada need in our difficult times.

Katherine May writes about how we think of life as linear, a slow march from birth to death. That is true, but May reminds us that the pattern of life is also cyclical, or seasonal. We circle through periods of beginnings and endings, storing up and shedding, and wakefulness and sleeping throughout our lives.

At the beginning of a day, or a project, or a course of study, we are similar to trees with green leaves full of chlorophyll. The leaves absorb sunlight and convert carbon dioxide and water into tree food, and we absorb information and convert physical supplies into some sort of product that serves to advance our lives. Spring and summer cycles are about gathering and growing.

At the end of a day, or fiscal year, or a career, we prepare for change in the way of a tree. The chlorophyll in leaves breaks down in fall. The green disappears and exposes other beautiful colours that were always there but hidden. In a process called abscission, the cells between the stem and the branch weaken until supply to the leaf is cut off and the leaf falls. In our lives, this is when we pass on clothes we no longer need, or clear out university textbooks, or pack up personal belongings from the office and walk out the door.

Abscission, the process required for shedding of leaves, is “part of an arc of growth, maturity, and renewal.” In other words, to protect ourselves and stay strong, sometimes we need to rid ourselves of that which no longer feeds us.

BUT—and this is important —even on the coldest, darkest days of winter, when deciduous trees appear fully dead, there are buds. They are small and protected by thick scales, but they are there.

“We rarely notice them because we think we’re seeing the skeleton of the tree, a dead thing until the sun returns. But look closely, and every single tree is in bud . . .”

From Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
A twig of a deciduous tree in February against a background of snow. The branch has buds protected by thick scales.
Buds waiting for the sun

On this cold winter day in Ottawa, it helps me to know that buds are in place. It allows me to believe that the events taking place in downtown Ottawa had a spring, summer, and fall season and that the time of shedding approaches.

Soon we will be rid of that which does not feed us.

No matter how beautiful

“. . . Show me the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is.”

—A Benedictine nun, as found in Wake Up to the Joy of You by Agapi Stassinopoulos

This is the scene outside my window today. We are snowed under. Homebound.

47 centimetres of snow (18.5 inches for my American friends)

Some would say this is the ugly truth of winter. I say it is the beautiful truth.

A time for an in-breath. A time to take full advantage of my word for the year: FOCUS.

A time to seek out and, more importantly, believe my own beautiful truths.

The beauty of aging

I stroll through the woods near my home, and I run my hands along the gnarled bark of ancient trees. I trail a finger down the deep wrinkles in the trunk, and I think, “How beautiful.”

The twisting growth and grooved skin gives a tree its gravitas and wisdom. In fact, the more gnarled and grooved a tree is, the more we love it.

And yet, we detest those things in ourselves. Why is it that we humans fear wrinkles so much?

According to the Business Insider, in 2020 the “beauty” industry was growing at a historically fast pace. We are more afraid than ever to let our natural selves shine. The industry then was valued at an estimated $532 billion dollars per year, and it’s growing.

We are draining our bank accounts so that we don’t look like trees.

I celebrate a birthday this week. I am older. My knuckles have swollen, so rings no longer slide over them the way they used to. My lifetime of smiles and laughter shows in the grooves that curve around my eyes and mouth. How beautiful.

Arlene Smith on her front porch under a Winnie the Pooh blanket
Old enough to have wrinkles, but not so old that I can’t still love the Winnie the Pooh blanket

I’m not the oldest tree in the forest, but I’m not the youngest either. Many saplings grow around me. My wish is that by the time those supple trees reach my age, they will see the beauty of aging.

A deciduous forest in autumn with the large trunk of a mature tree in the foreground and smaller trees in the background.
Old forest, young trees. All beautiful.

Find things beautiful: van Gogh and us all

Vincent began to make his presence known in my life. Books about him passed through my hands at the library where I work.

The book Vincent Van Gogh by Mike Venezia

A library patron returned the DVD Loving Vincent and took time to tell me how much he enjoyed the movie.

DVD cover for Loving Vincent

A blogger I follow wrote about Vincent in A Sunflower Story.

And then I immersed myself in his art and his thoughts at Beyond van Gogh: The Immersive Experience. (Go, if it comes to a city near you.)

At the exhibition Vincent himself melted from the ceiling.

His brushstrokes came to life on the high walls and the floor all around me.

His artist soul reached out to my creative one as if he had written sentiments to me personally across centuries. I am certain every person immersed in his experience felt the same.

Quote, text against van Gogh brushstrokes: "I also believe that it may happen that one succeeds, and one mustn't begin by despairing; even if one loses here and there, and even if one sometimes feels a sort of decline, the point is nevertheless to revive and have courage, even though things don't turn out as one first thought." To Theo van Gogh, The Hague, 22 October 1882
Quote, text against van Gogh brushstrokes: "...I always think that what we need is sunshine and fine weather and blue air as the most dependable remedy." To Theo van Gogh, Arles, 29 September 1888

Vincent told me to enjoy the air and sunshine. He urged me not to despair.

He reminded me to seek out the beautiful. A message sent to me, and you, from 1874 to the present.

Quote, text against van Gogh brushstrokes: "...find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful." London, January 1874

Around the bigger obstacle

For the past few years, every time I walked on my favourite wooded path of the NCC Greenbelt, I have had to step over this fallen tree.

A decaying tree trunk, approximately 6 inches in diameter, across a forest path.

No big deal. The decaying trunk is small, and so many human feet and knobby bicycle tires have knocked wood chips out of it over the years, it is returning to its earthy source. I notice this fallen tree, and I must be certain not to trip, but all I need to do is take one larger-than-usual step to clear it.

Yesterday I arrived at the spot. Beside the smaller fallen tree, exactly parallel to it, lay this larger tree trunk, knocked over by an overnight storm.

This one stumped me (pun intended) for a second or two. Too big to clamber over (at least with dignity intact). Too low to crawl under. Must go around.

In only one day so many others had resolved not to let a bigger obstacle block their path that the ground around it was already trodden flat.

New path being forged through the woods.

Every day I clear small obstacles in my path. I must notice them and take extra measures to deal with them, but I manage, no problem. I navigate the pylons narrowing the roadway on my way to work, and I take a few seconds to put on a mask before entering a store.

I ask myself though: Am I allowing some bigger obstacle to block my path? How can I go around?

May you have a day of small obstacles only. Do you have bigger ones you must go around?

Riven

My first poem for April’s poetry month. I decided to do an Ottava rima because it sounded like Ottawa, where I live, even though Ottawa has nothing to do with the number 8. (Ottawa is derived from the Algonquin word “adawe”, which means “to trade.”)

The poem has eight lines with an abababcc rhyming scheme. Inspired by the photo below.

Riven

An ash where deer once roamed in sombre shade,
  Returned to ash by lighting strike — one flash,
Nature's lumberjack felled this spine so splayed,
  With a forked bolt, one cracking, wicked lash,
Defiant though blackened, stripped and decayed,
  It will birth new life from the V-shaped slash,
Out of mottled dust and ashes of death, 
Life ruptures forth, emerges, takes first breath. 

© 2021 Arlene Smith