Bon Hiver, We Greet the First Snow

dscf2860One of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite TV programs, Northern Exposure, unites all the episode’s sub-plots beautifully when the townsfolk of Cicely, Alaska, step outside on the night of the season’s first snow and greet it, and one another, with the cry, “Bon Hiver!” (“Good Winter!”)dscf2863The episode, like the others, deals with longing, loss, guilt, memory, wisdom, peace, and a deep appreciation for life and its co-creator, death…and always, with gentle humor and love for humans and our charming follies. Never preaching, the scripts always honor the characters’—and our—desire for sacred meaning to attach itself to our brief moments and so guide us toward making sense of our lives, and living peacefully with unresolved mystery. I’ve always found the program profound in its simplicity and deeply endearing.dscf2673dscf2747dscf2765dscf2755
Here at Full Moon, the past few weeks have been filled with long days featuring the meteorology beloved by the Brontë Girls. The pups and I expected to encounter Heathcliff on our daily walks, but only discovered a variety of interesting fungi, and an elusive blue jay (who would be offered in better focus had I not been entangled by the leashes of two leaping, pulling puppies).

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As a friend pointed out, the season’s absence of leaves very cleanly reveals the glacial land formations: eskers, kames, kettles, and drumlins abound in our neck of the woods. But the unrelenting dreariness of sunless days began to wear on my spirit.

The only way to counter it has been to get rather over-sparkly indoors.
Micky, after his initial surprise, seemed to enjoy the holiday music, decorations, and merriment; Malarky affected a subdued air, as if to show-off his worldliness. After all, it’s his second Christmas season. Sigh.

The cats, as always, have just enjoyed having their annual bit of fun with shiny globes and sartorial correctness. dscf2889dscf3216
Today, though, we received our first snow, and the magic inside now plays second fiddle to the glory of snow-gowned trees and grasses. The world looks so enchanting…a perfect setting to wander in wonder and bid others a most tender, “Bon Hiver!”
We admired the snowfall from inside, beside the fire, and then outside, walking, running, looking, and being amazed, an altogether perfect day.dscf2883dscf2870dscf2830dscf2874dscf2827Here is a blessing, perfectly pure and floating down softly, right into your hand: Let us decorate our hearts with gratitude and forgiveness, with sweet acceptance of the meanings we’ve made and been given, and those we’re reaching for, and those we’ll never have, for the stunning miracle of a snow-frosted world reminds us that mystery, too, is a treasured facet of all that shines in our most beautiful lives, in this most beautiful world.
Bon Hiver, my friends! May all the gifts of the season be yours, those lovely surprises that are both simple and profound, given and received in love, from heart to heart, in reverence for who we are and who we are becoming.dscf2886dscf2835

A Fondess For What Is

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Winter has arrived, with a cold snap or two, snowfalls, icy roads and the glorious sunrises and sunsets that ink the sky in indigo, purple, pink, and gold, making the world’s entire substance seem all and only mystery and magic. I do love winter. One morning, I watched the warm river kiss the cold air…normal evaporation made visible, and I was enchanted.

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I’ve come to welcome January and the ways it stitches together its days with silence, offering a lovely long pause between the high spirits of the holidays and the electric energy of spring. I’ve pulled out my four favorite books on meditation and am trying to deepen my practice by reviewing their suggestions and wisdom, and am whittling away at the pile of bedside books, something I don’t have time to do as much as I like during the bustle of activity between Halloween and New Year’s Day.

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I’ve realized I don’t have a favorite month, but harbor a fondness for the special gifts of each. January offers a lovely respite of stillness and silence, and the days are still short enough that we can enjoy evenings by firelight, making Full Moon Cottage cozy and bright. Malarky is able to settle a bit by nightfall, and the cats are gaining the confidence to join our circle once again.

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We’ve had a steady flow of guests this month, and that’s been a wonderful way to ease the post-holiday sea change. Last week was the second anniversary of Henry’s death, so we gathered at Full Moon for a meal and the chance to share memories, a gift of an evening altogether. Phillip’s older brother was a remarkable person, and it felt right to honor him and name the ways he blessed our lives. We all noticed how Fergus found contentment on the lap of Henry’s wife, and thought either he sensed her grief and offered special comfort to her, or that perhaps Henry’s spirit had nudged Fergus a bit. Some special energy was present, since Fergus is generally most reluctant to settle in anyone’s lap, let alone stay there.

Phillip and I have been planning adventures for the weekends we don’t have visitors, too. We recently toured a local coffee mill and enjoyed learning more about buying and brewing coffee, and sampling all the different varieties. Naturally, we came home with several blends to try, and they’ve made our morning coffee time a sweeter ritual before Phillip has to leave for school.

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And then it’s time to check the bird feeders, toss cornmeal in the yard, and keep the suet containers full, for my sweet guests have come to rely on Full Moon Cottage for their (several times a day) seeds and meals. I worry about them during storms; goodness they’re tenacious.

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The art room continues to benefit from Phillip’s gifts when he isn’t working on jobs for others. I’m excited for it to be finished. I was casting about for an art project when a friend encouraged me to create a piece around the themes of love and compassion, for a calendar contest. Now, she’s an actual artist, so I had originally sent her the notice calling for submissions, but she prodded me to try as well. I have no illusions about my talent, but it was fun to play, and so I thank her for the nudge, like Henry’s to Fergus: “Try it, and enjoy yourself!”

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There are darker days, of course, when I think about Riley and Clancy, and look at photographs from a year ago, when they were still both so integral to our daily round, but the sadness visits less often, and their spirits seem more a constant, loving presence in our home. Malarky’s happy energy and my dear cats bless the daily round for now, which is all we have, and I realize I feel a deepening fondness for what is: January, sunrises, firelight, friends, family and four-leggeds. It’s not just, “Be here, now,” but love being here now. I do.

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We are hallowed by our memories and our days are holy, and I am blessed.

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All is Bright

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It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day. As kids, we’d make cookies for Santa and hang our Christmas stockings on the night of December 5th. We’d hear a story from Daddy and go to bed excited about the enchantment imminently expected to overtake our home: a visit from St. Nick! (Technically, Santa Claus, but we didn’t question magic. Why question anything that brings chocolate and gifts? Just be grateful!)

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The stockings held our precious letters for Santa that outlined our Christmas wishes and promises of continued good behavior. The next morning, we’d discover an empty cookie tray, small treats in our stockings, and an elegantly-scripted note from Santa. These memories always conflate with images of snowfalls, sledding, skating, snowmen, and icicles…

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This year, my poppies are leafing out in spring viridity and the lawn is ready for the Easter bunny to come hopping along. Chickadees are singing spring songs and, although our mornings can be frosty, our afternoon temperatures have been climbing to 50° F/10° C.

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We had a beautiful snowfall just before Thanksgiving, and Malarky’s excitement and wonder as he explored this new phenomena made it almost as magical for me.

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We even enjoyed our November full moon midnight-potty-excursions (his, not mine). Somehow, being roused from sleep isn’t so bad when the outside world is sparkling with snow and stars.

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So the current experience of climate change is odd, but not without its blessings. Although I’m not transplanting anything in the garden, I can remove the dandelions and other weeds that are taking advantage of the warmth. Getting my hands muddy in December is an adventure. I received this link from a friend last week, and better understand why mucking around in soil is good for the spirit. Much better than a bout of winter-induced seasonal affective disorder!

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Our home is decorated for the season, too, so indoors, it looks like Christmas, even if outside, it looks like we’ve moved to the South.

The 4-leggeds are blissfully content, another reminder that letting go of expectations for how things should be, or hanging the joy of now upon its conformity to memories, even happy ones, is pointless. I’m grateful for a happy childhood, but I’m happy for now, too.

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All is bright.

I hope it’s the same for you this lovely, wonderful holiday season. Happy St. Nick’s!

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‘Tis the Season

DSCF2361Full Moon Cottage has been dressed for Christmas over the past week. Objects encrusted with memories have been scattered around the rooms, and spirits we love have been fully welcomed back into our midst, not just those of our parents, who are always with us, but all those characters and places that populated our childhood stories: great-aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends, teachers, janitors, cafeteria ladies, bus drivers, piano teachers and the neighborhood personalities who bordered the edges of our days. DSCF2145 DSCF2212DSCF2201I can see the Park and Market grocery, and the ice skating rink, where tinny Christmas music blared as we glided round and round. I remember how Santa rode through town on a shiny red fire engine, so loaded with lights that I never stopped to wonder at the absence of his sleigh and reindeer. I never stopped to question any of the incongruities and obvious fallacies offered to us during the Christmas season. Every year, we were happily willing to be drenched in magic and readily surrendered our doubt to exist wholly in a world of fantastical impossibilities. Because they were true, at the heart level, where children seem to more easily live and breathe and have their being. DSCF2161I had a happy childhood, and at no time of year am I more grateful than during the Christmas season, when the flood of memories, visions, and smells mix with the magic of nostalgia, sparkle of winter, and the natural tendency to gather in towards light and warmth. For a month or two, I revisit those times and places that created me and allow me to treasure the present with greater depth. DSCF2465I’ve always loved Lent and its invitations to whittle away and purge in preparation for spring’s rebirth, but the rituals and traditions of Advent cheer my heart. They seem to counter and balance the season’s darkening and chilling environment so tenderly. The cinnamon, chocolate, orange, and anise smells of seasonal baking, the glitter of ornaments, the soothing and jubilant sounds of Christmas music, and the focus on the excitement of anticipation and joy: what could be better? DSCF2475So many spiritual traditions seem to center on light and gift in winter; it’s encouraging (“heart-centered”) that many humans get it all perfectly right once a year, anyway. DSCF2442 DSCF2193I wish we could resist the urge to allow corporate marketers to dictate the meaning of this season to us and their attempts to drive people into greater frenzy and stress and spending, instead of slowing down, gathering in, cherishing each holy moment. The heavy burdens of pragmatic doubt regarding the magic of the world, the pain of self-judgments, and the accepted need to replace our innate value with things, things, and more things we must endlessly buy, may be set down; we did not need these rampant desires as children and certainly do not benefit from them as adults. DSCF2178Christmas helps us retrieve the gifts of childhood, if we listen. A friend posted on a social site that she’d enjoyed a four-hour lunch with an old friend: Just to read it made me hopeful and happy for both of them, but for all of us as well. I know they pushed back against demanding jobs and demanding lives to make way for this time together and yet did so, valuing friendship above tasks. So, for now, I abstain from the entreaties to constantly shop, and from what is called “news,” and instead rest in the Good News always coming, always here: we are made of Love, embraced by Love, and asked only to Love in return, until to Love we return and with Love we merge. And that is enough. And that is everything. DSCF2096May the deep peace of the season gift you with a warm heart, clear vision, and a community of family and friends–and four-leggeds–to see, hear, hold, and enjoy. We are called to be merry; let us do so, drenched in magic and readily surrendering our doubt. Love reminds us we already exist wholly in a world of fantastical impossibilities. Joyeux Noel! DSCF2191 DSCF2183

Lush Life

Gardens and Bridge 004It’s that lovely, lovely time of year when the gardens have begun sharing their blooms and are so pregnant with the promise of more, that life feels lush indeed. The slugs are tiny and the Japanese Beetles haven’t yet arrived. We’ve hosted a multitude of the dragonfly called “Widow Skimmer,” and Monarch Butterflies are fluttering around the gardens here and there. The succession of blooms, from peonies to irises and poppies, continues, and it’s hard to believe how much delight I derive from this always-surprising flow of color and texture year after year. A lifetime of gardening certainly keeps one reliably childlike!

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Gardens, Bridge 061 Strom warning, gardens 180 Gardens, Bridge 062 Gardens, Bridge 093 Gardens, Bridge 137 Gardens, Bridge 129I’ve been checking my Baptisias every day; in addition to last year’s drought, they were devastated by Genista Broom Moths, usually found in Texas. The Baptisias have been my faithful garden anchors for 15 years with never a pest or disease and their suffering was especially distressing following the damage from the drought. So far, they’re egg and caterpillar-free.

Strom warning, gardens 024Along the trail (which we’re back to traveling, now that the new bridge has been completed), the wild honeysuckles’ heady perfumes have given way to phlox and wild roses. The garlic mustard is back with a vengeance, but I’ve learned to keep it out of my own gardens by harvesting and blending it in salads: The best way to defeat your enemies may be to make them your friends, but I’ve discovered that eating them also works, at least in this case.

Strom warning, gardens 211 Gardens, Bridge 051 Gardens, Bridge 139Phillip’s vegetable garden is planted, and daily watering is calling forth shoots and tendrils that make me dream of beans and tomatoes and all things delicious. We enjoyed a huge asparagus yield this spring, and the gooseberries, raspberries, and cherries are equally plentiful this year; within a few weeks, their fruits will be converted into our summer energy as well.

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Tulips, Birds, 4-Leggeds 078 Cats, Gardens 039Phillip completed another school year and is remodeling a kitchen for a colleague this month. He received a lovely letter from an appreciative parent, not a common occurrence these days, and so, dearly valued for the encouragement offered.

Gardens, Bridge 116Next Monday, I’ll celebrate my 58th birthday, and I’m scheduled for surgery on the 21st, so posts will be slow in coming for a while, but I’m hopeful the gardens will remain healthy and enhance my own healing.

Every so often, we reach these mysterious intersections of time and place that offer perfect peace, contentment, and comfort. Moments of enchantment that can last for days. Our hearts seem to say, “I know this place; it is my home.” I’m finally able to listen to my heart and detect, name, and cherish such times, which wasn’t always the case, and I know they will transmute into new days of discontent, discomfort, and less beauty. Their transitory “now-ness” makes them all the more precious. The river of time will continue to flow and carry my little “life boat” along to new adventures, times, and places…and some will feel, again, like home.

Gardens, Bridge 028So I drink deeply and promise myself, again, that this time, I’ll keep this holy peace in my heart and carry it forward to the next “now-ness.” Whatever surprising flow of color and texture is offered, may our spirits rest in peace.

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Gardens, Bridge 055Namaste, my friends.

A Parent’s Letter:

Phillip,
Just wanted to take a minute to thank you for all that you have done over the years in teaching my kids. When someone asks, “Who is a good teacher in our town?” I think of you. Thank you for always putting up with my texts and in-person visits. Thank you for being patient with my son over the years and helping him out as much as you have. I am truly glad that he had a teacher like you who was willing to work with him so that he could graduate. I’m sure there were times that he shouldn’t have, but thank you for making sure he did. Best of luck to you in the next years of teaching…

 

Still, Still, Still

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 131Our first annual snowfall graced our Sunday (Bon Iver!), and we relaxed into being with the wonder of it. Huge flakes covered the trees and earth; the river, surrounded by white hills and flowing beneath the smoky gray sky, took on a brilliant silver sparkle, like a glittering ribbon threading through the landscape.

Snowy Sunday 044Winter is the season that calls me within, to slowly and gently review the journey of the dimming year and gestate the light with which my spirit will co-create the year to come. What gifts have served me well? Which have I neglected? How will I dance out my life in the new year? What are the triggers that hook me to harmful ways of being and what are the deep desires I ask of Spirit to further challenge and delight my heart? Am I tending my time, health, and relationships, respecting the treasures they are? Am I putting anything off because I’m afraid of failing? Or succeeding? Can I begin, alter, or renew a spiritual practice? Is my energy aligned and in communion with my beliefs, and do these translate clearly through my speech and actions?

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 111Last year, I wrote about my “hibernaculum,” the meditation room where I spend my deepening time each day. It becomes more deeply sacred to me in winter. As I wrote: The word “hibernate” is derived from the Latin word for winter (hiberno: I winter) and generates the wonderful noun “hibernaculum,” which, zoologically, is the place where an animal winters, and, botanically, is the protective bud or covering a plant uses to survive the challenges of dormancy. I love that the letters of the word “hibernate” form the anagram “breathe in,” for winter is my time for assessing, deepening, and strengthening my meditation practice and more earnestly tending my dreams.

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 158Nothing engenders these days of gentle and vital introspection more for me than the lovely snow that muffles the noise, busyness, and demands of a world too addicted to all three. When it’s snowing, traffic slows, heartbeats slow, breathing slows, and sometimes magically, the limiting need to avoid our inner voices and knots dissolves as well.

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 179Sitting in my meditation space and looking out towards a full moon making the snow-covered earth sparkle and glow with mystery, or witnessing the iced river and white hills afire with the deep violet, indigo and scarlet of a winter sunrise remind me that all of life is a magical gift, and that the finest way of offering my gratitude is through the inner work and discernment accomplished in stillness, that helps me be as present to all of it as I can.

Christmas Season, First Snow, Bon Ivor 003I wish you a winter of gentle peace, times for deep introspection, the stillness to bring forth your renewed light to the world, and gentle snow (real or imagined) to blanket you with the shimmering beauty and mystery of spirit-tending.

50° and Raining (::Joyful Applause::)

As shocking as the revelation may be, I have had a lifelong love affair with winter.

For me, snow is magical in its brilliance and iridescence, and the hushed, cottony silence it bestows is even more captivating. I am not bothered by having to drive more slowly or carefully; in fact, I think it’s an excellent spiritual practice. If I wear enough layers, it’s never too cold for a brisk walk, and I look forward to snow-shoeing and playing in snowbanks with the dogs. Just to sit at a window and watch the snow drift, suspend, and flutter its way down to the earth offers a deeply healing meditation experience. I enjoy the slower pace of winter and I don’t mind that it lasts until spring returns and restores accelerated energy.

My spirit therefore rebels and droops when I wake on a mid-December morn to learn the day will bring an inch of rain and the urge to fire up the grill. (One inch of rain would convert to almost 10 inches of snow. And to be honest, the urge to cook on the grill exists and is satisfied by many Wisconsinites all year round. But still.)

So I’m going to play Christmas music, read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and make caramels. I’m trying to welcome the day as gracefully as I can, despite the fact that I just caught and released an Asian beetle and a box elder bug who were hanging around indoors. (“Go outside and play!”) When I stood on the porch observing their limb-stretching joy at being set into a warmer environment than they’d enjoyed inside my home, I couldn’t help noticing the equally cheerful green weeds sprouting in the front garden.

Sigh.

Phillip and I went to see the movie Hugo last weekend. Now that I’ve had eye surgery, we thought it would be fun to try a 3-D movie.

It was lovely.

The opening long-shots of 1930’s Paris during a snowfall, took my breath away. The story captivated everyone in the theater; I could sense our little community of parents, children, and couples were caught up in the magic and very willing to suspend disbelief and live within the story for its duration.

The movie’s sets were primarily dark, with little color or vivid relief, and the pacing slowed as the story explored themes of loss and renewal. I felt my focus move from the film to the audience at times, and wondered if the young children might lose their connection and become bored, but my attention would again be drawn into the film and, frankly, I forgot about everything else until it ended.

Which is when the magic really happened.

Just as the final shot subsided, from seats throughout the theater came a chorus of children’s sighs, those little fairy gasps we humans create when we’re released from the sacred spells life casts and so surprises and holds our spirits enthralled. Adults don’t release these spirit-filled breaths very often; we don’t look long or deeply enough to realize we’re always stepping through magic portals.

And then, as if on some synchronized cue, the children began to clap, the most joyful and innocent music I’ve heard in a long time. No other sound; just children, clapping their joy and gratitude. Phillip and I paused a moment; it seemed all the adults, sitting in the otherwise silent dark, paused as well. We could feel energy shifting. Astonished by the forgotten or misplaced purity of delight calling to us from our long-ago childhoods, we located, adjusted, and then tossed away our painstakingly-designed adult ego-masks, and freely joined in the clapping. Not a thoughtless reflex, but a response of gratitude for the deep joy of art, the feelings it elicits, the hopes it engenders, the connections it creates.

It was an experience of pure gift I’ll always associate with this film. Like all memories, I can re-visit it whenever I need its blessings to nourish and water my spirit.

Like today.

I believe a new spiritual practice may be to freely and whole-heartedly applaud throughout the daily round. Especially as a response to events that are other than I desire.

The cats are snoozing beneath the Christmas tree as happily as ever (clap!), the dogs will enjoy our walk in the rain as much as they enjoy every walk (clap!), and I’ll have caramels to savor and share when we watch tonight’s Christmas movie (clap!).

Create and share your art. Applaud the art of others.

It’s always a wonderful life.