Monday, February 24, 2014

The singing cardinal of winter

THIS LONG WINTER has been hard. Winter is a hardship.

Hard for our wild relations, who struggle to find food and stay warm.

Hard for bloggers (weather woes are widespread, from California to Canada to Devon).

Hard for lovers of the outdoors who are not equipped with high-tech cold weather gear and must retreat too quickly into dry, furnace-fired, unwild air.

Hard for homeowners who live on corner lots and must shovel out their walkways and driveways by hand, in a winter of 50+ inches of snow (ahem). The frost line has crept down so far into the earth that even in the southern half of the state, underground water pipes have frozen and burst.

Hard for the roads--which, after months of warming, refreezing, chemicals and plow blades, have given up holding themselves together and have already disintegrated, leaving potholes of epic dimensions--and the drivers who must negotiate them during blizzards, Winter Storm Warnings, Snowmageddons and Snowpocalypses.

In previous winters, I would have been whining about winter with the best of them.

I don't know what has happened, or how it's happened, but my inner kaleidoscope has shifted and all the colored shards have lined up in a less pointy and jagged configuration. After decades of living here, finally I accept that winter is a time of hardship.

A sensible position--but one I've mostly managed to avoid up to this point.

Anyway, how ridiculous is it to resist winter? It is a fact impossible to ignore or wage battle on. Resistance does nothing to make it go away--it just puts one at odds with what is beyond our power to change, with what is ever-so-emphatically-real and HERE.

And resistance to reality just makes it impossible to love your life and where you are in it every day, doesn't it?

So, thinking of winter as a time of hardship feels right to me. If a person isn't experiencing this season's hardships, then she isn't being present to it at all. And I want to be here, not constantly living a life wishing I were elsewhere.

The paradox is, as I let go of resistance to the hardships of winter, these things became something to just get on with and negotiate, without drama or martyrdom.

Hardships are hard; but it doesn't follow that "hard" equals "bad." (I make this distinction to myself because for most of my life I have been exactly the kind of person who sees "hard" as "bad.")

But the hard-not-bad hardship is not the only thing to notice about this winter.

Just as much, more than anything maybe, is the beauty: A balm, and a blessing, and a long, cold, strange song of north wind.

And oh my love, my shining white ice palace of a home, with your snow-heaped silences, your singing cardinal at dawn, your white radiance flooding through every window and your utter and exquisite loveliness from dawn to dusk, you bring tears to my eyes. You fill up my heart as never before, and I am grateful.

Friday, February 14, 2014

For my love

Snow is like a heart: An impressionable surface of deep-struck patterns, a hider of secrets, a wild shapeshifter, a master of disguise.

Each heart has its own geography...bright and shadowed lands, jumbled gleams swept by unseen winds, fed by mythic rivers. 

This silver-pale sun is still fire enough to light us toward spring, my love. 

Every word of every tongue is
Love telling a story to her own ears.
Every thought in every mind,
She whispers a secret to her own Self.
Every vision in every eye,
She shows her beauty to her own sight.
Every smile on every face,
She reveals her own joy for herself to enjoy.

Love courses through everything,
No, Love is everything.
How can you say, there is no love,
when nothing but Love exists?
All that you see has appeared because of Love.
All shines from Love,
All pulses with Love,
All flows from Love--
No, once again, all IS Love!

~ Fakhruddin Iraqi

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fear and the $5 gift card

I have been carrying this Starbucks gift card around since 2007.

Believe it.

Seven years ago I was laid off from my job at the literary agency. I was feeling very broke so I'd answered some survey just to get this gift card. So that even when I had no spending money to speak of, I'd still be able to treat myself to a super-deluxe-grande-latte-frappuccino-almond-hot-chocolate-with-gold-dust-and-hopefully-organic-whipped-cream-on-top.

This little gift card was a kind of security blanket, there to help me feel less poor.

After 5 months of job searching, just when the unemployment benefits were about to run out, I found a full-time writing job in February 2008.

Did I celebrate by spending my $5 gift card?

No. I hung onto it. Because you never know.

Fast-forward 5 years.

Once again, I'm a dislocated worker.

I make the brilliant decision to spend two months in London. No sarcasm! I have no regrets about that decision. While in London, I drank my share of comforting caffeine concoctions. I also ate a lot of desserts with intriguing names like "Banbury Tart" and "Victoria Sponge."

But did I use my $5 Starbucks gift card in London? Or when I got back to Minneapolis? Or during any of the subsequent 7 months of joblessness?


I have to ask: What's going on here?

True, I am not a fan of Starbucks, or of super-deluxe-grande-lattes-frappuccinos-almond-hot-chocolates-with-gold-dust-and-hopefully-organic-whipped-cream-on-top. Let that be said.

But I really think it goes deeper than that for me, and maybe for you.

I think it is about telling ourselves that we don't have enough, and we can't get enough, and we ourselves aren't enough.

And maybe about how a mean part of us whispers that we don't deserve the good things that come our way, only the bad ones. Or that we have offended the universe by spending our severance package on a trip to Europe instead of saving it for a month of rainy days, or that any good thing might disappear at any second so we'd damn well better hold on to it with the grip of death or suffer the consequences.

Ursula Le Guin wrote,“Fire and fear, good servants, bad lords.”

Wise woman.

I start a new full-time job next week. It sounds awesome. And do you know how I'm going to throw off the shackles of fear and lack and celebrate?

That's right. I'm gonna use up every penny of this G.D. $5 Starbucks gift card.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Thus we banish winter

On this, the first fire festival of the year, some alignment of time and energy helixed together, manifesting in my reading a book in which a character described Imbolg as "the kindling in the forest of winter."

Ahhh. Lovely.

Yet, a little strange. Since coincidentally, I was reading the book with the Kindle app, and on the festival of Imbolg.

As I read, a wistful feeling crept over me. I was wishing that I had felt up to attending the St. Brigid's/Candlemas ritual last week at the college where I once worked, instead of being down with a cold. The college was founded by the Catholic order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, a community of women who are perfectly okay with acknowledging and even celebrating the pagan roots of Christian holidays and who conduct lovely if slightly earnest ceremonies with a touch of mystery.

~ ~ ~

In one ritual, I read elsewhere, she representing the Maiden sweeps deosil around the circle, symbolically brushing away the old and outworn.

Earlier today, again by coincidence, I performed a similar action. On hands and knees, I used a wet cloth to wipe up the accumulation of sand, salt and snowmelt just inside the back door. Juniper, my familiar, sat near me and watched the motion of my hand, circling around and around--every revolution sunwise, or deosil.

~ ~ ~

After the sweeping comes the chanting.

Thus we banish winter,
thus we welcome spring,
say farewell to what is dead
and greet each living thing.
Thus we banish winter,
thus we welcome spring.

I say the words aloud,  to myself. Just as I write this, I say them, for any who are listening to hear.

I am not burning incense, or anything else, yet I smell incense burning.

Strange and strange.

It is a hint of woodsmoke creeping in round the edges of my old window frames from outside on this fine, frosty night.

Or is it?

I need more magic in my life. I choose to think of this phantom whiff of sacred smoke as one more part of this Imbolg ritual I seem to have been participating in all day without even realizing it.

Until just now, as I wrote this.

Welcome, spring. Let the fire in the forest of winter be kindled.

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