Monday, December 7, 2015

in the solitude of winter


If you love it, do not photograph
the woods as it now is, the leaves
in sunlight and shadow hardly stirring
in the hot air of the hot afternoon.
Do not try to remember it, stopping
the flutters of leaves and wings,
the dead leaf slowly spinning
on an invisible thread. Do not ask
the trees to linger even to be named. 
You must live in the day as it passes,
willing to let it go. You must set it
free. You must forget this poem.
then, into its own time forever
gone, it is forever here.

- 2010, Sabbaths, Wendell Berry, from This Day


At the woods' edge, suddenly
the air around him was perfumed
with the scent of wild plum flowers.
The whitened trees were accompanied
by several redbuds also in bloom,
equally beautiful, and both
together more beautiful than either
alone. Nothing in the long winter
prepared him to imagine this, a moment
in a thousand years never old.

- 2011, Sabbaths, Wendell Berry

It's the smell of the fir trees that stops me in my tracks in winter. The light coming in low and late in the morning that surprises. After several grey days, a bright blue sky on a cold day that takes your breath away.

The Cold

by Wendell Berry

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

- to be clear, poised in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.

- from Wendell Berry: New Collected Poems

If you've been reading this blog for years, and I know many of you have, then you likely remember this poem as it seems to be something I need to remind myself every winter. "How exactly good it is / to know myself / in the solitude of winter." Yes.

How I love the line, "among the trees cleanly."

So here I was one morning, among the trees, cleanly, waiting, for the strip of light that sidles between a couple of tall houses to arrive at the end of the stand of trees in the dry pond. A cold light, but dazzling, nonetheless.

Here in Canada, our Thanksgiving was back in October, but this next poem still works, and I'd not read it before. The early dark, the shout-out to Rilke, the descriptions: birch bones, the snow like cold feathers - I love all of these things in the poem. As well, the looking forward to January......which is what I'm doing, too. I know most people love the busy and festive times of December, but I really do savour the quiet of January.

After Thanksgiving 

by Sandra M. Gilbert

Lord, as Rilke says, the year bears down toward winter, past
the purification of the trees, the darkened brook.
Only 4:45, and the sky's sheer black
clasps two clear planets and a skinny moon
as we drive quietly home from the airport,
the last kid gone.

The time of preparation's over, the time of
harvesting the seed, the husk, the kernel, saving
what can be saved - weaves of sun like
rags of old flannel, provident peach stones,
pies, pickles, berry wines to
hold the sweetness for a few more months.

Now the mountains will settle into their old
cold habits, now the white
birch bones will rise
like all those thoughts we've tried to repress:
madness of the solstice, phosphorescent
logic that rules the fifteen-hour night!

Our children, gorged, encouraged, have taken off
in tiny shuddering planes. Plump with stuffing,
we too hurry away, holding hands, holding on.
Soon it'll be January, soon snow will
shuffle down, cold feathers, swathing us in
inches of white silence -

and the ways of the ice
will be narrow, delicate.

- via Whiskey River

“Life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come.”

- Franz Kafka

And so, time soon to settle in, and think of the word that will summon life's splendour.

There was just the lightest of frosts, one morning, in the low part of the dry pond.

The sky, mainly grey, and I didn't have high hopes for how these would turn out. But the soft grey, a glimmer of golden light coming through in places, made for a decent mood, I think.

This next poem is so poignant and is something that will happen either directly or indirectly to us all I imagine, at some point. The last line is incredible.

Living with the News

W.S. Merwin

Can I get used to it day after day
a little at a time while the tide keeps
coming in faster the waves get bigger
building on each other breaking records
this is not the world that I remember
then comes the day when I open the box
that I remember packing with such care
and there is the face that I had known well
in little pieces staring up at me
it is not mentioned on the front pages
but somewhere far back near the real estate
among the things that happen every day
to someone who now happens to be me
and what can I do and who can tell me
then there is what the doctor comes to say
endless patience will never be enough
the only hope is to be the daylight

{from The New Yorker}

Another morning, the dry pond trees again. My walks have been shorter because I'm still feeling fairly lousy and my lungs have been protesting. The light on this day, a little weaker, too.

There is one house which backs onto the dry pond that has several birdhouses in the backyard. You know how a lot of birdhouses end up being somewhat decorative? These ones have birds coming in and out of them, and there are bird feeders, always full, too.

And so now we're back in our backyard, the sunflowers we never did pull this fall. I guess I'm alway hopeful that they'll be interesting winter subjects.

One Heart

by Li-Young Lee

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

This next photo was probably my favourite from the past week. The tiniest feather caught on a branch on the honeysuckle shrub.

On Angels

by Czeslaw Milosz

All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you,

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice — no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draws near
another one
do what you can.

And so, lastly, time for our virtual tea break. Earl Grey, and a scoop of lemon gelato. Which perhaps sounds weird, but honestly, it worked. If you're the sort to put milk or lemon in your tea....this might not sound that crazy. If you're nursing a cold, as I have been, this might really hit the spot, though it's not on the normal lists of healing beverages. Perhaps it has no healing properties at all, but certainly a few soothing ones.

I've been thinking about the above Milosz poem a lot lately. Especially the last few lines. "Do what you can" has long been one of my mantras. Maybe especially when it comes to this blog. I quite often wish there was more coherence, rather than, well, what you see here.

The latest Rumi and the Red Handbag goings on can be found here

Rob's latest paintings.

Listening to a little bit of Hildegard

Reading Elizabeth Hay's His Whole Life.

Love the way it evokes the summer at the lake feeling, the knowing and not knowing of the young boy, Jim, the way he sees everything.

Recently finished Shine On, Bright & Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin. I know I read about this book on a blog - probably on Pickle Me This (can't find the post...) - but it's really wonderful and not something I would have maybe otherwise picked up. 

I did a short interview with Stephanie Medford about creativity on her blog, Everyday Artistry. 

So, wishing you all calm things for another week. And that each day you may 'do what you can.' Which is, in fact, quite something.


  1. Your images always make me gasp but today I'm in love with your cloudy day and it's soft subtle tones of gray...and that one with the tiny feather. I'm finding my mood effects my photography and what I look for in other people's work. I'm drawn to softness and curves lately, keeping away from the sharp edges of things. And these poems, I soaked in every word. I'm going to do what I can.

  2. I just discovered your blog, and it is truly beautiful. Thank you for sharing these beautiful photos and poems - they're were so inspiring and thought-provoking, in the positive sense. Have a good week you too!

  3. Lovely, just lovely. I hope you are feeling better. We've had mild weather and I find myself yearning for snow which I know can sound crazy. It will come and dump on us and then I will want it to leave but today? Today I would like a snow storm that gives me permission to snuggle in and drink tea, perhaps with some of that gelato you suggested. Thank you.

  4. Thank you everyone! I raise my tea cup in your direction! Shawna

  5. There is so much calm and beauty here. Thank you. Andrea (from Minnesota; volunteering in Waianae, Hawai'i this month - so I am loving the bits of a northern climate December in this post.)

    1. Hi Andrea! I bet there's a huge contrast in where we both are right now :) Thanks for leaving a comment!

  6. such lovely thoughts and readings. And love the greys in the photos, the delicacies, the light, and that darling bit of a downy feather. So peaceful.
    And, on a separate note, I tend to have opportunities to read my favourite blogs in bits and bites here and there. I didn't get to finish reading all the delightful entries for your newest book and they've now disappeared. Those that I had a chance to read were really a lovely combination of heartwarming and pure delight.

    1. thanks, so much Diane. I think the older posts are still there, though you might have to scroll back a bit :) xo


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