Winter’s edge

 

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Warm days in full sun trapping us in joy. 

A picnic on a colorful blanket catching shadows from buds just reaching up through the long browned earth.

A stroll through our village watching shops waking from winter and cafés spilling over.

A bald eagle playing chase with a raven outside our window, so close their wings seemed to reach inside to us. 

Fingers pushing into dirt planting seeds that we now stalk for signs of that amazing first green.  

A bumblebee devouring nectar that caught our attention for while, and us sitting so still just enthralled to watch as it danced with a flower. 

How is it that these first moments of spring, these last of winter, both awaken and quiet us? 

Two butterflies seen. 

Growing light, lingering into night. 

These moments when winter starts to intermingle with spring; Cold, weeping days dotted with promises to come. 

Let us lay on this edge…..fall into the space between winter and spring. 

What a lovely few days it has been.

Pieces of me

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Who am I? 

Who are you? 

Who are we? 

A dearest of my heart, a dear dear friend who knows all of my secrets (shhhhhh) told me today I seem so strong in these posts. 

Am I this strong woman on the mountainside? 

Am I the scared woman under the bed in Uganda? 

I am all of that.

I am all of this.

I am all of me.

I am the woman you see at the store with a smile on her face and a longing in her heart.

I am the child with a dream to make it somewhere, somehow, some way. 

I am the mother happily sacrificing it all for her children.

I am the artist in search of expression.

I am the person reaching out my hand to lift you up. 

I am me.

I am all of me.

I am happyI am sadI am contentI am restless. 

I am so very alive…

….and full….

And searching and living and loving and laughing and crying and yes yes yes, hide me under the bed, perch me on a mountain, let me live it all. I am no longer afraid of much these days because I am so busy embracing wonder. 

How lucky we are to be weak, to be strong. To need help, and then to give it. 

Be all of you. 

” But the time came when I understood that I could no longer deceive myself, that I am alive, and cannot be blamed because God made me so, that I want to love and to live.”

–Anna Karenina, Tolstoy 

 

 

Making sense of it all

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As spring time approaches and the world around us wakes up, I am starting a new ritual  with my children. A few times a day we have to stop and pay attention to our senses. 

What do you see? 

What do you hear? 

What do you feel? 

What do you smell? 

At dinner we take a moment to close our eyes and just focus on what we taste. 

In this crazy world of too much information and so much to do and so many things coming at them, getting ready to come at them, I want to give them a foundation of their sense. A place to come to where they inhabit their body fully.

I love meditation and focusing on thoughts, and then trying to settle into that lovely space between them. 

I love focusing on breath and how a body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. 

But we are more than our breaths, and more than our thoughts, and more than that space. We are our senses as well. 

I want to teach my children to possess theirs fully, to capture them, explore them, move through the world with them. 

What did that sunset over the Maasai Mara in Kenya really look like? 

How did that fresh pineapple floating down the river in Central America really taste? 

And then to teach them how to play with them…

How does that kind of silence make you feel? 

What do you smell when you taste something that rich? 

What do you see when you touch sadness?

Or happiness? 

Staying afloat

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I am often asked how I do it. How I full time mom with a little one still at home, no family around to help, studying late into the night for a degree. How I do it all by myself. How often I hear, “I couldn’t do what you are doing. How are you doing what you are doing?”

Here is my answer…..

I think of this woman Veronica who worked for us in Uganda. She helped me with the children, helped me with the house, helped me in the kitchen. Then every night she went home alone to her son and did it all over again. She played with him, cleaned her home, prepared their dinner. Then woke to come back to me. I think of her. 

I think of my husband dropping food from the sky to refugees who have no home. Masses huddled together waiting for the sky to open and rain down food so they can survive. I think of them. 

I think of time as something so precious and this time as something we will forever hold in our hearts. The time we were all alone on the island, just the three of us. Endless walks on the beach, long board games during rainy days, knowing each other so well we knew when the other would take their next breath. Just the three of us, floating together. I think of how much this time will mean to me, and I hope to them. 

I think about how one day they will be older and friends will become their confidants, how the world will become their playground to explore with others, how they will have their own families and I will cease to be the center of their world with each of these steps. I think about how at this moment they are still so completely mine. 

So yes, some days I am sinking. Many days I have crippling fatigue. But I think of Veronica and refugee camps and closeness and the fleetingness of it all and I wake up every single day saying thank you, thank you, thank you. 

The Storm

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I was told it didn’t snow on the island. 

I was assured when looking at a house on the side of a mountain it did not snow on the island. 

“The Caribbean of Canada,” I was told over and over again. 

What I have since learned is that when a Canadian tells you it doesn’t snow they mean it doesn’t snow every day. For a Canadian no snow means some days it will not snow.

I did not understand that translation. 

I had no idea how to prepare. It wasn’t just snow coming, but a massive storm to swallow the island. 

There was talk of supplies and water, oil lamps. 

Thoughts travelled back to Uganda and all of my fears of not having access to help if needed. And here I was about to be snowed in, with no way down the mountain, all ferries stopped, seaplanes locked down, no way out, and no way in.  Completely at the mercy of nature. 

Completely and utterly alone. 

The snow started to fall at night. 

I woke when power was lost, complete darkness in the too early morning. Cold from the lost heat, I crawled out of bed and got the fire going, pulled out my mortar and pestle and woke the kids with marble on marble grinding coffee beans by hand. 

I cooked my first breakfast on a wood stove and settled the kids with full bellies in front of a stack of books, lit only by glorious firelight, and went out into the storm. I needed wood, lots more wood. 

Load after load I moved logs from one end of the house to the other, a foot of snow eating each step. 

All I could think was please God let us not need help because none can come in this storm. 

There was a sharp pain as a sliver of wood slid beneath my fingernail. I came inside and tried to get it out but it was too embedded. The pain shot up my hand. 

The day continued, the snow kept falling.

We cooked lunch and dinner by fire. 

I watched the battery bars on the phone get less and less, our only connection to the outside world, until the last bar disappeared. 

The snow kept falling.

We played games.

We talked.

We watched the snow falling. 

It was night now and so silent and dark without any lights anywhere, no sound from anything, not even a hum. It was otherworldly and powerful and I felt so unbelievably vulnerable, and in awe. Here I was, completely snowed in with my 2 children, unable to rely on anything but my strength to get us through.

I looked down and my finger was quite red and swollen. I knew I had to get the splinter out before infection set in. And I knew there was no way off this mountain for days. 

So I took a flashlight into the bathroom, took a pair of tweezers, and by a thin beam of light took my fingernail off, piece by piece. 

That was the moment. The moment when I realized I was strong enough. 

We didn’t need to be saved. We didn’t need help. I had us just fine. 

I turned the flashlight off and walked back out into the dark snow covered house a very different woman, into a very different way of living. 

 

“Our whole lives were like that: 
run into the leaves, a black
autumn descends, 
run in your apron of leaves and a belt of gold metal
while the mist of the station house rusts on the stones.
Fly in your stockings and shoes
through the graying divisions, on the void of your feet, with 
    hands that the savage tobacco might hallow,
batter the stairs and demolish 
the seals that defend all the doors with black paper;
enter the pith of the sun, the rage of a day full of daggers,
and hurl yourself into your grief like a dove, like snow on the 
     dead…”—Pablo Neruda
     

     

     

 

 

Willow Branches

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Deep within the dark Pacific Northwest winter I went to the island nursery to get some eucalyptus branches for my bathroom. It not being the season for eucalyptus branches the gentleman offered me some cut willow tree.

I asked him if they would last long.

He said you could actually stick a willow branch into dirt and it will grow into a tree with the right amount of water and light.

I told him my bathroom was dark and I just needed them to last the winter until the eucalyptus came in.

He suggested putting them in water to prolong their decay but that there was no way they would grow without light, or soil.

They weren’t much to look at. Just a bunch of bald sticks. I almost threw them out. Three times I took them outside to the compost and then changed my mind and brought them back in.

They bothered me. They looked so tangled and stark. 

But I left them, and tried to ignore how much they unsettled me.

I think it was my son who saw the first root. Then more roots came, then buds, and finally green. Willow trees were growing in the dark, in a vase, in my bathroom. Without soil, without light, they were growing. 

The roots became a matrix and the green burst forth and after a few months I saw the branches were struggling and now needed more so I brought them out to my sun drenched living room.

Spring is whispering and the sun is growing stronger while my willow branches drink and devour it. I fill their vase daily with water, they keep getting greener, their leaves keep getting fuller and I tend to them and care for them, as these branches have become sacred to me.

 

                   “I saw a country road lined with tall shade trees. I saw fields, cattle, a village below the trees. I don’t know what book or picture I had got that from, or why a place like that should have seemed to me safe. But it was the picture that came to me, and I played with it. The mornings, the dew, the fresh flowers, the shade of the trees in the middle of the day, the fires in the evening. I felt I had known that life, and that is was waiting for me again somewhere.” –A Bend In The River, V.S. Naipaul 

 

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The Island

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It all started with a kitchen. 

While searching and gathering everything I could about Quebec and Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto, learning about cities and schools and neighborhoods my husband sent me a link to a house for sale with a kitchen that stopped everything. 

The house was nothing to look at, but this kitchen, THIS KITCHEN was everything.

The kitchen was in a house on an island. 

“Honey, where are the Gulf Islands?”

“Off Vancouver.” 

And then the rabbit hole opened up….

…I found a writer who wrote an article on the island…

…I searched for her on FB and messaged and she kindly returned….

…She wrote me of the beauty, the quirkiness, the diversity. She wrote of a school in the middle of a forest and would I like the administrator’s number who has 2 adopted boys from Ethiopia…

…and I kept falling and falling and falling. 

The Gulf Islands. 

But it was so far. And so isolated. My husband was worried I would be too alone. I was so scared to be so alone. But something was pulling me there. Something was telling me to go. Something so much stronger than worry or fear. 

We made the plans, found a summer rental for 2 months, and traveled across the world.

My husband settled us into a cabin on a lake, said goodbye, and flew back to Africa.

As I watched him sail away on the ferry my heart stuck in my throat, and I was shaking all over. 

I was on an island, with my 3 year old son and 8 year old daughter, where I did not know a single soul, with 2 months to find a home….

…and build a life.