Friday, June 16, 2017

Insomnia



The waning gibbous moon plays
hide and seek behind thin clouds as
humid mists shroud street lights in the
windless, dark hour before dawn. The
city sleeps

final vivid dreams while robins,
hidden in shadowy trees, start their
morning chorus, the smell of roses heavy 
in the night air. A single dim light
slowly approaches,

the old lady on a scooter scrounging through
garbage bins for hidden treasure while
a neighbour rises to prepare suhoor, crossing
off another short night before the
end of Ramadan.

The waning gibbous moon shines down 
on its journey across the sky as in 
time immortal.


ERK  June 16, 2017 0400h



Friday, May 12, 2017

Eagles and Vultures


On January 1st I wrote a short poem which included this repeating line;-

“Whatever this year may bring I will remember…"

After I wrote it I almost hesitated to complete the post thinking I was tempting fate. But I am not overly superstitious and now recognize those words have grounded me over a few months of turmoil and change. Not that anything completely devastating has happened, but like Solomon wrote, it is often small things growing out of proportion that bring conflict and misunderstanding in our relationships.

Catch all the foxes, those little foxes, 
before they ruin the vineyard of love, 
for the grapevines are blossoming!  

Song of Solomon 2:15


I had a few days off work this week and the beauty of the beginning of May has restored and uplifted my spirit. I ventured out to the Nith River, which is flooded and fast-flowing due to recent heavy and frequent rain storms. The Bald Eagles are parents once again and appear to be raising one eaglet this season. They rule their world from the top of a lone pine tree and soar majestically in the sky, taking turns watching their offspring.


A little further down the road I came across a dilapidated shed where seven turkey vultures rested, opening their wings at times to the sunshine. They are similar in size to the Bald Eagles and are graceful in flight. But the differences between the birds are striking.


  • Bald Eagles build a large nest high in a tree or cliff. Turkey Vultures do not build nests but lay eggs in caves, crevices, or abandoned buildings.
  • Eagles have talons for catching live prey while Vultures have no need of talons or strong feet for their diet of carrion.
  • Vultures are communal by nature and hang out in groups. Bald Eagles sometimes roost communally in the winter near a food source but are solitary and territorial most of the year.
  • Turkey Vultures have a well developed sense of smell for sourcing food while Bald Eagles rely more on keen eyesight for hunting.
  • Vultures lack a syrinx, the vocal organ of birds. They vocalize only with hisses and grunts. The Bald Eagle has a audible call that echoes across the river. Even the young eaglet can emit a loud, repeated single note when it is alone the nest.
  • And then there is the head… a majestic, white-feathered head with piercing yellow eyes compared to a homely bald, red head with large olfactory openings.


The diversity of the natural world is not divisive but complementary. Eagles and Vultures each have important roles and one is not more valuable than the other. There are times when dead things need to be cleaned up.

Recently, I took a patient for a walk with a coworker. We chatted about the weather and looked out the window at the opening leaves and flowers. I cleaned the patient’s glasses and combed their hair. The person sat down after the walk and while we watched, died instantly. There was no warning, no cry, no pain, just sudden death. It made me glad that the last 15 minutes of life was spent in an agreeable way. If there was unresolved conflict in that life, there was no opportunity for resolution.

Can you find the single eaglet in the bottom left side of the nest?

We would choose to soar like eagles, living territorially above the grittiness of earth. But there are times when we must deal with conflict and death, putting our heads into the carcass of the past or present before moving ahead to better things.



Currently reading: Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd
Currently listening to: Illumination: Peaceful Gregorian Chants

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

May 10th


Grandma Devins was born 121 years ago on May 10, 1896. Her life and mine overlapped for over 30 influential years and a day seldom passes that I do not think of her. Her sister was born on May 10, 1908, on Grandma’s 12th birthday. I did not spend as much time with Great-aunt Dorothy as I did with Grandma but I have fond memories of her as well. She and her husband retired in Guadalajara Mexico and thus influenced members of my immediate family members who later moved to that country. In Mexico, Mother’s Day is always May 10th, no matter what day of the week it falls on. It is a holiday in many regions so people can spend the day with their families. Mom’s birthday was May 5th so everything fits tidily in this week. 


To honour all that this day means to me, the Becka and I had a lovely mother-daughter day making new memories while remembering moms, grandmas, aunts and sisters who are far away. Grandma loved birding, especially in May. We braved a cold east wind off Lake Ontario to look for birds around Burlington Bay, Ontario. Most of them were hiding, seeking shelter from the wind. 


Trumpeter Swans turned their heads away from the offshore breeze while trying to glean some warmth from the sun. This month has been cool and wet, slowing the growth of leaves and flowers. Masses of blooming trilliums in their ancient colonies would have flowered in the same way 121 years ago. Observing nature, one sees constant change as well as constancy. It is reassuring that spring follows winter year after year after year. 


We warmed up at Abigail's Tea House in the small hamlet of St George, where vintage bird-cage chandeliers and charming mismatched china table settings create a comfortable ambience. The family who own and run the tea house are friendly and chatty and serve delicious, well presented meals with the best of teas. Everything is made from scratch in the kitchen or next door in their bakery. Nothing in this small place appears to have changed in the past century. Grandma would feel right at home with the menu and service. 


Each spring I look for "Tree Face" in our nearby woods. Soon the growth of new leaves will hide the old, gnarled tree. The face looks more weather beaten this year but it still speaks of the past and its connection to new growth in the forest. And so I share Grandma's stories with my daughter, whose life overlapped great-grandma's by three short years. Connected to the past while changing and growing into the future, the family links remain strong. 


Currently reading: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Currently listening to: As Time Goes By played by Beegie Adair

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Four Years



I went to Mexico in January to stay with my father while my brother and his family were away. Some things are different, but many things in the house are still the same since Mom died. The kitchen was her domain and the drawers and cupboards are mostly unchanged. My teapot still sits on top of the fridge and pots, utensils and containers are in their rightful places. Her handwritten inspirational sayings remain attached to the fridge door with magnets.

Grandma Devins took a trip to Scotland in the late 1960s or early 1970s. She brought back a spurtle which is a wooden stirrer for making creamy porridge. Porridge was a served every morning in our home except for Saturdays when we had Shreddies. On Sundays, raisins were added to the gruel. Mom used the spurtle for years and the wood finally cracked. One of the last things she asked me to bring her from Canada before she died was another spurtle. I never found one and the old cracked one is still in the kitchen. Each morning I made porridge for Dad and myself and stirred the grains to perfect creaminess with the old kitchen tool…and thought of Mom. I almost brought it home, but left it where it belonged.

The kitchen is still the heart of the home. I squeezed orange juice while Mom’s dog Inge, who is now 11 years old, slept in the corner. Her great-grandson who was born a couple of weeks after her death, played hide and seek at the kitchen counter. Family photos remain on top of the grand piano and I saw my mother in my face. It upsets my father to speak much about her, but he continues in routines they set together and "sees" her often.

I watched the Vermillion Flycatcher outside the kitchen window in the mornings and admired the vermillion sunset over the mountains in the evening. The swallows returned to their nest outside the door and hummingbirds hovered around the flowers in the garden as they did when she was here.

Today marks four years since she left. I made porridge for breakfast and reminisced with some family members who called. Dad is not well and seems to decline step-wise at this time of year. Here are some verses from Psalm 90 that I love.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.

Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.

Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendour to their children.

May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Circles of Control, Influence and Concern

I like to think of myself as a calm and rational person, and people who see me may believe that to be true. What they do not see is the turmoil I sometimes internalize which leads to distraction, fatigue, insomnia, inner turmoil, stress and anger. The amount of information we have to process in real time is often overwhelming and our responses can be emotional “knee-jerk” reactions. Complaining is a popular past-time at work and elsewhere, and too much whining is done about things that are not in our control

Stephen R. Covey described circles of concern and influence in his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He wrote,

”Instead of reacting to or worrying about conditions over which they have little or no control, proactive people focus their time and energy on things they can control."



In response to some stressors in my life this year, I drew three circles;-

Control, Influence and Concern. 

There are things in my life that I can control
There are circumstances and people that I can influence
There are areas of concern that I have no control or influence over at all. 

I have tried to manage my time based on what I wrote in my circle of control. An over-reaction to events we cannot control- 
a bad driver, a long check-out line, negative behaviour of other people, the weather report, the value of the dollar, and so on
drains our energy and darkens our mood. We have influence over people in close and casual relationships, but it is important to resist controlling others who are capable of being responsible for their own decisions, particularly our children and spouses. 

I recently returned from Mexico where I spent time caring for my father who is dependent in all aspects of his care. His inability to do things for himself due to advanced Parkinson’s Disease causes frustration and anger at times. We discussed this topic and talked about how his circle of control has become much, much smaller.

 

Like a child, he is increasingly controlled by his caregivers, leading him to ask what purpose there is in living with such a disability. He still has control of his words and reactions. He can influence the people he interacts with in a positive or negative way. It is within our power to control our attitudes, even in circumstances that are not ideal.

My three year old great-nephew came to visit while Dad was walking around the house for exercise. I watched as Great-Grandson pushed his scooter at the same pace that Great-Grandfather walked with his walker. Youth and old age, both with limited control but with significant influence on each other.

Here is the template for the circles I filled in with very personal situations and concerns. The exercise brought increased awareness of what things are most important for me to "centre" on.





Sunday, January 15, 2017

Deep Winter


Northern Cardinal (m)

Winter arrived suddenly after a hot summer and long autumn season. We have received a lot of lake effect snow from the relatively warm, open waters of Lake Huron along with days of dreaded "mixed precipitation". Just before Christmas I bought snow tires for my 4 wheel drive vehicle and I have been thankful for them several times in the past month. I also bought "snow tires" for my feet in the form of vibram-soled Sperry winter boots. I prefer driving on ice to walking on ice and the new boots have eased a lot of anxiety about falling. (Here is a link to an Ontario study about the best winter boots for staying upright) 

There has been little time for birding and trail walking this month but I have been out on a couple of occasions. American Tree Sparrows, with their bi-coloured beaks and distinctive chest spot look for handouts along with Juncos, Chickadees and Nuthatches.

American Tree Sparrow (banded)


The river is home to "snowbirds" from the near and far north. Bufflehead ducks, Goldeneyes, Mergansers of all types, and other small diving ducks fish in fast-flowing open waters of the Grand River. I haven't made it down to Lake Ontario yet this winter where many other water birds over-winter.

Bufflehead (m) Duck

One afternoon I heard a lot of anxious bird chatter and looked up to see this Cooper's Hawk patiently waiting for his next meal, or, perhaps he was just sunning at the top of the tree. No songbird would dare fly in close proximity to this swift hunter.


The same day, we found a couple of American Robins in our neighbourhood digging in the dirt close to houses where the snow had receded. I usually see a few Robins in January but they are often by the river in berry thickets. 


The pictures below were taken last week. The first was after a beautiful snowfall and the second was taken the next morning as people were rushing to work. Our region has built multiple roundabouts to replace traditional intersections. I have mixed feelings about them as some people are still confused about how to navigate multi-lane versions. The car in the picture left the road at a roundabout near our home, accelerated up a sloped yard right into the townhouse. It took a day to extract the vehicle because of the structural damage to the building. I don't mind winter driving myself, but I am wary of other people who are not comfortable driving on ice and snow.


In spite of winter hazards, there is still time for fun. Our dog loves to chase a sled down the nearby slopes of the old city dump, affectionately known as Mount Trashmore. We are expecting a January thaw this week but hopefully it is short-lived so winter sport venues can enjoy a profitable season. Winter is not my favourite time of year, but I will make the best of it, especially as I see the days getting longer and pointing to spring.


Monday, January 02, 2017

New Year's Welcome


Whatever this year may bring I will remember
that it started in perfect harmony, with a bubbling
brook that sang as it rushed over rocks, 
and chickadees who chortled before 
taking seeds from my hand.

Whatever this year may bring I will remember
sunshine on fresh unmarked snow, a
crescent moon beside Venus 
in the twilight sky, and the 
exhilaration of a walk in crisp, cold air. 

Whatever this year may bring I will remember
to find joy in simple things, and take time 
to dream, and learn, and give thanks, and smile 
even when life seems overwhelming 
and the future is uncertain.



Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reflections on 2016


As I sit here on New Year’s Eve 2016, I am reminded of the Psalm that says, 

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so we may grow in wisdom"   Ps 90:12

I am fortunate to have daily reminders of numbered days, and the harm that springs from petty quarrels and greed. It is customary to make New Year’s resolutions but it is also good to reflect on growth and changes in the last twelve months. 

I kept a hand written journal for an entire year and wrote on the last page today. This has been an useful way to keep track of thoughts, ideas, wisdom from other people, and to-do lists. I journaled significant and mundane things together because life is that way. A beautiful sunrise, a butterfly, a bird, a chance meeting, a tasty dinner all bring me joy.  Oscar Wilde was right when he wrote,

 “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Journaling made me more aware of the sacred that exists in everything. One of my goals was to appreciate the humanity and potential goodness in everyone without pre-judging by appearance or behaviour. Everyone has a back story that deserves respectful listening. I continue to appreciate the beauty of the natural world which surpasses the grandest cathedral made by man. And relationships with other people are important to cultivate as we wither physically, mentally and spiritually without meaningful social support. 

I wrote a lot of prayers in my journal. I came to realize that most of what I called prayer was self-centred and petulant. I believe the primary purpose of prayer is to change my thinking, my attitudes, and my behaviour. God is not a genie who comes and releases us from our problems. He gives us the tools to do the work ourselves. Likewise, we, by our actions, bring about change in our sphere of influence. I am reminded daily how self-centred I am by nature and how hard it is to extend needed forgiveness and grace to others.

I am more appreciative of good health and know that abuse of our bodies is not easily overcome as we age. Making good nutrition, exercise, rest and stress management a priority is a daily challenge. I became aware of the concept of “mindfulness” this year. Multi-tasking robs us of awareness of simple pleasures. We rush about, eat fast food, gorge on social media, and misuse the time we need to invest in a meaningful, balanced life. I continue to make my own bread every week. When I eat a slice at the beginning of the day, I am reminded of my connection with Jesus, the bread of life, and human kind who has broken bread for millennia. This is communion in the truest sense.


My religious background was strict and questions had pat answers. I knew the statements of faith well and taught them to many children in Sunday School. My understanding of certain doctrines and practices has changed significantly. It has been good to journal my questions and musings and to listen to others who interpret scripture differently. Unanswered questions keep us on the quest for wisdom and knowledge.

I have a brand new journal for 2017 but will keep the 2016 version handy. Every day is a gift for which I am grateful.
Happy New Year!