Author Archives: Sue Bland

Pheasant Creek – Early May Flowers

My friend and teacher Ron tells me that when we thank Mother Earth she knows! Doesn’t matter how we thank the earth, he says. You can bow, sing a song, strike a yoga pose, simply notice and pay attention, dance a jig, say a prayer, write a poem, offer a gift. However we do it, Mother Earth knows. According to Ron, she celebrates. She wants to  be noticed, to be loved, to be acknowledged, to be remembered, to be revered.

I don’t know that I have ever before taken the time to visit Pheasant Creek Coulee almost every day. It has been a gift in noticing, paying attention, being astonished, and returning home. My eye most often scans the earth, looking at stones, grasses, emerging plants, blossoming plants, and faded remnants of last year’s growth.  Once again, this post is mostly for myself – a  visual record of the plants that typically grown in Pheasant Creek during the first half of May. These wildflowers are both common, and uncommonly beautiful! Each year, it seems, i meet a new plant friend I managed to miss in all the springs before!! (This spring it is Sunloving Sedge.)

 

Early cinquefoil- with beautiful silver lining on the leaves, early cinquefoil comes up after the crocuses about the same time as moss phlox.

Moss phlox

Violet

Cushion milk vetch

This second week of May, cushion milk vetch dots the high sandy slopes

Sand Bladderpod

Sand Bladderpod

Lower towsnendia (usually seen in groups. Is this early?)

a last crocus  on a woody hillside (May 8, 2020)

Wild strawberry

Sunloving Sedge

Sunloving sedge

Plains Cymopterus (not a great photo. Less than an inch high. Part of the parsley family which you can see in its leaves)

Early Locoweed

Missouri Milk Vetch

Missouri Milk vetch

Showy Locoweed (the flowers not out yet, but some an impressive plant, so furry and luxurious!) Its related to Early Locoweed and flowers will be a beautiful blue/pink/purple

 

Golden Bean

Three flowered avens (May 13, 2020)

Pale comandra (very common, flowers not quite out)

Low Everlasting

Low Everlasting

Chokecherries leafing out (I could not resist this colour!!)

Hoary Puccoon – just about to pop! (May 16, 2020)

Sources: Wildflowers Across the Prairies,  by F.R. Vance, J.R. Jowsey and J.. MacLean, Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, 1984 and Glenn Lee’s excellent website.

Catkins! How do I Love You?

Let me count the ways!

If there has been a personal theme this Covid spring, I would call it “seeing but not seeing”. This sounds mysterious, but I often see things, and yet don’t really take them in. Catkins are a great example. Most years, I love to find the first catkins, bring some in to enjoy, marvel at their softness. Sometime later, I may notice how the willow trees look lacy at a distance, and  how pretty that looks. But really,  before this I have considered the appearance of the pussy willows to be the main event.

With more time to explore this spring, I have visited the pussywillows and catkins just about every day, noticing not only their great variety, but how also lovely (and sometimes unlovely) they are at each stage of development and in every weather. I have photographed them with my phone, and have observed that the pussywillows most amazing to me I can’t photograph at all – these are the tiniest ones. On a rainy morning, they remind me of twinkle lights, small jewels bedecking the curves of the willows, hundreds of them. There are no pictures of them here!

This may be one of those posts I put together mostly for myself. Now that I have taken time with the pussywillows and catkins, I don’t think I will pass them by again.  Even so, behold the variety of expressions of the catkin!!

Just before they fall off, and the leaves begin to come

Female catkin, all others showing these photos are male

Pussy willows are dioecious, meaning there are both male plants and female plants. The pussy willows  act as insulators, for the flowers (catkins) that will eventually bloom. I am glad to know this because I saw my first pussy willows in January, during a thaw.

Usually the male catkins grow first and release their pollen. Then the female catkins grow and open shortly afterwards to receive pollen. By releasing and preparing to receive pollen at different times the tree has less chance of receiving its own pollen and a greater chance of receiving pollen from other trees. The pollen from other trees can produce stronger offspring. Willows do not spread their pollen via the wind. Instead, they rely on insects for pollination, despite having less than gaudy flowers. What they lack in visual cues, they clearly make up for in olfactory ones, producing large amounts of strongly scented nectar. Bees and flies are readily drawn to pussy willows in full bloom. One of the advantages of flowering early in spring is that there is very little competition for pollinators. The willows gain the full attention of the many bees and flies that also awaken early in the spring and are desperate for food.

Source: Johnny Caryopsis, The Biology of Pussy Willows, Nature North

 

 

 

Lungs, Trees, Grief, and Staying Put

 

I have been intrigued by how many quotes I have been coming across which connect Covid-19 to lungs, and trees to lungs, and lungs to grief, and trees to staying put. My love of trees has been life long. In recent years, I have enjoyed more intentional time with and among trees.  This shift stems from the  tremendous loss of so many wetlands and small bluffs of aspen on the prairies in recent years as farmers make way for more crop land.  Some of those small bluffs of trees have very dear to me. I may not be able to change the decimation of wild areas on the prairies, but I can become a better friend to the trees I do encounter each day.  For these reasons, I pay special attention to anything I read concerning trees.

My personal connection to lungs (besides the fact that I use them every moment, every breath I take), is that my mum died of lung cancer at age 65. Before she died, her greatest fear was losing her breath or choking to death, but fortunately her last breath was a peaceful one. She was a sensual woman, taking enormous pleasure in the scent of salt air when we approached the ocean after a long time away. She found the spring smell of thawing horse manure just as beautiful. Which has me thinking of her daily, as our horse pasture begins to thaw!! In either case, she breathed in deeply and rejoiced!

So, we begin with lungs. I appreciate the writing of Kate Woods, a doula from the UK active both in doula training and Doulas without Borders. She has recently survived  Covid-19, and was especially vulnerable due to scarred lungs from a childhood illness with pneumonia. She recorded “Virus Musings” day by day on her Facebook page. Kate’s description of how the virus felt helped bring this home to me: “This virus is all about the lungs. I can feel the pressure, like a baby elephant sitting on my chest. Breathing itself seems to be on the ’to do’ list and the lungs don’t seem to be that fussed about organically filling. It is an effort. Whole sentences are off the table now, as the air is needed for more basic things. I communicate with hand raises, nods and few words. I can now feel the glue-like substance at the bottom of my lungs. So this is what she’s made of.  Hello Ms.Corona: she’s a sticky, thick, unmoving mass which fills pockets up in the lungs that should have air in.” 

Take a breath.

Kate Wood continues, “The deeper medicine which I feel arising through this personal and global experience, seems to be about grief. The lungs have long been associated with grief and Ms.Corona invites, no, demands, us to sit very still indeed (even walking across the room is like scaling a mountain) and try to breathe through the ‘pollution’ deep in the lungs.”

“The Solace of Trees”, 15″ x 15″,ink and watercolour

I take a breath before I type. Breathe in, breathe out.

It has taken me a while to recognize and acknowledge my own grief about Covid-19, all those affected,  and the implications of being in isolation. My own situation, after all, is hardly grievous, especially when compared to that of so many others. (I know – it is never wise to compare.) Sometimes my grief feels like being overwhelmed – I cannot listen to one more news report, I come home from a rare outing feeling exhausted, I can talk to maybe one or two people outside my home each day. Grief slows me down. Sometimes my grief is expressed as confusion, uncertainty, awkwardness, frustration, unknowing. Sometimes it shows up when I watch something lighthearted and maybe a little cheesy on Netflix!  Other times my grief is expressed in tears – when John Prine died, I was able to cry. Hearing stories about elders dying alone has also opened the floodgates. It seemed like John Prine and stories about elders were acceptable portals that gave me permission to cry.. To just sit with whatever way I am feeling.

Then I read this beautiful poem by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, an amazing American poet, who sends a new poem to my inbox each day.

 

 

 

 

Respiratory

This morning, after the blizzard,
after the sun came out,
there was a moment when the shadows
of the empty cottonwood trees
patterned the snow like tree-sized lungs—
the trunk was a bronchus,
and the branches, bronchioles
that split into twiggish alveoli.
And the tree seemed to say, Remember.

I often neglect to be grateful
for lungs, for breath—
such a simple, forgettable gift.
But in the dividing silhouette,
I saw into myself, a divine branching,
an inner tree, an invitation
to sit and breathe. Remember, it seemed
to say, and I followed the lines until
they disappeared into the light.

I am grateful for the gift of breath, and for Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer’s gift of reminding me so eloquently.

Nicolette Sowder, founder of Wilder Child (nature based learning), makes the connection between staying at home – our present “groundedness” – and trees, who are grounded all the time. We now know that trees can communicate sending nourishment, messages and support to other trees. We are like trees at the moment, communicating over distance, sharing love in new ways from the root of our beings. This is so true. Who do I turn to when in need of solace? Often, I turn to trees.

Kate Wood writes, “Ironically now and only now, the lungs of the world are beginning to fill, as the skies and the roads, the rivers and the seas clear of our rushing about. Somehow, the tables have entirely turned. The earth takes a nice deep breath and we’re now flapping about, gasping and flailing, like fish on the shore.”

Vera Satzman, Cry of the Lake Dwellers #7 (http://www.verasaltzman.com/)

And finally,  I came across this beautiful poem written by Nadine Anne Hura,  a writer of Ngāti Hine and Ngāpuhi whakapapa based in Porirua (North Island of New Zealand). This poem has been shared widely by Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand.

🍃Rest now, e Papatūānuku
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are

We’ll not move upon you
For awhile🍃

We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home

Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.
I wish we could say we were doing it for you
as much as ourselves

But hei aha

We’re doing it anyway

It’s right. It’s time.
Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgment
Time to cry
Time to think

About others

Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers

🍃 Gentle palms

Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong

For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans and the sky full of rain

Finally, it’s raining!

Ka turuturu te wai kamo o Rangi ki runga i a koe

🍃Embrace it

This sacrifice of solitude we have carved out for you

He iti noaiho – a small offering
People always said it wasn’t possible
To ground flights and stay home and stop our habits of consumption

But it was
It always was.

We were just afraid of how much it was going to hurt
– and it IS hurting and it will hurt and continue to hurt
But not as much as you have been hurt.

So be still now

Wrap your hills around our absence
Loosen the concrete belt cinched tight at your waist

Rest.
Breathe.
Recover.
Heal –

With thanks to these  women – Sylvia (Frith) Bland (my mum), Kate Wood, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Nicolette Sowder, Nadine Anne Hura, Jacinda Ardern and Vera Saltzman.

“In the Hawthornes”, watercolour.

The Magic of Willows

Willows in fall

After the leaves are gone from the trees in the fall, and before they make their miraculous appearance in the spring, I only have eyes for willow!! Not quite true, but it is during late fall, through winter, and into early spring when the willows – the small  reddish bushes by sloughs, water of any kind or in ditches – claim my heart. Especially in the season of spring, when the colours of their branches seem to change daily, when they start to look like burning bushes along the road. One willow bush can have branches that are gold, yellow, olive green, copper, rust, red, burgundy, purple/black, grey, brown and a myriad of shades in between.

Catkins are edible, high in vitamin C, and can be eaten on their own, fried with other food or added to soup.

This spring, the spring of the pandemic, we will all remember. Amongst the gifts of this time for me has been more time outdoors to truly  take time to notice. Just across the road from our farm are two small sloughs, both surrounded by willow, aspen, and red osier dogwood. Each day, I have visited the willows, noticing not only 4 varieties of catkins, but especially the  vivid and ever-changing colours of their bark.  How a very old gnarled willow, which is mostly grey, can have  young shoots of every colour. How some branches are greeny gold at their base, moving into an almost orange, and as we get towards the top they turn red or burgundy.

Taking time to notice meant that I could bring willow boughs into the house to paint as it has been wintry  and cool outside. I spent a week painting “Willow Meditation#1”. You will see some red osier dogwood here as well because I simply couldn’t resist it! Painting is a way of becoming acquainted with my plant relatives, and teaches me to notice, to take a second or third look. Painting humbles me – the colours look different once I bring the branches  inside, and they are very hard to replicate. I never quite do, but I certainly have fun trying!

Willow Meditation #1 (1st week of April), 11″ x 18″, watercolour

As i was painting Willow Meditation #1, I began to notice more and more yellow and orange branches, so I began a second willow meditation. Sometimes I ran outside with a branch, looked at it with the sun on it, and ran inside to see if I could I could come a little closer to the vibrancy.

“Willow Meditation #2″ (2nd week of April), 11″ x 18”, watercolour

on the left, watercolour sketches, on the right an acrylic effort and at the top, the inner bark of willow

This spring, I have been inspired to paint the willow branches close up.  Other years, I have tried to catch a bit of their spirit from far away.

Not all willow trees have pussy willows. An individual tree will produce either male (pollen-producing) or female (seed-producing) flowers, so cross-pollination and fertilization is necessary.

A compound called salicin is found in the inner bark of willow trees – this compound is used as pain relief in aspirin, and many other herbal medicines.

What will I do with my bouquets of willow branches? I will enjoy them a bit longer and then can  cut them up and put them in jars of water. After a few days, remove the willow stalks and you have root hormone which will help you with spring transplanting! New transplants also love to be watered with this  willow water. Or perhaps I could plant them and create a “living willow hedge”? I could scrape out the inner bark, add it juniper berries collected on the hillsides, and put in my bath with epsom salts – this combination is said to soothe aching muscles.

Willow is flexible and has long been used to make baskets, and more recently furniture, fences and art. The photos below show outside art made with willows in Dawson City, Yukon.

Thanks to  Beverly Gray, The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North, Aroma Borealis Press, 2011, pages 269-273

What I Notice

I notice that I love this slowed down world, even as I sometimes feel grief and worry, or even guilt for appreciating the leisurely pace of life.

I notice that I am breathing more slowly.

I notice that after a week of steady Covid 19 news, I had to shut off the radio and social media for a few days to let my head and heart clear, to give myself time to really take this in. I felt too full – of information, of statistics, of black humour, jokes and diversions, of helpful philosophical takes.

I notice in a new way how deeply grateful I am to live where I live, to have discovered the richness of a small piece of land across the road made up of shelterbelt and wetlands, marsh grasses and willow, ruffed grouse, rabbit, fox, coyote, deer and more. My “noticing walks” take more time because I don’t have to rush off anywhere.

I notice new tracks each day.

 

 

 

 

 

I notice my joy in the easy companionship with our two old dogs, Lady Lucy and Hercules, who are the reason I walk here. Noses to the ground, ears alert, tails awagging, their body language reminds me that I am missing so much.

I notice the male ruffed grouse who has lived here all winter, successfully avoiding the fox, and who is drumming for his mate. I haven’t seen her yet! I notice the pairs of hungarian partridge who I disturb as they sit together near where I walk. I notice the magpies, the ravens, the  spring call of the chickadees.

I notice the marsh grass and the brome grass and how the posture and bearing of each is unique. I spend longer than usual looking at dried weeds and I take some home to paint. I become completely captivated by their forms and paint dead plants and their seed heads for several days.

I have always wanted to paint plants at this time of the year, but I have never taken the time to do so before this quarantine. I like to befriend wildflowers and plants – getting to know them better in all seasons and stages is an investment in this rich friendship.

Each day I notice things that I have given a fleeting glance to before, but which I have never before given my full attention.

It’s a little like my gradual understanding of Covid 19 and being quarantined. The other night I dreamed that I was at social gatherings and no one was social distancing. I didn’t have the right language to tell them they must. In this way, Covid 19 has entered my dreams and my sub-conscious world. But in so many other ways, it feels surreal.

Each day, I learn about how the threat of Covid 19 is affecting others – the homeless, those in prison, those seeking shelter from abuse. The cracks in our society are more evident – people being paid minimum wage, losing work with nowhere to fall. The moms who are working at home, and homeschooling, and holding it all together – or not. How this might feel for those in poor or compromised health. Businesses on the brink of shutting down. The grocery store  and pharmacy workers, some elderly, going to work day in and day out. The cleaners and laundry workers, care workers, nurses, lab technicians, nurses and doctors who are keeping our hospitals and long term care facilities open and safe. Just yesterday, I read about a woman with breast cancer whose scheduled mastectomy has been cancelled, and who cannot learn how her breast cancer is progressing. I hear these stories as if through a layer of fuzzy wool, distantly. Somehow, these realities are not fully penetrating my being.

My sitting chair in the marsh. Wonderful place for long phone calls or just to sit

Noticing the weave and colours of this chair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suspect that this will change with time. It will most certainly change when  I or someone I know contracts Covid 19, or is affected in some direct way by this pandemic. We learn by degrees. Our minds are absorbing so much. It takes a long while for our bodies to catch up, to fully take in all that this pandemic means. In the meantime, I will accept the gift of time to truly notice the beautiful world just past my door. To be truly here.

It seems fitting to close with this beautiful poem by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer called “Here”.

Even as the snow was falling,
the birds in the branches
kept singing into morning,
easing their bright notes
into the thin gray spaces
between snowflakes.

There are days, imagine,
when the birds go unheard.
And it isn’t for lack of song—
the single note chirp
of sparrow, the bass of raven,
the chickadee’s hey swee-tee.

Some gifts come only
when we stay in one place,
come only when we are alone,
come only when we stop praying
to be somewhere else and instead
pray to be here.

 

Y0u can receive a poem a day from the wonderful Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. Go to her website and subscribe at the bottom.

Not A Tupperware Party

When I first moved to Kerry Farm, I was invited to tupperware and candle parties. I always felt I should buy something (even if I didn’t need anything)  and people would say, “Oh no, you can just come – you don’t need buy anything”, but my inner voice thought I did. Eventually, I started saying no to such invitations. I wasn’t too sad when I stopped being invited.

A pleasure of my art business is delivering pieces of art or cards to people, especially when it involves a visit. Amongst my favourite  visits are those I enjoy with Margaret Heil, who just celebrated her 100th birthday with family  and friends. Margaret invites me 3 or so times a year to bring my basket of cards to her sunny living room. She selects her favourite cards – she looks at every  single card in my basket and assembles a “long list”, sorts through again for the “shorter list” which are the cards she will buy. Her very favourite card is “the Tree of Love”. We enjoy a wonderful visit. As Margaret likes to say, we go way back….something like this – her daughter babysat my husband and his twin sister when he was not yet walking, the same daughter taught all 4 of our daughters, her other daughter did books for Shane at one time, a grandson worked here one summer, our eldest daughter babysat her great grandchildren (two of whom were also twins). One of my favourite exploring spots in the coulee is owned by her grandson and daughter in law. And, so on!!

Margaret in her home, selecting cards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently a city friend invited to come by with cards as she and one of her friends wanted to purchase some. Those of us who live in the country well know the kind of stacked lists we get when we visit the city! On this particular day, everything went awry when my car, which I had taken in for something small, needed to stay at the shop for a few days for some fix that was not so small. No loaners were available, but I could get a rental car – and before you know it, I was behind on my list and somewhat harried. When I arrived my friend’s apartment, she had invited a few other friends, and had set her coffee table with tea, fruit, delicious dates and dainties. A party! Such a lovely surprise and welcome. The cards led into all kinds of discussions – growing up in rural Saskatchewan, chickens, where does the name Poached Egg Woman come from, and so on. One of the women (after my own heart) pulled loose change out her pocket and said, “I only have $5.50 – what will that get me?” I wanted to say, “You don’t have to buy anything” but of course, she felt like she did! Needless to say, I had a wonderful time and made some new friends. Not a tupperware party, but kind of like one. I have come full circle!!

WinterSoul #1 – “The Ache”


Sometimes, small changes in routine or the weather alert us to new beauty just around the corner or across the road. In my case, right across the road! Our aging and arthritic dogs are no longer content to sit and watch me skate on a winters morning, and I imagine that it is not very good for their sore old hips to sit outside on a cold day. So, before a skate, we go for a walk, and have discovered a treasure trove across the road. For years, we have called this area the “Mooney Trees” after the Mooney family who planted the shelterbelt and once had a farmstead here, but the area includes a small wetland as well as woods. For the dogs, there are so many wonderful smells, tracks to follow, holes to dig. A veritable feast for the nose!! This small area is alive with grouse, partridge, owl, mice, foxes, deer, and coyotes – to name only a few.

Last week, Southern Saskatchewan was bathed in hoar frost for several days running. As I explored the Mooney trees with the dogs, I was amazed at each turn, each new vista and view. The Smart phone photos do not do my morning’s walk justice, but will give you some idea of the beauty that is right here (but that I almost missed!)

I was reminded of my discovery of artist Emily Carr in my teen years. Reading a book about Emily Carr, I came across a few pages describing “the ache”. As I remember it, Emily Carr would often be silenced and stilled by beauty, her hand going to her heart. Sometimes tears would come. She was often overcome. Something she called “the ache” filled her, and oftentimes after experiencing the ache, she would paint or write. As a teenager, I read about Emily Carr’s “ache” with recognition and also with great relief knowing that somebody else felt this way at times when experiencing beauty.

The dogs’ excitement is expressed in wagging tails, alert ears, noses to the ground….moments where they forget about arthritis as they bound energetically through the snow. As for me, I feel achingly alive and alert, rapt in wonder.

The old balsam poplar, now fallen, who is teaching me to balance

Mia (not one of the arthritic older dogs) loving to balance!

Sticks and Stones (and maybe bones)

“We could never have loved the earth so well if we had no childhood in it.” George Eliot

Sticks and Stones (and maybe bones) was an all ages PLAYshop offered twice this summer. Both days, we began at Kerry Farm, and then drove to nearby Pheasant Creek Coulee where we spent a few hours exploring the meadows, hillsides, creek bed, and wooded areas around this part of the coulee. We then returned to Kerry Farm for lunch and an afternoon of rest and creativity (and one of the days, tree-climbing).

During the July PLAYshop, the wildflowers were blooming profusely, Saskatoon berries were plump and plentiful, the creek was running due to recent rains. A bone was found! On our August day, a few of the July wildflowers were still in bloom as well as the August beauties, there were still Saskatoon berries, and the creek bed was mostly dry and kind of green where there was moisture. The grasses were spectacular – every colour of green, as well as pink, yellow, rust, purple, and reddish. No bones were found, but a number of sticks and stones came back to Kerry Farm. My highlight during the second PLAYshop was this: a boy, running past me up the hill, declaring at top volume,”OH! I LOVE NATURE SO MUCH!” Makes me smile just to remember.

Below are some photos which will give you a feel for the beauty of Pheasant Creek Coulee, as well as the open hearted spirit each person brought to the day.

Photo Credit: Jody Hyndman

Photo Credit: Jody Hyndman

Photo Credit: Jody Hyndman

Photo Credit: Jody Hyndman