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"Sylvia's Prairie", watercolour

Sylvia’ s Prairie

Years ago I made a choice to let go of my perennial garden so that I could spend more time in Pheasant Creek Coulee with the wildflowers that were already there. Flowers requiring no care at all. I felt some sadness about this choice, but have been thrilled about the time it has freed up for me. I especially love to spend very early mornings painting in the coulee once the ticks have disappeared.

This Covid summer has been no exception. In fact, life without playshops and art sales has offered me not only MORE time in the coulee, but also daily visits! What I have most noticed is how the more I get to know, the more I realize I have not noticed before. How could I have missed that, I think? I note that I miss so many things. “I see, but don’t see”. There is always a new surprise or mystery when I visit the coulee. We see and experience the natural world with strong filters. Happily, daily visits disturb some of my filters.

Showy Locoweed (the flowers not out yet, but an impressive plant, so furry and luxurious!)

Showy Locoweed in bloom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great joy has been wondering about the mystery of an emerging plant – before it blooms. Who are you? What colour will you be? In the case of Showy Locoweed, it was several weeks between emerging leaves and eventual blossoms. Well worth the wait!

Now, I am appreciating the varieties of seedheads, and finding great beauty in this stage of plant life. How can the delicate pink and white bell shaped flower of Spreading Dogbane become a brilliant red pod sometimes measuring four inches long?

Spreading Dogbane-the pod

Spreading Dogbane- flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These last few weeks, I have perched on my stool, looking down. I am intrigued by the shapes and forms and postures of plants. I have always loved the distinctive shape of Indian Breadroot* or the particular curve of milk vetch leaves on the stem. Or the deep green of Indian Breadroot contrasted with the silvery green of wolf willow and sage.

“Underfoot”, Watercolour, 14.5 ” x 14.5″

My first painting, entitled “Underfoot” highlights the leaves of Indian Breadroot when the blossoms are dying. In the background are the fading leaves of the prairie crocus. At this time ( early July) Ascending Purple Milk Vetch (blue) is in full bloom, as are Gaillardia (yellow) and Hedysarum (pink). Broom is just coming into bloom and it’s bright fake grass green colour contrasts with the other shades of green.

Detail of “Sylvia’s Prairie”

“Sylvia’s Prairie” was painted over several visits the last ten days of July. Silver Leaf Psoralea ( a cousin of Indian Breadroot) is highlighted in this painting and I love how its silver leaves contrast with the green of Western Wild Bergamot (shown here without blossom). Other blooming plants include Purple Prairie Clover, Harebell, Pink Prairie Onion, and Low Goldenrod. Flax seeds and the empty rust coloured seed heads of groundsel as well as wild licorice leaves are here also.

The title of this piece came as a wonderful surprise. Once I was finished and was looking at this painting from a distance, I thought, “These are Sylvia’s (my late mum) colours.” In fact, I could imagine her wearing a shirt just like this. I was struck by how our parents are always with us, even when we have no idea they are present. Years ago, when my mum visited the prairies, she loved to smell the sage. She always picked some to freeze in a baggie, and pull out from time to time, just to breathe that distinctive prairie smell deeply. So, it fits that two types of sage are in this painting as well – women’s sage and pasture sage.

In some ways, I am pleased with “Sylvia’s Prairie”. Yet, at the same time, some dissatisfaction  pushes me to explore further. I like the energy and movement in an earlier attempt to get to know Silver Leaf Psoralea (below). I begin August wanting to spend more time getting to know Silver Leaf Psoralea better by sitting with her, drawing and painting her, trying to express other dimensions of her incredible beauty and wildness.

* Indian Breadroot is also known as Prairie Turnip.


Pheasant Creek – Some July Wildflowers

Western Wild Bergamot

Western Wild Bergamot, a wonderful peppery  leaf added  to tea

Skeleton Weed

Hedysarum, above and Northern Hedysarum, below plus a little yarrow

Northern Hedysarum

Juniper is not a flower but so lovely and fresh with new berries coming

Low milkweed started blooming in June, but I am discovering patches of her for the first time, and she continues to bloom in July

Green Milkweed

Silvery groundsel going to seed…in this photo the seeds of the bottom three have flown away. I painted this seedhead last winter not knowing what is was

Smooth Camus, close up, new to me this year

Smooth Camus

Late Locoweed (see May for Early locoweed)

Harebells

Giant Hyssop

Skunk bush

Western Red Lily

Wild LIcorice

Brown Eyed Susan’s

Many flowered aster

Purple Prairie Clover – who could resist this plant?

White Prairie Clover, cousin to Purple Prairie Clover

Dotted Blazingstar

Short Stemmed Thistle

Short Stemmed Thistle

Field Geranium, naturalized

Red Clover

Plains Cinquefoil

Yellow Evening Primrose

Yellow Evening Primrose

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PInk flowered Onion

PInk flowered Onion

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)

Spreading Dogbane

Showy Locoweed

Beautiful Sunflower

Silverleaf Psoralea

Smooth Aster

Prairie Coneflower

the seedhead of yellow flax

Hairy Golden Aster

“Underfoot”, Watercolour, 14.5 ” x 14.5″

“Early Morning”, Watercolour, 10″ x 8″

 

Pheasant Creek – Late June Flowers

In my humble opinion, June is the best month for wildflowers. There are so many new flowers coming to blossom, it is hard to keep up. Interesting seed heads to observe from earlier plants. The leaves of plants that are coming soon have emerged. It is also a beautiful month, unlike any other for startling prairie skies. Of course, the plants bloom long after my  contrived two week time periods. And yet, keeping note of the plants as they bloom has me noticing more. The more I learn, the more I notice.  The more I learn, the more questions I have. What a privilege it is to walk the same hills daily, to notice the ever changing plants and shrubs as well as the birds, animals and insects.

A beautiful year for wild roses

Gaillardia (or blanket flower)

Goatsbeard started to bloom at the beginning of June. the seedheads, like very large dandelion seed heads just came out at the end of June.

Ascending Purple Milk Vetch

Spreading Dogbane

Showy Locoweed. I have been admiring the furry leaves for many weeks. Finally, at the end of June, the first blossoms show up.

False Dandelion

Close up of Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus catching the last sun of the day

Harebell (and a small bit of bedstraw)

Western Wallflower (a member of the mustard family)

Caraway

Smooth Fleabane

Low Milkweed

Hedysarum (began blooming in early June)

Yarrow

Prairie Lily

Buckbrush

the plums of ground plum or are they?

Alfalfa…this is in the meadow as I approach the hills. Many people haven’t seen it before and comment on her beauty- in all shades of purple and cream

Fritilitary enjoying alfalfa’s sweetness

Hawksbeard (not sure which one) with chamomile in background

White Water-Crowfoot

Nuttall’s Atriplex (Atriplex gardneri) Antelope, mule deer, rabbits, and mourning doves graze on it. Its leaves are an important food source during the winter because of their persistency. It is especially important for sheep because it contributes to the minimum nutritional requirement for maintenance of gestating female sheep

Just at the end of June, the first prairie coneflower blossoms

Low Goldenrod

Which vetch this is I am not sure

 

Sources: Saskatchewan Wildflowers Website by Glenn Lee and Facebook Page of Saskatchewan Native Plants- Saskatchewan Native Plant Society 

Pheasant Creek – Early June Flowers

Despite the dry hills, it has been hard to keep up with all the new blooms and emerging plants this first two weeks of June. The air has been permeated with the distinctive smell of wolf willow in bloom – a prairie smell unlike any other. For most of this time, all the plants shown in my  late May post (with the exception of the fruit bushes) have continued to be in bloom as well. Even though 22 plants are pictured here, there are also plants I have seen which are not included here (cut leaf anenome, wood anenome, some milk vetches among them) and plants that I have missed altogether. Keeping this record is helpful to me. I notice more.

The first tiny gaillardia…almost like a dream of gaillardia!

Goat’s Beard

Wolf Willow – this beautiful scent filled the air the first week of June. Nothing like it!!

Indian Breadroot, also known as wild turnip

Indian Breadroot (This is a favourite plant of mine)

White Beard’s Tongue. Usually I have also found Blue Beard’s Tongue but not this year.

Love the colours in this young Saskatoon

Wild Rose

Twining Honeysuckle

Red Osier Dogwood

Yellow Flax

Silvery Groundsel dotting the hills right now

American Hedysarum

Scarlet Guara

Yellow Umbrella Plant

Cream Coloured Vetch

Fleabane (Smooth?)

Northern Bedstraw

 

 

Pygmy Flower – after blooming, also known as Fairy Candelabra

Scarlet Mallow

American Vetch

Short stemmed thistle

Meadow rue – found in the woods of Pheasant Creek

This is three flowered avens after blooming – you can see why it is called Prairie Smoke

Pheasant Creek – Late May Flowers

Some of the flowers shared in an earlier blog (Pheasant Creek- Early May flowers) are also shown here because they really come into their own in late May. Many of the early May flowers are earth huggers. In late May,  some plants grow a little taller. Late May is also the time when Saskatoons, chokecherries, hawthornes burst into blossom and new leaves emerge. I have included some photos of both here. The new plant for me this time is right below. As I write this, my favourite coulee smell – the unforgettable scent of wolfwillow in bloom is everywhere!

(Thanks to Debra for the help!)

Purple Rock Cress, I think. Not sure (see below) Easy to miss. I had been wondering what the tall quick growing stems would turn out to be, which is how I noticed it when it bloomed.

On the right is an enlargement of what I think is purple rockcress. Another rockcress, called reflexed rockcress has seedpods which point down as with the two plants in the centre. I will update this as I learn more.

Although early locoweed is out by the end of April, it was in its full glory the third week of May.

Look carefully and you can see clumps of creamy yellow early locoweed dotting this hillside

Western Canada Violet

Hoary Puccoon

Narrow leaf puccoon. Seems to like the lower slopes of the hills. Cousin of hoary puccoon.

Clustered Oreocarya. I am especially partial to soft and furry leaves like these.

Fairy Candelabra is the name I love (Androsace Septentrionalis)

I see lots of Mouse Ear Chickweed in the coulee. (Cervastium Arvense)

Flax, not looking so blue in this photo

Heart Leafed Alexanders

Pale Comandra with the flowers open. Very common but for much of May the flowers were closed.

Lanceleaf Paintbrush

Silvery Groundsel. I realy like her crooked stem and how the petals come out sort of here and there.

Seneca Root close up…there is a little purple in these which we don’t see here

Clump of Seneca Root…easy to miss

Three Flowered Avens

Wild licorice emerging. I did see some in bloom but did not get a good photo.

on the left Indian Breadroot (also called Wild Turnip) beside some sage. Indian Breadroot is a favourite of mine.

young aspen…love these colours

Saskatoons in bloom

Hawthorne blossoms just ready to pop

Spanking new birch leaves

Chokecherry blossoms

For me, the smell of wolf willow in bloom is absolutely prairie!

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.