Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ponczka Harvests the Snow

Cloud makes us different. If I ever had any doubt about the deep ways that environment shapes us, the experience of this patch of land in the Finger Lakes has stilled it.

At home, in Toronto, I watch too much television, and blocks of time vanish in aimless google searches and following the countless lures and tantalizers the internet presents. On Cloud, we have only the power our small solar kit, unless we crank up the noisy generator, which we rarely do. No internet, no tv. What’s wonderful is that it’s not missed, and rarely thought of.

On Cloud, the position of the sun in the sky matters. The solar kit faces it, and as the sun passes away, darkness closes in tight. We have what stars and moonlight are offered, one strong propane lamp, and many oil lamps, with their beautiful, yellow light, too dim to read by. We have flashlights too, and at the moment, I’m typing by the light of my notebook monitor, but the sun plays a big part in the ordering of the day. And it feels good to be conscious of this.

Another thing we lack here is piped water. We bring Toronto tap water with us, in 5 gallon jugs, and we have rain barrels that serve us during most of the year. But when the temperature drops, the barrels come down, lest the water in them freezes and the barrels crack. The relative scarcity makes the water so much more precious, and we use it so much more attentively.

But we’re at Cloud for a longer stay than usual, and the rain water we use for washing and showering ran out. So today, when the temperature rose well above freezing, as soon as things began to drip, Ponczka went out and placed buckets under downspouts, to catch the run-off from the melting snow. And this bounty so pleased her that she began to collect fresh snow and melt it down. Within a couple of hours our supply was replenished, and later that day, we were showering with the melted snow, heated in a huge kettle atop the cast iron, wood-burning stove.

It must read as all sentimental and sweet and nice. But it’s more than that. The circumstances generate attentiveness and adjustments, and appreciation and gratitude flourish. There’s other stuff going on: we’ve put a new floor in the loft bedroom, and stacked wood for the season. Ponczka’s painting and I’m trying to get through a difficult edit. But the snowfall, the light of the sun, simple gravity and heat are valued more, because of being experienced and thought about in different ways.

It’s another good day on Cloud.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Words Failing

           There is was. Now it’s gone, see? Just that fast. Words will not capture it. It will not slow down, stand still long enough. Come and gone. Or else grasped momentarily, the words starting to form, to string themselves together, seeking explanation, meaning, but then it slips away...the sentence left unfinished, gibberish follows, illogic, nonsense.

          But see, it was never about logic or sense. Rather, about feeling, inspiration, that quick, quick movement of life that doesn’t wait for or follow order or reason. But hard direct stuff. Truth, no doubt. Even if not reasoned truth. Even if, when we try and “figure it out” it escapes us, becoming something else, something we’re forced, by custom, by loyalty to the dryness that orders our lives, to then reject.

          And yet...that enlivening moment. That inspired leap into here and now, that rush of sudden passion. Ah, so satisfying, so real, so direct. Not to be dissected and smoothed over. Not amenable to being ruled and contained and kept clean. Not compatible with “making sense”. Something grittier, more awkward, more broken even, than sense allows. Real all the same. Simply what is, now, as felt.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Heartbeat for the World

Nelson Mandela has left us. The television and radio are full of reports of the world’s mourning. I have no doubt that many tears are being shed, but mourning is not a feeling I can easily associate with Mandela. The man exhibited such an enormous ability to rise about suffering that, even now, I can only experience a sense of joy and celebration in thinking of him.

I’m not much given to adulation, or hero worship. We are all human, with sprinklings of Godliness, I think. We have the possibility of taming our hungers and minimizing that which is small and greedy in ourselves, and we realize these possibilities to varying degrees. One of the things I so love, in experiencing my fellow humans, is witnessing the channeling, the releasing, the maximizing of this potential greatness, this Godliness, I referred to, usually in small flashes. In the case of Nelson Mandela, there’s a particular and profound emanation of this quality that continues to astonish and amaze me more than twenty years after I first witnessed it.

How could a man be so loving and forgiving? I can hardly get my head or heart around it. Mandela was imprisoned for his belief in fundamental human dignity, and for twenty-seven years. He was separated from wife and family and denied the opportunity to pass his days and nights as he would. He experienced the passing of decades while his adult vigor faded away. And when he emerged from prison, he did so smiling, and offering love, friendship and forgiveness to those who had stolen from him all those years of his life.

I listened to a bit from an interview this evening, in which, shortly after being released from Robben Island, Mandela was asked about this lack of bitterness. And he responded – and I paraphrase – that it is difficult, when one is occupied with purposeful and rewarding activity, to give much thought to bitterness and disappointment. And he said that it is idleness that leads us to focus on our hurt and loss. Powerful words; all the more powerful in that he was a living manifestation of their truth.

I was privileged to be in Mandela’s presence once. A public school in Regent Park, here in Toronto, where I was doing youth work, changed it’s name to the Nelson Mandela Park Public School in 2001. It was being said at the time that this was the first school outside of Africa to be named for him. Mandela attended the ceremony, and I was blessed with tickets for my wife and I. What I remember more than anything was how he danced his way into the school gym to the rhythm of drums, beaming all around, especially at all the children. I don’t remember the specifics of his message, except that it was all love.

How fortunate we are to have had such a one among us.