Saturday, March 17, 2012

Empty Nest and Tea Blends

All winter, I was thinking about making home made tea blends to give as gifts, but it took me until spring to actually complete the task. They were meant to be my cozy winter gifts but now they are, I suppose, my welcome spring gifts. And since I've been packaging them up, it seems I've become all the more aware of the gifts of spring itself.

No matter what mood I may be in, I do hope to be enchanted by one thing on this planet, each and every day. This doesn't necessarily happen naturally. You'd think that daily practice would eventually make this habit. But no, each day when I wake up, I need to remind myself to open my eyes; to open my heart; to expect a surprise. If I don't remind myself quickly enough and the day of obligation unfolds, worry or anxiety or both tend to work their way into a tangled mess. And then it becomes all the more challenging to unravel my thoughts.

I have a little story. Earlier this week, while out walking with a friend, I took note of two tell tale signs of spring. We have a wonderful custom in our city that if you discover a lost hat or mitt or glove on the ground, you put it up high in a tree branch where it can be easily spotted by the person who has lost it. In spring, people tend to lose their hats and mitts more often, probably because the weather is so changeable and we're constantly putting on or taking off our wintry layers.

First I spotted a blue mitt in a tree. Moments later, we came across a tiny little nest, at eye level, in a hedge. The hedge, of course, had no leaves and so the two-inch round nest was quite exposed. There were no eggs in it, so we supposed that the mother bird had moved on to build a new nest in hopefully a safer, less visible location.

The next day I found myself thinking about the nest and so entranced was I that I decided on my way to work, to pop by and see if the nest was still there. And this time, I brought my camera. First, I took a picture of the mitt in the tree, but when I went to snap a picture of the nest, my batteries died. Not having time to rush home to get new batteries, I instead headed off to work. That was on Wednesday. All day I thought about the nest and that evening, I went back to take a picture of it. But by then, the nest had disappeared. Gone. Nowhere to be found nearby. Today, which just happens to be a Saturday, I once again headed down the same street, only this time with a different friend. As we walked, we occasionally kept our eyes to the ground to avoid puddles of melting snow. I suddenly found myself pointing to the ground, saying “There's my nest!” It was, unquestionably, the same nest. Without a moment's hesitation my friend picked it up and offered it to me. I opened my purse and pulled out a little cloth bag and we placed the nest in the bag. All this fuss over an abandoned nest!

Of course later on in the day, it all became clear to me. This is, after all, the first spring without any of my children home. They've all flown away. I continue to make little nests here and there in the form of tea blends and hand-written letters. They're not practical nests and they never really amount to much. But it makes me feel good to make them all the same. And I was able to photograph the little nest, after all!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Arctic shadows, snow and sky

Arctic Snow, Shadow and Sky

As I take my evening walks in the mild winter snows of Thunder Bay, it’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, I was up in the Arctic. When I was little, I would close my eyes and try to imagine myself flying over the lake, across the waters, meeting up with the horizon and continuing on until I was flying over the snows of the Arctic. I don’t know why in my imagination I never flew south; always north. Now, as an adult, I still experience some of the thrill of flying to the edge of the world; that world of shadows and light.

While I was in Iqaluit, I attended the Pilriqatigiinniq Teachers Conference. It was an exciting week that included a talk from David Suzuki one night and a craft show on the following night. I was absolutely stunned at the level of excitement and energy that went into the craft show (and, of course, David Suzuki's talk). There was no shortage of vendors displaying everything from seal skin mitts to spices for Arctic char to beautifully embroidered and beaded wool hangings. It was the first time in my life that I’d seen people arrive an hour early to an arts and crafts fair. People were literally packed into the hall like sardines. I asked some of the city residents about this later and was informed that crowds always come out in droves for arts & crafts shows. So I can only conclude that hand-crafts are highly valued in this part of the world.

I love to make things with my hands. It always brings me relief from a technologically obsessed world to be able to pick up a needle and thread and hand stitch a quilt or sew on a button. To be in a space where the general community also celebrates handiwork, this was marvelous to me.

In our workshop, my co-presenter and I gave a workshop where we also created something with our hands and our imaginations; making shadow puppets one day and masks the next. We had brought in stories to adapt into simple tableau and shadow plays, but in the end, we invited the participants to share their own stories; in their own language. I felt truly honoured to hear the stories shared in Inuktitut. Even without the translations, I had a sense of what the storytellers were sharing, through their gestures and through their voices.

When I visited one of the shops later in the evening to look at the regional books, I wasn't surprised to see that many of the stories were illustrated in shadow or near-shadow images. Without trees to impede the view of the sky, there really are only a few noticeable elements to the landscape; shadow, shades of the many colours of snow, and sky.