An Ode to an Early Winter

Snow Day 

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,

its white flag waving over everything,

the landscape vanished,

not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,

and beyond these windows


the government buildings smothered,

schools and libraries buried, the post office lost

under the noiseless drift,

the paths of trains softly blocked,

the world fallen under this falling.

-Billy Collins-


I really like poet Billy Collins’ use of the word revolution here. The first major snowfall of the season is like that – a forcible overthrow. We went to bed in one world and woke up in a completely different one.

And just like that everything changed.

Winter has set in early this year and has left many of us reeling. The skies have been spitting snow almost continuously since the first snowfall and our lives have had to move indoors sooner than usual.


Four o’clock is now the end of the day. Street lights come on and people start thinking about heading home before dark descends and makes driving that much more difficult.

agh47mwqSVKprVo8m3z5GA.jpgWalks to the mailbox are now  along snow-covered and sometimes icy roads. Wise people wear crampons on their boots and have their ears tuned for any approaching cars. Snow softens and quietens things.


Deer that are on the move have to make their way through fields of snow. Not an easy task. They too will need to stay closer to home and hunker down on the coldest of days.

xRA4KS41SDmArP03hUbp3AIt’s really hard to describe the experience of winter to someone who is not familiar with it. It’s quiet and soft, harsh and dark, stunningly beautiful and invigorating, cold and cruel. It’s sometimes all of these things in just one day. It builds character, some might say. Certainly it forces us to dig deep. We have to find peace being with ourselves during long dark days and nights, unearth the motivation to get out and connect with others even when it feels hard, and discipline ourselves to keep moving in a season that often makes it difficult or uncomfortable.


Most children love winter, so maybe we can do as they do: build the snowman, lace up the skates, and clip on the skis.

Winter well my friends!






Seven Things Learned in Seven Days

  1. The first snow feels a bit like anticipating the visit of a crazy relative. The anticipation takes over your days and no matter how much you prepare you never feel ready. When the day finally arrives you feel strangely relieved – let the craziness begin!OQ3RYMf8ScWomgddXeja+w
  2. The general rule for feeding birds is: Do not feed when it might cause harm. I’m thinking all of our relationships could be improved by adhering to this “do no harm” rule. yB4lHOETQo+bI07B9yrsGw
  3.  The bulbs I buy each fall have been sitting in the entranceway for the past month and a half. They remind me every time I pass  that I have unfinished business to take care of before winter sets in. By some miracle, the bulbs I bought managed to get planted this weekend on a wildly, windy day that froze our hands. It felt appropriate somehow to be planting seeds for better times on a day like this.d0ZOEgwaReqpZL7BWYYieQ.jpg
  4. Seeing a cardinal at the feeder first thing in the morning on these darkest of days lifts the soul. Our cardinal only shows up briefly first thing in the morning and again at dusk. It’s as if his startling red is a gift only for the people who are aware of his illusive movements.  My goal from now until Christmas is to try and find the pops of red, wherever they may be.fullsizeoutput_bb4.jpeg
  5. I never tire of the first rays of morning sun flooding the landscape from the window where I write. Each sunrise seems more beautiful than the one that came before. How is that possible?k91LDUJqSVmQNx7Q1cRnDg.jpg
  6. New cookbooks are the very best purchase to start off the fall/winter season when we are drawn back inside and the fireplace and stove become the focus of our days again. The cornbread pictured here is from Ottolenghi Simple. The book should probably be called Ottolenghi Simpler because as delicious as it was it still took two of us about thirty minutes to prepare. My first introduction to Ottolenghi was walking by his shop window in London on one of my visits to my daughter. IMG_3432.JPG
  7. Questioning our beliefs is probably the single most effective practice to bring about change in our lives. Isn’t it strange that many of the things we have believed all our lives simply are not true?  I missed my chance? Is it true? People shouldn’t be angry. Is it true? I don’t know what to do? Is it true?




It’s Wild Out There…Feeding Birds and Other Things.

When we try and pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

                                                         John Muir


Eek, we have set something big in motion. It started out harmlessly enough. All I did was set up a bird feeder in the garden after many years of not having one. When the first few finches and sparrows showed up, I was thrilled. How great  to enjoy some life in the garden this winter.

And then…. I heard the first bird hit the window and remembered the general rule about feeding birds.

General Rule: Do not feed when it might cause harm.

The first thunk did take away some of the enjoyment. That bird was only stunned but I found a junco, who was not so fortunate, upside down on the deck a few days later. I certainly had to think about bird feeder placement and protection from the wall of windows that face out to the garden.

This glitch was followed by the invasion of the squirrels. We had seen the grey squirrel busy in the front garden most of the summer and the red squirrel from the woods next door was a frequent visitor.  But these resident squirrels were quickly joined by at least four others. They can’t eat the seeds from the feeder (hello new technology), but they are more than busy enough fighting over the seeds that escape the beaks of the chattering birds congregated above.


We have a small outdoor table that we haven’t put away yet and twice now a squirrel has scurried onto it and tried to climb the window. I’m feeling uncomfortable with all this action but my husband is, well let’s just say, more than uncomfortable. I know because he’s counting the squirrels now and letting me know as the population rises.

The finches and sparrows happily eating away were quickly joined at the feeder by chickadees and nuthatches and then the larger more assertive birds: jays, woodpeckers, and cardinals. The feeder is ablaze with colour and action these days. So much so, that as we were eating lunch the other day my husband spied a large hawk perched in the hemlock across the road eyeing the feeder. Imagine how lucky he must have felt seeing his food supply all  neatly gathered in one spot. This whole experiment wasn’t turning out to be quite as much fun as I thought it was going to be. Again refer to the general rule at the top of the page.

The thing is, as soon as we set up a feeder we tamper with the ecosystem. Birds that would normally be foraging now have a readily available supply of food and food availability  is a huge factor in bird population dynamics. Feeding the birds is a major ecological intervention and it’s important to be aware of this.

Birds congregate at bird feeders in large numbers and are in very close quarters. Because of  this, any diseases that may be present can easily be spread. (Think of how quickly flu spreads during winter months when we humans are all packed into close quarters.)

There are ways to help prevent the spread of diseases in birds just as there are in humans, but it does take a bit of an effort.  First of all, take down the feeders during the warm months and put them up again after the first hard frost. The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative also suggests washing the feeder with soap, water, and a mild bleach solution every two weeks during the winter feeding season. The new plastic feeding tube feeders are ideal because they can be easily washed. My Squirrel Buster wild bird feeder, made by a local company, has other great features as well. The seeds are tucked away inside so don’t get wet and busy bird feet  are not walking over their food supply potentially contaminating it.


Have I been deterred by any of these potential problems? Not yet. But I’m certainly aware that when we alter anything in the ecosystem we quickly find it attached to everything else.

Did I mention that you might also have some BIG surprises?







Words Like Birds


I sit at my computer watching the early morning sun gently spread its tentacles of light over the hilltops to the east and I wonder what clarity this new day might bring. What do I have to say that is interesting enough to interrupt your day?

I started out writing this blog with a mission statement of sorts. It read:

A blog about finding meaning and beauty in the simple things (and sometimes not so simple things).

I decided that the best way to go about this was to take you with me through the seasons:  out on walks, gardening, skiing, cooking…  And  finding in these simple, everyday activities the beauty and purpose that infuses a life with meaning.

It turns out finding beauty and meaning in the simple things is rather easy and fun for me. It’s the not so simple things that can send me seeking shelter. I haven’t been able to bring you along, for instance, on the deeper, longer transitions that make up a life.  Mostly  because these transitions are multilayered and deeply personal and it just takes time without words for the process to happen.

While I was in the place of fewer words, I closed my computer, took out my Japanese brush pens, and immersed myself in learning traditional and modern calligraphy. My interest in old and new scripts was stirred because of an article I wrote on this blog back in February, a month after my mother died, and I was sorting through old paperwork. I wrote:

I’ve been thinking about handwriting a lot these days as I sort through paperwork and personal items that belonged to my mother and father and grandmother. Their handwriting says more about each of them than any portrait possibly could. My father’s handwriting is large and flowing and my mother’s much more measured and cautious. I feel their presence as if they were sitting beside me when I see snippets of things they have written. It’s as distinctive and personal as any work of art. Which begs the question, what will we have lost when handwriting becomes extinct?


Isn’t it funny what happens when we get clear enough to ask a question? Answers come pouring in. You just might find yourself, as I did, moving in a direction that you could never have anticipated. I think about this often as I painstakingly study old scripts and try and practice the nuanced letter forms. I find it soothing. Maybe it’s also my way of coming to terms with the past and reclaiming old ways of making words beautiful and special again.


As the first snow softly falls this morning, I am back on my writing  chair allowing whatever words there are to come to me – much in the same way as the birds come to the feeder that sits just a few meters from where I write.


Writing is how I make sense of things and it just doesn’t feel good to be away for too long.

So for now, it’s my words and the birds that keep me company in the early morning hours before the world has awoken and complicated things. Maybe together we can make sense of just enough to spread a little more light and joy.

There Are Times Like This

I’m back! I didn’t take an intentional break from this blog, it just happened. It’s the first time since starting to write here that I haven’t posted at least once a week. It feels as if I’ve neglected a best friend.

The end of June saw us madly getting our country property ready for a three week trip to Europe to visit family. I realize I like to write more reflective pieces and being in pre-departure chaos was about as far from being reflective as it gets. I know  that shouldn’t have stopped me from writing. You might have liked seeing some of the chaos in my life – makes it a whole lot more real!

Getting ready to leave on a trip at the end of June in this crazy, intense climate means that gardens have to be planted, lawns mowed, outdoor furniture painted and repaired, and the pool systems checked. It also involves enlisting a small army of people to come and take care of things while we are away.

You might think from the above that we’re super organized and maybe even a little smart, but this has only come about from a whole series of disasters in the past. We returned one year to a green pool that took the whole rest of the summer to return to its original blue and be swimmable.  We have also returned to gardens that were so overrun with weeds that I wanted to weep.

Since I didn’t take you along  with my words, I thought I would share some pictures of our adventures this last month.

We started out in the UK but quickly winged our way to Menorca for a family beach holiday.

The days were full: swimming, playing in the sand, going to the wading pool. In between, we tried to catch glimpses of the World Cup soccer matches and make some delicious adult food.

This paella made by my son-in-law was by far the hit meal of the holiday.

Back in the UK, where it was nearly as hot and dry as Menorca, we found shade and quiet amongst the huge, old-growth trees at Kew Gardens.

The twins looking at “stuff”.

As these things go, our time together came to an end. We left with heavy hearts… and very tired bodies.

We returned home to flower gardens that had completely changed their colours and a vegetable garden rewarding us for the long days of work in June.




Sometimes I wonder how we got so lucky.




Finding Your Place in the World

My place on earth is where I know most of the birds and the trees and where I know what the climate will be right now… and where I have spent enough time to know it intimately and personally.  (Gary Snyder)


I’m never so aware of my place on earth as when I go for evening walks. The  sun is usually just beginning to set over Pinnacle Mountain as we make our way up the steep hill to the plateau where there are views of the Green Mountains to our south and Pinnacle to the north. This is big sky country made all the more noticeable by the expanse of fields that the road dissects.

Our walks are all different and all mostly the same, if that makes any sense. We talk about the trees that are blooming, we remark that it is early to see daisies making their first appearance in the ditches, we remember that we haven’t heard the night hawk yet  this year, and we watch for the bobolinks flying over the field to see where they have built their nests and pray they’ll have time to raise their young before the field gets cut. We feel the warmth of the last rays of the setting sun and notice the breeze has picked up from the west bringing in tomorrow’s weather. And so it goes – all different and all mostly the same.


Some nights we run into our neighbours just above us and share news of our children or our gardens or mutual friends who are traveling in distant parts of the world. Other nights we might stop and talk to the farmers on our road who are still busy draining fields, making ditches, and cutting brush. We reminisce about the time the calf  fell in the well or the farmhouse that used to stand on the old foundation at the corner and where they raised thirteen children before the house burnt and the farm ran into hard times. It is these shared memories that remind us our connections run deep.

Gary Snyder, the poet I referenced at the beginning, talks about just these types of experiences. He describes community as diverse people who live in the same place and who are tied together by their inevitable association with each other and their willingness to engage in that over a long period of time. What I know for certain is that I come home from these walks feeling a whole lot more connected – to everything and everybody.

And that’s the gift of finding your place in the world.


Ginette’s Columbines

7iXzXlbXRgSMoTqoyFoz9g.jpgIt was the early seventies and we found ourselves with little money and few skills living in an old house at a fish hatchery. What we didn’t have in skills we made up for in enthusiasm. There was nothing more exciting to us at the time than growing our own food, heating with wood, and embracing a simpler life more connected to nature. We  weren’t alone. There were a whole slew of  like-minded people  looking for the same thing who found their way to this mountain valley at about the same time. Many built rustic homes or bought cheaper run down farm houses, raised bees or became carpenters. Some enterprising individuals learned to bake bread commercially and apprenticed on farms.  One couple even opened a health food store. Potters, bakers and fledgling farmers all became part of the country lifestyle revival.

Our unpaved, winding road was a scant mile from the US border. It was the rare car that passed during the week but it became busy on Friday nights and again on Sunday  when Montrealers made their weekly trek to their country homes in the mountains to the south of us. When our daughter was born, I pushed her pram on this road many days. My walk took us past the two established old farmsteads on our road that were lived in by people who were probably around the age I am now. Their own children were grown and gone by then and they had stopped raising animals but were still growing their own vegetables and cutting their own wood.

This was the first house I would pass on my way up the road.


This house belonged to Ginette and her husband Malcolm. The house had been abandoned for a number of years when this photo was taken.

We became friends the way you do when living a quieter life in the country. We would stop to chat on our walks if they were outside and would share news of the comings and goings.  They gave us tips, shared seeds, and told us stories of living here in the winter when money was scarce and times were hard. There was something very comforting to me about driving by their lit homes on a winter evening.

Fast forward forty years and my husband, now a real estate broker, had Ginette’s house for sale. I went with him one day to visit the property and noticed columbines growing under the old maples. I carefully dug up a few and relocated them to my garden about two kilometres away on another dirt road. They’re blooming now. These flowers have become the holders of the stories.  They talk of time passing, of people passing, of rural life then and now. They’ve become  the witness bearers and the time keepers…and they’re still blossoming.




Seven Things I Learned in Seven Days

People who have been following my blog since the beginning have seen a few of my Seven Things I Learned in Seven Days posts. It’s always fun to look back over a week and think about what happened and what was learned. So here goes – the newest edition of Seven in Seven.

  1. You can’t drink just one glass of Rosé. No, not possible. It’s probably something I already knew, but I rediscovered it last week when we opened a bottle on Monday evening after a particularly gruelling day. A chilled glass of rosé with an olive or two + good company = a perfect evening.2013-06-24 18.19.01 2.JPG
  2. It’s really hard to improve on Mother Nature’s flower combinations. (It doesn’t stop gardeners from trying, however.)

    Ajuga and wild strawberries.
  3. Learning to take responsibility for yourself is probably one of the most important (and hardest) life lessons. People and corporations need to become better at this. I have spent the better part of the week  insisting a major corporation accept responsibility for their defective part. It’s an ongoing saga. I’ll let you know how this turns out. It reminds me of a story from a long time ago about a country boy I knew who received a letter to appear in court. The letter started out with the words, “Person’s name vs. the Queen.”  I remember rolling with laughter when he asked me what kind of a chance I thought he had.
  4. There’s a line in calligraphy known as the universal line of beauty and is the backbone of many letters. I’ve been practicing this line for months now and still am not able to do it justice, but I just loved learning that it had such an awesome name.IMG_2256
  5. I have had this quote in front of me for the better part of a month now and thought I would share it with you. It goes like this: It’s about being fearlessly and relentlessly true to yourself.   This sounds to me like bravery and feels like truth.
  6. You can’t beat the taste or appearance of organic fruit. I paid (a lot) extra to buy organic strawberries this week and when I got them home and removed the plastic packaging (more on that later), I saw this. Just wow! And they tasted as good as they looked. There are certain fruits and vegetables that are much safer to buy organically and strawberries are one of them.IMG_2242
  7. I loved watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with my kids when they were growing up. What’s not to love about a man who embodies kindness? This meme made my day. IMG_2233


Enjoy your week everyone!

Ticks, Lyme, and Changing Habits


Except for an occasional visit from a black bear or a face-off with a coyote in the woods, we live in a wilderness area with very few dangers. That is, until now. Who would have thought our biggest fear would come from an insect so tiny that it’s barely visible? There’s an “inquiétude” lurking in the air these days about being unfortunate enough to cross paths with the black footed deer tick.

IMG_2877 2

These fairly benign looking insects are the carriers of Lyme disease. People who have contracted Lyme will attest to the fact that their worlds have been turned upside down because of it. To receive a proper diagnosis and get the subsequent treatment can take years.

Lyme disease has moved into southern Canada and those of us living in rural areas are very aware of its presence here. Government protocols suggest keeping your body covered, tucking your pants into your socks, and spraying deet on any exposed skin. This might make sense if you are on a wilderness mission of sorts, but we country dwellers have gardens to plant and lives to live. That said, my husband and I and our closest neighbours have all had ticks in the last few years. We  got our little freeloaders doing everyday things around the house: weeding the gardens, mowing the lawn, trimming grasses and trees. In all but one case, they were discovered the day of and were safely removed before they could inject us with the bacteria. My husband did not discover his as quickly as the rest of us and developed the stereotypical bull’s eye rash. He was prescribed a round of antibiotics and has had no further symptoms.

So what is one to do? I think it comes down to living with a little more awareness. My husband and I frequently visit an area in Mexico where people share their space with scorpions. When we’re there we never walk in sandals except on the beach or the stone paths. We shake out our clothes and shoes before putting them on and  never reach for anything without being aware of what our hand is touching. We’ve never been stung, but it takes just one moment of inattention.

I usually dress sensibly when I am gardening or going into the woods but fairly frequently find myself wandering off path without really thinking much about it. I do wear a  baseball cap when I know I’m going to be in tall grasses or a woodland area and I always shower when I come back inside. I discovered my tick while I was in the shower. (I thought I had some earth stuck to my stomach and when soap didn’t remove it, I quickly got out to investigate.)

I’ve noticed some herbal tick spray remedies making the rounds on the internet these days.  The most popular one recommends 20 drops of lemongrass essential oil and 20 drops of eucalyptus oil ( Eucalyptus citriodora) to be combined with 4 oz. of water in a spray bottle. It is safe for humans and animals and can be sprayed on exposed skin or clothing. Last year I  purchased a pre-made bottle from our herbal store in town. It has a longer ingredient list but does contain the eucalyptus from the above recipe. The trick for me is remembering to use it.


It’s not easy to change lifelong habits when it comes to moving about outdoors. Information campaigns have made people very aware of the potential danger, but what takes time is developing new practices to keep ourselves as safe as possible. For my part, I will be making my own herbal spray, hoping it will help to act as a deterrent. It will have its place in the entranceway along with my baseball cap and sensible shoes.


Have a fun and safe summer everyone.

Long Walks, Short Walks, Walking Alone, Walking With Others

I have been procrastinating again, some might say obsessing. It happens to me when I am avoiding something – a task that I don’t want to do, an emotion that I don’t want to feel. Often it’s the combination of the two. The problem with procrastinating is that the source of the procrastination does not go away. It takes a whole lot of energy to avoid things and this blocked energy usually  always ends up somewhere in my  body screaming for attention.

This  is where walking comes into the story.  In one of my first blog posts from a year ago I wrote about taking long walks. I started it with this quote from Brenda Ueland.

I’ll tell you what I have learned myself. For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day.

I went on to write:

I walk through all kinds of emotional landscapes. My angry walk is heavy and staccato like – each step an exclamation point. On fearful walks, I am alert to everything around me, fine tuned to all sounds and possible dangers. Sad walks are slow and watery as if I am willing the sky to descend and share the sadness with me. The road is my 3D journal. It holds the energy of my life and documents all its passages.

There is something that happens on long walks. With each footstep I come closer to something elusive that seems just out of reach. Sometimes an idea arrives on a wind current, sometimes it’s a knowing of the next right thing to do and sometimes it’s words that were stuck that spill out and have me scrambling to catch them before they disappear again.


 I’ve been walking again. It’s the very best way I know to keep the energy flowing.  I thought I’d take you with me this morning on a short walk to the mailbox.

This time of year I like to walk through the field to get to the road. You can see the naturalized daffodils on the right of the path.
The field enters the road right here. If you look up, you can see the willows and poplars are budding out. The leaves won’t be far behind.
The woods are coming to  life again. I have to stop myself from detouring into the woods to check out all the new growth.
Here we are. Not a bad view for a rural mailbox. 
Our black lab used to always stop at this swimming hole on our way back.  You can see a marsh marigold blooming in the upper left hand corner. 
Back into the field and a walk alongside the brook brings us back home.

Aah…   Feeling better now?