No Sheets to the Wind

The university where I work decided to make this long weekend extra-long, giving us Tuesday and Friday off as well. Gwenanne also had Friday off, so we headed down to Lake Ontario to do some boat chores. Some of you know that our dear Santa Maria is on the hard this year, as are all boats in our marina due to some Covid related construction delays.

For Christmas this last year, we had decided to buy each other a new set of sail for our boat. We heard news this week that they were ready. Kevin at Bay Sails did a great job, and he was sympathetic at our plight of getting new sails without having opportunity to use them. But we remain philosophical about it. This is a summer for working on the boat.

It was really most amazing to see his workshop. The floor really was the table and here and there, there were work stations cut into the hardwood surface in which he would stand while doing industrial sewing. Hammock-like “shelves” hang from the ceiling filled with fabric, and sails were strewn everywhere. A big window to the north looked out on the bay and I felt like I was in a different world. The sails were crisp and so firm that they felt like they could stand up on their own.

After picking up the sails we went to a marine supply store to get a new thru-hull fitting for the boat. Our boat’s kitchen sink thru-hull sprang a leak last year that we fixed with McGyver finesse. But now is the time to fix it properly, and so we pulled out the old thru-hull and prepared to put in the new one, which will need a new piece of teak, sitting at home and waiting to be fitted for service. After supper at a local diner, where a pilsner and a burger were the reward for an afternoon of sweat, my wife and I returned to remove the halyard that lifts the fore-sail, this too in need of replacement. And then we headed home.

It is nice to be by the water even when we cannot be on the water. Water somehow gives me the sense of a bigger something, that I can be a part of. Karl Rahner famously compared God to a horizon, always before us and never in our grasp, but still grasping us. Big bodies of water nicely illumine the drama of a horizon, especially when the sun sets and the fact of the world’s spinning on its axis becomes dramatically apparent. I was able to see a bit of this spinning on Lake Ontario on Friday. Of course, the world is always spinning, but every now and then the light changes and we see what is right before our eyes and under our feet.

This present Corona crisis is such a revelatory moment, in a way. A variety of Covid predicaments are opening our eyes and we’re seeing whom we are for good and for ill. Our values become more starkly evident as our anger reveals our fear and as we find joy in things long forgotten but discovered again. These times tell us a bit about the state of our souls as we differently face life, pulsing through us and around us despite our waylaid plans.

The sails may be in the bags, but the wind still moves us as she will.

Lawn Tall Bean

There is a bean to be seen
growing in the middle of our lawn,
there by grace of a chipmunk who squirreled
away a pod found in the ground of my garden;
my three sisters garden.

This bean would not be save for
the drought that stopped my lawn mowing,
without which it would have been a has bean.

I’m contemplating what kind of a bean pole
might serve as a lean-to for this lawn tall bean.
Maybe a stick that it can stick to while it rises
in our yard, or maybe a rod, stuck in the sod,
iron graced with the green of bean.

I’m watching this plant with bated breath
as Creator works wonders despite,
or rather because of,
Chip’s plunders.

Saturday on the Hard

Some twelve years ago or so I took sailing lessons. My dad, who was a sailor in WWII, spoke fondly of learning how to sail in his training, and after his death I took an interest in learning how to sail. I suppose it was a way to connect with him. It grabbed me, though, and the next year we bought a sailboat.

Sailing is a delight of my summers, but this year it is not to be. The marina where we keep out boat was in need of a new break wall, keeping the marina safe from strong east winds off Lake Ontario. Because of the stay-at-home orders and the fact that our marina is in a park closed by provincial orders. Work on the break wall was halted for a time. The project has only recently been completed. By the time the docks would be put in place, and boats put in the water, we would not have much sailing time left. Consequently, Santa Maria will stay in its cradle on the Marina parking lot, on the hard, along with another 100 or so from our marina.

This has been a strange year, and because of restrictions at the marina and my teaching an intensive course using Zoom meaning a steep learning curve, we have not had much opportunity to get to the boat. We went down a couple of weeks ago to see what was up with Santa Maria. She was doing fine, but we decided we would do a few projects on her this year. Yesterday we took a trip down to the marina and spent the afternoon scrubbing the hall, the deck and the cockpit. A mulberry tree branch hangs over the boat so we spent a good bit of time scrubbing away blue bits.

After an afternoon of cleaning Gwenanne and I both felt a kind of satisfaction. It was an afternoon far removed from a typical summer Saturday, spent on the water. But there was a kind of satisfaction and delight in being by the water, and getting away for a day. In way, it sort of reminds me of visiting someone by Zoom. It’s a far shot from a face to face visit, but far better than nothing at all.

We won’t be down at the marina every weekend, but we have enough projects that need to be done to keep us busy through the summer. It will be a summer on the hard, but in the big scheme of things this is a small loss. We are in a time of doing work differently, doing worship differently, doing everything differently. Even marinas that are open (and ours in not unique in staying closed), are having a unique and different experience. In due course this will all pass, but in the meantime we take joy in different experiences, and look hopefully for another kind of summer next year.

In the Face of a Fireplace

Our fireplace is gas, a pane of glass
keeps me from reaching in and fiddling
with the fake flaming logs.

Piercing these logs are legs,
belonging to the coffee table,
between me and the fire.
The legs hold aloft another
sheet of glass, which slices me in half,
my reflection bifurcated
.
Each glass surface
reflects, refracts, and now
allows my eyes to see through –
if I sit just so.

God, too, is glass. Now I see
my face. Then I tilt my head and
I see grace, deeper than this surface,
which is, itself, sheer, evocative, apocalyptic.

Keeping Our Sisters Safe

Two years ago, I was at a learning event in Ohsweken, at the Six Nations of the Grand River Nation. For one of the workshops, I chose to learn a bit about the famous three sisters: corn, beans and squash. Haudenosaunee people have planted these three together for years, with a rather clever methodology. The bean uses the corn for climbing, and the squash, with its prickly leaves, serves as a deterrent for creatures looking for a bit to eat. At the workshop, I received sister seeds. Last year I attempted a three sisters garden. Alas, the creatures in our backyard were not dissuaded by the squash, and so I had to restart my experiment with some temporary garden fencing. The squash blossomed, but no fruit resulted. I did, however, manage to score one ear of blue corn, and one pod of three peas, which served for seed this year.

This year, I started my plants a bit earlier, with some large bowls giving them a bit of a greenhouse, but this week they outgrew their temporary homes. So, yesterday I made a trip to a department store only now opened after months of curbside pickup. I donned the mask my wife made me and ventured in, to search out some screening material and dowels. This was my first experience of wearing a mask. My only other public shopping adventures have been to stock up on food and drink, where strict limits on numbers made me feel safe. For some reason, I thought it wise to mask up. About three quarters of the shoppers were masked, and most of the employees were not. I looked up at a friendly looking employee who smiled and me, and I smiled in response, and stopped in my tracks mindful that my smile was not known to her. Hopefully my eyes communicated my appreciation.

I made my way home and spent the rest of the afternoon making a fence for my little three sisters garden. As I worked on the garden, I thought about another event I visited at Ohsweken: Walking with our Sisters. This was an event commemorating, remembering and mourning Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in service of justice. The installation involved “vamps,” the decorated tops of moccasins. Each pair of vamps represented a stolen sister. It was an incredibly powerful event, with many tears at the realization that many of these deaths were never investigated, or poorly investigated. Elders were present to help those in need of ceremony at the sight of these vamps. Each of these stolen sisters proclaims the reality of systemic racism in a land where some lives are deemed worth more than others.

My three sisters garden reminds me of this truth, and my little fence speaks to me of our need to protect our sisters, the land and all of life. If only protecting our sisters were only so simple as enduring the little discomfort of wearing a mask and acquiring some material to shield them from harm. But the changes that are needed in our world are systemic and seismic in nature, by a complete and utter turning around and away from the ways of evil, by what some call repentance – both individually and corporately.

All of our Kneeling

George, Breonna, Trayvon, Ahmaud,
Chantel, Tina, Regis, Dudley…
these names all call to me
in the beat of my heart

sometimes with a rhythmic reminder that
I am alive and they are not

sometimes while racing in a fear
fashioned after theirs at their last

sometimes in a full stop – that
sliver of time between blood in, blood out…

And in that eternal between, those who are gone appear with You and
open my eyes to see again that all of our kneeling is not pious.

Conversing with Trees

Here I sit, empty.
No poem comes to me.
Stirred, I go in search
of a verse to pluck.

But on what kind of tree does
a poem grow? Our garden
offers plenty of possibilities:
pine and oak,
beech and maple
spruce and hemlock.
Each one of these spirited trees is
ripe with grace and
rife with peace.

I settle, conversing with trees.
And even if no poem should arrive,
I’ll be succored by the sight of leaves aloft,
and trunks holding up the sky, my eye now
soaking in the chlorophyll filtered light,
inciting wonder, if not a poem.

A Garden for Your Thoughts

Yesterday was a full-on gardening day, for my wife. I joined her mid-afternoon after some marking, going for a run, and running some errands.

The work for me began in earnest in “my little garden.” It is a bit of a joke, but many years ago I was given charge over a small bit of soil just outside the office window. My wife takes responsibility for the rest of our rather large yard. I do not recall the provenance of this grave responsibility, but I do admit that I have a consultant who provides me with sound counsel. This year this counsel included pulling out a trumpeter vine, probably as old as the house (just shy of 70), although I do not really know. It is beautiful when it flowers but a bit of a chore when it drops orange trumpets. It is also in constant need of grooming. We have thought about pulling it out some years but have always decided against it in the end. This year it simply did not come back to life, and so it was time to remove the vine, which has over the years grown to be a thick stalk rather like a branch of large tree.

I don’t know why, but whenever I have to pull out a shrub or a tree I am reminded of the book called “Shane” that was read in grade nine. Shane drifts into the community in which the novel is set, and becomes a hired hand at a farm. The young boy of the family takes a liking to him, and I especially remember a bit about Shane working at removing a stubborn stump on the farm. Shane is tenacious and taciturn, mysterious in his refusal to say much about his storied past. I don’t recall much more from the book, but I do recall that scene with its focus on resolve and the teacher using this scene in the book to discuss literary tropes, and what the scene might really be pointing toward. It all comes rushing back whenever I grab an axe, which I needed yesterday.

After I had dug down about 30 inches or so, the stalk was still thick and solid, so I got out the axe and played Shane. The stalk was really a thing of beauty in its own way, gnarled and twisted, bending as needed to make its way in the world. I felt a little bit whimsical in this work, and grateful to the vine for adorning our house over the years. We replaced it with a Dwarf Alberta Spruce, which paired one at the other end of my plot, between which two I planted flowers with solid advice from the resident expert. My wife takes gardening seriously – or perhaps “delightfully” is a better term. When she stops planting and steps back, looking at what she has done, she appears rather like an artist before a canvas. I am basically like a hired-hand in this work, useful for my strong back and capacity to dig out rooted things and to lift in rooting things. I can be tenacious and taciturn at times but I am no Shane, and this blog is no novel. However, there is plenty of novelty at 185 Sheldon, as a garden rages against COVID-19 and preaches a fine sermon for those with ears to hear. I am glad to have a small part in the sermon preparation.

In Praise of Pansies

I glanced out my May window,
and saw a pansy and her peers
standing out
in the snow with faces
cheery, appearing cherubic.

I praised these strong flowers and
asked them about their life with men.

They spoke of being trodden under foot, and
of hearing their name used and abused
to hurt, to maim, to wound others,
and so, their own way of being in the world.

I hung my head in shame.

Upon seeing this, these pansies
turned their heads to the sky, so that
I, too, might look up and perceive that
those closest to the earth have a worth
rooted in what those who trample
flowers will never know.

Staycation in Canvas and Verse

Today my wife and I were to return home after a week spent in Trinidad and Tobago building a home with Habitat for Humanity. It became apparent some time ago that this was not to happen, but I had a week of holidays to be completed before the end of April, so a staycation was in the offing.

The danger of staycation, especially after an extended period of working at home is figuring out a way not to work at home. I have to admit that I wasn’t altogether successful at this, but I did better than I thought I would. I was helped, largely, by two decisions I made. One was to buy a year’s subscription to Master Class, and the other was to work on a painting that has been kind of drifting about in my head for some weeks.

I was especially interested in Billy Collins’ class on poetry in Master Class. I delight in Collins’ poetry and so was not surprised to find his lessons entertaining, insightful and inspiring. He revealed much about himself and his process of creating poetry, all the while sharpening my tools for reading poetry as well as writing it. One of his great lines from the class was “the beauty of a poem can be measured by the degree of silence it creates when it is finished.” He read a few poems of his own and introduced me to others that gave me pause at their completion. Collins’ lectures, mostly in 10 minutes clips or so, allowed me to take in small bits, think about them for a time and return when I was ready for more. Undoubtedly, I will be revisiting these before the year is over. I have just started Margaret Atwood’s class, and it proves to be promising as well.

I would spend my morning doing a bit of reading, listening to a few Master Classes, and then think a bit about my painting for a half-hour to an hour. At noon or so I would go for a jog, eat some lunch with my working wife, and paint for a good part of the afternoon. Painting, when you are in the right space, is a timeless activity. A minute feels no weightier than an hour. Sometimes, I find my heart racing as an idea falls in place for dealing with some shape, or colour, or balance. Sometimes I tremble at the fear that I am going to wreck something that feels right as I move the painting forward. Painting, like running, are really spiritual experiences for me. I feel God powerfully in them, and they do not need to be successful to be successful.

I spent my evenings watching a movie, or another Masterclass, or reading some theology. I would end my evening with some yoga and a glass of red wine. I found good bits of silence in the course of my week, which makes me think that some of it was poetic, à la Collins. Luther famously said that the Holy Spirit is the best poet of all and so I suspect that divine fingerprints can be found here and there in this week of canvas and verse.