Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Walking in a weedy wonderland

I toiled last summer to design and outline a seven-circuit labyrinth in the “back 40” at the cottage. Then the lawn guys carved out the path. 

Greg collected and placed rocks to define where it leads. Last, I covered the path with mulch to keep the weeds at bay.

In September just before we left, we planted bunches of three daffodils each around it — 28 bunches in all, as it turned out, a nice coincidence with their being 28 days in the lunar month. Unlike the labyrinth at Chartres, the seven-circuit type doesn’t have actual lunations to mark the lunar calendar, but the little clumps of daffodils were a reminder of the moon and all it signifies.

It was neat and tidy when we left last fall. In fact, practically all labyrinths I have encountered are just that—neat, tidy, and dare I say, almost perfect. Here is the one at the convent of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Richmond Hill:

Source of photo:

It is similar to mine because it its outlined in stones.  So you can imagine how I felt when we returned this spring and found this:

My first thought was: oh no, it is so overgrown! In fact, it was so invaded by dandelions I thought I should call it a dandelinth. The daffodils were slightly past their prime, their yellow completely outshone by the dandelions’.

My dismay was assuaged by the fact that the path was still visible, and I enjoyed walking around it while looking at the various stones. They were all the same (red sandstone) yet unique (in shape and size).  

I thought about this difference in sameness for a while and also about rocks: calm, solid, perpetual, unchanging.

Of course, I immediately began to weed as I walked. Then I reflected that I was treating the labyrinth as a thing to be worked on rather than as a means for inner quiet, meditation, and even mystical experience. None of the other labyrinths I had enjoyed required my on-going  care and keeping. They were usually made of cement and other materials which prevented the infringement of weeds. On them, I could just quiet my ego and follow the path on an inner pilgrimage. This one pleaded for my objective attention and hence, the engagement of my ego.

So at first I thought what a pity it was that I did not have the “right” attitude towards it. Would I ever feel I was not working on it as merely an artefact and just let myself experience what walking its path offered my inner Self, my soul?

So then  I decided I would pull weed weeds from the path only on the way in. Being bent over and humbly weeding would suit the penitential nature of the way to the centre, at least according to one way of looking at the walk in. Each weed could be a flaw in myself or a trouble in my world or a trouble in the world at large, which needed to be pulled for personal and worldly improvement nay, even perfection.

Then on the way out, I would refrain from working on it and have a true Sabbath — a time of opening my soul to whatever God/the holy spirit/the divine within/the mystery of nature wanted to put there. It would be redemptive.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. In or out, I could not resist pulling up the twitch grass, dandelions and other weedy things.

Then I had something of an epiphany. It is all right to be a Martha working all the time: Unlike the biblical Martha, I was enjoying it. It had a rhythm. Yet, I did not feel impelled to totally weed everything, nor did I weed with any pattern or intent:  A swath of twitch grass which I had been happy to ignore going in would attract my attention coming out.

So, not only was the labyrinth not perfect, neither apparently was my plan to do things right. 

I reflected on the word perfect. It has come to mean flawless, but if you go back to the Latin root, it means “through” from  per and “made” from feci, the past tense of facere, “to make or do.”

So in its literal sense, “perfect” means to work through or make through. It is a process or experience, not a product or a goal. It is in actual hands-on doing (for me, at any rate), that I feel attuned with the creative and behind that, the Creator,  and that I feel an attachment,  even love, for this inanimate weedy object, my labyrinth.

Now I feel  more attached to it than if it were flawless. As I go round the path, obscured by the greenery along the border, I am taken by surprise by the twists and curves. I have to pay attention to how I am walking to avoid tripping. The way is not clear to my immediate vision even though I know the way is there, and all I have to do is to follow it. Nevertheless, I have to weed it out to keep the way passable.  How like life this is. The way is there, but not always easily seen. 

The tall weeds and grasses at the side form a tunnel which in my four-year-old imagination, I am exploring and clearing. It is play, not work.

Finally, it’s not about having a belief (weeds are like flaws and must be pulled out) but about having the experience (I care for the labyrinth and it provides me a path). I dislike apportioning a moral value to the poor twitch grass. It’s not the fault of the weeds that I pull them up; it is just what I have to do to keep a clear path. And I have learned not to be annoyed by them.

In a sense, I am not walking on the labyrinth,  I am the labyrinth and all that it signifies about going in those contained circles to an inevitable centre.  The interruptions by the weeds in my way are moments for pausing, stooping, pulling, and standing up again: sort of doing physically what we are to do spiritually in our journey.

A day or so after having these thoughts, I read a quotation from Rumi in something Richard Rohr wrote in his daily meditation:

I want to...instead of being
irritated by the interruption and daily
resentments, feel those as kindnesses.

Admittedly, it’s easier said than done, but after I leave the labyrinth and return to my daily life, I hope this  pattern  of response to life becomes more embedded in me.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Village Feast in Souris was a great success

A contingent from Camp Gagetown NB provides chowder from their field canteen each year. The woman behind the soldier talked to us about one of the charities this event benefits: Farmers Helping Farmers   building cookhouses in Kenya. 

Greg bought the hat, as it unexpectedly got sunny later in the day. You can't have too many hats. 

The mobile kitchen cooked up the lobsters.

From the tent behind the diners, the sale of local oysters, fresh from Colville Bay, benefits one of the other charities,

Some of the folks in our group enjoying their meal are Kathy, (then a space where my place is), Lynn, Ron (the doctor who sewed up Greg's arm), Maureen, and Kathy.

Joanne is enjoying the meal.

Main course after the chowder: Steak, delicious potatoes and a bit too much gravy, whole grain bread, salad, and a Kenyan side dish whose name escapes me.

All those hats and potato sacks....hmmmm... In the background is the dessert tent, where strawberry shortcakes were on offer.

You line up for your steak at the flag indicating the appropriate stage of doneness. The extremes were" Bloody" and "Burnt."

In the background is the chowder canteen provided by the troops at Camp Gagetown, NB. It was yummy!

Afterwards, the kids swarmed the fire truck and took turns sounding the siren. The hay bales, which marked the paths to take from one food serving to the next , a la IKEA, were provided by Springwater Farm  a great place to visit.

With a $100 donation, several brave souls volunteered to be installed as honourary Islanders.

First, on goes the Ann of Green Gables hat.

Then the potato bag shirt.

Chef Michael Smith explains the ritual involved in becoming an honourary Islander.

Chef Michael introduces the participants to oyster shucking.

Lord help me - it's alive!

Down the hatch:

How to get the elastic band off the claws without getting pinched!

How to peel a potato!

There's where the bridge is on the map.

Chef Michael Smith has the piper lead in all the volunteers, who made the day a success.

Here are some of the crew members. This event involves practically everyone in and around Souris.

My little table centre is now re-potted on the deck.

Bonnie had us all over to her house for drinks and conviviality before the feast.

Grant, Bonnie, Greg and Kathy are heading home afterwards.

There were lovely bouquets like this one everywhere.

All in all the day was seamlessly well-organized down to the last delicious detail.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

R is for Ruts

I enjoy Sue Grafton’s alphabetical murder mysteries. In W is for Wasted, she writes that “every good mystery takes place on three planes — what really happened; what appears to have happened; and how the sleuth … figures out which is which.” I couldn‘t agree more.

As I said in a blog a while ago, when we arrived at the cottage, Greg reported on "some ruts" in the untended part of our field. I was too busy sorting linens and food stuffs and generally getting the cottage back to liveable form to pay a lot of attention to his observation.

However, a few days later, I went for a stroll in the field. Our mowers make paths so we can meander down to the water and back; it’s very peaceful, full of birdsong, interesting spiders, and all sorts of wild flowers:

But that day, my goodness, what had happened!  Much of the field was torn up. Deep muddy ruts cut across it in several places. It appeared as if a couple of brontosauruses had engaged in a battle of the epoch. A person could twist their ankle in the up-heaved dirt.

I felt trespassed upon. Not only had someone come on our field without permission, they had damaged it, had so far not ‘fessed up, and had not made things right.

But as Ms. Grafton points out, appearances can be deceiving. What had gone on?

My detective work was made easier in that I could see clearly where a track came from and where it went.  It cut diagonally  across the field next to ours and then continued across our field until it ended in the torn up sections next the property line with another neighbour.

I spent a sleepless night convincing myself that I didn’t need to lose sleep over this, and then I called on the neighbour whose field was also affected. We had a confab, inspected our fields, shared our hurt feelings, and concluded the other neighbours were tearing down trees (on their side of the property line, mind you) and might mash up our fields again. We decided we had to act.

But what exactly to do?  Our paramount hope was that we could restore our fields while at the same time maintain “good neighbourly relations— a value held dear by Islanders. People trust each other to do the right thing.

For example, our cottage was built over the course of about six months, and I saw it only once during the construction process. The next time was when it was all finished. Everything worked out fine. We chose a great builder. We had our field mowed by a company whose owner we did not meet for literally years. He had the field mowed, trusting us, sight unseen, to pay him, and we trusted him to mow properly. It worked. As in many rural neighbourhoods, people don’t lock their doors around here, a habit that can have disconcerting consequences.  A friend of ours from Upper Canada awoke from a nap and found a stranger in her kitchen; he turned out to be the plumber she had called.

So tact was paramount, but so was firmness. We decided it was better strategically not to include Greg right off the bat. He is big, and with his beard, he can look quite severe especially when things don't go right. We did not want to set off more testosterone than absolutely necessary.

We felt a couple of bewildered five-foot-two grannies would be more likely to get the results we hoped for: reparation of the field with neighbourly feelings intact. It felt like a tall order.

Evening came.

My neighbour reported that she had seen activity in the driveway of our prime suspects. We hopped in her car, drove around the corner and parked in their driveway.  “I parked behind them so they can’t leave,” she said, clearly way ahead of me.

A gaggle of 20-year-olds stood in the driveway looking at a large piece of earth-moving machinery. They did not look pleased to see us:  no smiles, no hellos.

I did not know where to begin, so I said the first thing that came to mind, “Boy, that’s a big piece of machinery.” As a conversation opener, it was a non-starter.

My companion in sleuthing came more directly to the point, “We need to talk to whoever’s in charge here.”

Then we introduced ourselves and explained the reason for our visit:  We were simply puzzled by the ruts in the field, as it seemed to have been torn up by some kind of big machinery. Did they know anything about that?

Three of the yoots  (yes, it was a My Cousin Vinnie kind of moment) faded back leaving the fourth  alone to explain there had been a family emergency last December when the furnace quit and they had to replace it. It was easiest to come over the fields, rather than up their driveway, “We thought, it’s just a farmer’s field.”

I expressed my sympathy for the plight of a family in a freezing cold house, but nevertheless, it seemed to me asking permission would have seemed a wise and proper thing to do. My compatriot agreed.

But no, youth-in-charge had had no way of contacting us for permission. And anyway, his father had asked him to do it.

Ah well, there you go… I did not press that point beyond making it but persevered in the real purpose of our visit.

“So when can you get it fixed?”

“Well, later when we are not so busy.”

“Well, maybe we should get your phone number so we can contact you later.”

Neither he nor I had any paper or pens, so my friend went back to her car to retrieve some. While she rummaged around, I said only half-joking, that it was lucky they had not destroyed the labyrinth because if they had done that, I would probably have come over and personally lynched him. He looked a bit startled at that remark. I was a bit surprised at myself as well.  I think I intended to say “throttled.”  So I navigated the topic around to other happier times when Greg and I had chatted with him and his dad in previous summers.

I added that I did want to be a good neighbour and would not want to stand in the way of their dealing with an emergency. I left other of my thoughts unspoken.

My partner returned, and we all exchanged names and phone numbers. Dad did not have a phone number, alas. “Oh well, then we can call you if need be?” I said.

“Oh, I see my dad every morning.”

“Ah, well, that’s good then.”

“So when might your dad get at this work? End of this week, maybe end of next week?”

He’d have to ask his dad.

While this was going on, one of the other yoots began hitting the shovel part of the machinery with a sledge hammer thereby making it very difficult to talk. (Apparently, they were under a time limit to disassemble it).  I ignored the noise, figuring it was not my problem. Finally youth-in-charge told his friend to “stop that.” He did.

Much easier on the ears. Then mission accomplished, we thanked them, got in the car, drove back to the cottage, and had a cup of tea to calm our nerves.

Now what would happen?

As it turned out, youth-in-charge did speak to his father, who came over a couple of days later. After some preliminary chatting about the awful winter and the slow spring, we discussed fixing the muddy mess. I reiterated I understood things were different in an emergency and added  the fields didn’t have to be garden perfect, just smoothed out so we could walk safely on the paths .

But, what had actually happened?  Well, the ground wasn’t frozen in December, was very wet, and the truck carrying the new furnace got stuck and had to be towed off the field. No wonder it looked like a saurian playground.

 “And this won’t likely have to happen again?”

“No, it won’t.”  

“Well, okay then.”

And a couple of days later, the equipment operator  he hired came over and restored our fields to a walkable state.  The undergrowth will grow back soon enough. So all is well again on the happy little island.