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Heart ache.

Massive flooding is threatening human lives, homes, wildlife and the ecosystem, and essential human services like healthcare in Ottawa, Gatineau and surrounding communities.

Although many feel the military support did not come soon enough or with as much human power as needed early in the crisis, and likely still now, I want to say this is one of the very few kinds of military service I can throw my full support behind. All the rest is so complicated but it’s beautiful to see an engine of power being used for something other than violence.

Our Canadian neighbors will need our support in the coming weeks, and financial donations to organizations like the Red Cross provide far less logistical problems than donations of goods.

We have access to many resources to support the individuals effected, and although not nearly perfect, the care for safety of the residents of these Canadians communities is a privilege many developing nations in poverty situations simply can’t provide (current flooding in Bangladesh, as just one example).

And this particular instance of flooding demonstrates my deep concerns about rising global temperatures. I don’t have any clue how others could view this, along with the enormous amount of other examples, and come to any other conclusion than knowing with complete certainty that we are personally and collectively culpable for putting our world into a MASSIVE state of crisis that threatens the continuance of all Life on our Mother Earth.

“Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation… all the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you.” 
– David Wyte

(Photo Credit: Brandon Mitchell)

I got to be near some pigs that were “unutterably themselves” this weekend.

I watched them cool themselves in some pretty nasty mud. I watched them root through fresh straw. I fed them corn cobs and scratched their heads and even grunted a few replies to their curious questions. I marvelled at their long eyelashes and the density of their bodies and how fast they could run in circles. I laughed and turned away disgusted as they shit and pissed right there in front of me.

I loved these pigs a little bit this weekend. I loved them even though we are so different, even though our interaction was so limited. I loved them because they showed me something I didn’t know, or maybe had just forgotten.

Along with these pigs were the dogs and the chickens; the gardens and the grass; the lake and the rain; the ants and the mosquitos; the sun and the sky – all reminding me of the hope and resiliency of creation,

the hope and resiliency of God in creation,

the hope and resiliency of creation in me.

From Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver (2009).

“At the River Clarion”


I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a
water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices
of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had
something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing
under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me
what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered
the moss beneath the water.

I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through
all the traffic, the ambition.


If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then
keep on going.

Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God)
would sing to you if it could sing, if
you would pause to hear it.
And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?

If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell.
He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing
their weapons.
He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician,
the poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?

Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and
each of you too, or at least
of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own
constant joy
which was better by far than a lecture, which was
comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.


Of course for each of us, there is the daily life.
Let us live it, gesture by gesture.
When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?
And should we not thank the knife also?
We do not live in a simple world.


There was someone I loved who grew old and ill
One by one I watched the fires go out.
There was nothing I could do

except to remember
that we receive
then we give back.


My dog Luke lies in a grave in the forest,
she is given back.
But the river Clarion still flows
from wherever it comes from
to where it has been told to go.
I pray for the desperate earth.
I pray for the desperate world.
I do the little each person can do, it isn’t much.
Sometimes the river murmurs, sometimes it raves.


Along its shores were, may I say, very intense cardinal flowers.
And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them,
for heaven’s sakes–
the lucky ones: they have such deep natures,
they are so happily obedient.
While I sit here in a house filled with books,
ideas, doubts, hesitations.


And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river
keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its
long journey, its pale, infallible voice


You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

– Mary Oliver

It’s six thirty in the morning, and it’s raining outside.

Every so often, it seems necessary for me to have a sleepless night in order to gain perspective on the daylight.  The best nights are usually the ones that end with a sunrise.  So sometime last night, upon realizing I had been up for most of the night, I decided today would be a good morning to watch the sun gradually wake my city.

A few blocks from my house there is a bike path that climbs its way up the escarpment.  For the first week or two after I discovered this trail I would routinely head up there after work.  I love the long, slow climb contrasted with the invigorating ride back down.  But like most things in my life, my best intentions faded away into half-hearted excuses and plain old laziness, and I haven’t biked up there in a few weeks.

Still, the early morning promised to be a good chance to revisit this old friend and see the sunrise from a great vantage point.  I didn’t even let the low rumblings of distant thunder around four thirty discourage me.  After all, clouds only make the sunrise more dramatic, yes?  And with the heat wave and humidity we’ve been having, a little rain might even be welcomed.

So at five o’clock this morning I was rolling my bike out of the garage under the first few drops of rain, undeterred.  A few drops slowly became a steady downpour and by the time I returned from the ride I was thoroughly soaked.

And I didn’t see the sunrise.  From the top of the escarpment all I could see was mist and gray.

But I am still thankful for the experience.  It turns out I needed the rain as much as the gardens.

A few weeks ago my mother dug a fern from her garden and potted it for me.  I welcomed the gift as a daily reminder of new life, despite her skepticism about whether the fern would survive.  True, I don’t have a great track record when it comes to plant care and apparently ferns that grow up outdoors don’t transition well to living indoors.  (I don’t know if this is true or if she was just making it up.)  Besides all that, Ellie, my parents’ three month old puppy, decided that parts of the newly potted plant would make an excellent pre-supper appetizer shortly before its trip to Hamilton.  Suffice it to say, the plant showed up in need of some serious love.

Sometime last week I noticed the already beginning-to-be-neglected plant was looking, well, shabbier.  One shoot had all but collapsed, the others were brown around the edges and looking tired and frazzled for the most part.  I admit, I haven’t been diligent with watering.  I’m sure last week’s plus thirty temperatures and lack of sunlight in my room were not helping.

And so began the intervention.  This plant was not yet dead.  Although well on its way to being nothing more than compost, there was still hope.  I began dousing it daily with water, entirely unsure of whether I was helping or hindering.  I’ve heard too much water can be a bad thing.  Still, all my best intentions got side-tracked this week and yet again, the plant has not been watered for a few days.

Imagine my surprise tonight as I am cleaning off my desk and I notice two incredibly strong, healthy, tall new shoots bursting from the soil.  New life juxtaposed against the dry, shriveled stems beside them.  What joy.  What hope.

I am like this fern.

The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

“Waking on a Summer Morning”
Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)

Break out from your slumber, throw off your sorrow.
Ah, what you suffered, it was only a dream.
Climb the hill, and see how morning
Borders the night sky with purple.
The stars grow pale; full of joy and reverence
The singing lark articulates the morning prayer,
The shadows free from the face of the sun,
Who begins her restless march of triumph.

I’m on my first ‘weekend away’ – three days where I get to do whatever
I want without any schedule or responsibilities.  Three days out of
the house.  This was much needed after a very busy week in our house.
My intentions for days away are always very high, and most of my
previous days away have been fulfilling.  Hiking, sleeping, reading,
responding to emails, doing yoga, playing guitar.  All good things to
plan to do on a day out of the house.

But this time has been different – possibly because I knew it was
three full days, so I wasn’t as conscious about ‘making the most of
every moment’, thinking I will have time to do this or that later.  So
I’m coming close to the end of my weekend and finding that I haven’t
really done much.  I technically have eight hours left in my weekend
and they all need to be devoted to essay writing, which has been
the main focus of this weekend.

I did however, make time to go for a hike yesterday.  I normally just
explore the woods behind our property with no real plan of where I end
up, but I have been told that if you follow
the stream for awhile, you come to the base of a waterfall.  Sounds
wonderful.  So I off I go with my bug jacket, homemade natural
bugspray and rubber boots.  At first the plan was to walk along side
the stream, but when you have rubber boots it seems like the best idea
is to walk upstream.  It was shallow enough in most places and I
didn’t have to fight my way through branches.

Eventually the stream crossed under a dirt road and ran along beside
it for awhile.  A sign said something about snowmobile trails and the
road headed directly uphill.  Our little town is surrounded by rolling
hills and highlands (not quite mountains I guess) and I’ve wanted to
head uphill to get a good view of the land and water.  So I detoured
from the stream and started climbing up.  Flashbacks of Mount Kinabalu
rushed through my mind and I wondered how long it would take to get to
the top.  At one point a car passed heading downhill, but I saw no
other signs of humanity.  I was in the company of strangers –  a
woodpecker who seemed as fascinated by my presence as I was by his,
tall trees that provided a fresh green canopy over head, an endless
swarm of mosquitos who would get close but wouldn’t land thanks to the
bugspray and my jacket and the friendly sound of the wind.  I stopped
occasionally, and noticed layers of sound – first my own pounding
heart beat, then the birds singing nearby, the wind and sometimes the
water, and the distant traffic.  It is a good feeling when the sound
of your own heart is loud enough and the traffic distant enough that
the one drowns out the other.

It took about two hours to get to a point where the road evened out,
and although I thought about turning back a few times, I kept thinking
that an amazing view could be just around the next bend.  When I
finally did get to the top, I could see sky through the thick forest,
but I was still pretty well closed in.  The sky above had been gray
all day and started to seem menacing, the wind became more unfriendly
than before and my imagination started to get the best of me.  Being
up here in a dark thunderstorm is not my idea of a good time.  Without
finding any great (or even decent) lookout places, I turned around and
started heading downhill.

I was so frustrated – with the stupid hill for being so steep, with
the wind and the rain for ruining my day, with the trees for blocking
my view of the land below.  By the time I had reached the bottom of
the hill and found the stream again, I was too tired and annoyed to
try to find the waterfall so I just headed home along the highway, I
didn’t want to go back the way I came through the forest.

Mostly I think I was just frustrated with myself for letting my
imagination get the best of me and for knowing I was missing the
point.  I may not have gotten a great view of Cape Breton, and I
didn’t even get to see the waterfall I originally set out for.  But it
was still a great way to spend a few hours and I’m sure there are some
obvious lessons in here about enjoying the journey rather than
focusing on the destination, and being flexible and open to
disappointment and recognizing the blessings in things unexpected.
Maybe next time I’ll keep that in mind.

Beauty of the World

I soak up the stark beauty of your world
Through my foreign eyes
And absorb whatsoever you offer
Having learned to be thankful
For the bounty of your coffers
However great or small.

I am an eager student of your realm
Chronically curious ever wandering, wondering,
Observing your thoughts, culture
And reactions with reiteration of my preoccupation.

I have slowly evolved into a mirror of your moods,
Your laughter causes me to smile,
Your tears well rivers of my own
Which overflow the banks
Of my perspective, giving me introspective
Into your psyche.

I have trod your oft-trodden paths
I have swum to the fire of your distant shores
I have sailed the clear blue of your skies
And have painstakingly etched my lifeline
Through your own.

Now, weather worn, sand torn,
I plod through the rifts of your drifting
Shifting valleys, barefoot,
Embracing my rod for comfort
Ever searching for your green pastures.

Through the still waters of my resilient fascination
Where the shadows of death
Impatiently, rather than serenely haunt my imagination.

by Edna Yaghi

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