Monday, January 16, 2012

All are welcome

With my big internal shift, came a new awareness that I've completely lost touch with the natural world and its seasons. We do eat fairly seasonally, and we buy our seasonal produce at the farmers' market each Saturday. But we've really become divorced from how the seasons pass in a slightly wilder context.

Before Eldest was born - and even after he arrived until the end of my mat leave meant that he needed to go to bed earlier so he could wake up earlier for us all to get to our various, separate daytime locations - we went for walks regularly along the river after dinner. On weekends we walked to the farmers' market and then the library or the park for its playground. Even though these are particularly wild areas, we would hear the birds, and although we may not have consciously registered how the bird songs changed through the seasons, it was there. We walked through crunchy leaves in the fall and saw the acid green of new buds in spring sun. In the winter, we'd feel and hear all the different kinds of snow under our boots. We'd smell the leaf mould in fall and wet mud in the spring.

My husband and I even hiked the Bruce Trail on weekends for a while - and we enjoyed it. But somehow we've slipped away from all of that.

After we moved, all those things were far enough away that we could really only have walked to one of those places on each weekend day and it would have taken about a half a day to do it. The mall and a big, car-friendly plaza are within walking distance, but the entire way is along a very busy, four-lane street that is so loud, even conversation is difficult. Hearing birdsong is impossible. We do go outside, but it's not so integrated in our life anymore. We have to make a conscious effort.

I used to be into native plant gardening, but our new house (I still call it new even though we've lived in it for more than three years now) has so many gardens already in place, mostly with exotics, that I've completely lost interest. I haven't even been doing any maintenance because I'm so uninspired by it. (To be fair, I don't think I was ever a fan of garden maintenance work, it was really more about growing something where nothing was before, something that could provide food and shelter to birds and insects.)

And it's not just because we moved. I got into digital photography and blogging and twitter and all kinds of stuff that involves me plugging into a screen. We got a second computer, so that my husband and I can be plugged into separate screens at the same time, instead of having one plugged-in person and one potentially-antsy person pressuring the other to go outside with them. And the kids now go to bed right after dinner, which means that going for a nice family walk requires keeping them up late and risking horrible meltdowns.

* * *

For the longest time, traditional landscape photography (think Ansel Adams) has bored the pants off me. If I'm in a critique group and people start showing their photos of trees, I have absolutely nothing to offer. Inside I'm thinking BORING! and Wake me up when you get to some people, so I just don't say anything at all. But now, suddenly, I actually want to make pictures of trees.

I am not a fan of winter. It's much too cold and dark for my taste. (One of my most delicious sensory experiences is the first night of the summer when you can step outside in short sleeves and feel Warm Air on your arms. After dark.) But one thing I really like about winter is that after the leaves come off the trees, you get to see things that have been hidden for months. You get to see the bone structure of our world. Sometimes whole houses have been hidden, sometimes just windows you can now look into. Earlier this season I saw all these nests in the trees. At first I thought they were birds' nests, but I've since been told they're squirrels' nests.

Sometime recently, I saw a reference - maybe online, maybe in a book, I can't remember - to identifying trees by their silhouettes. As we drove to my parents' rural house for Christmas, I kept noticing all the differences between the various tree silhouettes, and I wanted to know what they meant. That's when it occurred to me that I could photograph the silhouettes. Maybe I could even use the photos to learn to identify them. I bet there's even an app for that, although I haven't looked for one yet.

* * *

On Friday, I drove out to meet someone who wants to participate in my photo project. She lives in a small town northwest of here, in Old Order Mennonite country. The drive was absolutely beautiful. It had snowed a bit early in the morning, so lots of the fields were dusted white. The trees that lined the road and ringed the fields were dark against the gray sky. Again and again, I saw trees I'd like to photograph. I vowed to stop and photograph them all on the way home.

At every house and barn I saw evidence of self-sufficiency and frugality: lines of laundry hanging to dry, hand-painted signs for rabbit meat, maple syrup, honey and potatoes. Many farmhouses had no lines connecting them to the old telephone poles that look like crucifixes.

(They made me think of a poem someone gave me for Christmas in high school. I still have the poem, but I can't lay my hands on it just now. It was typed out on a typewriter. I can't remember a word of it, but I remember the image of a line of telephone pole-crucifixes in winter. It was a stark poem, I think, certainly not a happy holiday ditty, and I felt privileged that she trusted me to share it.)

I passed a few lightweight black carriages pulled by a single horse, two or three people wearing black hats inside them. The first thing that welcomed me in the town was a cemetary, and a big sign that said ENTRANCE. I had enough time to wonder at a cemetary being an entrance before I saw its sibling: EXIT. Then a beautiful park next to a creek with a big playground and a yellow brick house with stained-glass windows and a sign out front that said BUY ME.

By this point I was feeling... I don't know, moved. Raw. Love. Lots of stuff. I felt like the universe was pointing me here, showing me other ways of living. I thought about how this photo project just keeps putting teachers and lessons in my life. I thought about how neat and weird it would be to follow this one impulse, right now, and just move to this town on a whim.

Just before I turned into my destination, I passed a Mennonite Church. Its sign said:

What does it mean to follow Jesus?
All are welcome

And I seriously wept.

It may be that the sign was intended to say that all are welcome to explore what it means to follow Jesus. But I read it as answering its own question. That IS what Jesus preached, I think: All are welcome.

What a wonderful openness to live by.

(Oh -- and just in case you're wondering, I didn't photograph those trees on the way home. Eldest was at a playdate and I stayed too long at the woman's house to justify any more time. I told myself I could do that on Saturday or Sunday or even Monday. And I didn't those days either. I'm realizing the light and the snow and everything was just perfect that day. Next time I want to photograph something I really must just do it.)

1 comment:

  1. amazing. I am looking forward to your tree silhouettes.
    I had a book in university that showed each trees silhouette, its bark and leaf shapes. it is out of print. skills of taxonomy and work of field naturalists are dying out. It is something i have been bringing back in our field work but yes, there is an iphone app so we used that too. :)