There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie


Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.
~Rumi


May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Courage Dear Heart

May 22, 2017
As we pray for Manchester, UK

I wish we didn't have to continue to
Take Courage, but we do. Every day
events unfold that call us to be the
better angels of ourselves, being
and offering strength and succour
to ourselves & our world.

First posted, January, 2017
Some believe it is only great power
that can hold evil in check, but that is
not what I have found. It is the small
everyday deeds of ordinary folk that
 keep the darkness at bay.
Small acts of kindness and love.
Why Bilbo Baggins?
Perhaps because I am afraid,
and he gives me courage.
~JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

Over Christmas this year, we had our 5th annual marathon viewing of all three Lord of the Rings, extended versions naturally. Add in three extended versions of The Hobbit, and it made for 24 hours of PJ-wearing, popcorn-munching, viewing pleasure. We did stop to sleep, shower, eat turkey and go to London, but we spent a lot of our holiday traversing Middle Earth.


At the end of the final movie in the Lord of the Rings series, The Return of the King, the elves set sail on the last ship out of Middle Earth, toward the west, where all 'turns to silver glass'. After all of the events in 2016, I wanted to run after them and shout, take me with you!!, but I live on this earth, not middle earth, and there's no escaping with the elves.


Over Christmas and all through the autumn, the pictures coming out of Aleppo, the plight of the refugees in Europe and the political rhetoric back home in the U.S. were all chilling. As strong as the impulse is to put our heads in the sand and ignore it all, I believe we cannot. We can't put love and prayers and support, and especially action, into what we don't even know about. But it's overwhelming all the same.

Until he extends the circle of his
compassion to all living things,
man will not himself find peace.
~Albert Schwietzer

Everywhere we look in our world it seems there's discord, disunity, disharmony. The prefix 'dis' is Latin for apart, or asunder, a reversing force; and it's a force that is feeding wars, hunger, and whole movements of populations. As 2016 dissolves into 2017 and even more discord, there are people who think the coming months will make a superpower great again, and then there are those who think we're being ushered into a dystopian age the likes of which we've not seen before. The truth of those two belief systems might lie somewhere in the middle, but wherever the truth lies, these beliefs are crashing into one another, creating the rockiest ride our planet has seen in a long while.

Courage is the first of all
human qualities because
it guarantees all others.
~Winston Churchill

The bed where Winston Churchill
was born, at Blenheim Palace,
Oxfordshire


When Winston Churchill was
asked to cut arts funding in
favour of the war effort,
he simply asked,
Then what are we fighting for?

Apparently this quote has been widely
attributed to Winston Churchill but
it isn't something he actually ever
said or wrote. He did write something
though, which echoes this ideal.....

The arts are essential to any complete
national life. The State owes it to
itself to sustain and encourage them….
Ill fares the race which fails to
salute the arts with the reverence
and delight which are their due.

What I do know for sure is that we've been here before. So many times before. And that's what I try to remember every day. What helps me keep the present in perspective is to widen the lens of time, like looking through a camera and taking in the entire scene, rather than one small piece of it. When looking at the present world, if you also look at history/herstory/ourstory, the lens widens instantly. Once you widen the lens of time, it photographs a larger picture beyond wars, disunity, and the follies of man. Seeing a wide canvas you can also see the good that survived, the hope that propelled people onward, and all the learning and love and artistry that never, ever stopped.

Oxford, a city reaching back to the
9th C,  is steeped in history. It
paints a canvas a thousand years wide.



Oxford (or oxen-ford) was a Saxon
and then a Norman town until 1167,
when students first arrived and it
became a centre of learning.

*The Saxon period in England was
from 410AD to 1066AD, when the
Normans conquered Saxon England.

Even though I've always looked at the world via a larger canvas, I'm grateful for the gift of living in Oxford and Great Britain; its history helps give me perspective on the world. Living in Britain, we're surrounded by a millennia, and more, of history; we can breathe it in and revel in it--and I do, every day.


Instead of keeping a focus on just the present, widening the lens to 200, 500, or 1,000 years ago, gives depth and meaning to events taking place right now, in 2017. It also gives hope, because it shows that people made it through the discord of their age, they survived institutions and systems being pulled asunder. They survived tyrants and plagues, wars and unrest. And more than that, people thrived! All of us alive today are a testament to that.

We make our lives out
of chaos and hope. 
And love. 
~Bones 
(Nathan, Hanson, Reichs, Hawley)

Below, the Divinity School,
completed in 1488.
From the 15th C, while wars
waged and disease decimated
outside of the University walls,
Oxford students studied logic,
reason, science, philosophy
and rhetoric here.
They kept the candle of knowledge
burning brightly for all of us to inherit.


When I widen the lens of how I perceive the world to include a broader history, I don't have to go very far. All I have to do is something as simple as looking down at our bedroom floor. Sometimes I curse it because it not only slopes, it also waves up and down. Every piece of furniture is propped up on one or two of the legs, just to keep it from toppling over. But it's made from an ancient oak tree and is 500 years old--the same age as the floor in Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford. If our bedroom floor can survive 500 years of this crazy planet, and it's even crazier people, surely we can.

The floor on the left is in the bedroom where
Shakespeare was born, and on the right our
bedroom floor. Every time I see Will's floor
I feel very, very lucky to be able to walk on
our own floor (as crooked as it is)
and all that history--in my bare feet.


in Stratford, Warwickshire.
Visiting it is a wonder, not only
because of its great age, but because
it brings home the fact that a man,
born in its simple surroundings
nearly 500 years ago, wrote plays
and sonnets that are just as
meaningful today, if not more so.
That someone from 1595 can
reach out to us in 2017, is the kind
of hope I feed on every day.


Our house has survived the 16th and 17th centuries, when civil war plagued England, religion became a weapon, and both Catholics and Protestants were martyred for their faith. Five bishops were burned at the stake at the east end of our street. We also have something called a "priest hole" in our house, where a Catholic priest would hide from soldiers during the Reformation and the upheaval of Catholicism in England. When it became illegal to practice the Catholic faith, household priests were regularly rounded up and jailed, or worse. When you look back into history and see religion being used as a weapon, just like it is today, you see that it's nothing new.


Not only were the Catholic bishops martyred
at the end of our street, it was also on my
birthday. Even my birthday helps put
the present into focus.


Our house has hidden people
in fear for their lives--
and even one who lost his life. 
That gives me daily perspective.


When our kitchen was built in the mid-1800's, the story on the street is that they found a skeleton hidden behind a wall. It was thought to be a member of the Royalist army during England's Civil War (17th C.), when Oxford University was a Royalist stronghold. The townspeople were mostly Parliamentarians supporting Oliver Cromwell and it appears one of them stuck a sword in our cavalier and then walled him up for good measure. That's history for you--and it helps make things today seem not quite so bad (not always, but sometimes).

The brick, Victorian addition to our
16th century house, and hopefully there
aren't any more skeletons hiding 
in the walls.


Supposedly our cavalier is now ensconced in a box in the Natural History museum a few blocks from us. I'd be lying if I said I've never seen shadows and heard strange things where he was walled up, but not for awhile, so hopefully he's at peace. That's the kind of upheaval and discord that has gone on where we live, on the streets where we walk, in the house we call home. But people from that time carried on. They went on to love, marry, have children, celebrate birthdays, enjoy a warm fire and a meal together, create music, create art, create life. War has never stopped those things. As much as they've tried, tyrants cannot touch the eternal things that make us human.


Do not be daunted by the enormity
of the world's grief. Do justly now.
Love mercy now. Walk humbly now.
You are not obligated to complete the
work, but neither are you free to
abandon it.
~The Talmud

I have another way to reach back (much nicer than skeletons), and link the past with the present. The author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien, once lived on our street with his wife and children at No. 99 Holywell Street. When we first moved into our house, our neighbour told us a wonderful little story that I've never forgotten. Tolkien used to give hand-made birthday cards to the neighbourhood children. He'd compose little verses and fill the cards with the elves and hobbits and wizards he loved to draw. Ever since then, I've had daydreams of finding a shoe-box full of those cards, and have even looked under a floorboard or two, but no luck. I do feel lucky though to have such a strong Tolkien connection where we live. Every day I see some of the things that inspired him and his writing is a part of our landscape.


The University Parks, Oxford......


.....perhaps home to Tolkien's Ents. In
Middle Earth, Ents were a race of
beings resembling trees. Their name
comes from the Saxon word for giant.

Below, the Ents of
the University Parks.




Tolkien wasn't just inspired in Oxford, he was also changed by war. He survived the horrors of the WWI trenches and was able to return to Oxford to raise a family, to teach, and to write books. The books telling his tales of Middle Earth have transfixed millions of people over the years, and they sure have made our own Christmas holiday even better. With a widened lens, it's easy to see that the horrific lessons Tolkien learned in the trenches were transformed into a great wisdom, into words like, "There is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for." And, "The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater." 

War is a horrific teacher but it has produced some legendary human beings......or as Elizabeth Gilbert says, "Without Voldemort, Harry Potter is a very ordinary little boy.

No. 99 Holywell Street,
where JRR Tolkien lived
for a time with his family.



In the days after the American election in November, when name-calling, side-taking, and people refusing to simply and quietly discuss things became the norm, my head (like so many others) was spinning. It was a cacophony of snowflakes, libs, conservatives, witch-hunts, blame-shifting, and emotional rants. Emotion had replaced logic, diatribe and rhetoric replaced reason, and feelings replaced facts. It felt like another even darker Dark Ages was descending. To still my mind and calm the dizzying nerves, I would walk through the Bodleian Library's Old Schools Quad every day.

The Old Schools Quad 
and Bodleian Library
in late November, when
Oxford was preparing
for it's thousandth
Christmas.


I'd stand in front of the doors of learning,
one by one, while picturing the students from
centuries ago, going into their lectures,
their discussions spoken in Latin or French,
like shining crows in their long, black
academic gowns--and it gave me hope.

We seem to have an eternal pull toward
knowledge and the expansion of our minds,
and no place represents that better than
Oxford. That pull we have toward greatness
has never been permanently broken. No
matter what has transpired in history, we still
spiral upward, toward greater understanding.


The ink of the scholar is more
sacred than the blood of the martyr.
~Mohammed


Education is the movement
from darkness to light. 
~Allan Bloom


Education is the
transmission of civilization. 
~Ariel and Will Durant

Even with all of the sweeping history and movement of mankind through time, there is more we have to do to keep perspective beyond widening the lens, or looking at the 'macro-world'. We also need to narrow the lens down to our micro-world, down into the daily lives of the very real and very human people we share our individual world with. 

Gaining perspective becomes about having the ability to toggle back and forth between the macro and the micro, the wide and the narrow lens, because it's in the middle where we run into trouble. This is where all of our modern world gets jumbled into one big basket--popular culture, social media, ongoing wars, babies being born and babies being bombed, animals being loved and cared for, along with animals becoming extinct. What a cacophony the middle is.


Nothing represents the middle world
(not to be confused with Tolkien's
Middle Earth) more than Black Friday,
which tragically migrated to the UK.


I only spend as much time as I absolutely have to in the middle world. Just enough to take a pulse, get some vital signs, do a quick assessment (once a nurse, always a nurse). Then I slowly back out the door, go out to our garden, talk to our chickens, go for a walk, or make our home beautiful for our guests.


If I'm not trying to keep a wider vision of the world, I'm focusing on the immediate world around me--but always toggling back and forth. I find meaning and wisdom in the wider lens, but in the narrow/micro view, I find peace, grace, sustenance, happiness and laughter. It's where the little acts of kindness live, where Gandalf's "small, everyday deeds" are, where the tender mercies are found, and where our hearts connect to other hearts and souls. It's where hope, faith and love live.

Nature gives succour and
sustenance like nothing else.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all....
~Emily Dickinson, c.1861


Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as
the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be
troubled and do not be afraid.
~John 14:27


They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast,
trusting in the Lord.
~Psalm 112:7


O, money can't buy the delights of the glen,
Nor Poetry sing all its charms:
There's a solace and calm ne'er
described by the pen
When we're folded within Nature's arms! 
~James Rigg, "Nutting Time," 
Wild Flower Lyrics and Other Poems, 1897


I believe that living happily, peacefully, and joyfully in our world today takes a deep maturity and a strong sense of self as we relate to others. It also takes the ability to adjust our stance as though we're on a rocking ship, as events and history unfold around us at an alarmingly fast rate. It takes courage to toggle back and forth from the different perspectives. Courage to really see and face the world as it is, courage to learn the lessons of history, and mostly courage to reach out a hand to someone else so that no one is left behind. I also believe that if there's one thing humans have in spades, it's courage. We are living, breathing, laughing, singing, creating proof of that. As we move deeper into 2017, I'll quote my/our beloved lion Aslan, Courage dear heart.

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;

Thro' all the tumult and the strife

I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

No matter what side you're on of any of 
the issues that are gripping the world right
now, to stay engaged, involved and caring 
can be fatiguing. Self-care becomes even
more important as we care for others.

Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.
~Lorraine Hansberry, 
A Raisin in the Sun


Read something every day, take time to 
breathe, ground into our gleaming, 
blue planet, take in something beautiful. 
and above all, give thanks.

Inside myself is a place where
I live all alone, and that’s where
I renew my springs that never dry up.
~Pearl Buck

Hope is faith holding
out its hand in the dark.
~George Iles

And if all else fails, just look at a picture
of a puppy and know that in the end,
it's all going to be OK. It really is. 

Jack




Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Real Fairy Tale Swans

It doesn't matter if you're born
in a duck yard, so long as you
are hatched from a swan's egg!
~Hans Christian Andersen, 
The Ugly Duckling


Just about a year ago when Stuart, Jack and I were walking alongside the pond in the University Parks, all of a sudden, calmly swimming toward us along the shore, was a swan with her four cygnets. It was later in the evening and not many people were about, so mama swan must have felt confident showing them around their new world. They stayed very close to her, tucked into her side or hugging the pond's edge. We felt in awe seeing them, but also very humbled--neither Stuart or I had ever seen recently-hatched cygnets so close-up. We quickly put Jack on his lead to keep him away from the water's edge and I tiptoed as close to them as I safely could to take one quick photo before we backed away and watched from the pathway.


All the uglinesses of the
world can best be forgotten
in the beauty of nature!
~Mehmet Murat ildan

We didn't see the cygnets often after that first time, since mama swan kept them close to the reeds and away from the open water, but when we did, the sight of them was simply stunning, even as they grew. They were a pearly, velvety grey, with downy-soft feathers. They looked very delicate and fragile so it's no wonder they stay hidden in the early weeks. Each time we saw them we prayed we would still count four of them, but soon we were counting three cygnets, and then by autumn only two. It was heart-breaking to think she'd lost half of her babies, but heartening to see both the mama and papa swan never letting the two remaining cygnets out of their sight; always flanking them as they circled the pond, looking for food. 


Autumn came, and the leaves in the 
forest turned to orange and gold. 
Then, as winter approached, 
the wind caught them as they fell.
~Hans Christian Andersen, 
The Ugly Duckling


And then when winter began there
was just one young swan prince left,
still with his pearly-grey, swans-down,
still flanked by mama and papa, now
even more vigilant and attentive.


With his feathers he will cover you,
under his wings you will find safety.
His truth is your shield and armour.
~Psalm 91:4


They kept young swan prince in the
pond until early winter and then they
guided him the few paces across the
path and over into the Cherwell River,
out into the wider world.


Our cygnet, well into his teenhood
and perhaps looking for a little
independence. (below)


As long as paws and feathers
are at least a few feet apart,
peace reigns.


All winter long the cygnet was trained
in swanly ways. If a person or a
dog approached the three of them,
mama & papa would nudge him
toward the shore and make him react
to the possible threat. It looked much
like parenting a teenager--they poked,
and pushed and prodded week after
week, day after day, until one day he
was swimming on his own.


Before we knew it, the young swan prince
was a cygnet no more and was covered in his
regal white feathers. He went back and forth
between the pond and the river, honing his
survival skills while making the landscape
more beautiful.



His own image; no longer a dark, 
gray bird, ugly and disagreeable
to look at, but a graceful and
beautiful swan.......
~Hans Christian Andersen, 
The Ugly Duckling


He now felt glad at having suffered
sorrow and trouble, because it enabled 
him to enjoy so much better all the
pleasure and happiness around him.....
~Hans Christian Andersen,
The Ugly Duckling


And then he was gone, and we
were back to just mama & papa
swan in the pond.


Now that they weren't so intent
on raising their cygnet, they were
far more sociable, so we were able
to get to know them better. Slowly
they even became used to Jack flitting
back and forth on the pond's edge.
Our arms start from the back
because they were once wings.
~Martha Graham


The minute they see us at the pond now,
one of the swans will swim over for their 
treats. Jack usually sits in the grass
watching and everyone is calm and
friendly--again, as long as there's a bit
of distance between paws and feathers.


When I'm a little slow getting the treats
out, I'll sometimes get a very gentle
nibble on my wellie to speed things up.

If your heart is straight with
God, then every creature will
be to you a mirror of life and
a book of holy doctrine.
~Thomas à Kempis

Jack, wondering when it's his turn.
Because of their grace & perfect whiter
than white feathers, swans have many deeper
meanings throughout different cultures and
beliefs. Not surprisingly, because of the
purity of their white colour, they symbolise
'light' in parts of the world.

In dream symbolism they mean sensitivity,
transformation, or a person's soul or inner
being, especially in the Celtic tradition.

As a water bird, swans are also tied to
emotions and are symbols to help you
connect with your true self, or inner
transformations that help you accept
your outer self, as told in fairy tale
form in Hans Christian Anderson's
The Ugly Duckling.



And then something amazing happened-
at least to me it was........


"All the beings of the world pray,"
said my Grandad ... 
 "Each living thing gives its
life to the beauty of all life, 
 and that gift is its prayer." 
~Douglas Wood, 
Grandad's Prayers of the Earth


......Jack and I just happened to be
walking along the pond one afternoon
while the pair of swans were performing
their swan dance, their mating ritual.
It felt exactly like watching a beautiful
ballet, and since Swan Lake is my
favourite ballet, I was mesmerised.
What makes it even more inspiring to
watch is that swans mate for life.

Love consists of this: 
two solitudes that meet, 
protect and greet each other.
~Rainer Maria Rilke


It is only with the heart that one can 
see clearly, for the most essential 
things are invisible to the eye.
~Hans Christian Andersen, 
The Ugly Duckling

The two swam in perfect unison,
sometimes entwined in one another,
sometimes mirror images of each
other. They repeated patterns of 
each taking turns to dip their bills
into the water and then raise it high,
they circled one another, and then
encircled one another with their 
swan necks forming a heart.
It was heart-achingly beautiful
and otherworldly, like something
from a fairy tale that turns out
to be real.


Swans mate over a period of 2-3 weeks
 and lay their eggs in the nest they've
preparedThen when the final egg
is laid, the incubation begins which
takes about six weeks.


Once the swans had finished their
mating and laying eggs, the nest
deep in the rushes became their
home for the next 6 weeks. A sign
and fencing on the path near the
rushes keeps people and animals from
disturbing the swan and her eggs.


If the sun is out and it's warm
enough, she'll leave her nest to
feed around the rushes, letting 
the sun take over for her for
a little while.



Day after day she sits in a labour of 
love, hatching her cygnets, and
all the while the other swan patrols
around the rushes, especially at first.


So every day on our walk by the pond
we check on the progress and wait
for the downy grey-fluffed cygnets
to appear; wondering how many
there will be, how many will survive,
while hoping that last year's young
swan prince is alive and well some-
where on the river nearby, with 
his own swan princess, repeating
the same ballet of nature and love.

Lord of the far horizons, 
Give us the eyes to see: 
Over the verge of the sundown, 
The beauty that is to be.
~B. Carman

The pond at the University Parks at sunset.
Look closely at the background to the right,
 and you can see the rushes where the nest is.
The blue right behind it is the fencing to keep
people from getting too close and disturbing
the nest.

Update ~ May 18th
Jack and I took a long walk this morning
after being housebound for 32 hours by
torrential (much-needed) rain. It felt so
good to be out and the world in the
University Parks was so washed clean
and green, that a one hour walk turned
into two. We checked in on the cygnets,
and there she still sat, with patient grace.


Papa swan was still patrolling the perimeter
like a pro, and keeping the larger birds away,
keeping the nest safe.


Ever graceful on his patrol around the pond.

If there is magic on the planet, 
it is contained in the water.
~Loren Eisley


When you look at that nature world it becomes an icon, it becomes a holy picture that speaks of the origins of the world. Almost every mythology sees the origins of life coming out of water. And, curiously, that's true. It's amusing that the origin of life out of water is in myths and then again, finally, in science, we find the same thing. It's exactly so.  ~Joseph Campbell, 
The Hero's Journey, p. 10


There is a twofold meaning in every
creature, a literal and a mystical, and
the one is but the ground of the other.
~John Smith

Stay tuned.............