Category Archives: nature
This past weekend the streets of downtown Ottawa, Canada overflowed with hundreds of thousands of people thronging to see La Machine.
The “travelling urban theatre” made its North America debut in my hometown as part of our ongoing Canada 150 celebrations. A gigantic mechanical dragon and spider wandered through the streets and public parks for a show entitled “The Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, With Stolen Wings.” The creatures lived, breathed (sort of) snorted and farted (really), and walked among the people of Ottawa 24 hours a day for four days as they pursued their quests. My social media feeds and the Ottawa news channels were full of pictures and videos of these feats of engineering at play in our city. The dragon and the spider were a huge hit.
As cool as that all sounded, as unique and interesting as it seemed, I could not summon the interest in going to see it for myself.
Cottages called to me. I spent the weekend in peaceful surroundings. Sun, water, relaxation. I couldn’t bear the thought of those crowds.
Last week, before the dragon and the spider descended on my city and before the hundreds of thousands of people flocked to see them, I went for a walk downtown. At the heart of Ottawa, a few hundred feet from Parliament Hill, I encountered these baby bunnies. They were small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. By myself I spent some quiet moments with the bunnies.
For me, quiet moments with those bunnies beat noisy dragon time.
In honour of National Aboriginal Day in Canada on Wednesday, June 21, I am sharing the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers. This traditional story, given to our First Nations early in their history, applies to all people in all times.
The Creator gave seven Grandfathers, who were very powerful spirits, the responsibility to watch over the people. The Grandfathers saw that people were living a hard life. They sent a helper out to spend time amongst the people and find a person who could be taught how to live in harmony with Creation.
Their helper went to the four directions to find a person worthy enough to bring to the Grandfathers. He came across a child, and he tutored the child in the “Good Way of Life.” Each of the Seven Grandfathers gave to the child a principle.
Wisdom: To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom.
Wisdom is given by the Creator to be used for the good of the people. In the Anishinaabe language, this word expresses not only “wisdom,” but also means “prudence,” or “intelligence” or “knowledge.”
Love: To know Love is to know Peace.
Love must be unconditional. When people are weak they need love the most. This form of love is mutual .
Respect: To honor all creation is to have Respect.
All of creation should be treated with respect. You must give respect if you wish to be respected.
Bravery: Bravery is to face the foe with integrity.
This means “state of having a fearless heart.” To do what is right even when the consequences are unpleasant.
Honesty: Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave.
Always be honest in word and action. Be honest first with yourself, and you will more easily be able to be honest with others.
Humility: Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation.
This can also mean “compassion.” You are equal to others, but you are not better.
Truth: Truth is to know all of these things.
Speak the truth. Do not deceive yourself or others.
A few weeks ago I began a blog post entitled “Veering toward the mud.” It was a whimsical piece about a mother with two toddler children I passed on my walk home from the bus stop. All three played with joyful abandon in a deep puddle. Her refreshing lack of concern about how dirty and wet the children became with each passing moment struck me as so rare in these times of overprotective, germ-fearing parenting. I imagined her returning home after to wring out wet socks and turn up their rubber boots to let the water run out. I thought about how, as adults, we veer away from puddles but every child veers toward the mud. At what point, I wondered, do we lose that childlike enjoyment of getting wet and dirty?
I didn’t finish the piece because busy life intervened. I thought, “I’ll get back to it. I hope I manage to do that before our spring mud clears up.”
I needn’t have worried, because then came the flood.
All nature’s forces combined to create flood conditions in the Ottawa River valley and surrounding area that haven’t been seen in the living memories of inhabitants. People didn’t need to veer toward mud and water in the Ottawa-Gatineau area; it veered right into their living rooms.
I took the picture below on Saturday at a local park. This area is usually grass and park benches. The bird in the distance that looks like it’s sitting on a log? That bird is perched on the back of a park bench.
This is a picture of the same area on Sunday. The park bench where the bird sat is now submerged.
How could I write about playing in water when people a few kilometres from me had to wade through waist-deep water to get to their homes, if they could get to them at all?
There is no joy in that. There is no joy in this mud-ville.
The only solace to be found comes in the goodwill of people. Neighbours who might have only nodded in passing before are now bonding as they work together to fight back the tide. Countless volunteers are spending hours hoisting sandbags for people they don’t even know. The Red Cross, as always, first on the scene to give comfort, compassion and the bare necessities for survival—a ledge for people to cling to by their fingernails in their time of crisis.
The only solace comes from community, in mud and flood.
In honour of International Women’s Day, I shall describe the visitor who came to us during our recent Florida vacation as female. Apparently male and female egrets appear identical—a fitting attribute for the day.
The visitor, when she arrived, alighted 20 feet away from us. A comfortable distance. Non-threatening. We appreciated the special gift of her presence and enjoyed witnessing it from afar, like she was a gift intended for someone else.
Then she lifted lightly into the air, flew closer and set down on the peaked roof right in front of us. A nervous distance. Mildly alarming. Verging on creepy. We marveled at the proximity, and fought the desire to shrink away to a safer distance.
We enjoyed the extraordinary presence. We didn’t want to run away from the awesomeness. But a little corner of our souls experienced discomfort at the closeness of a being that shouldn’t be so close.
Just hours before we had kayaked in the mangroves swamps of Caladesi Island, Florida, and we had paddled silently by an egret in his wild habitat He had looked at us from a nervous distance like we were mildly alarming. Verging on creepy.
This visiting egret turned the situation on its head.
I guessed that this bird visited us because someone somewhere had broken the invisible rule of not feeding wildlife. The two worlds—the wild and the domestic—are meant to brush up against each other but remain separate. Respected as “other.” We can appreciate. We can witness. But we should maintain the separation as much as possible. Wildlife must stay wild.
But the separation had been breached, so there was the visitor right in front of me. Staring me right in the eye.
The visitor lingered, so we had plenty of time to marvel at the purpose-built beak, the graceful neck, the delicate white feathers waving in the breeze. The setting sun created the silhouette of an angel, lent a divine aspect to this earthly creature.
A car roared into the parking lot below, obnoxious music blaring out of its speakers. Traffic whooshed on the highway nearby. Unwelcome and mundane sounds barging into the extraordinary moment.
The world of the unwelcome and mundane brushing up against the world of the divine.
Inevitably, the sun set, the air cooled and we shivered in the cool evening. We moved on, because such moments are not meant to last forever. Come the time, we move on, savouring the memory and living with the unwelcome and mundane.
I’m not a “bucket list” person, but I would say that it would make me happy to see this someday:
Organ pipes carved into stone steps on the shore of the Adriatic Sea that respond to the air pushed in by waves that lap against the steps. Shades of South American wood pipes and flute.
A little good news about nature and humanity on this Friday the 13th.
A few years ago I ordered my first pair of progressive lenses. Before progressives I wore contact lenses and used reading glasses for closer work.
I drove my family crazy the first week with those progressive lenses. “I don’t know about my new glasses,” I muttered, over and over. It seemed I had to move my head too much. It seemed the reading portion of the lenses was too narrow. I fretted and worried that I had wasted a lot of money on glasses that weren’t going to work for me.
And then one day, my brain clicked. My brain figured out how to work with those glasses, and it seemed to do it instantly. One minute everything felt all wrong, and the next I was saying, “These glasses are GREAT! No matter where I look, I can see!”
I remembered that experience when I watched this video. It’s a reminder to me that sometimes we have to keep working at something that feels wrong or difficult so that we can give our brains time to figure it out.