Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tree Hugging in Autumn

God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, "Ah!" 
Joseph Campbell

Fifty years ago my parents bought a piece of property about 3 hours north of Toronto in an area called Muskoka. The closest town is Huntsville and we are not far from Algonquin Park where the Group of Seven painted the images so often used (abused?) on souvenirs. We spent our summers up north in a log inn they restored, two months of long-lighted days with nothing but time to think and explore. The cottage was a large part of what made me who I am today.

As blissful as the summers were, it was the fall that was the true delight. When the fates are kind we get a long string of perfect days the last week of September - a little crisp, high autumnal blue skies, no wind. The leaves are changing and there is no where you can look without seeing colour and light. The colour is good every year, you can count on it, we are known for it. But this year, this year is exceptional.
My husband took these amazing photos over the weekend. Each one is stunning. Glory in the colour and the magic. You'll find even more in an album on my Facebook page. If you want to know the science behind the magic, read the paragraph from a wonderful book about trees written by a British author, Roger Deakin.

The tree senses a particular moment when the balance between day and night has altered. It appears to measure the hours and minutes with some precision, and shorter days trigger the development of a suicidal hormone in each leaf. It creeps down the leaf stem to the joint with the woody twig, where it stimulates the growth of a sphincter of brittle, hard tissue that gradually closes on itself, cutting off the supply of sap. Thus deprived of water, the chlorophyll in the leaf disintegrates. Chlorophyll makes leaves look green by absorbing the blue-and-red light of the sun and masking other pigments. As it breaks down, the leaf reveals the colours of its other underlying chemical constituents. Then it dries still more, the stem joint snaps, and it goes floating off to the woodland floor to settle in pools of yellow, orange or soft chestnut-browns...The leaves of different species contain distinctive pigments: the yellow carotenoids of willow, poplar or hazel; the red anthocyanins of maple or dogwood (the same pigment you encounter on the rosy side of the apple where it faces the sun); or the earthy tannins of oak leaves. The evaporation of the sap concentrates the leaf pigments so that they show up more vividly. the questing roots of one species will take up more molecules of phosphorus, magnesium, sodium or iron than another. The sap of one will be more acidic or alkaline or contain ore tannin, than another. This is the natural chemistry that paints the woodland colours...The process leading to leaf-fall is not affected by Indian summers or unusually cold weather. Photo-periodism is strictly abut light and darkness, and the shortening of days.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin (ISBN 978-0-141-01001-4)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Schwerin and Time

This blog post continues with thoughts and events that arose from our recent Baltic cruise. On our day ashore in Germany we chose to go to Schwerin rather than make the long trip in to Berlin and back. I so want to see Berlin and the museums there but five or six hours just wasn't going to be enough so we settled for Schwerin. Sometimes settling can be the right decision - our day in Schwerin was a delight. A delight and also, like most of our tours, a small torture. Everything moved so fast and all I wanted to do was slow down and really have time to look. We took copious photos and as I am going through and sorting them into a slide show I am able to take a little time and see things in a different way.

On this day need for time to think and absorb was most pressing when we were in Schwerin Cathedral. From the moment I approached the outer door I was falling in love with that church. It had to be a short love affair - we'd been given but a half hour to explore the church and the market square (which holds one of the most delightful, tongue-in-cheek, statues which tells the story of how the town was conquered for Christianity a small portion of which is pictured above). The church (12C)  holds a wealth of history within it. The floor is inlaid with countless tomb markers. Huge brass etchings hang along one wall telling the story of one family of nobles and the workmanship is exquisite! There are gargoyles and yes, a green man!, tucked into every column. Even the inlaid brickwork is full of pattern and colour and life. And best of all, with the sun streaming in the stained glass was rich and vibrant. I just wanted to sit and drink it all in, sit and think, sit and let the record of so much life and loss sink into my soul. And yet, I couldn't, time marched on and I had a bus to catch. At least I have the photos, have time now to study all the details. But the feeling of light and life, oh how I wish I could have drunk it in. I wrote the beginnings of this poem on the bus on the way back to the ship.

Strictly measured time.
Clicking rapidly through
nave to quire
portal to apse
transept? check
stations seen but not observed
fonts and tombs
birth to death
confessional gone but 
still the kneelers come
for weddings and weepings.

On the way out
one person, local,
ignoring the invasion,
reaches for a candle.
It catches,
and being caught flickers 
in the backdraft of the migrating tourists.

The stained glass dances graffiti on the clay
asking me to stay.
But I can not.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rapid Transit

 Just before I get on a plane I have a little ritual. I make a final trip to the washroom and when I am washing my hands I look in the mirror and say goodbye to myself. The person that boards the plane is never the person that returns. All travel changes you if you are doing it right. This last trip was no exception.

Quite on the spur of the moment we headed off on a Baltic cruise at the end of August. People keep asking me how it was and I really don't know how to answer them - there are so many different aspects to the trip that it is hard to know where to start. Actually, I think I am in culture shock. There was no time to read and prepare before I left. Everything was a bit of a surprise. And each day we docked in a different country and we were exposed to a different history, a different culture, new colours, new smells, new art. It was all so fast. I had no time to absorb it all. I've come home with a jumble of images and colours racing around in my head and it will take time to assimilate them into the new me.

Let me give show you what I mean. In two days I saw so many things in St. Petersburg that I could spend the rest of my days letting the images I shot from there dictate my drawing and writing and thinking. The first day I spent eighteen hours in buses, museums, churches, palaces, squares and dining halls. The second day I spent another ten hours doing the same. It was sensory overload. The pre-Soviet royalty in St. Petersburg lived in a world of sensory overload. It explains so much. Here are just a few images to give you an idea of how overwhelmingly exquisite it was.

Conversely the book I chose to read while I was away was one I bought well over a year ago,  a book about slowing down. It is quite telling that I didn't get a chance to read it until last week. And what a great choice it was, the perfect foil for the rapid pace of all the land tours.  The book is called World Enough and Time and is written by Christian McEwan (ISBN 978-0-87233-146-4). What makes it different from all the other books about slowing down is that it is written by someone creative, a writer, for other people who are artists and writers. She examines the lives of creative people and draws out their insights on the need for slow, continuous introspection in the life of an artist. It is a treasure trove of inspirational quotes and thought. It was a delight to read slowly - I held myself to a chapter a day - and I will savour many of the ideas I encountered over the months and years to come just as I will savour the sensory overload of our Baltic trip, slowly, on the many cold days of the winter to come.