Within the Embrace of Entropy and The Arrow of Time

There is a row of spruce trees at the back of the yard. The tallest was struck by lightning. I was two rooms deep into the house and the light that came in was the most incredible thing to see. There was a wash of the coldest white and blue. And though there were no shadows everything was eerily defined. The noise that followed was felt as much as it was heard. The tree still stands but almost four years on it hasn’t healed. The strike left a scar that runs down the length of the trunk to the ground. With every season the crack gets deeper.

I had a lovely thought last week. I was driving in the car and just out of the blue it came to me. It was a wonderful memory – well two sort of but they were connected. The memory was of my youngest nephew, Matthew, when he was small.  We had rented a hockey rink for a birthday party and Matthew was so excited to come and get on the ice. He must have been around 4 maybe…I’m not sure… but I do remember how happy he was. The second part also had to do with an arena. My sister brought her boys to see my stepson play and as he came out of the dressing room he said hello to Matthew. Matthew’s whole face lit up because he’d been acknowledged by this older boy heading out to the ice to play. I honestly don’t think he could have been happier that day. He would have loved to play hockey. I’m sure of it. He never got the chance. He was born with an adorable sideways smile and a progressive neuromuscular disease.

Picture time as a hallway broken up by consecutive doors. Each door represents a unit of time. The doors are sheer enough to look back through but there are layers and layers of them. Each one takes you further away from where you have been and try though you may you can never bridge that space between now and then. No matter how much you may long for the “before”, just thin doors of time away, there is only what comes after. We say things like “I would give anything if I could have just one more day…one more hour” but the truth is one more hour or one more day wouldn’t be enough.

The night that Matthew died always comes back to me in sound bites and still pictures – the phone call – the car ride – standing on the porch as they return from the hospital – my sister opening the car door – her face as she tells me and it’s like that flash of lightning filling everything up with something alien and terrifying as I move in slow motion to take her into my arms. The rest of the night, the weeks, the months, the years, are marked by moments of awful clarity distinct as pale figures caught naked in the stark flickering of a strobe light.

Matthew lived 16 years. The brevity of his life along with much of what he endured and what has come to pass since he left us is beyond difficult to fully grasp. I am grateful for the things that offer a counter balance to the downright unfairness of it all. I need those things; like those days in the arena, or any moment I’m called to mind the good things that were a part of his life and what good things he brought to all of ours.

I like to watch the birds in the garden. I can see them as I gaze out the kitchen window. The blue jays scream and argue. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are a circus of acrobats as they negotiate the expanse of tree trunks. There are different kinds of sparrows, cardinal couples, and flocks of dark-eyed juncos. In the summer there’ll be hummingbirds and orioles. Several times a day the birds will suddenly scatter. I don’t know why. Perhaps there’s a noise, a movement, or a falling shadow that sets them off. Often it’s nothing and they quickly return. Sometimes though, that shadow will be a hunting hawk. Maybe a red tail but more likely a Cooper’s hawk. There will be a flash of darkness and then silence as a few stray feathers float to the ground.

The garden will be silent then, sometimes for hours.  I watch to see if the birds return. And they do but I can never tell if they’re the same ones that were here before.  At dawn and dusk there’s always the call of the mourning doves. A storm might blow in and I’ll watch as a curtain of rain sweeps across the fields before it engulfs the house.

I wonder how long it will be until the spruce tree finally falls.









Music for this post –Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers- Day is Gone 



Summer’s Grief

Persephone lingers in Demeter’s reprieve while the season hangs on the winds of change. The cold hands of Hades wait to claim a bride. The austere sky plays witness to a torment never ending. Pomegranate rubies seed the clouds with tears of a sanguine lament. The evergreen keeps its own council. It will wear no heart upon its sleeve. It is the oak and maple, elm and ash that will harrow, hurt and grieve. The bowered heights blush an agony of wounded crimson and gold. The fury of a sweet season’s ruination screams upon the wind to wail and moan and rend autumnal robes leaving only outstretched arms stick gaunt and naked against the darkening sky.


…how do you like them apples?

     There is an old apple tree that resides in the back eastern quadrant of my yard. It has been many years since it’s seen any type of attention and the tree has grown wild and out of control. As with most unpruned trees the majority of the crop is at the top, far out of reach. The winds of September have already shaken a sizeable amount of apples out and the lawn is strewn with the windfall. The delicate scent of apple blooms sweetly in the air as the crop reddens and then fades into the soil. The aroma is accompanied by the low hum of wasps and flies as they treat themselves to the banquet laid out in the grass.

     Apples are one of the oldest known cultivated crops. Apples and the process of cultivating them have changed over the centuries but the basics are still the same. The biggest changes have come in order to maintain specific varieties of apples like Macintoshes, Granny Smiths and Pippins. A line of logic indicates that if you plant a seed, feed and water the plant with a little time and a little pruning the tree will bear fruit. That is true but not true enough for the commercial apple industry.

     As a member of the rose family apples must be pollinated in order to bear fruit. That’s where insects like bees come into the picture. As they move from plant to plant and tree to tree they gather pollen up and leave a little behind. There in lies the trouble. If that small bit of pollen left behind comes from somewhere other than the exact kind of tree it ends up in, it can alter the fruit of the tree. The apple is still a Pippin or a Macintosh but the seed may not be true. Farmers have used this method in the past to breed healthier, hardier breeds of apples but it’s not a quality that lends itself to producing the identical offspring needed for mass production. As a result grafting has become a popular choice for maintaining a consistent genetic line.

     A cutting is taken from an existing tree and grafted onto a sapling. That cutting is then nurtured into a fully productive tree that produces the exact fruit found on the parent tree. The apple industry has chosen to breed apples that look nice and travel well. This is a practice that has reduced the gene pool while creating a safe but bland middle ground in the interest of ease and economics. Little thought has been given to taste, which really is the essence of an apple. Many varieties of apples have been lost, victims of that search for the average safe product. It’s been left to private gardeners to try and preserve both variety and the rich history of the old and/or diverse breeds. Just such a breed may be found in the gnarled tree that rests in the shadows of the hundred year old pines that edge my yard.

     I can’t identify the variety of apple. The fruit is misshapen, rustic and marked by insects but the skin is firm and breaks sharply when breached. The flesh, with just a tinge of gold, has a taste that I’ve never experienced before. There’s a pleasant bite to the sweetness that floods the mouth and fills the senses. If you saw these apples in the store you might pass them by attracted instead to the uniform qualities of a mass-produced product.

     Most people do get caught up in appearances and forget to look at what’s underneath, the essence so to speak.  Diversity and individualism is not a quality encouraged or nurtured in our society. Things that are different are shunned or even feared, being held in little to no regard. The apple in my backyard is not picture perfect but it is still an apple and a delicious one at that. Unfortunately it doesn’t matter that its sun-warmed skin holds a treasure few will ever experience. It doesn’t matter that the aroma that lingers in the air and kisses my skin is a divine breath unimaginable. It only matters that it isn’t pretty and it doesn’t look like its distant cousins.

     As a society, we are bombarded by a model of how we should look and act. There is an image and lifestyle of conformity that is constantly portrayed as the penultimate ideal. Our children are institutionalized by an overloaded educational system where creativity or initiative is discouraged in the interest of ease and economics. We are all told that it is important to look good, fit in and toe the line. As a result diversity seems to be rapidly giving way to a society of mass-produced individuals who “look nice and travel well”. Where are our private gardeners? Where are those who are willing to look past the bumps and holes and rust to see the value of originality and distinction? Where are the growers who are willing to put economics and ease aside to honour both tradition and diversity?      

     In my garden there is a tree that grows apples unlike any others I’ve ever seen. The best are at the top of the tree and procuring them is difficult and just a little dangerous. They aren’t clean or pretty and none much resemble their neighbours on the branch. But if you take a risk and make the effort to have one, I promise, you will not be disappointed.  

Gaia’s Covenant

Sun showers mist bright rainbows cross the heavens. Smell the dark loam, rich and blanketed in a century of cast off needles. Hoary giants stand sentry. Broad spans encrusted with moss send imploring hands to worry the sky. Anchoring roots crawl across the earth grasping deeply lest ancient Titans are tempted to scale the cloud enshrouded foothills to seek the forbidden heights. Peers of my ancestors, the Fates have waited long to cut your thread.

Quiet darkness lies beneath. There is no today or tomorrow here, only this timeless silent spell. A lattice of branches, an interlocking maze that holds the storm now past, grudgingly bares secret slivers of a blue rain swept expanse.

Small beneath the sheltering boughs, the sweet sting of paths secret and past imbues the senses. Face upturned to watch the rush of tears that falls into outstretched arms.