Monday, May 2, 2016

small reprieves of coffee and birdsong

I Am Learning to Abandon the World

by Linda Pastan

I am learning to abandon the world
before it can abandon me.
Already I have given up the moon
and snow, closing my shades
against the claims of white.
And the world has taken
my father, my friends.
I have given up melodic lines of hills,
moving to a flat, tuneless landscape.
And every night I give my body up
limb by limb, working upwards
across bone, towards the heart.
But morning comes with small
reprieves of coffee and birdsong.
A tree outside the window
which was simply shadow moments ago
takes back its branches twig
by leafy twig.
And as I take my body back
the sun lays its warm muzzle on my lap
as if to make amends.


Morning. Morning comes, always that small reprieve. The birds sing, trees reveal themselves once again. And oh, the sun's warm muzzle.....what a lovely image. 

I think Pastan's poem is interesting to read alongside this next one by the Swedish poet, Edith Sodergran....where she talks about the 'perfume of our struggles' and about seeking joy, about not giving up on happiness and peace. The stars are adamant, she says, and so we ought to be, too. 

A Life

by Edith Sodergran

That the stars are adamant
everyone understands—
but I won’t give up seeking joy on each blue wave
or peace below every gray stone.
If happiness never comes, what is a life?
A lily withers in the sand
and if its nature has failed? The tide
washes the beach at night.
What is the fly looking for on the spider’s web?
What does a dayfly make of its hours?
(Two wings creased over a hollow body.)

Black will never turn to white—
yet the perfume of our struggle lingers
as each morning fresh flowers
spring up from hell.

The day will come
when the earth is emptied, the skies collapse
and all goes still—
when nothing remains but the dayfly
folded in a leaf.
But no one knows it.

- translated from the Swedish by Averill Curdy


Last week there was snow one morning that quickly melted, and just the smallest drizzle of rain.

Last week there was abundance of birdsong. 

Each day you didn't enjoy wasn't yours:
You just got through it. Whatever you live
     Without enjoying, you don't live.
You don't have to love or drink or smile.
The sun's reflection in a puddle o water
     Is enough, if it pleases you. 
Happy those who, placing their delight
In slight things, are never deprived
     Of each day's natural fortune!

- Ricardo Reis (Heteronym of Fernando Pessoa)

All winter I awoke early and poured myself some coffee, let the dog outside, then retired to my study and turned my computer on. Then I sat in a chair across from it, reading and writing notes, or in my diary. Eventually, the screensaver kicks in and cycles through photos I've taken. In the middle of winter, I'd see my photos from two summers ago, from last spring, from a trip taken long ago. Photos that I hadn't thought were very good seemed beautiful and wonderful. And I was glad I'd taken them. 

There are times when I wish for different subject matter. And I tell myself, you should get out more, go more places, stretch out, go further afield. But I do what I can, in the time allotted. And what I usually have time for is the daily walk with the dog. And so my radius is small. Every year at this time, blossoms. Same trees, but different blossoms. 

What have I learned from taking photographs all these many years, in my small sphere, my small radius? I suppose one thing is that if you stay with a subject, just a little longer, you discover new things. I mean this in two ways: in the moment - it's often the last shot, when you thought you'd exhausted the subject, the shot taken from that odd vantage point, or from the very obvious one, that turns out best, or holds the attention most firmly. That the longer you breathe in the subject, the more interesting things happen to one's seeing. Whatever the result, however the photograph turns out, you yourself are changed by this sort of breathing with a subject. 

And then, when one stays with a subject over time, say, a tree, or a metal bird, or a particular neighborhood, that subject teaches you all sorts of things. A lot of what you learn can't be said, and isn't immediately evident, but it's there in your creative work. 

Another thing one learns when photographing what's available over a number of years is that what at one point seems rather mundane, rather tired, will seem at a later point or from a different season to be quite lovely and at times even breathtaking. So this is a lesson for every type of creative work. That it's difficult to see what we make in the present time and we need to trust the process, lean on that, have faith. 

How sad not to know how to blossom!

- Fernando Pessoa

For many years at this time, I've posted the following poem. I continue to love it. And I hope you don't mind revisiting it. 

Yes, Of Course it Hurts

by Karin Boye

Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking.
Why else would the springtime falter?
Why would all our ardent longing
bind itself in frozen, bitter pallor?
After all, the bud was cover all the winter.
What new thing is it that bursts and wears?
Yes, of course it hurts when buds are breaking,
hurts for that which grows
and that which bars.

Yes, it is hard when drops are falling.
Trembling with fear, and heavy hanging,
cleaving to the twig, and swelling, sliding –
weight draws them down, though they go on clinging.
Hard to be uncertain, afraid and divided,
hard to feel the depths attract and call,
yet sit fast and merely tremble –
hard to want to stay
and want to fall.

Then, when things are worst and nothing helps
the tree’s buds break as in rejoicing,
then, when no fear holds back any longer,
down in glitter go the twig’s drops plunging,
forget that they were frightened by the new,
forget their fear before the flight unfurled –
feel for a second their greatest safety,
rest in that trust
that creates the world.


It seems we are early this year with blossoms, with leaves, with spring. The field is turning green, slowly. Last year's abandoned hay bale holds its ground though.

The birds are so busy, singing, nesting, striking poses.

And everywhere that bright hue of freshly unfurled leaves. The colour of becoming.

And it's been a while since I posted a photo of 'my' tree. 

This same day, I was able to catch some decent forest bokeh. Which always makes me happy.

So, to wind up.

Did you happen to see the CV of Failures that's been going around on social media? Kind of a delight. (Mine would be quite long....) It got me thinking about all those things we edit out when we talk about ourselves, on Facebook, and even here on this blog. Yep, true that. Like how somewhere between one of these photos and another I took my eye off my dog and another dog he was racing around with and how they crashed into me so hard I caught a fair bit of air before smashing down flat on my back, hand scraped in the gravel. Stared at the sky for some time before the other dog's owner asked me if I was okay. (Yes, I am, sore back though still....and walking a bit creakily). And also, I have edited out the mother-worry stomachache I've had for a week and a half. What else....The ongoing subdued worry I have regarding the possible outcome of R's show next Saturday. I've edited out various rejections and possible slights. I've edited out exhaustion, insomnia, my messy house, a huge pile of dog hair, random points of artistic angst.

What I won't edit out is a bit of good and happy news, though. Because we all know how rare and fleeting these little moments of success are, too. Rumi and the Red Handbag is an Alberta Readers' Choice Award Finalist! Which means: it will soon be voting time - July 4th is the start date. Yes, I'm going to have to be a bit shameless about asking people to vote but in all honesty right now, I'm just pleased to have made it this far and in such good company. And I'm going to enjoy it for what it is. I'd be foolish not to.

"Each day you didn't enjoy wasn't yours"

And on that note, I bid you a calm week ahead, some bright green to enter your view, and the persistence and faith to pursue beauty in whatever you make.

- Shawna


  1. I love the Linda Pastan poem. Your photographs remind me I must get outside and see how spring is unfolding here... I've been so stuck in work that I forget the world is becoming a wonder of green!

    1. Thanks, Thia. The world is so green here, so early! It's lovely though! Hope you find some time to get out into it.

  2. lovely photos, poems, thoughts... the forest bokeh must be enormously satisfying.
    we have had several late winter snow storms in Colorado and after another dismal weekend of cold, wind, and wet i realized while sitting outside recharging my solar self in today's sunshine that while the tulips, daffodils, and lilacs have been blooming the trees have kept their leaves tightly enclosed. i had been completely ignoring their message in my yearning for warm weather and sunshine. it's interesting what we fail to notice, or choose not to notice.
    Rumi and the Red Handbag is a wonderful book. I completely enjoyed getting to know the characters. i.s. found something in each day, whether a quote, a pondering, or some other slight thing in which to delight, to make each day her own. claiming our days is so important.
    thank you for another thoughtful post!

    1. Thank you! I love that line about recharging your solar self. So true.

  3. As always, much to think about and savour. I'm still mulling over what you said in your previous post about questions and whether they come from a generous place. I am puzzled by "forest bokeh, though." What is it?

    1. Thanks, Lesley. So 'bokeh' is an odd word to describe that bubbly light effect in the background. Kind of a neat word.

  4. Lovely photos...and the they captivate me every spring. My momentary muse. And I appreciate your "unedited" bits. Gives me solace. Congrats being a finalist. Rumi and The Red Handbag have my vote in more ways than one!

    1. Glad you liked the unedited bits....I think they're important to include from time to time, for sure. Always there between the moments of beauty...ahh, real life, haha.


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