Fail Big

What if I fall? baby bird asked. We will always catch you, said his mama and papa.

Fail Big.

Those were the words of Denzel Washington in his commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011.

Fail Big.

Take chances.

Don’t be afraid to fall. Don’t be afraid to go outside the box.

What he didn’t mention, was, if you’re going to go for it, if you’re going to take risks, make sure you have a parachute, or at least strong arms to catch you.

Who will be there to catch you?

I was thinking about that this morning after a friend asked me to remind them of the title of a book I’d quoted from several months ago as we were chatting about life and taking risks and getting so stuck in the groove you don’t realize it’s actually your comfort zone.

The book is, Warriors of the Heart by Daanan Perry.

I read it in the 80s and one analogy, in particular, has always stuck with me. Perry suggested that often in life, we feel like we’re on a trapeze, swinging back and forth. We get comfortable with the to and fro, finding the swing comforting. There’s no friction against our body and the air and forget, friction creates energy.

One day, we’re just swinging merrily along when suddenly, a new trapeze comes flying towards us.

What’s that? we wonder.

When we realize it’s a shiny, brand new trapeze…We have a choice.

Hang onto our comfortable ride, or, let go and reach for the new vision coming our way.

New opportunities are full of many possibilities. But… where we’re at is so easy and comfortable, why disturb the status quo?

It is in the letting go, Perry writes, that growth happens. In that moment of hanging suspended mid-flight, held up by nothing more than invisible threads of gravity, we experience true freedom.

You could fall. You could fly…

The wind is blowin’ fierce today.

The baby finches are safe in their nest. The mama and papa keep watch.

Soon, the young ones will fly free.

It’s a risk they must take to know the beauty of flight.

It’s a risk they will take because their mama and papa will be there to catch them.

Stolen!

I’m on a zoom call when I hear the noise. Screaming and squawaking like someone, something is in pain.

My heart pounding, I pull off my headset and race upstairs from my office. When I get to the front door, I am too late. The crow has already raided the nest.

My chickies are gone.

Mama robin is confused. She keeps returning to the nest, food in beak. She stand on the edge looking in. Flies off. Returns.

Again and again.

I wish I spoke Robin. If I did I would go out and tell her what has happened. Tell her that this safe haven is no longer safe. That nature has taken its course. A predator has destroyed her hopes and dreams.

Her returning, again and again, is heartbreaking.

Finally, after several flights back and forth, she leaves and does not return.

The nest still rests on the wreath at our front door. Evidence of her industrious build, and the crow’s insurgence.

I know I need to clean it all up. I know I need to sweep away the debris. Clear the wreath of its presence.

Later, I tell myself.

For now, I continue to walk past the front door and glance up through the half moon transom window as if expecting to see her sitting on the rim of the nest, a tiny worm dangling from her beak, the eager mouths of her young open, waiting for it to fall.

Someone said, “Well, that’s nature. Were you upset when she fed a tiny worm to her babies?”

No. But, I’ve never bonded with a worm. I’ve never followed its conception journey.

This mother arrived at our front door while I was away in mid May. She spent a week crafting her nest, two weeks sitting on her eggs and up until yesterday, 10 days tending to her young.

And, while I knew they would eventually fly away and be gone, I felt like I was part of nature’s beauty unfolding. I was part of their journey.

We are using our front door again.

This morning, Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I left the house through it for our early morning walk.

When we returned, I stood on the front steps for a moment, closed my eyes and bid farewell to my avian companions.

I know it is nature. But sometimes the nature of this world to destroy, the nature of predators to swoop in and tear apart families, to blow up hopes and dreams of the young, sometimes, it makes me cry.

I sit silently and watch the river flow. Fast and deep. Spring run-off continues. The sky above is grey. The trees are in full bloom, green leaves dancing in the morning breeze. A squirrel scampers along the top of the fence. Birdsong fills the air.

The Boston Fern on our deck turns gently in the breeze. I spy a baby finches head peeking out from its nest within the fern.

And as I type, the papa finch lands on the railing of the deck outside my window.

I watch him. He tilts his head back and a gentle song rises out. It is a beautiful reminder of what is true, no matter the times, no matter the circumstances.

All of nature is a miracle.

All of it. Darkness and light. Yin and yang. Predators and prey.

We are all born miracles of life.

Sometimes, we lose our way.

The miracle is, most of us don’t.

Namaste.

The Joy of Arting

I have been working on a ‘top secret’ project as Beaumont calls it.

I laugh at myself when I type that phrase “as Beaumont calls it”. Fact is, Beaumont doesn’t actually speak so he can’t call it anything. All he knows is that I have been back in my studio again.

And that’s a good thing.

I forget when I take long periods away from ‘arting’ how restorative, healing and calming it is to spend time immersed in the creative flow. How fulfilling it is to play with colour and texture, mediums and papers. To let my mind disassociate from the everyday to become embraced by the magical

I can’t write about the project… it wouldn’t be top secret if I did (and my daughters tell me I can’t keep a secret. Ha! Can too!) 🙂

What I can write about is the pure joy of losing track of time and space to become one with the moment, fully embodied in the wonder of now.

What I can tell you about is how when I begin each page of a new art journal, I don’t have a clear vision of the outcome. I simply have a vision of the ‘feelings’ I want it to evoke. The emotions I want to capture, the sense of there being room to breathe freely in this busy, chaotic world I want to create.

Every page is an emotional response to the moment, and on every page, I lay down not just paint, but those very emotions I want to evoke, examine, escape, embrace… show and know

Emotions that sometimes have no words. No space to breathe. No space to be simply because their ability to hide is greater than my ability to know them clearly — and so, I paint them out in an effort to set them free. Or at least, set myself free.

And that is what always happens.

In painting them out, I set myself free to be the light I want to see in a spacious, beautiful, calm and loving world.

Arting. It’s a gift that keeps creating the more of what I want in my world. Love. Joy and Beauty.

Namaste.

Dizzy as a Finch in a Fern.

Every morning, while mother robin is out scouring for food, I sneak out to take a photo of the babies in the nest she built in the wreath on our front door. They’re a week old now and when I place my camera above the nest, the babies’ little beaks open up as they plead for food. They are growing fast and sometime in the next eight days or so, will fly the nest!

Baby robins – 5 days old

In other, magical turns of nature, we discovered another nest in the Boston fern hanging on our deck!

I know. Two nests in one spring. How miraculous!

Finch in fern nest

This one was built by a pair of finches. Tucked within the ferns branches, I have now stopped watering it for fear I’ll drown the babies! It’s hard to see… but it’s there, full of babies the mother is protecting.

We’re amazed they chose such a dizzying place for their nest. The wind constantly moves the fern around and around. Hence, the title of this post, “Dizzy as a finch in a fern.”

C.C. and I are both enchanted with our avian guests… though, it would be nice to be able to use our front door again!

One day soon.

In the meantime, we treasure these magical moments of nature unfolding in all its beauty and wonder at our front door.

And… because Beau is inclined to get his nose out of joint if I share too many photos of winged treasures… here’s a video of him chasing the ball at the park yesterday! 🙂

Everyday Magic

Day 1 – Sunday

They arrived, naked and vulnerable, sometime between Saturday mid-day and evening.

Three baby robbins tucked into the nest woven into the wreath at our front door.

Mama and Papa attentively sit and/or feed their tiny fledglings, protecting them from the elements and marauding magpies.

Day 2 – I’m hungry!

I watch through the slightly open slats of the kitchen window, measuring the babies’ progress by the lengthening moments of time the mama spends away from the nest. When I see her leave, I race to the front door, slowly, carefully opening it to grab a photo. Sometimes, I’m not quick enough and the mama catches me mid-action. She squawks and flaps her wings, changing direction mid-flight as I hastily retreat and slowly, carefully close the front door. Within moments she returns.

I can almost feel her breath of relief. Her babies are safe. I didn’t disturb them.

Yesterday, their third day in this world outside the protection of their egg, I took a photo. Their feathers are starting to appear. Their beaks to become more defined. They are starting to untangle from one another.

It is mystery, magic, miracle at our front door.

She has chosen her nesting spot well. Tucked into the portico of our front porch, the winds do not disturb her, the rain does not intrude, and the magpies… they have to dive and tuck to access the nest. Before they can do that, mama and papa are on scene, and the crazy woman, aka me, on the other side of the glass has time to race to the window, hollering and flapping her arms to chase the magpie away.

The storm has abated, somewhat, though the winds still howl and rain falls, not as heavily and consistently. The river is higher today, the highest we’ve seen it since moving into this home 4 years ago. It’s still a long way from our back fence and the storm is predicted to pass today with the water cresting later this afternoon.

I am grateful.

Day 3 – too soon to fly

On our front door three baby robbins grow stronger every day.

On the pedestrian bridge I look at from where I sit at my desk typing, workers have gathered again to continue resurfacing the bridge deck. They’re doing their yoga this morning. Their morning ritual.

It pleases me to see them stretching and bending before beginning their work.

They were absent yesterday. It wasn’t safe to crawl over and under the bridge deck. I’m not sure I’d want to do it today but there they are, clad in rain gear, readying themselves for the day’s labour.

High above, the sky is lighter, less angry and swollen with pregnant clouds desperately trying to rid themselves of nature’s wet bounty.

The trees still dance in the wind. A small, leaf-burdened twig is ripped from a limb and strikes the deck.

I am here, calls out Mother Nature.

I see you, I reply.

We are one.

How it all began

Three eggs at our front door

Riverwatch

There’s no stopping the rain. It comes down in sheets. Eases off and returns to its deluge form again.

It’s going to go on like this for another day, the weather forecasters foretell.

And I watch the river like a hawk.

It is my ‘June’ thing. Riverwatch.

June is the rainy month in Calgary. If the river is going to flood, it will most likely do so now.

And I keep watch.

Prepare my ‘gotta go package’. Important papers. Suitcase. Treasures.

The likelihood of needing it is low. In the great flood of 2013, the river came to our back fence. No higher.

But…

Who knows with Mother Nature? Though the forecasters do foretell that these rains are still significantly less than the rains of the great flood, I still keep watch.

I let that knowledge comfort me. Ease my mind.

Living on the river is a gift or perhaps I should call it a privilege. Because it is.

We get to watch the river coursing through Mother Nature’s unfolding seasons from fast-flowing spring to sultry summer to Autumn’s gunmetal greys and winter’s glistening ice blanket.

We are party to buds bursting forth into a green curtain of beauty playing peek-a-boo with the view beyond their greenery to falling away to reveal the river flowing and freezing up and breaking up and flowing once again.

It is a privilege to live on the river.

And, just as darkness contains light and love contains anger, with that privilege comes the knowledge that what is cherished most also contains the potential to become something less desired.

As in all things, vigilance, standing in awareness, being present within all that is present, contains opportunities for miracles to unfold, love to rise and hearts to beat wild and free.

Not allowing the possible less desired to deter us from living here requires an acceptance of all that is present. The beauty, the constant flow of water, the sense of being immersed in Mother Nature through every season while being part of a vibrant and bustling city is divinely inspiring and invigorating.

And so, I watch the river.

She’s a wild one today.

She’ll be wild for another couple of days, the weather forecasters foretell.

Guess it’s a good thing I like living on the wild side!

Coming Back To The Page

A Cosmic Event – acrylic on canvas – 40 x 46″

I can feel them. The critter’s claws scratching at the back of my mind, hissing at me to STOP! STOP what you’re doing and return to safety.

I sigh. I want to give into his sinister voice but know it’s not the Truth. Safety lives in doing the things that soothe me, nurture me, and create peace of mind and inner balance.

The critter has a different opinion.

“Those things you do that you think are good for you? They’re not! They expose you. Leave you vulnerable. Leave you open to being seen. And it’s best to hide. No one can hurt you that way.”

And I smile.

The critter and I are old… companions. I’ve walked with his sibilant hissing in my mind most of my life.

Most days, I use my tools to quieten, soothe, and reassure him that what I’m doing isn’t unsafe. It’s healthy.

And then, in moments of weakness, in those times when the road is rough and unsteady, he likes to find purchase in the silty muds of confusion and invade my calm thinking. It’s in those times I need to be most aware.

Alas, it is in those times I am sometimes my most unaware as I deal with whatever life has put in front of me.

Like life since my beloved’s first bout of pneumonia in January. It was followed by fractured ribs and most recently, another bout of pneumonia. Along with my daughter’s miscarriage, my dear friend Andrew passing, a war in Ukraine, more school shootings and a busy work-life…

Well, let’s just say I’ve been heeding the critter without even realizing I was heeding the critter.

Like this morning when I sat at my computer, opened it up and pulled up my blog. ‘Time to get back to my healthy routine of blogging every morning,’ I told myself.

“STOP!” hissed the critter, his superfine danger antennae fluttering and springing out of control. “You don’t want to do that! You don’t have the energy and you definitely don’t have the time. Why don’t you go back to bed?”

Ummm… well… I’m fully dressed. Latte steaming beside me. Rain drizzling down outside. River flowing fast. Beaumont the Sheepadoodle lying on the floor under my desk looking out the window. ‘It’s time I got back to my daily blogging. I miss it,’ I calmly reply.

“No you don’t!” hisses the critter some more. “It’s a habit you need to break.”

That one got me. A habit I need to break? Why?

Because it takes time and you’re tired and you need to sleep more and… The critter’s list of reasons drones on and on.

I breathe.

Deep.

I pause. Close my eyes. Let my body relax.

I hear you Critter. I see you. I know you think you’re telling me truth. I know you feel you need to protect me. I honour your presence. I also honour my need to be present every day to LIFE.

And writing here every morning is part of my life. Has been since 2007. It has strengthened me, supported me, and encouraged me to keep writing. Heck, it’s even improved my writing by writing every day. Writing every morning is good for my body, mind, spirit and heart. So, while I appreciate your concerns, I know in my heart what I need to do.

And so I do.

Put the critter back to bed and come back to the page.

Namaste

About the Painting

Something else I did this weekend was…. clean up my studio. It was a mess. Like. I mean. A mess.

About the only time I’d been in it for the past few months was to make name tags for dinner guests.

I didn’t clean up after each session.

It was depressing me.

This weekend. I took action.

And then, I moved a table outside and painted one sunny afternoon. It was… reviving.

National Indigenous History Month

In Canada, National Indigenous History Month reminds each of us of our responsibility, individually and collectively, to create change, to build better, to open our hearts and minds so that Indigenous Peoples know their stories are heard, their history not forgotten and their cries for justice, equality and belonging are heeded.

Last year, the news of 215 remains found at the former Kamloops Residential School on the lands of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, rocked the nation. 

Like so many, I grappled with how to make sense of it all. I struggled to find ways to not only understand, but to figure out my role in reconciliation.

We all have a role to play in reconciliation. For me, it’s about learning more without letting the burden of all that was done to destroy the lives, culture, beliefs and rights of Indigenous Peoples, and all that is wrong today, draw me back into denial. It’s about creating space in my heart and mind for truth to illuminate my desire to ‘not know’ so that I can fearlessly see into the darkness of what was done to Indigenous peoples that created my privilege today. And in that seeing, take action to break down stigma, speak out against discrimination and racism and create better for everyone.

As part of my journey, I wrote this poem after hearing the news of 215 remains found at Tk’emlups te Secwepemc. I share it again this year to remind me there is still much to be done and much I can do.

Did They Search For The Children?
by Louise Gallagher

When they discovered
they were gone,
when they realized
their bed was empty
did they search
for the children?

Did they send out a call
for volunteers
to come
band together
with the police and school administrators
and community members
and the parents whose tears 
could not stop falling
as they searched 
desperately
the long tall grasses
that surrounded the school
in a frantic attempt
to find their child
gone missing in the night.

Did they search
or did they already know
it was too late
the child was gone
forever
buried
beneath the black
earth covering
their tiny, fragile body
still
forever more.

And when the mother came
knocking, knocking, knocking
at the door
her body awash in a river of pain
did they bring her inside
and wrap their arms around her
and tell her how,
how this had happened
what had gone wrong
how sorry and ashamed and horrified
they were that her child
was lost
and that they too
would never stop
searching 
for answers
never stop searching 
for her child
forever more.

Or did they slam the door
laughing at her dirty Indian face
leaving her to wander
inconsolably
in the rain and the sleet and the snow
under a hot burning sun 
along the long dusty road
leading away from the last known place
where she had seen her child
enter
that dark day
the police and the Indian Agent
had come
to steal her child away.

Did they slam the door in her face?
Did they turn their backs on the mother
and whisper amongst themselves
how they would never tell
anyone
what had happened
to the child.

These questions
these remains
these stories
of two hundred and fifteen children
found
buried
deep
beneath the black soil
surrounding a school
where children were taken
from their loving families
so the ‘Indian’ could be beaten out of them,
these questions
these remains
these stories
they haunt me.

And I imagine a mother
grasping for her child
as the police tear the wee one out of her arms
and I see Auschwitz and Buchenwald
but I do not see
my Canada

Oh my Canada
we have lived with these stories
burning
deep
buried beneath
the dark soils
of this land
eating away at our nationhood
and still 
we do little.

And I imagine it happening to me
while my daughters were young
or my daughter’s children 
and the children of her friends
right now
being forcibly taken
so the Canadian can be beaten out of them
and I wonder
would we ever recover?
Would we ever 
get 
over 
it
as so many suggest
those who lost their children
and their culture
and their language
and their land
must do
now?

And I wonder
can we ever recover
from our past?
Can we ever wash away
our shame
when we know now,
as they knew then,
we cannot bring
these children back.
They are gone
forever.

Bird in Nest. Do Not Disturb.

The view from our bedroom window

She sits, still and enigmatic as a full moon glowing in the dark. Patiently, she waits for nature to take its course.

I watch, constantly peeking through the slats in the blinds at the kitchen window I never drew, until she arrived. Impatient for nature to take its course.

Her nest is an architectural marvel. Securely fashioned into the wire rungs of the spring wreath I hung on our front door to welcome guests.

She is the most welcome guest. As are her two blue eggs nestled into the nest she crafted of moss and leaves and twigs and forest debris.

The front door is off limits now. Guests are invited to enter through our garage door, into the laundry room, down the hall to the main room. (I really must get that basket of clean laundry put away!)

I’ve hung a sign on a rope strung from the handle of a large lantern that sits on the far corner of our front doorsteps to the planter that sits at the edge of the walkway beside the stairs leading down to the backyard deck. “Bird in Nest. Do not disturb. Thank you!”

I wonder if she realizes the sacrifices we’ve made to give her peace. I smile at my use of the word ‘sacrifice’. It is anything but. She feels like a gift from Mother Nature. As I said to my beloved last night after my final peek through the blinds to ensure she was settled in for the night, “I’m so glad she thinks our home is safe for her to nest here.”

It is the third year we’ve had a robin use our home as its nesting site. The other two were tucked into the rafters above the bottom deck. They were easy prey for the magpies and crows who frequent the neighbourhood too.

This nest is easy for me to help protect from predators. I watch incessantly for marauding crows or magpies on the hunt. The minute I see one, or hear the squawking of the robin and her mate, I race to the window, adding my voice to the cacophony.

I think the crows and magpies are terrified of this woman on the other side of the glass who flaps her arms and screams loudly, ‘Get Away!’.

I hope so.

There’s lots for them to eat in the band of forest that separates our yard from the river behind our home. They don’t need to poach eggs from our guest.

I do not know if there are more than the two eggs in her nest now. I only risked the one photo as I didn’t want to disturb her nest building. As robins lay one egg a day, it’s possible she laid a couple more eggs before she settled in to incubate her hatch.

I don’t know how much longer she will be resident at our front door. It could be three or four weeks. What I do know is that C.C. and I are agreed. The door is hers until she and her fledglings take flight.

It’s nature’s way of reminding us to slow down. Be still. Be patient. And above all, be caring of all creatures, big and small.

In the meantime, I shall do my best to not keep peeking through the slats of the blinds I’ve drawn to give her privacy and to help her feel safe.

See Mother Nature. I am learning from you how to be present in this moment right now, connected to all of your creation around me.

Namaste

The No. 1 Rule (An SWB post)

Me: So…. I suppose you think that’s pretty clever…

Beaumont: What’s that?

Me: The toy you’ve torn apart.

Beau: What toy?

Me: The one between your paws.

Beau: It wasn’t a toy Louise.

Me: It wasn’t?

Beau: No!!! It was a pesky marauding invader masquerading as a stuffed sheep. I killed it dead so it wouldn’t infest our home with its nefarious ways.

To read the rest and learn how a torn-up toy becomes a lesson in following the No. 1 Rule, click HERE.