In The Language of Trees

I am scrolling through news of the tragic aftermath of the atmospheric river that deluged much of BC, destroying lives, livelihoods, homes, and infrastructure.

I am sitting at my desk looking out at the autumn-naked branches of the trees that line the river.

And I think about the pain thy must feel at the loss of their brothers and sisters this past summer as wildfires swept through BC’s interior.

And I wonder if they are hurting now in the sadness of knowing many of their sisters and brothers were swept in the storm’s wake — and how, if they could only have stood their ground against the fires, some of what happened might not have been.

I am breathing into the trees this morning. Breathing and listening, deeply, to their pain and what they have to say.

In The Language Of Trees
by Louise Gallagher

The language of trees
lays buried
deep within their roots
digging into the earth
stretching their arms
in search
of whispers of life
within the cracks and crevices
of time lying still
beneath Mother Nature’s soiled covers.

The language of trees
is felt
rising up through crenellated bark
and rugged trunks
standing tall
against the wind 
hurling obscenities
at their unwillingness
to give up ground
to its demands.

The language of trees
is heard deep
within the sibilant whispers
of its leaves
telling stories
to the birds and bees
and scampering squirrels
who clamber along its branches
in search of place to hide
through winter’s storms.


The language of trees
is written
everywhere.

We must listen
before it’s too late
to hear
their roots calling us
to help them 
stay grounded.


The Unconscious Leader

When we lived in Metz, France, every day my father would drive the winding road leading down the hill from National Defence Headquarters into the city.

Fog was not uncommon.

One day, while carefully navigating the winding road in a pea soup fog, he missed a curve, drove off the road narrowly slipping between two plane trees until coming to rest in a farmer’s field.

Stuck. Yes. Damaged. No.

Until a woman rear-ended him. In the middle of the farmer’s field.

She’d been following his taillights. She trusted they would lead her into the city. Instead, they lead her into the back end of his car in the middle of a farmer’s field.

Fortunately, because of the dense fog, she too had been travelling very slowly. The damage was negligible. Though my father was a tad annoyed!

Once, while skiing through dense fog on the Zugspitze in Germany, the fog was so thick it was almost mandatory to stop after every curve to ensure you weren’t about to go over a cliff. As I took a sweeping curve in the trail, I stopped to check where I was at and a woman skied into me, knocking us both over. She’d been following my bright orange ski suit as her beacon down the mountainside.

We don’t generally get such dense fog here on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, but occasionally, fog will roll in off the river valley and obscure the view.

Whenever it does, as it did earlier this week, I am reminded of that story my father loved to tell about the woman who crashed into him in the middle of a farmer’s field.

He was upset she hit his car.

She was upset he went off the road and stopped in the middle of a farmer’s field. She was trusting him to lead her to safety.

Just like the case of the woman who was following me down the mountain. I didn’t know she was following me. She didn’t know I was about to stop. Though she was grateful I did when she saw the cliff we both might have sailed over!

Sometimes on our life journies, we can be so focused on where we’re going, we forget to notice if there is anyone else on our path, or if someone else is trusting our ability to lead to get them to safety.

Sometimes, we can be following someone else’s path so intently, we forget to watch out for our own safety, relying on their discretion to keep us safe.

In both cases, it is the belief we are alone on our journey, and not responsible for anyone else’s safety, that gets us in trouble.

Like my father, intensely focused on navigating my own way down the mountain, I wasn’t thinking about anyone else. And, while that is an almost natural response to pea soup situations, had I thought to call out, just in case there was anyone else in the same predicament or had my father immediately put on his emergency flashers, perhaps the outcome might have been different.

‘Cause here’s the thing. We can be unconscious leaders.

But the way is so much safer for everyone when we travel consciously acknowledging we are not on this road of life alone.

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A man, toddler and dog who were rescued by a volunteer in a boat after being stranded by high water due to flooding walk on high ground in Abbotsford, B.C., on Nov. 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck – Source

I have been glued to the news about the horrific events unfolding in British Columbia. For those people caught between two landslides, for the people who spent days and nights in their cars or stuck in Hope, waiting for a way back to the lower mainland, for those who lost their farms and livelihoods, their homes and possessions, their everything, my heart is heavy.

I can not lead them out of the devastation they face. I can contribute to their recovery.

We all can.

If you have any amount you can contribute, please consider helping the efforts to lead people back to safety, so they can begin the arduous journey of rebuilding their lives, comforted by the knowledge, they are not alone.

This CTV story and this Daily Hive article list several organizations and agencies doing on-the-ground work that need our support.

Thank you.

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A severed portion of BC’s Coquihalla Hwy5 at Juliet is seen in a BC Transportation photo on Nov 17, 2021

On the weekend I booked my flight for Vancouver and was already scheduled to be there December 8. It is stunning to realize that I cannot drive there right now — all roads are washed out. The first time since 1885 when the railroad was completed — the west coast has no eastern access via road or rail.

She Dares to Capture the Beauty in all Life’s Imperfections

I have been an infrequent visitor to my studio lately. Life and all its happenings, projects to complete that don’t require paint but do require creative presence, new 3 days a week work for a not-for-profit (I’m loving it!), visiting my grandchildren as often as I can (and my daughter and son-in-love too!) plus just day-to-day living with Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and my beloved, have consumed me.

And then there’s the vegging-out piece. You know. The “I’m too tired to dive into creative expression. I think I’ll spend time amidst others’ expressions!” Which means flipping open my laptop and losing myself in some Netflix/Prime fodder.

I tell myself, “It’s okay. You deserve the break.”

But here’s the real deal.

It’s not a ‘break’ when it is stealing my sense of balance, wholeness, centredness.

It is not a break when it pulls me away from what I love doing – exploring my creative expression.

So, I’ve made a deal with myself.

I give myself space to ‘veg-out’ if I first let out what is calling to be expressed. Because I know this very deeply within me — there is always something calling to be expressed, even when I pretend I can’t hear it or feel it!

And, because I’m pretending I don’t know it’s there, I allow myself to become lost in movie fodder.

So here’s my deal — it’s okay to ‘veg-out’ if I first let-out some artsy fodder in my studio!

Now… you may want to say, “Give yourself a break Louise. Everyone needs time-out.”

And it’s true. We do.

But I know me.

I am a ‘compulsively-excessive’ personality. I get into things and can’t/won’t/don’t stop. Which means… if I start a series on Netflix, I don’t stop until I’m done – even if it’s a crap series. Just ask my beloved – He suggested a series to me on the weekend and I said, “I don’t dare start a new series. I’ll get trapped in it and I don’t want to get lost. Again” I just finished watching 4 seasons of a terrible series — but I wouldn’t stop watching it!

So… rather than taunting myself with the idea I can only watch 1 episode, I simply do not begin!

Problem solved. 🙂 For now.

In the meantime, I am feeling so much more alive and enlivened after working in my studio all weekend on bookmarks that I include with every purchase of my “She Dares Boldly” desktop calendar, and then, diving into more images and quotes for the #SheDaresBoldly series.

I am cultivating my capacity to ‘let go and let become’ to allow that which is seeking to be expressed, appear.

I am cultivating my trust in the process of allowing the ‘I wonder if I do this…’ and then doing whatever that wonderment is just to see what will happen. Like using pastels through a stencil over inks — cool!

And, I am cultivating the habit of turning up for myself, everyday at my studio table in a state of excitement, curiosity, fearlessness and gratitude.

Excitement ignited by the mysteries I’m about to explore.

Curious about what will happen when I simply let go and be present.

Fearless in my willingness to listen deeply to my intuition (and the muse) and not judge nor doubt (or try to manipulate) their voice.

And Gratitude for this magical, mysterious, mystical world in which I have the privilege to play and be and create and learn and grow and experience and capture such richness, aliveness and beauty.

Namaste

She dares to steer her course into the extraordinary

In a sea of ordinary, she dares to steer her course into the extraordinary.

Thank you everyone for your kind words, your thoughts, ideas and empathy.

My ring is still missing but, as I often do when I’m feeling turbulent inside (and the wind is howling outside, which it is) I go into my studio and dive into curiosity and creativity, allowing whatever is seeking to appear, come to light.

The muse was all about exploring the question… “I wonder what would happen if I…”

In this case, the ‘if I’s’ were all about mixing different media to see what might happen.

Layer upon layer. Additions. Subtractions. Layer upon layer.

Like life. We try on a new pair of shoes and if they don’t fit, we try a different pair.

My art process yesterday worked the same. I tried spray inks and acrylic inks on top. Gesso through a stencil. Inkpad on top. Again and again and again.

No hesitation.

No judgment.

No groans of disappointment.

Just pure, unabandoned experimentation.

Because… in a world where confusion, disarray, and dismay become the ordinary tidings of our days, sailing into a rainbow world of magic and mystery is a wonderful way to transform every day into something extraordinary!

Namaste.

Missing. Not Lost… yet…

For our fifth anniversary, C.C., my beloved, gave me a beautiful sapphire and diamond ring. I promptly removed my original wedding and engagement rings and took to wearing it only.

I’m not a big jewellry person and loved both the symmetry and simplicity of the ring, and how it looked on my hand.

Saturday, when Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I returned from the park I took off my gloves to discover… my ring was missing.

Dusk had already set in which meant it was too dark to go back to the park to search for it. Yesterday, as soon as the light permitted, Beau and I headed back to the park to do a search.

There were two possible places I thought it might have come off when I removed my gloves. 1) when I sat on a bench to take off my left boot to dump out a piece of gravel;

2) when I took off my gloves to clean up after Beau did his business.

Alas, after spending time searching in the morning and evening, I have not yet succeeded in finding my ring. Dried grasses and leaves cover the ground everywhere making spotting it difficult.

We’ll return this morning for another look — I’ve ordered a metal detector which will be here tomorrow. Until I’ve exhausted all avenues, I won’t give up.

It is both a strength and a weakness.

The never giving up.

When I was doing Investor Relations consulting, a client likened me to a Terrier because, in his words, I never gave up fighting to get the attention of analysts. It worked well for the client.

My mother used to throw up her hands and tell me to ‘give it up’ when I wouldn’t stop wanting to talk about things that had not gone well between us. That did not work well for our relationship.

Right now, my ring is missing. I am not willing to give up looking for it. Not only is it precious to me, (and very expensive) it was a one of a kind

And, because it’s still in the missing category in my mind, I can’t give up searching for it. Last year when I lost my phone and keys somewhere in the bushes, I couldn’t give up until I found them – and I did!

But then there’s the time, in my 20s, when I lost my beautiful silver necklace and bracelet my grandmother sent me from India — I searched and searched and never did find them — which is where the challenge comes in. I still think about that necklace and bracelet.

I have to let them go.

Which is really where my ring comes in today — it isn’t about the ring. It’s about thinking about it incessantly.

Not one of my greater qualities. Ask my beloved… I can become fixated. On fixing things. Righting wrongs. And even, changing the world.

While I regret the missing of my ring, I am grateful for its reminder to not become so fixated on ‘the thing’ that is lost that I miss the value of letting go.

And yup. I’m trying to trick my mind into getting itself righted — because the regret of not noticing when it fell off is tiring. I can’t change what happened. I can only work with how I deal with it — and the regret of its loss is far too heavy to carry.

Namaste.

PS — about the photo:

I spent time on the weekend making more bookmarks to go with my She Dares Boldly calendars. Every calendar purchased comes with a hand-painted She Dares Boldly bookmark! Check it out on my Etsy store!

She Dares to Hold On To Magic

For the “She Dares Boldly” desktop calendar I have created “She Dares” quotes to go with some old and some new artwork. None of the artwork has been in a calendar before — it’s just some of the pieces might have appeared on my blog in the past.

January’s “She Dares” quote is, “She dares to hold on to magic.”

When I was writing it, I vacillated between, “believe in magic” or hold on to magic”.

Hold on to magic won.

I can believe in anything. But, to actually hold onto it, to keep it in my sights, to keep it as a constant companion on my journey, that takes real daring.

There is magic in this world. Everywhere.

Yesterday, as I walked with Beaumont through the woods along the river, I wondered at the magical and mystical capacity of a seed to grow into a tree, to give birth to branches and leaves, and to continually renew itself every spring after having shed its leaves every fall.

And while science can explain it away with terms like photosynthesis and formulas that dissect the process to its tiniest quark, there is still something magical to me in the whole transformative process of shedding and sprouting, shedding and sprouting.

I want to hold onto that magic and the wonder and awe of it all. I want to dispense with formulae and calculating processes to the nth degree so that I can live and breathe completely immersed within nature’s mystery.

And so, the 2022, She Dares Boldly calendar begins with magic, mystery wonder and awe leading us into the New Year.

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And yes, there’s not a lot of mystery in this here promotion of my calendar.

I do hope you come and check it out on my ETSY store – Dare Boldly Art – shipping is free in Canada and I’ve adjusted the cost to include shipping to outside Canada as Etsy was charging almost as much for shipping as I charge for the calendar!.

It makes a great stocking stuffer, friend gift, hostess gift and so much more!

(and now to figure out how to adjust the colour so the calendar appears with its white background – ’cause that’s what it is!)

The Promise He Could Not Keep

The Promise He Could Not Keep
by Louise Gallagher

It’s off to war with you my boy
his father said while his mother
wrung her hands and cried a silent tear.
It’s the right thing to do, to defend
your country and your fellow man.

And his father slapped him on his back
and his mother waved her white handkerchief
and they both sent him on his journey
to war torn lands far away,
with the promise to come home safe
ringing in his ears. 

And the boy, who was not yet a man
stood his ground against enemy guns
and held his own with pride as he fought
with boys just like him
as boys
just like him
fought back
intent on gaining the ground
he’d just taken
until he could stand no more
against the bullets flying
and tanks rolling
across the land so far away from home.

And he fell.
Silently.
Slipping away from the guns
that would not stop
amidst the cries of the fallen 
lying on the blood-red ground.

And he fell.
Silently.
Holding fast to the memory
of his father’s hand against his back
and his mother’s white handkerchief
bidding him farewell.

He held fast.

Until he could not hold on any more
to the memories of the one’s he left behind.

And as his last breath escaped his body
and the guns were silenced
in the finality of death
he let go of holding on
to the promise he could not keep
amidst the brutality of war.

And when the medal arrived,
posthumously, in the mail,
and his mother opened the velvet box,
she cried and fell to the ground.
And his father gently took her arm
and helped her stand and said,
It was the right thing to do,
as he dabbed her tears dry
with her white handkerchief.

His medal still sits in its velvet box
unopened beside the photo of her son
who never came home.
She cannot bear the weight of its memory
of the boy who went off to war
to become a man
and could not keep his promise.

The Poet Boy Remembered

Remembrance Day. Lest we forget. Let us not forget.

Their sacrifice. Their duty to country. Their names.

Let us not forget.

My father went off to war when he was a boy. He went off and fought and came home and seldom spoke of those years again.

The following is the unedited version of a shorter Op-Ed I wrote that was published in the Calgary Herald several years ago. I share it here in memory of my father, and all the sons and daughters, boys and girls, men and women, who have gone off to war to never return or to return broken and scarred. I share it here to remind me to never forget my father who was once a poet boy. 

Lest we forget.

The Poet Boy

by: Louise Gallagher

When the poet boy was sixteen, he lied about his age and ran off to war. It was a war he was too young to understand. Or know why he was fighting. When the guns were silenced and the victors and the vanquished carried off their dead and wounded, the poet boy was gone. In his stead, there stood a man. An angry man. A wounded man. The man who would become my father.

By the time of my arrival, the final note in a quartet of baby-boomer children, the poet boy was deeply buried beneath the burden of an unforgettable war and the dark moods that permeated his being with the density of storm clouds blocking the sun. Occasionally, on a holiday or a walk in the woods, the sun would burst through and signs of the poet boy would seep out from beneath the burden of the past. Sometimes, like letters scrambled in a bowl of alphabet soup that momentarily made sense of a word drifting across the surface, images of the poet boy appeared in a note or a letter my father wrote me. For that one brief moment, a light would be cast on what was lost. And then suddenly, with the deftness of a croupier sweeping away the dice, the words would disappear as the angry man came sweeping back with the ferocity of winter rushing in from the north.

I spent my lifetime looking for the words that would make the poet boy appear, but time ran out when my father’s heart gave up its fierce beat to the silence of eternity. It was a massive coronary. My mother said he was angry when the pain hit him. Angry, but unafraid. She wasn’t allowed to call an ambulance. She wasn’t allowed to call a neighbor. He drove himself to the hospital as she sat helplessly beside him in the passenger seat. As he crossed the threshold of the emergency room, he collapsed, never to awaken again. In his death, he was lost forever, leaving behind my anger for which I had no words.

On Remembrance Day, ten years after his death, I went in search of my father at the foot of the memorial to an unnamed soldier that stands in the middle of a city park. A trumpet played “Taps”. I stood at the edge of the crowd and fingered the felt of the bright red poppy I held between my thumb and fingers. It was a blustery day. A weak November sunshine peaked out from behind sullen grey clouds.  Bundled up against the cold, the crowd, young and old, silently approached the monument and placed their poppies on a ledge beneath the soldier’s feet.

I stood and watched and held back.

I wanted to understand the war. I wanted to find the father who might have been had the poet boy not run off to fight “the good war” as a commentator had called it earlier that morning on the radio.

Where is the good in war, I wondered?

I thought of soldiers falling, mothers crying, and anger never dying. I thought of the past, never resting, always remembered and I thought of my father, never forgotten. The poet boy who went to war and came home an angry man. In his anger, life became the battlefield upon which he fought to retain some sense of balance amidst the memories of a world gone mad.

Perhaps it is as George Orwell wrote in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-four:

The very word ‘war’, therefore, has become misleading.  It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist… War is Peace.”

For my father, anger became the peacetime of his world until his heart ran out of time and he lost all hope of finding the poetry within him.

There is still time for me.

On that cold November morning, I approach the monument. I stand at the bottom step and look at the bright red poppies lining the gunmetal grey of the concrete base of the statue. Slowly, I take the first step up and then the second. I hesitate, then reach forward and place my poppy amongst the blood-red row lined up along the ledge.

I wait. I don’t want to leave. I want a sign. I want to know my father sees me.

I turn and watch a white-haired grandfather approach, his gloved right hand encasing the mitten-covered hand of his granddaughter. Her bright curly locks tumble from around the edges of her white furry cap. Her pink overcoat is adorned with little white bunnies leaping along the bottom edge. She skips beside him, her smile wide, blue eyes bright.

They approach the monument, climb the few steps and stop beside me. The grandfather lets go of his granddaughter’s hand and steps forward to place his poppy on the ledge.  He stands for a moment, head bowed. The little girl turns to me, the poppy clasped between her pink mittens outstretched in front of her.

“Can you lift me up?” she asks me.

“Of course,” I reply.

I pick her up, facing her towards the statue.

Carefully she places the poppy in the empty spot beside her grandfather’s.

I place her gently back on the ground.

She flashes me a toothy grin and skips away to join her grandfather where he waits at the foot of the monument. She grabs his hand.

“Do you think your daddy will know which one is mine?” she asks.

The grandfather laughs as he leads her back through the crowd.

“I’m sure he will,” he replies.

I watch the little girl skip away with her grandfather. The wind gently stirs the poppies lining the ledge. I feel them ripple through my memories of a poet boy who once stood his ground and fell beneath the weight of war.

My father is gone from this world. The dreams he had, the promises of his youth were forever lost on the bloody tide of war that swept the poet boy away.  In his passing, he left behind a love of words born upon the essays and letters he wrote me throughout the years. Words of encouragement. Of admonishment. Words that inspired me. Humored me. Guided me. Touched me. Words that will never fade away.

I stand at the base of the monument and look up at the soldier mounted on its pedestal.  Perhaps he was once a poet boy hurrying off to war to become a man. Perhaps he too came back from war an angry man fearful of letting the memories die lest the gift of his life be forgotten.

I turn away and leave my poppy lying at his feet.

I don’t know if my father will know which is mine. I don’t know if poppies grow where he has gone. But standing at the feet of the Unknown Soldier, the wind whispering through the poppies circling him in a blood-red river, I feel the roots of the poet boy stir within me. He planted the seed that became my life.

Long ago my father went off to war and became a man. His poetry was silenced but still the poppies blow, row on row. They mark the place where poet boys went off to war and never came home again.

The war is over. In loving memory of my father and those who fought beside him, I let go of anger. It is time for me to make peace.

Your opinion of me is not my concern…

On his blog on Monday, David Kanigan shared the following quote:

“It crossed his mind that maybe one of the most telling differences between the young and the old lay in this detail.

As you aged you cared less and less about what others thought of you, and only then could you be more free.”

— Elif ShafakThe Island of Missing Trees: A Novel (Bloomsbury Publishing; 1st edition (November 2, 2021)

Blogger and yoga/meditation guide, Val Boyko, commented that, “Perhaps it isn’t about the aging process, but more about getting to know and accepting yourself.”

I’m with Val.

Diving into self-knowing, clarifying my values, my beliefs, my ‘Principles to Live by” have all given me the freedom to be less concerned about what you think of me.

Not because I don’t care, I do care about you and how you perceive me — I just care more about how I see myself in the world — and when I see myself living by my principles, walking in my integrity, speaking my truth with heart, honesty and humility, I don’t have to concern myself about the opinion of others. I’m living true to me.

It is a constant checking in and looking outward. Being present and being real. Giving grace to others and honouring my own worth.

It is my journey of life.

And on this journey, I have learned – no matter our age, we are always capable of acting out, or acting for good.

The better I know myself, the more I forgive and step into gratitude, the more I have less to regret about what or how I’ve behaved.

And when I use my bad behaviour as an opportunity to grow in self-awareness and truth, I give myself the grace of not having to worry about the opinion of others…

And I smile.

Because the next part of that statement was going to be… because my opinion of myself is all that matters.

And while there is truth in that, it isn’t ALL that matters. It is what matters most.

When my opinion of myself is blinded by a belief I have no room to grow or change or evolve, I am stuck in self-denial. And self-denial will lead me to act out to defend my actions in ways I can’t imagine simply because I’m blind to my human condition.

Our human condition is a beautiful, unfathomable source of great beauty and magnificence. It can also be a source of great pain and destruction.

We can inspire others to imagine possibilities they never before thought possible through simple words of encouragement and support. Or, we can destroy another’s confidence and self-esteem by thoughtlessly cast-off comments that prevent them from seeing their magnificence and human potential.

No matter our age, when we are conscious of our capacity to ignite possibility or burn hearts and minds to oblivion, we must choose the path of possibility. It is on that path we free ourselves from being shackled and shamed by the opinions of others. It is on that path we give ourselves the freedom to ‘care less’ about ‘what have I done?!’ so that we can care more about what we do to create better….

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Thursday morning thoughts inspired by the people around me who help me see deeper into my human condition.

Thanks David and Val for the inspiration!

She Dares to Take The Road Less Travelled

Art journal page. Mixed media collage.

It can feel comforting to take the road well-trod, the familiar path.

It can feel safe to explore again and again the well-known spaces of your life.

To take the road less travelled, to venture into unknown lands within you, that is the quest of the heroine.

It takes courage, curiosity, and a commitment to be open to what has never been known or seen, or experienced before.

It takes daring.

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It’s back!

The Dare Boldly 2022 desk calendar She Dares Boldly 

You can check it out and order it HERE... (and for those ordering from outside Canada — Etsy’s shipping fees are out of whack — the only thing I can do to fix it at this point is to refund some of the shipping after you pay it — my apologies. It’s really weird!)

It makes a perfect stocking stuffer, teacher or hostess gift or something just for you.

Available on Etsy — for orders of more than 10, please contact me directly.