Year I

Story 1: Spiders

One summer afternoon a thousand strings of light emerged from the wall of green and drifted into space, each end strapped firmly to the tiniest of spider babies, little parachutists, bravely and willingly allowing themselves to be carried by a faint breeze into the unknown. 

This story weaves together images of parachuting spider babies, an ancient turtle, love and loss.

Story 2: Lost

I was hiking in Utah once and had to keep myself from diving off a cliff: L’appel du vide; the call of the void. Surprisingly there is little written about this. Doesn’t everyone feel the urge to enter the  void at some time in their life?  

Find helpful instructions here on what to do when you are lost in the woods.

Story 3: Bhola

Very early, on the second last morning of my month in India I crossed the clear, blue-green Ganges. The narrow, usually packed footbridge was quiet. Ahead was a woman, her dark pink sari fluttering in the breeze.  The mountains rise up north of the town, cast their long shadows, keeping the air cool in the late winter morning. 

This story is about a conversation at the edge of the Ganges.

Story 4: Maps

Perhaps stories,  our mental maps, our perceptions of the world are only illusions, marked by clear or faint, experiences along the path. We do seem to have an insatiable need to create meaning, to connect seemingly random memories, to help us make sense of the world, and our place in it. 

This story threads together maps, owls and wolves.

Story 5: Entanglement

At our small cabin, the lake is moving and churning today, thunder threatens, the light bounces off the waves. I step into the water and pull myself under the surface and open my eyes, as beams of light reflect off tiny particles. And I become aware that I am this too, a tiny particle in an ever changing sea of light and life.

Entanglements is about the connections we share with the big and small, the living and dying. (See Links 1)

Story 6: Remnants

A story about memory and the clear and blurred remnants that mark us.

Story 7: Silkworms

Of course there is no guarantee that change, and the stirrings of a thousand earthworms will restore life, there is always the chance that it won’t. Life is not predictable and it might not end as happily as you once hoped. Nonetheless, even if choice seems faint, do remind yourself that you don’t have to wait for the frail promises of your unraveling life.

Silkworms spin together no-till farming, silkworms and life transitions.

Story 8: Path

Last winter a man I met in a small northern community told me that when he was young he would hunt for Caribou with his uncle. One evening, at dusk, he watched as thousands of the large lumbering animals moved not as one, but swirled in all directions. He said that the ground moved and shook with noise and motion. But the caribou don’t migrate that far south anymore.

Impermanence, toads, caribou and the forest.

Story 9: Terns

I once read that lightning fixes nitrogen in the soil. The lighting bolt’s electric charge breaks the stable strong  bond that exists between the nitrogen atoms that fill the air. The separated atoms rearrange and attach themselves to oxygen and rain delivers these molecules to the earth. It can burn you too. The shoreline remembers the power of such storms in its blackened trees, which,  like the small flowery monuments to the highway dead, post their warnings along the way. The story is about navigating your way through a storm. (See Links 2)

Story 10: Lola

I had heard that cats bring dead, or half dead mice, to their human owners to teach them how to hunt. Given our lack of responsive learning,  I have always been impressed by Lola’s patience, her unwillingness to give up on us. But recently I came across a different theory: animals might leave us presents to show their gratitude.

A story about our cat Lola, harvesting brussels sprouts and gratitude. (See Links 3)

Story 11: Warts

She sat down and told us that when she was a small girl, growing up in Eastern Europe, she too had warts on her feet. Her mother took her to see a wise woman in the village, who told her to take a bite out of an apple and bury it under the next full moon. According to our doctor, this cured her of her warts. 

Searching for a cure for warts and other questions and quests. (See Links 4)

Story 12: Snakes and Ladders (Part 1 in the Doom Series)

 I know that I am not telling you anything new. But, do you know the answer to this: is this it, is this all that life is, and will be? And should the question make you shudder? Or is it an invitation to wonder?

Snakes and Ladders, spins together dancing men, a canoe trip into the wilds, and the question: ‘Is this it?’ (See Links 5,6,7)

Story 13: Fossils (Part 2 in the Doom Series)

Conscious or not, the sorrows, secrets and the guilts we keep don’t rest peacefully.  They are working on us, reminding us of our failings – usually more than fits the crime. I’ve watched guilt at work, have learned that it will not set you free, will not atone for your mistakes. 

Fossils explores a deep lake, and the sorrows we keep. (See Links 8)

Story 14: Sundog (Part 3 in the Doom Series)

Sundogs, like all moments in time,  are fleeting  – we only notice them if we pay attention, (if we’re lucky enough to look up at the right moment), and our brief experiences of them sift through our hands – as does life.

This story is about a black dog, and speaks about the moments we live. (See Links 9, 10, 11, 12)

Story 15: Fractals

Through the lens’ furthest reach the scene loses its shape, colours merge and blur, as I zoom out and drift into space and slip through a narrow gap. I follow the sun, as does the earth, as does the moon. All of us, tiny electrons spinning and circling.

This story travels along a wild coastline, where the scene changes constantly, yet seemingly repeats itself again and again. (See Links 13, 14)

Story 16: The things we keep

Years ago I broke a pale yellow water pitcher that I’d received from a close childhood friend.  We’d lost our connection but I kept the shards in a drawer, feeling pangs of regret and guilt for my carelessness.  I asked my mom how I might fix the pitcher. She suggested I repair my friendship instead.

A story about regret, my great grandmother and her broken hip, and precious moments.

Story 17: 1979

1979 is the year my family emigrated from our small town in Switzerland. The story is about that time, Canadian lunch boxes, and crossing disorienting gaps.

Story 18: Egg

While travelling, eating hard-boiled eggs comes second only to apples, which, by the way,  happens to be my only party trick – I eat them whole, apple seeds and all.  My kids have grown up  eating eggs on trains and planes, on mountain tops and on park benches. For years they hissed at us, embarrassed, but now they follow suit, peeling eggs around the world.

A story about fragile eggs and egos. (See Links 15)

Photo credit: Paul Roorda

Story 19: Apart

Sometimes we are given brief, unexpected moments in time – and their fleetingness doesn’t take away from their power to connect us with each other; maybe it only adds to their preciousness.

Story 20: On Balance

Yesterday, weeks after that first day of the deer hunt, on a snow covered path along a line of now bare trees, I saw a large Barred owl, perched high, still, waiting, watching for its small furry prey.  And then, quite suddenly, it lifted and waved its powerful wings, and dove towards the frozen earth.

“On Balance” is about expectations, uncertainty and hope. (See Links 16, 17)

Story 21: Milkweed

One might think that the show is over once the flowers of the Milkweed have flashed their beauty, and the leaves have fed the hairy black and orange caterpillar; but no, the best is yet to come.

This story is about Milkweed and a silver tour bus.

Story 22: Sehnsucht

Happiness comes from the Icelandic word “happ”, meaning luck or chance. We do tend to tie the two together, as though happiness were a thing we might hopefully trip over one day, should we be so lucky. Sehnsucht is about our yearning for happiness, and the challenges we face in its search. (See Links 19)

Story 23: Patsy Cline

An old man once told me that not so long ago this city was a forest, then the Algonquin people called it their home, later Europeans came, took and cleared the land and farmed the rocky ground. Someone  built a tram line from east to west, then came sidewalks and hydro lines. Who is to say when a neighbourhood should freeze in time? When is it at its prime?

 This story is about my neighbour, 3 rusty cars and racoons.

Story 24: Migration

Transition sometimes patiently waits, and works, in the  regeneration of a fallow field, a metaphor to describe the seemingly  barren possible, the creative in-between of what was and what might become.  And, writes William Bridges,  “…it is the nothingness that we find there that gives it its power, not something we encounter in that in-between state.” (See Links 16)

Story 25: Knots and Ties

My grandmother kept chocolate, an apple and a paring knife in her apron pocket, read to us, cheated at cards but let me win. She knitted socks and liked her tea with cream, told us stories about talking pigeons and rabbits and owls. 

Story 26: Eavesdropper

It wasn’t just Rosa’s voice I’d overheard; slowly, I picked up the many whispers that drifted out of other neighbours’ open pipes and widened seams. It was as if I’d discovered new frequencies on my dial, found private stations that I had never known. 

Story 27: Samuel

February 6. The earth is still spinning on its winter arc, though days are growing longer: a minute in the morning, another one at night.

A very brief story about loss and life unfurling.

Story 28: Ruminants

To ruminate,  to  revisit a thought over and over again, comes from the word ‘ruminant’ – an animal that eats grass;  chewing, swallowing, regurgitation and rechewing the same fodder over and over again. It is the same with us humans, we constantly consume our thoughts. (See Links 20, 21, 22)

Story 29: Wet Wool

My husband, who spent many childhood Sundays sitting on hard, straight-backed Dutch church pews, is finely tuned to the quiet crinkle of peppermint wrappers, the sound’s sweet promise of powdery white candies, which his mom, and all the Dutch moms,  pulled out of their purses once the congregation settled in for a long long sermon. I swear the sound and taste still hypnotizes him into a sleepy lull.

Wet Wool is about sounds and smells, and the link between sensations and memories.

Story 30: Thin Ice

The first step you take on a frozen lake is a beginning that you will never feel again. It catches the breath in your throat, and has you wondering: is it worth it? will I fall? should I turn back? And with every step you leave a little bit of yourself behind. (See Links 23)

Story 31: Missing Words

Sometimes you meet the perfect word, like gigil, a Tagalog word meaning the irresistible urge to squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished. And sometimes there is no single word to capture a fleeting moment. (See Links 24, 25, 26)

Story 32: Refrain

He always had a book on his lap, marked his notes in its margins; filled notebooks with observations on migration, nature and spring. Later they all went missing: someone who was more practical likely used them to started a fire on a cold winter night. 

Refrain is about Atti, my great grandfather, and the tracks we follow.

Story 33: Free Will?

Are the paths we walk our own? What I mean is this: does everything unfold with intention, according to my own plans and free will? Is there inside me a tiny wizard of Oz, hiding behind the curtains of my mind, peering out through bony sockets, pulling  levers, turning dials, shouting hoarse commands, keeping me on time, and on the straight and narrow path?

BONUS: An experiment I learned from Sam Harris (See Links 27, 28)

Story 34: Chocolate Rabbit

For years, I have been palming off a particularly adorable baby picture of my brother as my own. We mostly share the same features: blue eyes, nose, cheekbones. But that is where the similarity ends.

Chocolate Rabbit is about habits and chocolate. (See Links 29)

Story 35: Endings

Some endings are explicit: clearly we are told what  happens next: threads are gathered into tidy bundles, there is no room to question the explanation because the teller has decided on this version, as the truth.   Other endings are implicit, and have you wondering what it means  to live happily ever after, for example. (See Links 30, 31, 32 )

Story 36: Begin Again

My late MIL was a weaver. She wove beautiful blankets, scarves and shawls, but my favorites are the multicoloured patterned towels that I use to dry my hands, that glow with contrast and harmony, thread together colours that you or I might neverdare, unless you know their art, which she did. 

Story 37: Sleeping Beauty

Warning: not much happens in this story, unless  you count my description of a breathing lake; or count the unfortunate rent in my winter coat, torn by the thorns of tall blackberry canes.   In this story, no coyote will suddenly trot across a frozen lake; and your tolerance, your threshold for boredom, might not be as high as mine.

Story 38: Awe

For some, awe is proof of God; for others, science not only adds an explanation but increases their sense of awe, lifts them across the gap left by not knowing, sets them down on the others side, leaving them to wonder, wanting to know more. (See Links 30)

Story 39: Krill

Some meeting spots create the conditions to support a rich, diverse marine life, including Krill: tiny, shrimp-like sea creatures. To escape hungry predators Krill migrate daily, vertically, in huge swarms that can be seen from outer space;  but despite their brave efforts they end as fodder: far down in deep waters when the sun is high, and near the surface of the rivers in the night.

Krill is a story about meeting places and parallel worlds. (See Links 32)

Story 40: Headstand

I fell off a ladder yesterday. The whole thing collapsed and I found myself lying on the ground, testing body parts, wondering about what I might have broken.  It turns out I got away with a sprained ankle – it could have been so much worse, I tell myself. Sure, this will keep me not busy for a few days or more; perhaps it is a good time to practice my headstands, to see the world from a different angle.

Headstands is a story about speeding tickets, old paintings, perspective and framing experiences. (See Links 30 & Read Text)

Story 41: Compost

“We are all compost for worlds we cannot yet imagine.” (David Whyte)

Composting has always been a bit of a surprise, an experiment: I never quite know what will slowly, and sometimes suddenly grow out of the bins’ corners.

And I am a composition of all the good wishes and warnings, insightful and thoughtless, helpful and spiteful comments,  all the conversations I have ever had, and not just the ones I remember and took to heart, but all the ones I have forgotten, dismissed, ignored, rejected, ridiculed. 

(See Links 32 & Read Text here)

Story 42: Free wine and other plastic things

What is it about free wine, food, free anything,  that sends so many of us into a tizzy? 

Interestingly, we sometimes question the virtue of free items because we judge them to have no, or low, quality. In our minds we unfairly de-value the thing, decide that there must be something wrong, tell ourselves that it likely has bedbugs, then pass it by. 

Story 43: Bend in the road

My husband hitched rides all over the world when he was young. I’ve only dared it a few times, including a ride, on a heavy rainy day, on the sunshine coast, and once when we hitchhiked to our honeymoon.

Bend in the road is a story about a canoe trip down the Rideau river, hitchhiking and regrets.

Story 44: Forgetting Mrs Sprout

Two days after we moved in Mrs Sprout came through our always unlocked back door, strode up the 3 narrow steps into her old kitchen, searched the top of my new fridge for tickets  to a concert at the NAC. She asked if I’d taken them, and questioned what I’d done. 

Story 45: Corsets and lotus feet

The large ‘Reshaping’ cabinet holds, among other things, Burmese neck rings which, I learned, don’t actually lengthen the human neck, but rather push the clavicle and ribs down. The neck stretching is mostly illusory.  Also in the Reshaping cabinet are corsets, worn by many women not that long ago. Come to think of it, my grandmother kept one at the bottom of her closet, fleshy rubbery pink; one hundred hooks and eyes, sucker studded tentacles squeezed her, strapped her in, wrapped around her soft warm body. (See Links 34)

This story is about the Pitt River museum, corsets and other shrinking things.