good night, grandmother moon

good night, super moon

The moon was amazing on Saturday night. I had invited friends over to help me celebrate my birthday, and as the moon rose, we crowded to the front window, marvelling at how full it seemed. This was a “super moon”, when the moon is the closest to earth in its orbit and full at the same time. This phenomenon happens only about every 18 years.

As NASA explains here, “Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. It is an ellipse with one side (perigee) about 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other (apogee). Nearby perigee moons are about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser moons that occur on the apogee side of the Moon’s orbit.”

On Sunday morning, I woke early, and saw the moon bright and clear in the western sky. I put my long lens on the camera and headed outdoors — well bundled up against the cold — to watch the moon. I’m amazed how well I could see the geography of it; the pits and craters scarring the surface were sharp even without the camera. After watching and taking photos for a while, I went inside to warm up, then headed out again half-an-hour later as the moon was setting.

As I watch the moon set this morning, it still looks full and round and yellow in the pre-dawn light. It still looks familiar and mysterious and wise, a distant companion keeping watch. Good night, grandmother moon.

Photo taken on March 20, 2011


the starling and me


“Put brain in gear before opening mouth” — that’s what my dad used to tell me when I was younger. I was a chatterbox (do you remember the wooden phone on wheels?), always asking questions.

I still process out loud, but just as often I talk to myself silently. I’ve learned not to verbalize everything, so the inside of my head is filled to overflowing with talk and ideas, only some of which I manage to translate into action. For example, I’ve worked out what I want to say in my email reply, but sitting down and typing it becomes a chore because, in my mind, I’ve already replied and moved on. The moment I think of something should be the moment I do it, but I hesitate, and the moment is gone.

I think I could learn something from this starling, chattering away with her friends while she works, clambering on the suet cage, pecking at fallen seeds on the snow, talking and working at the same time. She has no baggage, no tasks untended, no projects piling up, no future plans. She lives in the moment, and she moves on.

If you’ve ever heard starlings perched outside your window, you’ll have heard their colourful language of bubbles, squeaks, catcalls and exclamations. They love to tell stories. I think if I ever get my brain examined (as people occasionally suggest), the brain surgeon would discover a flock of starlings chattering away inside my head.

Photo taken on January 27, 2011

the song of the open sleigh

jingle bells
Jingle Bells is not a Christmas carol, it’s a winter carol. It’s a song of the open air and the scent of fir trees. It follows the rhythm of the harness bells, the steam rising from the horses’ flanks as they pull the heavy sleigh, the tug and creak of the runners as they slide across the snow. It’s a song of friends and family, hot cups of chocolate held in mittened hands.

The most magical sleigh rides are at night. I remember going out with a group in my university days on a long ride across fields and through the woods. It was a clear still night, the temperature hovering around minus 15 celcius, the air so cold it made our eyes tear up. At first, there was lots of chatter, laughter, singing. Then gradually our voices died away, and in the silence we could hear only the steady stamp of the horses’ hoofs, the jingle of the harness, the creak of the sleigh. It was a moonless night, so I felt — rather than saw — the shapes of trees as we passed. I looked up and the sky was filled with stars; they seemed almost close enough to touch. As the sleigh glided through the snowy fields, I watched the sky and felt like I was flying.

I’m glad they still have sleigh rides in the park, pulled by horses instead of machines. There’s no modern equivalent to the old-fashioned pleasure of riding in an open sleigh.

Photo taken on January 16, 2011

wings of spring


Look at how the world has changed
a sea of white surrounds us
but look again, though all seems dead
the seeds of spring remain

Beneath the snow, the earth is sleeping
beneath the ice, the river dreams
beneath the trees the groundhog waits
to herald the coming spring.

Photo taken on January 16, 2011

snow is for sliding

sunny sliders

One thing about Saint John: there is no shortage of hills. So if you were given a sled for Christmas, you would find plenty of slippery slopes around here to try it out.

One of the best sliding hills In the city is in Rockwood Park, just across from the pavilion at Lily Lake. When I was a child, we came here as a family and crowded on the toboggan, all five of us. I was first, my legs jutting up and over the wooden prow. My brothers were behind me, then my mom and finally my dad, his strong legs curled around us with his feet hooked into the front of the toboggan, steering with his arms. I remember the long walk up the hill, the feeling of wet wool, and the swift movement — a blur of trees and children and flying snow — on the way down.

Seeing the faces of these two girls sliding on the hill yesterday reminds me of how much fun it is to play outdoors in the winter. Maybe I’ll head out today to play in the snow before the weather turns to rain.

Photo taken on January 9, 2011

the great white north

the great white north

For a while, yesterday afternoon, I thought we were in a different world. Instead of arriving in civil flakes, gently collecting in swirls and drifts, the snow arrived all at once. The sky turned dark mid-afternoon, then I saw a few flakes drifting past the window. Then the world turned white.

It’s not the best kind of weather to be driving in, but when the snow hit, everyone and their car headed for the roads, hurrying to get home before it got any worse. Ironically, it got better, afterwards, but how was anyone to know?

Then I discovered that my dad was at a mid-afternoon doctor’s appointment. His vision is not what it used to be, and he doesn’t have winter tires on his car. So we headed out to try and rescue him. We headed out in this, with the slipping cars and snarled traffic, where you could hardly see the edges of the road.

It turned out that my father had left just before we got there, and he did make it home safely, as did we. Fortunately, everyone knows about winter driving here. People drive slowly and carefully. And that van that started sliding down the hill toward us? We stopped and let him in — he ended up sliding right in front of us — and the line of cautious traffic continued on its way.

Photo taken on January 12, 2011

the snow begins to fall

the snow begins to fall

Last night was the Carleton Choristers’ Christmas concert. The day after a concert feels wonderful, particularly if the concert went well — and it did! I was extra nervous because my partner and I were on the program: I played the harp and she sang and played recorder, performing an arrangement we had created from an obscure minor key version of the Sussex Carol combined with a fiddle tune called Casey’s Hornpipe.

[We both love minor keys and early music, and were inspired in part by the exquisite and entertaining performances of The Toronto Consort, which we enjoyed for several years when we lived in Toronto. But that’s another story.]

We joined this choir when we moved to Saint John, partly because my parents can no longer drive at night. This is a community choir, and for us, a family choir as well: my parents have been with the choir since it started about 12 years ago, and at one time, two aunts, an uncle and a cousin were also singing in this choir. Currently there are about 40 members, and when the choir is in full voice, like it was last night, oh what a glorious wave of sound!

So I woke up this morning with music on my mind, listening to one of my favourites from the concert, a hauntingly beautiful song called “When the Snow Begins to Fall”. Here is the chorus, to carry you through the day:

see it floating through the air, gently falling everywhere
all the world’s asleep tonight as the ground turns white
see it drifting from above, ’tis a time of peace and love
as the snow begins to fall.
Andy Beck

Photo taken on November 24, 2010