It’s been a bad year for maple syrup up in these parts.
And for my blogging. The flow just wouldn’t go.
“Nobody’s boiling,” is the maple word on the (frozen) grapevine. This winter’s begrudging conditions have been making it hard for me to get the creative juices flowing as well.
Who would expect a November “break” from blogging to turn into three more months of non-productivity? But, like maple sap, writing can freeze up and stay that way. Life in general around here this late winter seems to have hit a frustrating stall. People I meet, even strangers on the street or at the doctors’ office, strike up a complaining conversation about the weariness of a winter that just won’t quit, despite its tiny hints of false hope that it will.
The problem with the maples isn’t that thaws haven’t happened. The snow has melted off most of the lawn in repeated cycles, between the repeated icings and snowfalls. And it isn’t that the warmth hasn’t ever lasted for more than one day. The grass even started greening temporarily a couple of times. What’s wrong is these maples’ great hungering need… for sun.
The locally knowledgeable say that unless that sun pours down and bathes the maples’ upper branches in its light, the syrup below won’t be drawn up, up, out of its confines in their roots. And this has been a predominantly sunless pre-spring.
But look what I saw this morning!
I need sun, too. And Son. Without the former, vitamin D languishes, and human energy and health flags with it. Without the latter, spiritual life wilts and lies dormant.
So I think I’ll take a walk today, out on the rises, and lift up my crown and my upper limbs to both sun and Son and invite a soaking. Then I’ll come in and review the trickles of creativity that did happen in the temporary thaws and occasional sun blooms of this long winter, like the following droplet of a collage…
Foreword note: Before I share the following, let me make it clear: I love trees, and woods, and the shady, wind-shielding privacy they offer—up to a point! I hadn’t realized how far beyond that point we’d gotten…
From my journal, November 30, 2017:
Startled by the date, suddenly surprised that it’s the last day of November! [This is especially odd, considering how often I’ve been peering at the calendar!]
It’s been an interesting month…
Yesterday was an interesting day…
I’d planned to run errands early, and avoid the chain saw noise that would accompany tree removal by the driveway. But my head still ached, my sinuses were still so stuffed I felt oxygen deprived, and my throat kept stinging all the way up through my right ear. So I decided to stay home and rest.
As it turned out, the preliminary sawing wasn’t very loud (smaller chain saw), and even the big stuff later I was able to muffle and distract my mind from, with ear buds plugged into computer.
And what a blessed difference once that middle tree fell!
When I peeked out the bedroom window to observe the progress, the opened view hit me like a refreshing breeze or cool drink on a hot, thirsty day [though this day was neither]—or [more appropriately], a flung-open prison door!
That wall of evergreen had grown so big and tall and solid and dark, it had been making me feel closed in, limited, confined. Now, as in the past, I go to that window happily, able to gaze out over meadow and sky, to see the clouds in pale shades of color stretched across the horizon. [We can now also see the animals that run up and down the slope beyond the line of evergreens or sneak into hiding places to eat things we don’t want them to.] Now, with all the wood cut into logs and all the debris hauled away, it’s a very happy thing.
When I went outside later, for a sudden errand after all (that I’ll tell about later), I saw that we even got a Charlie Brown Christmas tree out of the timbering operation—with lots of cute little pine cones festooning it already!
It’s so quirky and scraggly, but fresh and piney-smelling, I’ve actually been thinking of hauling it into the house and setting it up, at some point during December, at least. But I’m not sure. I haven’t had a Christmas tree up inside for several years now, and that little treetop, scrawny as it is, just might do what the whole tree it came from was doing before it came down: crowding life and obscuring the fuller, better view.
Though Advent has sneaked up on me again, I’ve been pondering it, lots. What a great focus its forward look might be for this December! Could it help prevent the month’s becoming just a haphazard pile of busy distraction that obscures Christ more than reveals Him? Its expectant seeking might open up the view to a far more meaningful Christmas than the more familiar traditional preparations (trees and bells and jelly-belly elves)—if we keep our beloved December doings trimmed to appropriate size…
Well, God, with his remarkable sense of humor, evidently has been helping with this:
Just a few days before Thanksgiving, our double wall oven died! (And yes, we were hosting the Dinner.) Finding new ovens to fit our available space proved difficult. When, this week, we finally found the brand and model we thought would work best, another surprise: Online searching revealed that this day, November 30th, was the final 39%-off sale day for this exact model!
We scooted right out and ordered the set, but the earliest delivery date offered was December 19th! This is long past my usual cookie baking time, people!
But maybe that’s the point, hmm?
Questions to ask myself (and you may ask yourself, if you like):
-What typically grows so big in my life at this time of year, that it crowds and blocks out Christ?
-Can I trim these things to reasonable size, or would they be better cut out and hauled away?
-Regarding each family tradition or ritual, which of them don’t really have much to do with Christ’s first or second advent?
A post I hope to publish soon (called “Gotham’s Dirty Little Christmas Secret”) might help sort these things out (if I can just alleviate this pesty cold enough to think straight…)
Young daughter to father, while pushing her small hand against his belly: “You need to get some exercise. You’re out of shape!”
Father to daughter: “I’m not out of shape. Round is a shape!”
What kind of shape are you “in”— or “into” right now?
Round seems to be the shape I often fixated on during my “31 Days”—er, I mean 29.
(Admittedly, I have no Day #29 or 30. But I excuse myself—like the above dad—by pleading a late start. As for the 31 collages promised: Delivered, as pre-announced! You can go back and count…)
Anyhow, I realize in retrospect that rounded forms caught my attention and dominated the design in six more of those 31 collages. These:
In addition, circles or rounded forms play an important part in all of these (ten more):
We could even stretch it and say the hearts are very rounded in this one…
and the distant umbrellas in this one, though technically octagons, look very like circles…
And oh, yes, the flowers dominating this foreground are round, aren’t they?
That would make 20 out of 31. Almost 2/3! No other particular shape predominates so much.
Is this important? Maybe. I need to ponder it more myself as I review all of these.
The thing is, collage—like any expressive art form—can show us things about our inner thoughts, feelings, and desires that we might not have noticed. Sometimes contemplating it helps uncover obscured issues we need to work with—therapeutically, or as a means of setting and assessing goals that match our inner climate.
At the silent retreat I attended last January, in an optional “creative journaling” session, we attendees were asked to draw a shape: without overthinking, just draw whatever our hand happened to put down on the page before us.
We were then invited to consider why we chose it, and what thoughts and feelings it seemed to conjure as we gazed at it. Then anyone who wanted to share their reflections could do so.
Someone displayed a triangle, sharing thoughts it brought to her mind, someone else an elongated rectangle. Me? I felt like the odd man out. It seemed all the others had chosen a simple geometrical form. I had drawn, and kept retracing, a free-form label-less rounded shape. I felt somehow embarrassed, like the kid who thinks she “didn’t do it right” because her product seems so different.
When considering what might have prompted me to choose it, I felt reticent, shy, embarrassed. After returning to my room, I thought, oh, this is silly, rumpled the paper and tossed it into the wastebasket. But after thinking about it more later, I ended up retrieving it and flattening it out on the tabletop, smoothing with my hands. Emerging from my mind were reminders of a deep disappointment in my life. Soon I was realizing here was something well worth bringing before God during my retreat.
I know I’m not revealing my innermost thoughts here, but that would take some time, be deeply personal, and involve other people who wouldn’t appreciate being the subject of a public forum blog post. Also, as they say, “it’s complicated,” and I still need to give it, and all these rounded patterns, some further pondering.
So, this 31st mini collage rounds up this series. I not only “feel” finished, but I’ve already started working on a new challenge for November: to write a 50,000 word “novel” before December.
I may even illustrate it with collage—or with that shape from January’s retreat—because what I’ve begun writing is bound to touch on the subject revealed in my heart.
What about you? Want to try it? Just take any old piece of paper, and any old drawing implement, and draw the first shape your hand finds itself making. And ponder: Why did I do that? What was I thinking, and feeling, down deep inside? Should I take this before God? Better yet, start by asking God to reveal anything important before you draw.
Today, again, just an image. A few more thoughts and questions should follow at the beginning of next week—at the end of the 31 Days.
I call it just “Abstract.” If you have been following “31 Days” here, you may notice in it elements or other “echoes” from various mini college themes or components past. I find something a little Dali-esque about it. Gaze at it for a little while and you may find yourself in a mental landscape that stretches deep and far, and that may inspire calm, and rest. If that is so for you, good. May it be a help to rest your mind this weekend, and rest your body, soul, and spirit in the Peace of God.