Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Choosing Beauty

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly in my Garden

Lately, my thoughts are being challenged daily between either focusing on beauty or ugliness. It can encompass any and all subject matter from world politics to the daily minutiae of my life.

From the horror of another massacre or terrorist attack one moment to the uplifting efforts of an individual or group to help humanity in some way. From the sight of yet another flattened and rotting cane toad carcass on the road to the graceful sway of a horse's tail in the paddock. This constant barrage of blissful awe versus grotesque actions and visuals takes its toll some days. However, what I am getting better and better at, is moving on quickly from the negative thoughts and images and lingering on the positive ones. 

For starters, I pretty much stopped watching television a few years ago. In particular, the news. I still enjoy the odd movie or sporting event, but weeks can pass without ever turning on the TV. What this does for me is quite empowering. Instead of someone else deciding what I will see, I get to choose what I want to see. I am able to limit the effects of marketing and advertising that permeates the masses with their mostly inane commercials. You need this. You need that. You will be more beautiful if you use this. You will miss out on this if you don't do that. You get my drift. Instead, I am able to read and watch what interests me versus wasting my time being bombarded by the drivel of commercialism. I have chosen enrichment over banality.

My daily walks even present me with the need to choose. The town I am living in is a perfect example of economic diversity. Many once lovely homes have fallen into disrepair. The charming "Queenslander' homes that populate this area are the epitome of shabby chic...except when they are more shabby than chic. The ones that have not seen a fresh coat of paint since 1962 or the ones that have undergone addition after poorly executed addition and leave but a trace of their former bones make me feel sad. I walk past these beaten and battered, shells of their former selves, and can almost feel their despair, their shame. I have to consciously stop myself from lingering too long in their dilapidated energy. I increase my pace and look for a more pleasing facade, knowing there are some ahead. When I reach a cared for property, I am filled with relief and an appreciation of their tended gardens and inviting verandas. My pace slows and the fresh image restores what the previous visual assault wreaked upon me.

If I were to allow the ugliness to trump the beauty, it would depress me. For anyone who is familiar with the daily photos I take, it is clear that I choose to focus on the beauty around me. The beauty of nature is my religion really. It is not always in my immediate field of vision, but I do make a continual and constant effort to surround myself with things I find visually pleasing. My eyes are always looking for a fix. My heart can skip a beat when I see a shocking pink bougainvillea tumbling over a fence, or a mob of grazing kangaroos. A spectacular sunset can connect me to my source as intensely as the most stirring piece of music can move me to tears. 

Stopping to smell the roses is a way of life that I have chosen. It does not cost anything. We are surrounded at all times with nature, whether it be a pot of herbs on your inner city window sill or endless views of rolling hills surrounding your country house, it's there. No pot of herbs? Look out your window. Notice a cloud formation. Watch the wind carry a scrap of paper past your window - the simple elegance of that.  Find a snippet of beauty in the seeming mundane. Every time you practice these small moments of conscious awareness, you are feeding your soul. 

And what soul does not need a little fuel? I don't know any. Do you?

Monday, January 12, 2015

The third Set

Time. Too little time. Too much time. Where does time figure into your life right this moment? Do you feel like time is running out? Or, do you feel like you have all the time in the world? If you are over 40 and reading this, my guess is the former. Time is a luxury after 40. Before that, it seems like there is a never ending supply and flitting it away is no big deal. I have done my fair share of flitting.

Nowadays I am conscious of my flitting. There is an underlying fear around it. And it is not a fear of death. It is the fear of not having enough time left to do all the things I still want to do. The only thing that really bothers me about dying is that there are a few people that might suffer when I die. The thought of their pain and grief around my dying is the part that saddens me. I see dying as a transition into another realm. Another energy form. The next big adventure. However, if all that turns out to be bullshit, as it could, then that is why I figure we really need to make the most of this lifetime. But what does that mean really? 

There are days when I think I am living up to my own expectations. And then there are days when I am clearly flitting away my precious days. I am quite certain I could be doing more in terms of contributing to the world. But it is so easy to justify our existence even if we are not doing as much as we could. My personal favourite is that I have exceeded a few benchmarks in my lifetime in contrast to my family history, so that in itself is a contribution - sort of.  I can proudly say I am the only member of my generation on the paternal side of my family to have earned a university degree. That's something I think. The next generation has fared better in that department, so perhaps I was the initiating force behind an evolution of education in my family. 

Tied in first position with that achievement is the manner in which I (and her father) raised my daughter. It may even exceed the education badge when I think about it. I raised her without any physical discipline. This was not learned because gawd knows I was subjected to it countless times as a child. It was the most important thing in the world to me. From the moment she was born, I promised myself I would never spank or hit her. In addition to that, I was always very careful to avoid shaming or psychological abuses. Words were chosen consciously and carefully and raised voices were rare.  So, I broke the cycle of physical and psychological abuse in my immediate family and my hope is that, should she have children of her own one day, she will carry on in the same fashion. I am pretty certain that previous generations of my family were never able to break that pattern. 

So, there are two examples of how easy it is to rest on one's laurels. Gee, I think to myself, if I never accomplish anything else in my life, at least I did a couple of things to improve the future generations. Yet, still, I beat myself up. It's not enough. I need to do more. Stop flitting. Sometimes I can even talk myself into thinking my job here is done now. I am tired. Those two tasks were exhausting. I just want to flit now. However, what I really think is happening is that I have been on a break. A much needed break before my next contribution. It does feel that way. After all, if I live to the average expected age for a woman in Canada, I have almost another third to go. 

The last third. The big one. The final curtain call. The "go big or go home" third. The one that requires the most energy. Perhaps it is why the time in between the second third and the last third required so much flitting. I was storing up for the finale. 

2015...the beginning of the third and final set. 

And I plan to win the match. (With the odd flit between games.) 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Daily Laugh

One of the most wonderful parts of my daily life here in Australia is the nature and wildlife that surround me. Not just the adventures away from my house, but the everyday relationship I have developed in my own back yard. For instance, just now as I was about to sit down at my desk and start to write, I looked up and out as a flash of something caught my eye and was thrilled to see a fairly large Kookaburra glide through and land on the Hills Hoist. Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with a "Hills Hoist", here in Queensland that is what they call a clothesline that spins around on a central pole. In Nova Scotia, in Canada, they call them Whirligigs. This is actually the first time in my life that I have had one in my backyard. 

As a child, my mother had a T-clothesline until we got a new washer and dryer when I was about 8 years old. Prior to that big advance in our domestic technology, she washed our clothes in a ringer washer and hung them to dry. I will never forget my awe when the temperature would dip below freezing before she would get the clothes off the line and they would be frozen stiff as boards, taken down and brought inside to dry on racks by the gas furnace or near the stove in the kitchen. I can still recall the smell of damp as they thawed. However, back to the Kookaburras. They love the Hills Hoist. They seem unperturbed when a breeze causes it to spin slowly, which is good news for me, as I then get to observe them from various angles, not unlike, chickens on a rotisserie. 

For some reason, this morning, they allowed me to get closer than I have ever been to them before. I spoke softly to them the whole time and just kept taking careful, slow steps until I actually got closer than I actually felt comfortable. It was as though they were completely unafraid of me and I was now afraid of them. They are, as you can see, a fairly large bird and their beaks are formidable. I have never heard of it, but should one of them ever decide I was a threat, a peck from one of them would no doubt cause some pain. So, I stopped and just talked to them for a moment or two, snapped a few shots with my phone and turned and headed back inside. They remained for a time until there was seemingly nothing more to hunt on my patio and it became clear that I was not going to feed them. I do feed the parrots as they eat a wild bird seed mixture that I buy in bulk from the local farm supply here, but the Kookaburras and a few of the other birds, like the Butcher birds and Magpies prefer their meals to be more meaty. 

My neighbour feeds them ground mince, but I have read that is not really healthy for them, so I refrain. Sometimes, I think they come and sit on my clothesline thinking they may be able to get a free meal from me. I must be a disappointment to them. They do seem to find beetles and worms and other squiggly, flying insects at my place though, so it isn't all bad here. I just love them. They have such a majestic air about them. They seem royal to me. They are also such a gorgeous colour combination of browns, greys and cream and black with that bit of robin's egg blue...they would have fit in perfectly with that colour palette that was so popular for so long in interior design in the last decade. 

When I first arrived here, it came as a surprise to me that so many people hung their clothes out to dry. In recent decades in some parts of Canada, backyard clotheslines were banned as crazy as that may sound. It had become what some folks deemed an eyesore. Only poor people hung clothes to dry outside. That perception developed around the time indoor clothes dryers became popular and initially only the well to do could afford them. Those same people did not want to have to look at their less than affluent neighbour's laundry flapping in the wind next door, so bans were put in place all over Canada. In fact, it was only in 2008, that Ontario lifted the bans as more and more people wanted to save energy and money by hanging their laundry outside. It has become a domestic ritual I have actually embraced here. Sure, there are times when it is not exactly convenient, but I like the way the clothes smell of fresh air afterwards. I do not even own a dryer. I had planned to buy one when I got my new washer, but thought I would wait and see if I really wanted or needed one, and turns out, I am fine without one. I suppose if I had kids, I would feel differently, but with just two of us, I manage to live without one.

But, once again, I have digressed. Back to the kings of the bush. They alone are reason to own a Hills Hoist. In fact, all the birds seem to perch on it at one time or another and as it is in clear view from all the windows at the back of my house, it is like having an outdoor bird sanctuary all the time. Believe it or not, I have not experienced a single bird pooping on my laundry either. Perhaps they only really enjoy sitting on it when it is empty. At first, I thought it might become a problem, but so far they have only once had an "accident" on a piece of clothing. So, not a big deal. Maybe it is karma. I keep most of them fed, and they repay me by finding another place to crap. For this, I am grateful.

In Canada, it was always exciting to see a Cardinal. No matter how many times I spotted them, it was always a thrill to see their vibrant red against the green leaves of summer or especially against a snow-covered evergreen bough. Here in Australia, I now get the same kick from the Kookaburras. They are part of the Kingfisher family and this particular species was once known as the Laughing Jackass or Giant Kingfisher. They wake me early every morning with their laughing. They can be counted on like a rooster at the crack of dawn, in fact, even a bit earlier than that...usually around 4 am. I have grown to appreciate their wake-up call. They don't annoy me like crows or roosters for that matter. They greet me in the morning and they say good night just after dusk. They are a constant reminder that I am "not in Kansas anymore".

 I know. Let's declare Kookaburras to be the new Owls in home decor. You read it here first people! 

Who's in?