Happiness is the Road

It’s been a long time since my last post. Many golden hours have come and gone. I must tell you why I’ve been gone.

yellow-crowned-sparrow

On the day of the spring equinox — my husband’s favourite day of the year, when the season holds the promise of birds migrating back to their nesting grounds, and new growth emerges from the earth — he became sick, and never quite recovered. Then he lost a lot of weight.

On the summer solstice, he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. And then he died four weeks later. Gone from this earth, forever.

My own world disappeared underneath my feet.

In these past four hard months, as I have grieved and breathed and somehow emotionally faced each day, I’ve also rearranged my life at home, to help me cope with this sudden new reality. All the tasks we used to share as partners in life, are my responsibilities now. So I’ve been compelled to put order to things.

The other day while cleaning out the cupboard, I found the pillow cover I bought during our honeymoon in Crete. Tags still on, still tucked inside its original bag.

In my memory, I can still hear the shopkeeper try to translate the Greek words for me, in her broken, helpful English. There is no road to happiness. Happiness is the road.

It was the perfect keepsake for our journey. We had already traveled part of life together as colleagues, then as friends, then as a couple joining our worlds. Now we were starting a new chapter of our relationship together, our married life. The future was full of promise, like spring emerging.

From time to time since then, I’ve taken this keepsake out of the cupboard, admired it, but never bought a pillow for it. An incomplete project. Five years’ worth of good intentions. As it turns out, the whole of our married life.

So, the other day I went downtown and bought a pillow. And then finally, put our honeymoon pillow on the couch.

happiness-pillow

I felt sad, wishing my husband could see it. Why did it take me so long to do this simple thing?

But then something in me softened. Maybe I felt his hand gently on my shoulder. Maybe I heard his tender voice, the suggestion not to be so hard on myself, not to have regrets. After all, we’d been busy living life! We’d been enjoying all our time together. Every minute together. Living, loving, working, traveling, walking the beach at golden hours with our pup. Nothing important had been lost.

My perspective shifted. I saw the pillow now with a different meaningful purpose: to serve as an unexpected gift to my future self, to appear again at a time when I most needed to be reminded of love. To help me remember that happiness is not something you find, or lose, but something you create, something you are.

There is no road to happiness. Happiness is the road.

 

I have so loved every step of the road together, James Malcolm Martin. Thank you for all of this happiness.

A Year’s Worth of Happiness

One of the best things I did last year was keep a Happiness Jar. The intent was to capture small moments of joy, as an exercise of appreciation and gratitude. Some people keep a journal, but I liked the idea of filling an empty jar.

Last night, during the final few hours of 2015, I emptied the contents onto the dining room table to see what a year’s worth of happiness meant to me.

Readng Jar

The first thing that struck me, as I unfolded the first few slips of paper, was how many moments I’d already forgotten. Fleeting moments of happiness, flowing past in the stream of life, thankfully captured.

The first one said simply: “Hail!” I smiled wide. Now I remember that day! It was April 1st, I was working in my office, and suddenly the window panes started rattling with a spring storm. A memory reclaimed!

I unfolded the rest of the papers, one by one.

As it turns out, nature brought me an abundance of happiness. Bright stars, beautiful clouds, the luminous moon. Birds singing, gulls crying, hummingbirds zipping past. Cherry blossoms floating down from the trees. Flowers emerging in the garden. In these simple moments of connection with the natural world, I felt joy.

Sometimes, there were whole days of happiness.

image

Sharing life with others brought me great happiness.

Valentine’s Day: “Hubby sent me upstairs to fetch something on the printer he ‘needed right away.’ It was a love poem.” My husband wrote me a poem! How could I have forgotten this? I must go upstairs and find it.

Random strangers also made me happy. There was the day I was flying home, gazing out the window at the snowy Rocky Mountains, when the man sitting in the row in front of me, poked his head between the seat headrests and exclaimed to me, “Isn’t it amazing?”

Yes. The mountains, and chance encounters with strangers, brought opportunities to experience le p’tit bonheur (the little happiness). As did warm visits with friends, family, and unexpected handwritten letters that came swooshing through our 100-year old mail slot.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Would I be inside anyone else’s happiness jar? I hope I created moments of happiness for others, through things I may have said or done last year.

With all my slips of paper unfolded, I thought about the great wealth of happiness that never made it into the jar.

The whole of our family reunion: meeting relatives from Finland, playing the mandolin with my father, visiting art museums, hiking trails along the Potomac River. All high points of the year; none of them captured. I had not written a single entry in either June or November. However, I do remember many times sitting at the kitchen counter, seeing the Happiness Jar in the corner, but not making the effort to write. If only I had overcome my inertia!

Perhaps, during our happiest times in life, we are fully immersed. And those experiences impact us in a more permanent way. They become our life stories, no note required.

Empty Jar

In total, there were 68 little time capsules in the jar: 60 happy memories; 7 contributions by family; and one fortune cookie message: “A windfall is coming for you.”

Indeed. One insightful project delivered this to me. A year’s worth of happiness arrived, exactly as predicted.

Becoming Finnish

It’s been 165 days since I last shared a post.

The whole of summer has gone by, and almost all of spring before it. The garden emerged, thrived, settled and is now resting. There was a lot of change at work, which required my focused attention. Still, the pup and I took many walks on the beach. And I had the opportunity to travel to the east coast and met some of my Finnish family for the first time.

Which brings me to this post. Something new has emerged from these 165 days and all the golden hours within them. Yesterday I finally gave birth, in a sense, to a companion writing space to A Golden Hour:

This blog was born in an airport lounge, when the universe handed me five unplanned hours.

My flight home from a short trip had been delayed, so I found a cozy spot in a quiet place where I could relax and pass the time. I listened to music, read the newspaper, sent a few emails, and ate a small dinner. Then I settled deep into my chair.

Gazing out the window, an idea surfaced that had been stirring for a while. I think perhaps it has been gently rising for more than a decade, ever since my grandmother passed away.

I hope you will share in my journey, becoming Finnish (and enjoy the rest of this post).

And I have many new Golden Hour thoughts to share in the days ahead. I appreciate you being here!

Source: Humble beginnings.

Kind Encounters

Something really lovely and random happened today.

It was along this stretch of the beach.

BeachI was doing my usual beachcombing, looking gently for bits of seaglass and heart-shaped rocks. I was aware of other people on the beach, passing by from time to time, but it seemed we were each in our own space of contemplation.

In a departure from my usual habits, I picked up a small black pebble with a lime green stripe. As I admired it in my palm, a thought went through my mind: Perhaps I will start to collect rocks with stripes.

At that moment, I heard a voice behind me. I turned around and saw a young woman smiling brightly at me. She said with so much sincerity:

“I meant to say hi to you when I walked past. I don’t know why I didn’t. So, I turned around and came back. Hi.”

Is that not the loveliest thing a stranger could say (and do)?

We have all had the experience of walking past someone, for some reason holding our words inside. Wanting to be courteous or kind, but also not wanting to interfere or disturb. Feeling an instinctive desire to help, or open a door, or pick up a dropped item, but missing the immediate moment to assist. Ultimately, not acting on our impulse to connect with a stranger, regretting afterwards that something held us back.

This young lady recognized this and reclaimed the moment.

I smiled, and spontaneously extended my hand and said the one thing that came to me, in that moment. Before the moment got away.

“Here is a pebble with a green stripe to go with your sweater.”

 

A Leather Bound Book

I love old things with soul.

Old, soulful, worn but still purposeful objects from another time and place that have been loved before. I am drawn to certain of these things by an irresistible force of nature.

One of these soulful old things beckoned to me yesterday. I was out for my usual Saturday walk, a random meandering through neighbourhood streets and parks — when I decided to peek inside a local consignment shop.

Leather BookThere on a table near the entrance was a small brown book. A lovely, old leather bound book.

The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Sidney Colvin.

I picked it up, feeling its gentle weight in my hand. The leather was so soft. I don’t think I’d ever held a leather bound book before.

I turned open the cover and let the pages fall open to a natural, familiar place — perhaps a favourite passage of the previous owner. My eyes landed on these words:

“If you had seen the moon last night! It was like transfigured sunshine; as clear and mellow, only showing everything in a new wonderful significance. The shadows of the leaves on the road were so strangely black that Dowson and I had difficulty in believing that they were not solid, or at least pools of dark mire.”

The moon! Now I was drawn into this little book’s spell. I was vaguely aware of the chatter of people moving behind me in the shop, but their voices blurred into the background, while the space encircling me and this small leather book was ‘clear and mellow.’

How old was this book? I gingerly turned a few wispy pages near Leather Book Datethe front. 1912, over a century ago, about the same age as my house. You know, I have a lovely old bookcase in my hundred year old house that might like to hold this hundred year old book.

By now I could feel the leather becoming warm underneath my hand. I was already starting to feel attached. I felt reluctant to put it back down on the table, in case another browser saw the error of my ways and quickly picked it up, thinking I’d passed it over. I didn’t actually know if the book had any collectible value. All I could feel was its heart value.

I flipped through a few more pages, considering whether this book and I were meant to go home together. I then turned to the introduction and read these few words:

“The circumstances which have made me responsible for selecting and editing the correspondence of Robert Louis Stevenson are the following. He was my closest friend.”

His closest friend. That was enough. My decision was sealed. This book was a personally curated collection of letters, a labour of love from an old friend, to show the ‘richness of his nature’ and repay him for ‘inestimable’ affection and confidence.

With the warm soft feel of leather in my hands, the age and grace of the binding, the lure of the words inside, and the compelling introduction, I had no choice. The serendipity of the moment was also clear. This book had chosen me to be its next steward.

Robert Louis Stevenson was an author — a novelist, essayist, poet and travel writer. All of the things I aspire to be, an identity I hope to chisel, over this next phase of my life. Perhaps because it seems such an honour to touch and improve someone else’s life, including across time and in another place. Which makes me recall an old saying: when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I look forward to reading this old leather bound book and learning from a great teacher.

Struggle and Progress

Waterlogue Tall Tree by Karin“Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.”

Douglas Malloch, American Poet

This post inspired today by a gentle comment in Humans of New York.
Full poem by Douglas Malloch here.

Wassailing the Apple Orchard

“Wet leaves and rotting apples — the smell of the orchard in fall.”

Grandma's Apple Tree
Climbing trees in the 70’s in Orchard Lake, Michigan.

That is how a local orchard owner described the aroma and fermentation of making old-fashioned apple cider.

I know exactly what she means. As a young girl, I used to climb the trees in my grandmother’s apple orchard. I know that familiar smell of wet leaves, fallen apples, and the crisp earthy air.

Last weekend for a lark, I went a-wassailing at a local cider maker, to learn more about growing apples, sample some cider, and for the simple pleasure of being outdoors in a fruit orchard on a sunny January day. Wassailing is a medieval custom to annually bless and drink to the orchard in winter, to encourage a good harvest in the coming season.

This ritual might come in handy. I now live in a hundred year old house in Victoria, Canada and have inherited a small orchard of two trees. The largest one is old and lovely and crooked and covered in moss, and propped up with a 4×4 board, but still produces a good late summer crop of soft, sweet apples. My urban farming neighbour says these are Gravenstein apples. I’ll take her word for it.

Apple Tree
The focal point of the backyard … a lovely heritage apple tree.

And I love this old tree. La Vielle Arbre des Pommes. I was married under this tree. In summer I sway in my grandmother’s hammock under this tree. My pup likes to lay at the base (her “post”) and survey the yard. The woodpeckers, chickadees, hummingbirds, juncos, sparrows, robins and flickers all enjoy this tree, too.

Apple Blossoms
The old apple tree blossoms around May 1.

The second tree in my humble orchard is a younger, smaller, sturdier and giving tree that produces an astonishingly generous, early autumn crop of small, crisp, sweet and perfect dark red apples. I’d love to learn what variety they are. If you know, please tell me (and I’ll be happy to thank you with apples.)

Little Red Apples
The smaller tree produces apples that are typically ready in late September-early October.

I also have a pear tree, but that is another gardening story for another time.

For now, it is still winter and the trees are bare. Yesterday it was calm and sunny, so we gave them a light pruning, and sprayed them with dormant oil. It will still be a few months until they blossom; still a few more before their fruit slowly ripens over summer. In the meantime, there is nothing more to do except continue to love them, admire them, and wait for the bountiful harvest. Cheers.

Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring,
As you do give them Wassailing.