Runaways, photo by klimkin.

Recently, I dropped by someone’s place for the first time, and was astonished to find chickens clucking around her front yard.  The property was near a busy intersection and I wondered aloud whether she wasn’t worried about her chickens getting hit by a car.   She replied that she wasn’t concerned, because they knew to stick around home.  Only in recounting the incident did I realize I’d effectively asked her the old riddle “why didn’t the chickens cross the road?”

Late one Sunday afternoon, we caught a glimpse of our neighbours running past our living room window.  When my husband opened the door to greet them, they explained that they were just trying to catch their pet, a foster dog they had recently adopted.  It was missing a limb, and she explained that it was soon going to receive a bionic leg.   If they couldn’t keep up with a three-legged dog, I don’t know how they will manage when it has four!

My father spent his 50th birthday in a memorable way, not celebrating, but rounding up runaway cattle with friends and family.  As each successive group showed up to search, enthusiasm ran high, which quickly waned as they navigated difficult terrain on acres of bush and fields.  There was danger that a cow could run onto a road and cause an accident, or that it would leave hoofprints on a golf club’s manicured lawns, or trample crops.  It was September, so the corn stood tall in the fields, and my uncle brought a horse to ride so that he could see over the stalks.  It was a gong show.  Weeks went by before all the cows were found and returned to our pasture.

Animal lessons aren’t necessarily limited to children’s storybooks.  I understand the attraction of being free of fences, and how the grass seems greener on the other side.  Sometimes I’ve wished I could just run away from difficult circumstances or restrictions myself.  Unfortunately, running away usually just creates a host of new problems.

Unlike animals, humans can think through more options, grant themselves little freedoms.  We can resist coercion and calculate the cost of our choices.   We have free will, and even free won’t.  Even if all appears to be lost, Viktor Frankl said that that we still can have the last of human freedoms, “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Limits don’t have to hamper freedom, and in fact often are a catalyst in creatively working out new solutions.  Sometimes, it just makes sense to stay close to home.



The Work of our Hands

The large afghan I’m working on, lengthening as the nights lengthen, serves the dual purpose of giving me something to do. and contributing to my warmth as fall air grows chillier. This particular enterprise has been dragging on over several winters, partly because I’m cautious about muscle strain and partly because my old incentive to produce material goods has lost some steam. It seems the focus should be more about taking away things instead of adding them at this point.  I am eyeing our possessions through the lens of adult children who will one day sift through everything we own.

Still, there’s something magical about conjuring something useful up from strands of yarn. I was once very comforted by a kind person who tucked around me a handmade knitted blanket she’d received as a wedding present. My mother went through a phase of gifting knitted Phentex slippers for others: warm and sturdy, they were worn until worn out.  There were blankets, sweaters, hats, scarves, dolls that have been created over the years.   Before COVID struck, our Itty Bitty Knitting Committee at the local library enjoyed conviviality while clicking away, admiring the creativity of each other’s work.

This is a skill that has been passed down through generations and cultures, taught by mothers and neighbours and volunteers who gave of their time at local schools. Some of these teachers patiently and cheerfully untangled knots and picked up dropped stitches while still managing to encourage would-be yarn artists. And, in my turn,  it was a joy to spend time teaching the grand-daughter who found my casual knitting so intriguing that she clamored to learn. This summer, we worked on a little knitted bear, but also took an opportunity to add crochet to her skills.

As the family prepared to drive home, her mother at the last minute noticed that a large ball of yarn, still attached to the crocheting in her hands, had fallen out of the back car door on to the driveway. How far down the road that ball could have been unwinding!

Seven hours away is quite a distance, and so that yarn could never connect us, but in a strange way, conveying this skill was in itself an invisible bonding.  Yarn and patterns are only material things, and so may fall short, but the time spent together between teacher and student is like a synapse that relays essential knowledge.  It’s only a beginning, but there’s opportunity for discovery and growth and experimentation.  And, for our loved ones, it’s also about creating heart strings that will hopefully span great distances of space and time.

Teddy for Tragedies pattern

                                                                                              May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;  establish the work of our hands for us – yes,  establish the work of our hands.”  Psalm 90:17

Handle with Care

John Keats, Guy’s Hospital, London, Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons


 “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  John Keats

“I believe nothing of any beauty or truth comes of a piece of writing without the author’s thinking he has sinned against something – propriety, custom, faith, privacy, tradition, political orthodoxy, historical fact, literary convention, or indeed, all prevailing community standards together.”    E. L.  Doctorow

Over a lifetime, I’ve accumulated a veritable treasure trove of words, a rich vocabulary that has proven useful in so many ways –  to identify nuances of emotion, to relate something of importance, to communicate with loved family and friends.  And certainly, if I have to someday account for every word I’ve spoken, we’re going to be there a long time!

Words are deeds, living and active.  These words can create universes, as God spoke light into the chaos before the creation.  The author of fiction can create such intricate worlds that we are loathe to close the book on them at the end of the story.

Words have impact, and many a childhood taunt has never been forgotten by the recipient.  They can break down strongholds, as the prophets of old demolished the pretensions of arrogant kings.

To speak the truth is a risky thing, and still today journalists can be subject to death threats or imprisonment.  Words expose, like the child who reports “the emperor has no clothes!”  We need the people who speak out against a fiction that can be subscribed to by entire communities.  In doing so, they loosen the iron grip of fear and greed.

Someone writing a memoir may need to be painfully honest about events in their lives, though they may fear being being ostracized by people they care deeply about.  By courageously digging deeply into their own truth and sharing this insight, they can enable healing and freedom for others.

This amazing power of words – to do great good, or cause incalculable harm.  Handle with care!