The longest night – but tomorrow, as always, more light will come

Entrance, the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, Montreal, December 2014

The entrance to the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in downtown Montreal on the recent evening of its Longest Night service.

It is the winter solstice today, Dec. 21. Which means that this is the shortest day and the longest night of the entire year, the one with the least daylight and the most darkness. Even though it is officially only the first day of winter, for us in northern climes it is very much – given the cold, and especially the long darkness – “the bleak midwinter,” as Christina Rossetti‘s starkly beautiful poem puts it.

The Longest Night serviceThe church that Raymond and I attended when we lived in Montreal, and that we still try to stay active in as much as is possible given the geographical distance between Queensborough and there, had what I thought was a moving and significant service this past week.

It was called the Longest Night service, and though it was not technically held on the longest night – it was on Wednesday, Dec. 17 – it was close enough. The reason for the service, as you can see from the sign for it that was outside the church, was to offer a time for reflection and comfort, amid the darkest time of winter, for those experiencing sadness and loss.

Because, you know, Christmas can be a very tough time for those experiencing sadness and loss. Amid all the bustle and light and gifts and carols, many of us think of those loved ones we have lost. It might have happened during the past year, so that this is the first Christmas without the presence of that loved one. I know so many people for whom that is the case this year, and I know that many of my readers do as well. Or the loss might have been in the Christmas period in a previous year; my own father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, died 10 years ago this December, and both of Raymond’s parents, Raymond Sr. (in 1984) and Cécile Brassard (in 2003), died at this time of the year. Or it could be that one just especially misses loved ones who are gone in this season, when everything that happens is supposed to be so happy and filled with family.

And then there are those experiencing other kinds of loss this Christmas: a loss of health; a loss of a job; a loss of happiness; a loss of faith and hope that things will turn out all right.

The Longest Night service was simple and contemplative, and comforting. At the end, a candle light was passed from person to person, so that each one of us held a lighted candle in the darkness. And we sang Silent Night, a quiet hymn about joy and good news arriving in the darkness and silence of night, at an unexpected time and in an unexpected place: a humble stable. “All is calm; all is bright. Christ the Saviour is born!”

One of my late father’s favourite parts of scripture was John 1, verses 1 to 5: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In the dark December days after Dad died, I thought a lot about that: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The verse is inscribed on his gravestone. His was an example of a life lived in the light, bringing help and joy to other people in his work as a minister and in his example as an upstanding person and a friend. But the words are meaningful also because they remind us that there is light, even in our bleakest times. Even on our longest and darkest nights.

So tonight, the longest night, I send from the Manse to all those feeling pain and loss in this Christmas season a wish that your darkness may be brightened by happy memories of your loved ones, and by the joy and hope and promise that Christmas brings. Life can be so dark sometimes; but the darkness has not, and will not, and cannot, overcome the light. Light shines in the darkness!

Sherbrooke Street, Montreal, Christmas 2014

The lights at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, Sherbrooke Street, Montreal, December 2014.

A flag at the Manse for Decision Day in Scotland

Scottish flag at the Manse

Raymond hoists the Scottish flag – the St. Andrew’s Cross, or Saltire as it’s officially called – at the Manse this evening. (Note how his shirt matches it. That wasn’t planned.)

Now don’t get the wrong idea about this: just because Raymond and I have a Scottish flag flying from the front of the Manse as you read this (if you’re reading it this evening, Sept. 17, or tomorrow, Sept. 18), it doesn’t mean we’re plumping for the Scottish-independence side in tomorrow’s referendum.

No, we’re just celebrating all things Scottish on a day when the whole world seems to be looking toward that country. And I guess also seizing the chance to fly the Saltire (which I’ve just learned – here – is what it’s officially called), which Raymond bought a while back because of our connection to the very Scots-oriented Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul (Presbyterian) in Montreal. We were married there!

I’ve written before (like here and here and here) about the charge we get about mixing it up with different flags at the Manse on significant national days; and Raymond has been having fun acquiring those flags. (Just wait till Oct. 14, and see if you can guess what the flag is that’ll be flying outside the Manse that day!)

As for Scotland’s independence referendum, it strikes a little close to the bone for us, two longtime Montreal journalists and veterans of the independence wars in Quebec. My prediction (for what it’s worth): the vote will be very close, but in the end the majority of people will decide to stick with the United Kingdom. For better or worse.

But whether the Scots stay or go, their country is a place Raymond and I would love to visit one of these times. We dream of experiencing the raw, stark beauty of the Outer Hebrides and the Orkneys and the Shetlands; the history in Edinburgh and the lively cultural scene in Glasgow; and of course the peaty scotch whisky!

Until then, we offer up our own little celebration of all things Scottish – today at the Manse.

You just never know, or: happy surprises (updated)

I don't know about you, but I think this brown-and-white basin/ewer/etc. set that we found at Kim's Kollectibles in Madoc is very pretty indeed; and wouldn't the ewer (pitcher) look beautiful with a cluster of narcissus and/or daffodils in it?

I don’t know about you, but I think this brown-and-white china basin/ewer/etc. set that we found (on sale!) at Kim’s Kollectibles in Madoc over the long weekend is very pretty indeed; and wouldn’t the ewer (pitcher) look beautiful with a cluster of narcissus and/or daffodils in it?

Our blooming narcissus plant in the Manse's garden.

Our blooming narcissus plant in the Manse’s garden.

Good evening, readers! Tonight’s post is coming to you a tiny bit earlier than last night’s, when Raymond and I had been out for an absolutely delightful dinner with some friends from our church here in Montreal, the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. It was late when we got in so I did a quick post featuring little more than a snapshot of a narcissus plant that we practically watched go into bloom over the Victoria Day weekend at the Manse in Queensborough. (Remember those old slo-mo films of flowers bursting into bloom? On OECA – the Ontario Educational Communications Authority, now TVOntario? Yes you do. At least, you do if you are somewhere around my age and grew up in Ontario.)


As I said, that narcissus post was a quick one, just to get my (self-imposed) daily post requirement fulfilled before a late bedtime. But what a nice and surprising response I got to it! Which goes to prove this: you just never know.

The response came in the form of an email from Ernie Pattison, one-half of the Pattison-brother duo/trio (Ernie and Gary Pattison, and Gary’s wife, Lillian) behind the wonderful things (the Old Hastings Mercantile and the Old Omsby Schoolhouse “Educated Dining” and Tearoom ) that are happening in the tiny hamlet of Ormsby, 45 minutes or an hour northwest of Queensborough, in the heart of North Hastings County. I’ve written about all that here, so I won’t go over it again except to say that you must go visit the Old Hastings Mercantile and the Old Omsby Schoolhouse Tearoom (and “Educated Dining”) sometime soon.

What Ernie was writing about was narcissus. Actually, narcissus and closely related daffodils. In North Hastings. Read on (I don’t think Ernie will mind):

“In the early 1960s my neighbour at The Ridge [Katherine here: The Ridge is a small farming community near Coe Hill], Bob McGeachie (who passed away about 13 years ago), planted hundreds of daffodils and narcissus bulbs in a little roadside field across from our house. The narcissus are the last to bloom every May and there are hundreds of blooms on right now. The daffodils, about forty varieties, bloom through April and May every spring and are visited by many people each year. I cut back the sumac every year to allow the hundreds (thousands?) of bright, cheerful blooms to peek through the wild grass. I am sending a photo of a collection of the daffodils that I picked this year. There are some great colours including pink daffodils. We hand out little bouquets to all the moms at the Tea  Room on Mother’s Day.”

Isn’t that fantastic? A field of narcissus and daffodils, of all colours, blooming their heads off way up there in North Hastings County for all to see and admire, and all thanks to a good guy who just went and planted them.

I love that story.

Ernie sent along a lovely photo of some of this year’s crop of daffodils and narcissus in a makeshift vase that was in reality an old (like, really old), pretty china ewer (pitcher), which had been placed inside a matching wide, shallow china bowl that was doubtless the washbasin for a 19th-century family; the ewer was the source of the water poured into the washbasin. Unfortunately the format the photo came in means I can’t reproduce it here, but let me tell you this: it gave me an idea! Happy update: Today Ernie’s brother Gary sent me the photo in a different format, and here it is:

Daffodils picked for a frield at The Ridge, near Coe Hill. Don't they look beautiful in that vintage pitcher? (Photo courtesy of Ernie Pattison)

Daffodils picked from a field at The Ridge, near Coe Hill in North Hastings County. Don’t they look beautiful in that vintage pitcher? (Photo courtesy of Ernie Pattison)

As it happens, on the Victoria Day weekend Raymond and I – okay, I – purchased a really pretty old china basin/ewer/etc. set at half price from an antiques/collectibles store in Madoc that we like a lot (and that I’ve mentioned here before), Kim’s Kollectibles. (I had admired and been tempted by the set at full price a few months before, so when it was on sale at half price, how could I resist?)

And that set is the photo atop this post – which, admittedly, would be much nicer if there were narcissus and daffodil stems in the ewer. But I will leave it to your imagination, and I will feel happy that thanks to our new and not-yet-met-in-person friend Ernie Pattison we have an excellent idea for using that set.

Not to mention a great reason to head north of Queensborough – next spring and every spring after that – and go look at some stark yet beautiful countryside, where daffodils and narcissus bloom. Thanks to the late and thoughtful Bob McGeachie.

Five years and counting, or: from Paris to Queensborough

This was us, five years ago today: happily newly married, and all dressed up for the occasion. (Photo by Richard Maddox)

This was us, five years ago today: happily newly married, and all dressed up for the occasion. (Photo by Richard Maddox)

Today, my friends, is a happy day for Raymond and me: it is our fifth wedding anniversary! Five years ago today we were married in a very small (immediate family only) ceremony at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, our home church in Montreal. Shortly thereafter we embarked for Paris, where we proceeded to enjoy the best honeymoon ever: three weeks divided between Paris and Provence. Magical! (I wrote a bit about it – and posted a photo – here.)

We both find it amusing to consider what we would have thought if someone on that grey, cold (though at least not snowy, like today) April 12, 2008, had told us that five years later we would be celebrating not just our anniversary but our handsome Manse in Queensborough, Ont. – the house that I grew up in. Frankly, if the very notion had been whispered in my ear five years ago, you would have been able to knock me over with the proverbial feather. As for Raymond, I fear he would have – well, let’s not go there.

Anyway, here we are, five years later, happy as clams, and especially happy about our Manse. And here is the evidence: two photos taken last summer, just after the planting of an elm tree at the Manse. We both felt very proud, and so took each other’s photos. Here’s Raymond with the new tree (in front of that very handsome Manse):

Raymond elm tree

and here’s me:

Katherine elm tree

Neither of us quite as dressed up as we were on April 12, 2008. But just as happy.

Maybe even more so!