The Gift

Gifts are something we start thinking about at this time of year.

We fret about finding perfect gifts for the people in our life.

Free gifts and special offers abound. Things can, and often do, get kind of crazy. By December it’s hard to see the wood for the Christmas trees, vis a vis why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Winter lights

I think of it as being placed, reluctantly, in the luge track (or perhaps the head first Skeleton would be more apt) for the festive season. We’re tucked in and about to head off at breakneck speed. Some days will just go by in a blur, until we end up in a crumpled heap on Boxing Day, wondering how on earth we got here.

In short, there seems to be little time for reflection during the holiday season. I’m about to strap myself in for the festive ride. In fact, I’ve already sent newsletters of my own about special offers and free gifts in my online shop, for people looking to buy gifts for others.

Which got me thinking about the nature of gifts. Gifts that you can’t buy.

Of course there are many of these. Love. Friends. Family. Music. Nature. Health.

But, particularly at this crazy time of year, one of the most precious gifts is stillness.

Floating feather

I am a bit of a “doer” in my personal and creative life. I tend to just keep moving and doing until I’m too tired to do any more. I think I get this from both of my parents, who seemed to be constantly making, fixing, knitting, cooking or cleaning.

In some ways this is great, but it makes it hard to be “in the moment”. I find my mind insistently wanders to tasks ahead when I’m doing yoga or trying to meditate. Or even sleep.

But I finally discovered one way to stop the mind spinning and quiet the “lists”.

A brisk wind stirs waves on the birdbath

In 1999 my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My mother had died unexpectedly two years earlier and I’d hardly got my bearings after that. My dad lived in the UK. I lived in Canada with my husband, and two small children. Thanks to the great kindness of a friend, who gave me three business class trips to the UK, I was able to visit him often during his last year. When the end came, he didn’t want to die in hospital, so my last trip was not just to visit, but to nurse him at home. It was a remarkable time. My brain, I believe, actually melted a bit under the stress of fatigue and worry about him, and about the family I had abruptly left behind in Vancouver.

I slept on the floor by his bed and was awake every hour or so. For one hour a day, a nurse came in to bathe him and to give me a break. The time was not really enough to have a nap and, if I tried, my mind just raced with a competing derby of thoroughbred worries. So, instead, I took to going for walks in the countryside around the house.


On those walks, everything seemed magnified in significance and beauty. I believe that the sheer stress of grief, responsibility, and tiredness forced my eyes open in a new way.

Things that I would not have noticed before seemed truly incredible. The rusted and contorted barbed wire on the farmer’s fence seemed to somehow symbolize the struggle that my dad was going through. Every old stone wall, piece of moss and crumpled leaf seemed full of meaning. I may just have been delirious from lack of sleep, but that experience stayed with me long after he died.

In a way, it was Dad’s last gift.

It permanently changed how I look at the world.

Spectacular dumpster in the Costco parking lot. The dodgy end.

When things are spinning out of control, I’m still an epic failure at traditional meditating. But walking and looking really closely at the things around me (which for me, involves photography) can slow things down to a peaceful pace, or even a momentary full stop.


All the lists and the worries can be briefly put to one side. For a few moments everything is still, and all that is beautiful and wonderful in nature is perfectly encapsulated in that one piece of rust or lichen, the sheen of a bird feather, the visual poetry of shadow or, the hop, skip and jump of a crow. It’s like being in a cathedral, even if it’s, geographically, an urban alley or a forest trail.

This little starling kept me company while I had a coffee at Granville Island.

This little starling kept me company while I had a coffee at Granville Island.

Walking to pick up my van from the mechanic I came across this incredible landscape of created by a shattered windshield on the sidewalk.

Walking to pick up my van from the mechanic I came across this incredible landscape of created by a shattered windshield on the sidewalk.

The sun catches the light on lovely new post-molting season crow feathers

The sun catches the light on lovely new post-molting season crow feathers

Amid the holiday shopping, menu planning, house decorating, travel plans, and social life scheduling, it’s worth taking the time to give yourself a few of these small gifts every day.

Downtown Vancouver - falling leaves trapped and displayed on the glass awning above the sidewalk.

Downtown Vancouver – falling leaves trapped and displayed on the glass awning above the sidewalk.

To look deeply at something (not in a shop) and think to yourself “wow”.

And then move back into the slipstream of your day, but carry the “wow” with you.



logo with crow

32 thoughts on “The Gift

  1. Beautifully written June. I was with you in your thoughts. Your images are beautiful as always. One way I have made my Christmas easier is for the last few years I have told my friends/family that really do not need anything that the money and effort is going into little ones in need instead. I get ages of children in our local neighborhood that might not get anything for Christmas and make up really lovely stockings from Santa. This is a pleasure for me and takes the stress out of trying to find that one thing someone has on their list.

  2. June, as always your words are stunning. You have such an ability to paint a canvas in my head with your words, and then you put it to paper with your photos. We can all take a lesson from your blog and find the time from our busy days to experience at least one “WOW” moment. It will make the difference in our perspective, of that I’m certain.

  3. beautifully written, thank you for this. i once read a description of meditation whilst doing physical exercise, which struck a chord with me, however your piece expresses exactly how i feel. i never had much luck with sitting and emptying my mind, however i go for a run every morning, just a couple of miles, but always by the lake, the river or the bushland and always come back with a sense of peace, serenity and strength

    • Thanks so much. It’s true that we all have to find our own path to a moment of quiet. I have tried and failed to “truly appreciate” doing the dishes as well. I wish I could be “in the moment” with household chores, but I just want to get them done and fit in time for a walk! I’m so glad you found your meditation method in running.

  4. Beautiful words June! You have a great way of looking at life and noticing the small wonderful things that most people never do. I enjoy your posts immensely and can identify with you at the way you see nature. Thank you for the amusing and wonderfully stories!

  5. very poignant and right from the heart. It touched mine and I shed a tear. its important to stop and smell the roses and we often forget that. thanks June x Paula

  6. Stunning photos June. You’re so right. It’s a reminder to walk and wonder that I should take to heart more often & not just when things get December busy!

  7. I sent this out to friends, and now you have more fans out there! Truly lovely to contemplate all you have written here, aided by your evocative photographs. Thanks, June.

  8. Thanks so much for this June! I’m hearing a kindred spirit here – absolutely, walking as a place to re-ground! Seeing rather than simply looking, so that what the eye captures can be held, and regarded, and cared for so that it reveals itself in ways that we need desperately, but cannot allow when we are too full of busy-ness. Needed this reminder very much. Thanks.

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  12. Hello June:
    I am one of many (I am sure) who enjoy your blog posts and observations on urban nature, in addition to your wonderful art.
    Thank you for sharing the 2015 post along with this week’s thoughts.
    A failure at meditation? Hmmm…finding reflection in an outdoor dog dish or in the colour within a bird’s wing feathers- I would say those are meditations that are a gift of nature! If only we take time to see and be with them.
    Your posts help me do just that…thanks so much for sharing these visual moments .
    I always appreciate them- but even more so now as the “seasonal spirit” is being whipped up…..gazing into your garden dish is just perfect…
    Looking forward to more meditative moments and your next post!

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