It is said that swans mate for life, remaining partnered and devoted to each other from adolescence until death. There are many swans in the Cowichan Valley. I’ve seen lamentations of swans spread out over fields and I’ve seen wedges of them flying overhead, but there are two swans that stay in the Cowichan Bay area, right in front of our house.

I don’t see them every day, but often enough, the sight of their elegant, bright white shapes, always traveling close together catches either my or my daughter E’s eye. They glide at a steady pace, placid, at ease. I have never seen a swan in a rush.

I think it could be anthropomorphically suggested that there is a great deal of love flowing between those two long-necked strangely graceful creatures as they live out their lives.

The other day E and I were walking along the seashore in our gumboots. The tide makes it so exciting to revisit the same terrain day after day. Because the water levels are never at the same height, new discoveries are a constant. We were clomping and crunching along over gravelly rock and broken shell, sucking our boots out of softer sand and mud, devotedly focused on the minutiae of small seashore life. Because of this we almost stumbled over the juvenile swan’s dead body before we noticed it – grayish flecked and white feathers, long neck twisted and looped around at the base, lying on it’s back, but with it’s beak extended sideways to the body resting on the earth.

We had a moment of sadness and some curiosity about how the young swan died. A tenderness in my and E’s hearts rose up, caused trembles in our lips and chins, a choke of the throat pinched tight the feeling of a heartfelt sob. It was a sudden and unexpected bubbling fount of sadness, love and joy rising up and exposing the tender sweet spot in our hearts where everything feels so alive, so vulnerable and so raw to the world. We stood, letting ourselves feel the ache, looking out at the sky, wind whipping just a little, standing in the liminal borderland where earth meets water. The grey of the beach, sky and water melding together was relieved by the dead swans’ bright white feathered quickening towards adulthood – arrested in growth at such a precise moment, flattened on the ground.

February – everywhere I look I see reminders that I should be celebrating love. It is after all the month of love, all pressure building towards the 14th, and all focus on romantic erotic love. There are all sorts of ads for romantic dinners around town. E saw one for a venue I’d love to go to sometime – Bird’s Eye Cove Farm – which is having a secret dinner for couples. The secret – you don’t know what you’ll be fed. The venue – an amazing building, with, from what I hear, wonderful chefs. In fact, I know one of the chefs.

I just love that E isn’t viewing Valentines as an event that is for romantic lovers only. She is still a 10-year-old girl, on the child-side of the cusp of awakening to all forms of love.

As it turns out, the original Valentine wasn’t exactly famous for romantic and erotic love so much as the radical and healing acts that made love possible. According to history, Valentine, now a Saint, was imprisoned for performing marriages on soldiers, who were forbidden from marrying. While in prison he performed a miraculous act of healing on the jailer’s daughter – restoring her sight. After she recovered her vision, he is reported to have written her a letter, signed ‘from your Valentine’. This isn’t exactly the soft, romantic syrup we’re accustomed to – no, he was bringing together lovers who would be separated again immediately, with the chance of ever seeing each other again, he was healing his jailer’s daughter, he was loving deeply when he had little hope.

Valentines’ Day means so little to me – I think I’ve had a romantic relationship on Valentine’s day maybe three times, and one of those years was long-distance.

But, love itself?

Love in it’s biggest most expressive and meaningful definitions? It includes agape – a deep divine unconditional love, philia – the broadness of adoring non-sexual love, and eros – the amazing erotic energy of love.  Now these kinds of love, BIG love – expressive, juicy, adoring, hot, passionate, kind and caring love – I’ve been witnessing and appreciating them ALL over the place. And I sure do think it’s worth celebrating.

So, to my dear, beautiful and beloved family and friends: this is my big and beautiful love letter to you and the world.

Love is the swans, as they swim together. Momma bears, as they protect their cubs. Dogs, as they walk their humans.

Love is the older couple that comes dedicatedly to my yoga class. Because I arrive early, I take the extra time to park and read for 20 minutes in my car. This couple arrives about 10 minutes after me and parks a couple spaces ahead of me. They get out of their van, then, each holding the hand of their physically and mentally disabled adult son, they walk across the street, slowly, so he, with his stumbling walk, can keep up. They are both small people, and their son, bent over as he is, dwarfs them. They go around the corner to drop him off and then return together to attend their yoga class. They place their mats side by side, the husband struggles more than his wife in class, but, in their quiet way, the love they have for their son and for each other emanates off them in waves.

Love is the care that all the women in my yoga class take, in our absolutely tiny changing room, with only three showers, to share space, get changed and dressed, showered and watered, all without dispute, anger or conflict. Care in action feels like love indeed.

Love is my momma giving me the space I’ve asked for, even when it’s hard for her.

Love is my uncle J getting me a suitcase when I was 9 years old. Isn’t it funny how our childhood desires tell stories about us as people and the desires we have which are often realized later in life? At the age of nine I had no idea I’d become a traveler with a restless spirit, but the suitcase said it all. And despite all my moves, I still have that suitcase. It works great for my art supplies.

Love is my friend D staying connected to me, looking out for E and I, suggesting fun outings every weekend, eating with us and happily managing the hyper energy of E and her desires to wrestle him to the ground.

Love is my brothers and their passion for food – for feeding people, expressing their bubbling devouring creative energy by serving and nourishing their own loved ones.

Love is my mom sending down her very cute hard-shell suitcase, packed full of goodies, to E, who has been longing for her very own suitcase for over three years.

Love is what I have witnessed in conversation with a few men recently, when describing opening up their long-term monogamous relationships to include polyamory (a quick answer to your question: online-dating is where I encounter most of these fellows). The way they describe how full of love they feel (after working through jealousy) upon witnessing the confidence, sexiness, vitality and joy in their partners, is a privilege to see. Who are we, really, to know how love works best? The gratitude I witnessed in them, for having initiated change in their relationships, for having the opportunity to work through personal jealousies and desires, and then for having that transform into the opportunity to see their partners, their most beloveds, in the flow of their own erotic energy was inspiring. Love, courageous love, indeed!

Love is my parents getting me an old fashioned typewriter when I was 9 years old – my longing for that typewriter surpassed everything else in my life at the time. I can still recall being in my grandparent’s trailer in Peachland, opening the typewriter case, and feel my joy and delight bubbling to the surface as I saw the keys, and imagined the potential for self-expression in my future, one key tapping onto ink and paper at a time. My delight in it eventually led to wearing it out, but look at me now – still writing!

Love is my sister and her exceptional incredible passion for animals, for rescuing them, for caring for them, for finding them homes.

Love is the intensity of feeling I had for my most beloved of childhood pets – Uemi, Ki, Kazia and Simba. Whenever my life feels flat, I can call on that openhearted unbridled childhood passion for the animals that loved me back so unconditionally, and their quirky personalities, and know that love unlocks all frozen places, all flattened spots.

Love is my gratitude for past lovers – for how much they have taught me about who I am, what I like, what I don’t like, and how, even when they’ve gone, I can draw on that experience to be more clear about who I am.

Love is what I have for my insanely creative artist friends – their ideas, their visions and the beauty they create. I love that, by witnessing their examples of making a creative life work, I can see hope and possibility for keeping art a part of my life. I love how they inspire me to see how I can manage what sometimes feels like an entirely unmanageable artists’ brain, and avoid the practical approach of crushing it.

Love is what I have for my ridonkulously creative family – how is it that we have all ended up essentially self-employed, exploding in our own ways with creativity? There isn’t a drop of bland between any of us. Perhaps a bit of crazy and kooky but I love it, I love it, I love it!!!

Love is what I have for my daughter E, the cartoon character come to life (thanks for that description K). She is exploding into her own self – joyous, vivacious, curious, animated, creative, expressive. My heart just about breaks to pieces when I spend time with her. How is it I was so divinely blessed to have this little person in my life?

Love is the action I see at play in my own healing work, and in my healer friends. We can call it what we will, and we all use different tools, but in it’s distilled essence? That caring, that intensity, that desire to help people get unstuck and to feel whole? That’s love too.

Love is what I see expressed in all of my friends and family towards their own friends and family, their passionate interests, towards their environments, their courage in facing their own wounded and tender places. Love and caring is what I feel given to me when I need it, and what I feel about every single one of you amazing people inhabiting all the corners and rooms and spaces in my life.

Love and joy and freedom is what I feel when I get the chance to go dancing. Love for my body, the people around me, for the music, the makers of the music and most of all for the chance to let go and move.

Love is what I feel, and what I give, to all of my friends. All of you.

Love is what I see in the caress of sun to skin, sky to sea, sea to land, fog and snow and it’s blanketing effect. Creature to creature, root to earth, blossom to air, honeybee to pollen, petals to the divine, it’s in us all. It’s juicy, it’s ripe, it’s loud and quiet, it’s soft, silently sly, yet bursting forth like a flood over a dam of sticks, exploding the chest and heart into life, limbs into movement and into the realization that we are all, in essence, here to love and be loved, however that form may take.

So to you, my dear and wonderful ones,

I dedicate my February, particularly the 14th.

Janelle

ps – does my storytelling resonate? Are you longing to notice and feel more? Join me for 11 weeks of creative unwinding in Personal Mythmaking.

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