So, you’re in the kitchen, happily mixing up a cake for the big double birthday. You realize that you’ve nearly forgotten the vanilla, so you balance the electric mixer on the side of the bowl, (as you do), just for a second, while you reach into the drawer for the bottle. Without warning, the mixer leaps from the bowl and runs like a juggernaut across the counter. Too late, you realize that it is the GREEN bowl which allows you to do that little balancing trick, and today you are using the BLACK bowl. Carnage ensues.
There is batter all over the walls, the stove, the coffeemaker. By the time you have the wit to stop staring in helpless horror and pull the plug, the blades of the beaters have become inextricably entwined with a bag of green beans, and bright green shards of crunchy goodness are also everywhere. You pick a few out of the bowl, but before the baking can resume you have to perform some surgery over at the sink.
It takes several minutes to unwind the plastic bag which once housed the beans from the beater shafts, but you notice, on the upside, that many of the beans appear to have topped and tailed themselves without any effort on your part. A good thing, since once the cake is in the oven, you will be spending some time with a rag and a ladder, mopping up the mess you’ve made. Isn’t cooking fun?
Christmas at my house tends to hang around well after the festive season. Partly through benign neglect, and partly because I hate to see it go, I tend to "forget" that certain elements of decoration are still with us. Part of me thinks that there should be a little corner of one's life where it is Christmas Every Day!
Yesterday, I was startled to discover a spray of balsam still stuck into the frame of the living room mirror, so I took a look around to see what else might be lurking well past its due date. I threw out the mummified pomegranates and quinces that had been the mainstay of a tabletop display. I felt guilty about not eating them.
From the corner of my eye, I noted, but did nothing about, the shiny red cachepot and glass baubles decorating Alex's thriving potted palm. Here it is, February 1st, and there is still a wreath hanging on the wall above the television set, mainly because the golden poinsettias and pine cones go so well with the colour of the wall. I have no excuse for the giant pink mercury glass eggs dangling from the curtain rod, but you know...Easter IS coming.
Of course, ideally, it would be Christmas Every Day, Everywhere. And maybe it can be.
Funnily enough, I think it was best put by that quintessential Hollywood Cowgirl, Dale Evans;
“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas."
My son's collarbone overlapping, pre-surgery
A skein of silent geese
A giant pileated woodpecker on the suet feeder: it's been very cold and snowy. I suspect food has been scarce
I shall add to this as the need arises.
What is so strange about this, I can hear you muttering...Surely that's a garden variety geranium. Yes, indeed, it is. But this is a geranium which was given to me at the end of last season; it sat in the car and broiled, it was left neglected under a pine tree and exposed to frost. It was tucked on a windowsill in the basement and forgotten. I have watered it once or twice over the winter, thinking what dwarfed leaves it had, and then bingo! One day last week I went down to do some long overdue laundry and there it was in full flower! I have a lot of respect for this flower.
So, we were out walking the dog yesterday. It was a balmy -22, and the wind was frolicking around our ears. Did I say we were walking? I meant we were goosestepping through snow up to my knees and Nick's calves. Sometimes being married to a tall guy is a real drag and this is one of them. I was wondering why I had left mes anciennes raquettes looking decorative in the corner of my office instead of strapping them on and negotiating the drifted in path through the field. We abandoned the field for the road, and had to laugh at ourselves. What with the wind chill and the exertion, we were a good deal hoarier than when we started out!
Nick's moustache and Casey's whiskers looked like some errant elf had gone postal with a bedazzler. But I noticed something else too. Its a thing that happens every year around this time. No matter what the temperature, no matter what the windchill, no matter whether there is sun or leaden cloud, around January 25th, we notice that there is running water in rivers and ditches. THAT is the first sign of spring. You can have your robins (they're here by the way, hiding out in the bush), for me the inexorable flow is the true harbinger. It defies my limited understanding of physics. I'm sure there is a geeky explanation having to do with the insulative properties of snow and the angle of the sun, but I choose to think of it as a miracle.
Coming to terms with living in a Post-Daddy world.
It is a beautiful frosty morning, a moon still hanging in a soft blue sky festooned with cirrus clouds and con trails. I decided to go for a walk around the block before starting into the day. It has been nearly three weeks since my father died, but our lives have been different for most of a year. For him, his cancer brought about, in a horrid sort of inverse pregnancy, nine months of getting smaller, weaker, and more helpless. At one point, recently, he reflected ruefully that Shakespeare had it right in his speech about the Seven Ages of Man.
For us, there was the knowledge of the inevitability of his death and the sorrow of seeing this private and dignified man whom we loved wholeheartedly subjected to one indignity after another, and struggling to maintain control; trying to get everything done before there was no longer any time in which to do it.
Now, Daddy has been reborn into whatever new reality awaits, and we must make ourselves a brave new world, without him.
Everywhere I looked this morning, I saw evidence that life goes on. Woodpeckers were knocking at the dead trees in the swamp looking for grubs to warm them against the oncoming winter. Recycling was out by the curb, testament to the fact that meals are still being prepared and consumed. People were driving by me, waving "good morning" on their way to work. My cheeks and fingers were burning with the cold. My right hip flexor and my left knee reminded me of my physical presence and my own challenges. I was surprised to find that my eyes were wet, and knew it was not just from the cold.
When I came to the long steady climb out of the quarry, I was further surprised to find that it was just as hard, but no harder, than usual. Life really is the same as ever except for that one crucial thing. I began to pay attention to my footfalls, to really savour the placement of each foot on the gravel. Before long I was storming up the steeper hill that leads to my house. There will come a time when it won't be possible. Life is a crap shoot, and you never know when the dice will come up snake eyes. In the meantime, Carpe Diem.
This young lady was my great aunt, who gloried in the name of Glencoe Pretoria Ladysmith Andrews. The Boer War, ongoing at the time of her birth, must have given rise to the latter two of her given names. We don't know why Glencoe, and since her father left her an orphan at the age of two, we probably never will. All the same, Glencoe has been passed down the generations in the family, as has Pretoria. If I'd been thinking at the time, I could have saddled Emily with Ladysmith, but I didn't. While watching the weather report the other day, I discovered that there is a place called Ladysmith in Quebec, just across the Ottawa River. Because of the tenuous family association, I said idly. "Hmm...I should go there one day, just to see what it's like". The chance came up on Friday to go and check it out!
The Pontiac, The Outaouais. I'm always hearing them mentioned on the news and weather, and they ARE just across the Ottawa River from here, but to me they've always had a mystique. They're nebulous, unlikely places, pockets of anglicism in a francophone province. With Anglo names like Shawville, Bryson, and Morrison's Island, they were settled in the days when enormous pines lent their extravagant pagoda shapes to the rough hillsides, and the mighty rivers were the only highway into the woods. When I say "the Pontiac" I can see in my mind's eye the woodsmoke drifting up from hidden cabins in those blue hills.
But now, it was time to see what the north shore of the Ottawa is like in the here and now! As we neared Renfrew on Highway 17, the first red granite outcrops made me feel right at home. You can take a Northern Ontario girl out of the north, but you'll never take away the longing for feet on granite, the crisp oxygenated air, and the taste of blueberries on her tongue.
We crossed the river on the hydro dams at Portage-du-Fort. Five impassable falls were here before the river was dammed. That explained the "portage" part of the name. Whether or not there was a fur post here in the days of the voyageurs and the fur trade is in dispute. There was most certainly one up the river at Fort Coulonge.
As we entered the village, I could see that it had been here for some time. (in fact, as I learned later, they'd just celebrated their 150th anniversary) The main buildings were of limestone, rough faced with many chipped out dimples, just the way I like them. An open green separated the lower street from the one on which the church sat. The backhoes digging up every street in town rather destroyed the illusion, so we didn't tarry but headed north through Shawville to our destination, 20 km to the north.
We were soon out into the countryside with rolling fields of glistening barley, fat cows, and belts of dark green woods surrounding enclaves of rich farmland. Refreshing!
We reached our destination in no time, where we were greeted by a surprised young fox with a hairless tail. Of course, I did not get his picture, as he melted into the grapevines by the road in no time flat. So I took the town sign instead.
Ladysmith herself was a demure, somewhat decrepit gentlewoman who had fallen on hard times. Never more than a cross-roads village, she still had a church with the white rose of England emblazoned on the portico, a pleasant hillside graveyard, a hotel, a former hotel, and a depanneur, which was once a store. After exploring all that the village had to offer, we thought we would go to Fort-Coulonge, and I, tired of the garbling of place names by the feckless Brit who lives in our gps, went in to get a map. (If he converted Chemin de L'Ile to Church de la Lylee one more time, I was going to have to pull the plug on him).
The woman behind the very busy counter looked at me, sized me up, and then said "Hello!" in English. "How do they do that?" I wonder every time I go somewhere in Quebec. " How do they know I'm not francophone?" She turned out to be a German immigrant, so perhaps she instinctively recognized a fellow "tête carrée". She didn't have a map, but gave me very explicit instructions on the best way to get to Fort-Coulonge. The most important of these was "about a mile out of town, stay straight!"
The feckless Brit driving the car chose to ignore her instructions and sided with the advice of his electronic countryman, but that is another story! Having achieved my objective, I was happy to go wherever we went. As we trundled along a summer road through a nature preserve, hoping like heck we wouldn't meet anyone and have to back up for several kilometres, I was thinking....I wonder how many OTHER Ladysmiths there are. Gotta catch 'em all!
It is the paradox of working in the environmental assessment business that we are part of the process of irrevocable destruction of the natural world, usually in favour of soulless residential or industrial development which will forever make the land unsuitable for a return to nature. Sometimes we can swallow the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of the stomach by saying to ourselves that at least we care about the resources that we are seeking out, and that if there is anything there to find, we will be sure to do so, because we care. Other time we rationalize our work; after all, we have to eat too. But sometimes, it gets to me.
We went to look at a piece of property near Ottawa the other day in order to price a job. The land was in corn so it was going to be hard going.
"Watch out for Baseball Players!" Nick joked as we plunged into the space between the last two rows. Within seconds we were soaked with dew and covered with miniscule cuts from the razor sharp edges of the corn leaves. It was a jungle in there.
Eventually, we came out of the corn into a wood. We saw the telltale cedar rail fences, all down now, that marked the field boundaries. Somewhere in this wood were the remains of a nineteenth century cabin. We already knew who had lived there, an Irish emigrant, who'd left his impoverished homeland on the promise of more land that he could even imagine at home. He'd struggled to clear the land, planted crops, made a home. The only traces now, amid the car dealerships and hockey stadiums we knew were just on the other side of the trees, were these fences and perhaps some lumps and bumps which indicated where the foundations of the cabin had lain.
The edge of the wood was thick with cedar, shrubs and bramble, but once inside, the going was easier. Until I got a sharp smack on the head by a ninja grapevine, that is. Instant goose-egg!
As we struggled through the rest of the wood into the meadow which lay on the verge of a major road, I could feel the pain in my head, the pulling of the wet denim across my thighs. The smell of sweet white pea and road dust were in my nostrils. I felt more alive than usual because I was doing something in the world and I'd engaged all my senses. I felt great!
It made me think about the book I'd been reading about rewilding, Feral, by George Monbiot. He argues that we need to have places which are uncontrolled by humans to improve the health of the planet and reduce what he calls our "ecological boredom". The places I'd just been were rich with plants and birds and butterflies. The places we were walking now were sterile and supported only a few species of animal; humans, their pets and their pests, and the odd transitory bird. Not a great trade-off.
The feeling of loss became more intense as we explored the next part of the property. Here we could walk easily into the woods on an old farm track, across meadows and through a cedar wood. In the warm July sunshine it was paradisical.
Waxcap mushrooms, deerflies, coyote scat and bicycle tracks told the story of the dominant species here. Fritillaries fluttered among the black-eyed susans and Queen Anne's lace. The bedrock was right at the surface here which meant that the land had never been "useful" as anything but second-rate pasture, but everywhere were signs that humans were really enjoying having the land available for recreation. These were the very humans who had led to the destruction of this very environment by buying up the houses on offer in the next block. Did they really imagine they'd get to keep this idyllic back forty? You can bet they'll be p.o'd when the first shovels go in.
Rampant urban sprawl.....coming soon to a meadow near you.....Ugh. But as long as the almighty dollar trumps our understanding that we can't go on like this, that is what we'll get. Makes me want to stop mowing the lawn.