Wednesday, November 20, 2013


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.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


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!

Saturday, July 27, 2013


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.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


The weather is HOT.  I got up and made sour cherry jelly before the kitchen became unbearable.  Then, although it was still early, I thought, why not go for a swim.  Our local beach is a five minute drive from here.  To get down to the water you have to mince your way down a loose gravel track. Walking so slowly gives you a chance to admire the dark shade of the woods on either side, and to take in the sweet odour of cedar and sumac.  

The beach itself is not so much of a beach as a flat grassed space with trees all around.  When I arrived, no one was there, which I realized was what I'd been wanting all along.  The water was absolutely still, and the water level lower than usual.  Three fair sized boulders stood almost entirely exposed in the shallows, their mirror images reflecting in the lake, giving the whole scene a Zen quality.  
I entered the water silently.  I like to ease myself into swimming in any case.  The clarity of the water was exquisite.  It seemed to act as a convex lens.  From wherever I stood, I seemed to be in a bowl with the walls of stone rising up around me.  Tiny bubbles on the surface made giant bubble shadows on the floor of the lake.  Each concentric ring of disturbance around me created a rainbow on the lake bottom.  From certain angles of view, each stone was fringed by rainbow colours. Even my white legs, magnified, were covered in a reticulated pattern of light, as if I were some fantastic rainbow jaguar.
Soon I was creating a rainbow nimbus around my shadow and sending out overlapping fans of colour into the world.  

Time stood still.  I felt completely relaxed in the way that you did when you were a child and there were no agendas.  There was a kind of silence around me that had nothing to do with noise.  There was noise, of course.  From the cottages around the shores came laughter and the sounds of cooking.  Gulls cried, boats putted by, but I was in my little bubble of wonder.

As I treaded water (should be trod, I'm sure but that sounds wrong) I watched paired dragonflies, hunting and mating at the same time.  I watched a roiling of the water indicating a large fish feeding near the surface move toward me.  Won't he get a surprise, I thought.  Soon it was my turn to be surprised.   Around my legs I began to notice groups of curious fish of several species, neatly camouflaged by being exactly the same colour as the lake bottom, coming to see if those big yellowiah columns of my legs might be food.  Blue gills flashed their icy neon fins at me, in the company of some fish I can't identify, and once, I saw the dark tigery stripes of a young muskellunge.

A cloud darkened the bluffs on the opposite shore, and in an instant everything had changed.  An elderly couple whom I'd seen walking earlier came down to the shore, followed by a mother and two small boys, with a joyous, stick fetching black lab.  A flotilla of haughty teenaged girls in kayaks finned by, silent and majestic.  I hoped they were having a Zen moment too.  But mine was over.  I swam around a bit more, then headed for the hill.  Its a stiff climb but the last of the wild strawberries and the first of the wild blackberries gave me a good excuse to stop on the way up.

Moments like these are pure summer.

I wish I had had a camera with me, but I didn't so you'll just have to use your imagination, or go swimming, whichever one suits you best!

Saturday, May 25, 2013


A night of powerful storms was followed by a morning of thick fog.  As I drove toward the city, there appeared out of the mist graceful umbrellas of green; the unmistakeable silhouettes of the elms.  In the seventies, when I was a child, our summer holidays always involved long car trips and dewy early mornings like this one.  I remember looking out of the car window into the summer dawn and seeing, along the banks of every watercourse and sheltering cattle in the middle of the fields,  the graceful drooping branches and full crowns which spoke to me of beauty and of bounty.

We were genuinely sad when we heard about Dutch Elm disease, and all too soon there were arborists trying to save the elm in our backyard.  The eighties were a bad decade for the trees.  Dead elms were everywhere and healthy elms seemed non-existent.  Young trees seemed to do well, only to die off just as they started to mature.  Programs like the one at the University of Guelph tried selective breeding from resistant individuals but it seemed that nothing could stop the beetles and the deadly fungus they brought in their wake.

Commercial growers now offer hybrids which are resistant to the disease, so there is hope.  The trees which I saw looming in the fog, however, don't seem to have been deliberately planted, so perhaps Nature is working on the problem on her own schedule.  Perhaps there is the ghost of a chance that equilibrium will be reached and we will once again see these graceful giants flourishing.

Monday, May 20, 2013


They're here!  And they're everywhere.  For a couple of weeks each spring, the countryside explodes with colour and scent as the lilac outbreak takes place.  Every shade of mauve imaginable, with plenty of white sports, the lilacs have taken root in every bit of waste land.  From modest shrubs planted on the farmstead to raise the spirits of the early European settlers, these plants have taken off, thriving in the limey soils. They spread by runners, and by seed-eating birds, and once they take hold there's no stopping them. Each year there seem to be more of them, running rampant as agriculture declines, filling whole fields with a thick cover, which for most of the year we don't even notice.   But come May, we are overwhelmed,  amazed, and enchanted.

Insidious?  Certainly.  But what a way to be invaded!

Monday, April 29, 2013


Stephen Harper by Remy Steinegger.jpg

I've been feeling gloomy and angry and frustrated by the ideology and actions of the current government of my country.   I can't even call it my government.  Nothing I stand for bears much resemblance to the things they seem to find important.

I was ripping the ever-loving grass out of my flower bed this morning, and considering  governments.  I started with "What is a country".  A country is a land and its people.  Why government?  To protect the interests of the people and the integrity of its borders.  This government seems to be about creating a global environment which maximizes the ability of corporations to pursue profit without fetters.  Corporations are not people, and they are most certainly not "the people".

Where do governments like this one get the idea that we elected them to serve the interests of global commerce?  Why would you give your allegiance to money rather than to your tribe?  Take for example, the current plan by Enbridge to reverse the pipeline direction of the lines currently running through Ontario to bring bitumen, diluted with lighter materials to make it flow east. This dilbit, corrosive and laced with carcinogens, especially the very scary benzene, would be travelling through forty year old lines, never intended to carry it.  Why?  Is it to provide fuel for the people of eastern Canada?   Certainly not.(Last time I heard, the west was hoping that we eastern bastards were freezing in the dark).

 It would be placed in tankers to cross the ocean to be refined somewhere else; probably somewhere with lower emission standards.   Enbridge would say, a rising tide floats all boats.  New Brunswick says, hey why don't we refine it, bringing jobs to our have-not province?  The government says, if you'd like to make a comment on this matter in our ten day window of opportunity you'll need to fill out this ten page form giving us your opinion, your resume, and did we mention, you need to be directly involved?  Oh, and furthermore, even if you apply for intervenor status in this manner, we're not compelled to call you.  Tell that to the geese and fish and anyone who doesn't happen to be literate.    I say, despite my oil furnace which I'll happily get rid of as soon as possible, let us rather invest in other forms of energy production.  These tar sands require more energy to produce fuel than the end-product fuel will produce.  What is wrong with these people's minds?  Is someone holding a gun to their heads?  I'm tempted to take the Canadian flag off my backpack and hang my head in shame.

I feel like we've been taken over by the Ferengi.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


In springtime, if one neglects to put the stepladder away and leans it against the deck, there WILL be robins, no doubt thanking one for the perfect platform for a nest.

 Where there is a nest,  there are eggs.  Here they are.  Hope I don't need to do any painting in the near future.

If we let it, Nature takes charge and goes creating.  A few years ago, I rescued some bloodroot from a meadow slated for tickytackyboxdom.  I planted it on the edge of a stand of maples in my yard, trying to replicate the sort of place where bloodroot might be happy  .The next spring I was thrilled to see that it had returned.  For three or four springs it came back faithfully, but showed no signs of multiplying.  This year, the original clump has tripled in size and sent out two colonies! The modest progenitor is pictured below.   Hurray for Nature!

Thursday, April 4, 2013


In my last post, I was fumbling around with the concept of change, and my feeling of loss when I see the old ways going by the wayside.  It got me thinking about a passage from Sea Room: A Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson.  This writer never fails to take the time to explain something well and beautifully.  While he was investigating the history of the islands which he owned, he was struck by the non-linearity of time.

This gathering of the Shiants’ sweet water, which has never, even in the driest summers, run out, always feels to me like an engagement with one of the oldest layers in the place.  Where the materials like this are constant, and the uses to which they are put will always be the same whatever your beliefs, or language, or habit of mind, history collapses.  It is as if time has not passed.  This delicate sipping at an island spring is the same now as it must always have been...History does not move here in a single current, sweeping everything up into one comprehensive pattern of change, but in a laminar flow, different sheets of time moving at different rates, one above the other, like the currents in the sea.  At the lowest level, the coldest and oldest, there is virtually no movement.  Life down there is still.  Gather the water at the well and you are performing a Bronze Age act.  Dig over the peaty soil in the vegetable garden and you are doing what has been done here in the Middle Ages.  Call Sarah on the mobile phone and you are doing something that wasn’t possible until the late 1990's.  This is not, as people so often say of a landscape, a manuscript on which the past has been written and erased over and over again.  It is a place in which may different times coexist, flowing at different speeds, enshrining different worlds.

On a couple of occasions on the Camino Frances in 2008,  I was thinking somewhat similar thoughts, even (or perhaps especially ) on Day One!

As the afternoon went on, I came to the first village since the hilltop.  Uterga reminded me strongly of England, with its stone walls along the main road, enclosing people’s gardens, and granting the privacy from the endless stream of pilgrims, its impossibly narrow street with parking on both sides, roses growing without seeming to require tending, not quite rampant, but obviously comfortable.  There was a lovely fountain by which to sit, though I didn’t fancy taking water from it to drink, and a beautiful twelfth century arched doorway to the church, which sat without ceremony in the row of houses along the street, as if it were nothing special.  My North American eyes nearly fell out of my head!  I pretty soon realized that this was how it was going to be.  Everywhere there was evidence of great age, and long occupancy, undisturbed by “progress”, an unremarked part of day to day life.  I wanted to breathe that energy in too, the deep ease that comes from being in a nest of humanity; a place where going about your daily life is supported and underpinned by millenia of other people doing the same thing.  It has a redolence of acceptance of you and what you are about, with the grace notes of the undoubted originality of thought from each individual who has participated,  synthesized into a rich broth of comfort.  I understand what it is that Nick misses about being in England.  It is this.  For me, its not worth retreating to this, as opposed to moving forward to see what we can make of the New World, but occasionally, it smells delicious.

That last sentence reminds me of what a flip-flopper I can be. Only last Monday, there I was bemoaning the loss of the (not so very) old.  Perhaps my "moving forward" stance is a defence mechanism against the paucity of that comforting depth of time.  It will take a very long time for us to have that here in the New World, if we ever do.  Things change so quickly now, its hard to determine what to hold onto.

Later on in the journey, I decided to take the bus from Leon to Astorga.  I was feeling sick, and really hated walking through suburbs so I became a bus-a-grina for a morning.  Like Adam Nicolson, I was conscious of our shifting place in the continuum of life. Here's another extract from my account of my journey.

In my journal that night, I wrote about my state of mind as I watched barren landscape unfold through the window of the bus.

“I took the bus to Astorga this morning, and pitied the poor pilgrims I could see wending their faithful way through the industrial and suburban sprawl for20 miles.  I applaud their grit.  I have no wish to share it.”
At Hospital de Orbigo, one peregrina gave up the road for the ease of the bus. I didn’t blame her. After this we got back into open country again, but it was flat and tan-coloured and featureless, and even the hikers walking the alternate route away from the highway looked tense and unhappy to me. As I stepped out of my adventure, and watched them struggling along, it occurred to me that the pilgrims, and probably sheep,  were the only constant in an ever changing landscape. People had been doing this for nearly 1200 years now. The fields might have been forests once, and the highway just a cart track, but for centuries pilgrim feet had been faithfully treading the same ground. The nature of the pilgrimage had surely changed, but the sense of purpose, the travails, and the camaraderie were the same. The feeling of being part of this tradition made me happy. But it took being out of it to see it.

As William Faulkner famously said.  "The past is never dead. It's not even past." .  I am comforted.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


I took a walk the other day in the hope of finding spring.  My cheerful neighbour thinks it has arrived; but the wind was arctic!  My route took me along a cottage road.  Everywhere I looked I saw, instead of burgeoning spring, only indications of decay. 

 Decrepit barns, signs telling me to watch for cattle where no cattle have grazed for years, fallen fences; all were making me feel gloomy.  The superannuated agrarian landscape made me feel as if I were at the end of something more than a road.

  I saw some archaeology in the making, which reminded me that these processes have been going on forever. (Although, in some places, these remains would have been Roman rather than Modern Suburban).  In some perverse way, that would have seemed better to me.

It wasn't until I noticed the cavity in this venerable old tree, decay providing an opportunity for some creature to make himself a home, that I remembered that the old MUST give way to the the new.  It's the way of the world.  Our responsibility is to make sure that the new is worth having.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Nick and I decided to have an adventure today.  He's not quite back from his holiday in his heart, and I'm always ready to skive off.  So we decided to go owl stalking in Owl Woods on Amherst Island.  There was lots of wildlife about.  As we turned south we saw a large fisher lolloping through the scrub by the side of the highway, a real treat!  Rafts of ducks were in the open water, and lining the ice on Lake Ontario.

We arrived at the ferry dock, just in time for the boat.  We could hear it grinding through the ice as we rode over to the island, and watched the channel close right back up as we passed.  It had been a long time since we'd been there, but not much had changed apart from a little gentrification here and there.  Things are changing though, as the sign attests.

 As we set out to walk on the un-maintained road to the woods, we were following a coyote's trail.  A deer crossed the path and bounded into the field.  Once in the woods, we were swarmed by chickadees, habituated to human presence by feeders.  I was really surprised to see a mouse pop out of the path under Nick's foot.  By the time I'd got the camera out he'd popped right back in again, and all I got was a picture of the hole.  We saw a rough legged hawk, beautiful in its dark phase, with a gorgeous speckled white band crossing its wings from below.  Not one owl.

We drove along the south shore of the island, flat and barely rising above the level of the lake, but beautiful in a spare, minimalist way.  We kept scanning the trees and fence posts for our prey, still not one owl in a place which is often crawling with them.

But how can I complain?  On the way back I thought  that this must be one of  the very few places where one can ride the ferry all winter long, sailing among the ice cubes.  There were gulls following the boat, and swooping down to balance on the ice floes, pecking amongst them for something (who knows what?) good to eat.

Perhaps I will dig Jane Yolen's Owl Moon from one of the boxes of children's books in the basement, and read that.  The beauty of her writing always makes me choke up.  Not an owl, but the echo of one at least.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Everywhere the ditches are running.  The forest paths have turned from ice and snow to slush. Every time I open the door I can hear the geese.  The cardinals in the yards and forests are announcing their presence and availabillity with incessant whistles.  Today, I heard my favourite spring song.  The red winged blackbirds are back!  They're more assertive than melodic but their strident Geh BLEEEEEEEEEEE! means that spring really is here.  I took a photo of a group of them screeching their hearts out in a neighbour's birch tree.  Then I looked down to see my first robin of the year.  That's it, winter.  Your work here is done.  Off you go, now....there's a good season.  Byeeeeeee.... Don't let the screen door hit you on your way out.


I'm going through our thirty plus years of pictures; muddy prints I took as a child, blurry instamatic shots with low quality lenses; polaroids; slides, some of which have developed mold or lost all their colours but red; vast numbers of prints taken when the kids were small, and even vaster stores of digital images.

 I'm scanning all the good ones and sorting them by years (a mammoth task in itself).  Amongst all of these shots is a large number of photos of the natural world, the garden, the odd flower I passed in my travels.  These don't really fit into the theme of the long, unwinding family slide show, so I gave them a folder of their own.

The contents of that folder now play as a slide show on my desktop background.  No matter which picture comes up, it gives me a chance to be gobsmacked anew by the intricacy, elegance, and beauty of the world around us.  I'm seeing things I didn't see when I took the picture.  I'm pretty sure that the contemplation of nature is a powerful cure for whatever ails us.

Monday, March 4, 2013


The dog and I took a different route on our daily adventure today.  We walked down the road to the boat launch, where the footing was better than in the bush.  The snow gets softer every day and it's hard going on the knees.

There were a couple of ice huts down there, one on the water and one on the shore. Part of loving winter is learning how to use it for fun and fish.

   As we mooched around, smelling the smells and rolling in the snow (her, not me), I got to thinking about the huge amount of extra space that is created every winter in Canada when the lakes and rivers freeze over.  We must be almost twice as big as usual!

P.S. The dogwoods think it might be spring!

Thursday, February 28, 2013


And no, little sister, I don't mean Springsteen.  I mean my neighbour, Bruce,  with his trusty John Deere lawn tractor with snowblower attachment.  We got a heavy dump of snow last night.  I woke up to find myself in a winter wonderland with a driveway plugged up tight.  As, currently, it is just me and the dog (see previous post) and she's no hell with a shovel, it meant that this morning's task was to go out with my trusty snow shovel and unplug it.

When I said that snow was heavy, I wasn't kidding.  It's above zero C so that snow is laden with water.  Even the clumps falling from the branches are heavy enough to brain you.  The stuff that the plough pushed into the driveway was solid enough to pick up and throw to the side in chunks, like those papier mache boulders from sixties TV. (And yes, I do mean on Star Trek--I know that's the image that came to your mind).  I played at that for a while, since it was actually easier than shovelling.  I contemplated building an igloo with them, or maybe rolling snowballs down the driveway instead of trying to pick it up.  All around me my neighbours, retired men, were clearing their drives industriously and mechanically and, I thought, oblivious or studiously ignoring the sight of me struggling to do it by hand.  "Oh, fine!" I thought, feeling all Little Red Hen-ish, and comparing them unfavourably with my Dad, who, when he got his first snowblower, went up and down the street, happily creating mini-snowstorms as he blew out all the neighbour's drives.  As I shovelled and grumbled, I tried to stop feeling petty about it.  After all, I was the one who chose not to invest in a snowblower, right?  I liked the exercise, right?  One shouldn't presume, right?  But another part of me was thinking "Chivalry really is dead" and "If it were me, I'd help"

And then, after half an hour, along came Bruce, a retired oncologist, who lives kitty corner to us.  In five minutes flat, the whole driveway was done,  and the snowbanks were peppered with gravel, as the underlying ground is thawed.  When I saw that, I wondered if the other guys had been afraid of dinging their blades, since almost everyone in the subdivision has a paved drive.  Bruce didn't seem bothered.  Old Wilf McLean always gave my Dad a bottle of whisky every year as a thank you, but I only  had some strawberry jam I made last summer, so I gave him that, that and my undying gratitude.   Last I saw of him he had moved on to the neighbour two doors up.  Bruce is the man.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The dog and I.  Just me and the dog.  Me.  The Dog.

Everyone else is off doing other things for the moment.  For the next little while.  For a month.

It's quiet.  I walk the dog.  I feed the dog.  I do housework, desultorily.

I read

I don't need to go out, except to go to work or to walk the dog.   I can't really go out for long anyway, because of the dog.   Even the woods are quiet at this time of year.  Nothing but the sound of our feet scrunching on the snow.

I woke up this morning, later than normal.  I wondered what day it was.  Tuesday, right?

As I was lying there, not really wishing to leave my coccoon, I realized that during the hurlyburly years, this was the kind of vacation I'd always wished for.  Where everyone would just be gone for a bit, and I could put everything in order. Actually, that was the second most desired vacation.  The first was the "White Hotel".  Everything was white and still, and nothing was covered in peanut butter.  The breeze blew the curtains at the open window.  Beyond that was blue sky.  Sensory deprivation therapy.

I discovered later that is is a THING.  There are actually hotels done all in white.  Like this one.  Or this.

I think my vision was probably of somewhere Caribbean, which shows you how desperate for change I really was.  I have never in my waking life wanted to go to the Caribbean!  Maybe it was  in Greece, like this one....

 But. Here I am.  Its not white here, except outside, but in all other respects, its a sensory deprivation tank.  Turns out that while I like the home improvements, I miss the people.  Thank goodness for the dog.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Ingrid Fetell, at aesthetics of joy, posted some lovely shots of colourful clothes hanging, and posed a question about which day to day things in our lives bring us joy in the same way.  I mentioned my spice jars.  Here they are, Ingrid!

Monday, February 11, 2013


We both believe we are on the wrong side of the door here.  Note the bare feet and surrounding whiteness.  I got carried away and rushed out to try to get a picture without proper preparation.  

 When I finally had the sense to put my boots on for a closer look, our prey let us come right up to him.  Not that he had any choice.  Its pretty slow going in deep wet snow; post storm.

 I imagine late winter porcupine was a tasty treat in the olden days, And I'll bet it tasted like chicken. And I'm glad I didn't have to pluck it!

This guy was a good size, and pretty cute in his scruffy, slow-moving way.  I'm betting he's not much of a conversationalist.  His survival strategy was not to move a muscle, but you wouldn't want to get within tail's reach, which is why Casey had to be satisfied with being on the inside.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


It has been snowing all day.  Big fat Hollywood snowflakes.  During a lull in the proceedings we took the dog for a walk, and I went in search of some colour.  Not the bright colour of the plastic mailboxes or the neon jacket on the telephone lineman up the pole, but colour in nature.  And I found it.

The milkweed pods, now stripped of their fluffy parachute seeds, look as if they've been gilded.  The dog glows against the snow.  And sumac can be counted on to add a touch of scarlet.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Contrary to what you may have seen in the previous post, there are definite signs of spring in my neighbourhood.  As I went to close the drapes tonight, I found this little fellow on the door.  He is definitely the most amazing thing I've seen today.  I'm not going to put him out in the cold. Maybe he can sup on the amaryllis nectar?


The return of Winter:

 So, it's Groundhog Day.  No self respecting groundhog in these parts would even come out of his burrow to look at his shadow in weather like this.  And there'd be no shadow in any case.  Here.

 But someone somewhere has consulted his local furry oracle and decreed that there shall be a further six weeks of winter.  The only person who will be happy about this will be Alex, who would like to get in some more ice fishing.

What's a girl to do?  This is a hard time of year to photograph.  Lots of white on white and gray on gray.   I tried to deny what was happening outside by taking some pictures of the bonus amaryllis which sprouted long after the Christmas flowers had gone, working with the different aperture and shutter settings on the new camera.  I'm not sure this is an honest exposure or strictly speaking, in focus, but I like the translucence of the petals and the way the background disappears.

  A look outside prompted further shots from the safety of the doorway.  One thing about the snow, it does highlight the bone structure of all the trees and shrubs.

Finally, on a whim, I threw the camera (well, not literally!) into the car on my way to my exercise class, and was rewarded by the sight of the two homely horses up the road digging into a fresh round bale.  They don't seem to mind the weather, so why should I?  And in fact, once I was out in it, it was a lovely (winter) day.