evening air


The kind of night where red sky darkens under slice of moon as you walk, a hand-knitted scarf around your neck, just the right size to tuck into a pocket once the walking warms you up, and gloves, too, come off… and over there a cat sitting on its driveway staring at another cat across the road on a driveway of its own, each sniffing the air—territory is a scent; and from an-open-window-who-knows-where, in one of these already-lighted-for-xmas houses, someone’s dinner is cooking… and you think: sloppy joes and onions.


You know that kind of night?


simon says

A boy in his driveway the other day shouts hello as I pass. He says his name is Simon, what’s mine? I say Carin and he tells me he has a Batman tee shirt. He opens his coat. I say that’s some great tee shirt and he says yeah, then tells me he’s seven. Not that I asked. He continues talking, about being seven maybe, or the tee shirt, just chattering away… all of this in only seconds; I’ve barely slowed my stride. His mum is raking leaves, smiling. And in all the chattering somewhere the boy asks… in a way he might ask a chum at school, or anyone… “How old are you?”  His mother’s smile immediately turns into a nervous laugh, she puts down her rake, edges Simon toward the house and tells him that isn’t the sort of question he’s supposed to ask. Meanwhile I’ve answered by saying “Well, I’m not seven!”, as I continue on my way. Also laughing nervously.

And for the rest of my walk all I can think about is why.

Why is that not the sort of question Simon should ask? And is it only not the sort of question Simon should not ask people of certain ages? And how should Simon know which ages those are? And who decides that anyway? And doesn’t the whole way his mother reacted give off a vibe that suggests to Simon, if only subliminally, that there’s something *wrong* about certain ages and THAT’S why we don’t ask.

And if there’s something wrong with certain ages… what, exactly  is that wrongness? I mean if Simon were to ask his mother Why can’t I ask?  what would she say? Something about politeness probably. But why is it polite NOT to ask someone their age when you are seven and you ask everyone ? (And everyone asks you.)

Of course I was taught the same lesson as a kid. (But we’re back to the why… Is it to spare people the embarrassment of admitting they aren’t seven, or twenty-seven or thirty-seven or whatever decade + seven it suddenly becomes an embarrassment to *be*?)

North America’s twisted version of age aside, what really bothered me was my own response, that weird bit of laughter I threw out in order to make Simon’s mother feel okay about the whole thing. By laughing it off, by saying “Well, I’m not seven,” I condoned her discomfort and was party to the stupid lesson Simon was being taught.

Why didn’t I just answer the question?

Conditioning, that’s why. (And, mostly, conditioning almost always sucks.)

The thing is I happen to be a non-ageist kind of person. Even as a kid (just like Simon) I barely noticed someone’s vintage. I still can’t see how it matters. It’s their energy that registers with me. One of my favourite people to hang out with lived to be 101 and it never struck me as an unusual match.

I also have friendships where *I’m* the 101 year old.

And a few in between.

The thing is this: dullness and negativity, ego and bullshit appear at every mile marker. So do joie de vivre, curiosity, kindness, engagement with life, humour, a creative spark and the balls to be yourself. A tedious schmuck at sixty was probably a tedious schmuck at thirty.

Only with better abs.

My walk takes me on a loop and eventually I’m heading back toward Simon’s house. I resolve to tell him my age as I pass. I’ll throw it out, casually, maybe mention that I have a fondness for the colours green and orange and yellow and that I do not  know how to tap dance. Not that anyone asked.

But the leaves in front of Simon’s house are raked and no one’s there.

Too bad. Because I think Simon would have found that particular line of chat quite normal. And that would have been so much better a lesson than the last.



what happened to jumping in?

I’m watching a woman vacuum leaves. She’s strapped on a sort of large black bag, something like what newspaper boys and girls used to carry on their rounds, before their parents started driving them. The bag is attached to a long, fat nozzle which she points at the leaves she’s raked into a pile. At first things seem to go well enough. When the pile is sucked up she turns off the machine and empties the black bag into a paper sack intended to be put out onto the curb.

But it’s not quite that simple. 
You can’t imagine the difficulty she’s having transferring the leaves from the black bag to the paper one. It takes forever and it’s all a bit of a mess. When she’s done she sucks up the trillions of escaped leaves then rakes up another pile for vacuuming.
Now she stops to empty the black bag again but it won’t detach from the nozzle. She fiddles with it for several minutes until the neighbour guy who doesn’t miss a thing saunters out his front door with his hands in his pockets all nonchalant like he wasn’t watching from the window. He offers to help. You can see that he covets her large nozzled leaf sucking machine and is annoyed that he didn’t get one first but pretty soon relief replaces envy as he realizes the thing is a new-fangled piece of crap, unlike his trusty old-fangled leaf blower, which he uses to blow every single leaf off his lawn and onto the street where they’re left in great drifts, free to find their way onto other people’s lawns [possibly causing unpleasant muttering amongst those neighbours who don’t covet leaves as worm food or mulch].
The guy has now patted the woman on the shoulder in a good luck with that stupid thing you just wasted your money on kind of way. He chuckles as he almost heads back to his own house but decides to first offer up some long-winded verbosity that I can’t hear but the woman looks bored and irritated and who can blame her? She still has a whole lawn to rake and suck and transfer from one bag to another. At this rate it make take all night. I want to yell: you live on a ravine, for god’s sake—put the leaves in a wheelbarrow and dump them under a tree!
The guy goes home.
The woman turns the vacuum back on.
Then off.
Something else is wrong.
She fiddles with it.
Turns it on.
And off. Fiddle fiddle.
She does this several more times. On. Off.
Meanwhile, the rake is right there. Leaning against a tree. The paper bag is still half empty. It’s getting dark out.
On. Off. On. Off.
It’s so sad. The rake is just there…
This is what I call an alien moment. Things we do that make we wonder how we might appear to someone other than ourselves, to, say a spaceship that happens to be passing by. We’re all guilty in different ways. And not guilty at all of course. Given that we’re only human.
The first time the alien thing occurred to me I was at a Sandals resort in St. Lucia where I lay in the sun, slathered in oil (an alien moment right there), watching a couple ride about on those giant paddle boats, my sun-addled brain thinking: hmm, looks like fun until they got semi-stuck, and bobbed about helplessly against this gorgeous backdrop of land and sea, turning in endless circles, waving their arms madly and arguing about how to correctly manoeuvre their fluorescent plastic containers.  
Alien moments are times when it strikes me as not that far-fetched to imagine we aren’t the most intelligent life form in town, and that should the little green men and women be looking out their spaceship windows, they could be forgiven for thinking yes! this is it, the perfect time to swoop in, launch an attack, never more confident about their chances of taking over the planet…

party tip #1

Gather fun facts for use in the face of conversational lulls—guaranteed to get dialogue sizzling in no time. Write them on your arm, tuck them into a sock, don’t be a bore and, above all, don’t let impending awkward silence put a deadly damper on things—

By way of illustrating this system in action I’ve listed a few possibly familiar examples of tete a tetes going nowhere—notice how an injection of useless but seasonally appropriate information can add sparkle, thereby saving the moment:

1)  That looks delicious, thank you, but no, I don’t actually eat hummus, I suffer from gas issues…………………………… Uh, by the way, I just read where pumpkin flowers are edible. You wouldn’t have any of those around would you?

2)  Nice to meet you, really nice, yes, lovely weather, I love rain……………………………… Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this, but Antartica—apparently—is the only continent hostile to pumpkin cultivation. And that’s almost a direct quote from the Internet. Is that amazing or what??

3)  Yes, yes, great party. Really good, really good……………………….. So, did you know pumpkins were related to cucumbers?

4)  Beautiful place, cosy. Mmmm, yes, yes, nice chair……………………………….. Oh, I just remembered! You won’t believe this—pumpkins, it seems, heal snake bites. Can you even believe that? No I don’t know what kind of snakes are included. Does it really matter? And what do you mean how likely are you to be in the vicinity of a poisonous snake and a pumpkin at the same time not to mention a knife to carve the pumpkin open with—because that isn’t the point. You’ve missed the whole frigging point. The point is it’s an interesting bit of trivia for god’s sake. Oh never mind. No really, forget it. It doesn’t matter. Could you just pass the pumpkin flowers please? 

one cucumber's extended family

Happy Hallowing.


alien pods as farmers’ almanac, or worse?

In case you’re thinking of adopting one any time soon, here’s a peek into Life with Wisteria—

Blooms in May and looks like this.

When the flowers are gone the vine greens up into a thick canopy, keeping the patio cool and shaded and even sit-underable for a while during a gentle rain until the drips finally manage a way through.

Ours is either Chinese or Japanese. One variety twines clockwise, the other counter clock. I can’t remember which is what, nor can I remember which way ours turns. Nor do I much care I guess, else I would have figured this out (uh, google maybe?) sometime in the fifteen or so years since we planted the thing.

In early summer you get a few seed pods. Two, maybe three. You hardly notice them until autumn when they hang down through the by then de-leafed vines like fat string beans.  We’ve never had more than three.

Until this year.

And that’s only half the trellis.

I must say, en masse they look less like innocuous string beans and more like alien pods with a plan.

From what little I understand of the universe, shrubs and trees put out extra seed when they sense stress of some kind, usually in the form of bad weather. (So what are they trying to tell me—I need more kindling?)

Okay. Thanks, I guess.

But may I ask what’s going to happen when these babies start falling? And when exactly will that be? While I’m outside with a cup of tea or sweeping or raking or shaking out a mat? While Peter’s on his way to the barbeque to innocently grill a winter hamburger or plank of salmon? And will it be all at once as an angry battery of hard, pointy pods, each with seven or eight hefty seeds inside that we’d have no chance against—none. Especially if we’re looking up at the time. Or will it be a cruel and strategic one time event…?

Because fall they do.

Talk about stress.

I mean—Should we get helmets?