my bit of sky

 

There is a framed series of photos on my kitchen wall. Clouds scudding across a Florida sky. Each photo shows the exact same square of sky above a couple of palm trees, as seen from a poolside chair so many years ago I was still using 35 mm film and my trusty Pentax.

There are only four shots. But they represent the whole morning and my idle joy in having nothing to do but read… no idea what I was reading, but possibly The Portable Dorothy Parker  (I remember her from around that time) or River of Grass,  by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, about the almost decimation of the Everglades. In other words not a novel. Am guessing my mood couldn’t have been focused enough for a novel if I was able to take notice of the sky changing every so often and carefully positioning the camera to take precise shots (film was expensive) between and above those precise palm fronds.

Those aren’t the actions of someone engrossed in a novel.

The first photo in the frame shows a clear sky with only a wisp of cloud. The second, a larger, but still small, cloud moves in from the left. By the third shot, the sky is mottled with cloud cover, though wispy still, and by the fourth, heavier clouds have moved in and I probably decided it was time to gather my pool toys and go have lunch.

I love these pictures, the memory of a holiday, yes, but also a reminder of how this follows that, how time is passed and passes, and continues…

Someone once told me they rarely look up. I was astonished — how can anyone take the whole sky for granted? But it occurs to me that maybe it comes from our habit of looking *for* something… something useful, or unusual, something to compare ourselves with, as in looking at people, or something beautiful, as in a sunrise or sunset or rainbow.

Each morning I stand outside in approximately the same place to greet the day and every day I look at the same slice of sky above a cedar hedge in the space between two very tall spruce. And every day the sky is never the same. Sometimes the colour of Laurentien pencil crayon Peacock Blue, sometimes another shade. Sometimes speckled or fluffed or water-colour-streaked with cloud. Now and then picture-worthy… most often not. Over the years I’ve seen flashes of lightning in that space, the occasional plane on its way to Toronto, and one year the Snowbirds performed for a local school named after a fallen comrade and I stood in my backyard and watched, in awe, as they swooped and ducked and dived in that very bit of sky.

It is also, apparently, part of the Trans Canada Flight Path for geese.

There’s nothing magical about that slice of blue, it’s just the one I happen to most often look at. Not from a lounge chair and never for an entire morning as you do on holiday, but just as habit. Sometimes I go outside and look up, without realizing it even, with maybe a question on my mind…

And a cardinal flies by in answer.

 

 

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

Greetings from what’s left of holiday cottages, a dance pavilion, and refreshment booths that once graced the traditional lands of the people of Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation, land that’s part of the Williams Treaties, aka, the Whitby shoreline of Lake Ontario!

The holiday resort existed from about 1900 to the 1960s, with steamboats bringing travellers from Toronto for weeks-long holidays, and locals coming by horse and buggy.

I interviewed an elderly man many years ago, who told me he lived near the lake (the old wooden houses of ‘Port Whitby’ are still there) and how as a boy he would be sent to the pier when the fishing boats came in. He’d bring a bucket and a few coins and the fishermen would toss in a couple fish, enough for supper. He said the horses and buggies from town would be lined up and down the street to do the same.

I would love to hear stories also of when the Mississaugas lived on the land, and how it was they (were) ‘moved along’. No dance pavilion for them…

**

A friend of mine has lived here much longer than I have and remembers things being quite wild and woody. Much building since I arrived, but I also remember fields and woodlands running either side of main streets. Many of those fields are gone, but loads are still intact. For now. We’re lucky in that the countryside is still just a spit away, that the town is built around parks and ravines and has a river called Lynde Creek that runs through it, complete with salmon. I feel lucky to be surrounded by farms and (honest to goodness) farmers’ markets and that the lake shore remains mostly unsullied and the downtown, all leafy streets of Victorian era homes and shops, is walkable from where I live and takes me backwards through a century of neighbourhoods, from the 1970s to the 1870s. If you pay attention you can see how the town was layered, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.

It’s funny that we complain about the layering that continues. It’s nothing new, it’s been going on since we built towns and cities. It happens in cities too. It’s called condos. Still, it feels annoying, and whether here or there, the problem is the same, when there’s an imbalance of ‘building’, when too many houses/condos are built without thought to building neighbourhoods.

I have a thing about neighbourhoods.

I’m fascinated by how people live in them, how they make them home, how they adapt, how they’re different, and the same.

I have a thing about small and middle-sized towns, factory towns a lot of them, and those that appear, on the surface ‘to be not much’. Nothing against cities. I had to be dragged away from one. But even in cities, it’s always the less travelled side of the tracks, not the shabby chic side, but the authentically, downright seemingly dull side, the places where crowds don’t go, that I always discover the sweetest surprises.

I’m rambling.

But isn’t that what lazy summer days and postcards… and the sight of old concrete stairs at the beach… are for…

It’s too hot to overthink a postcard. Mostly just writing to say hello.

And happy summer.  (happy rambling too!)

#LoveWhereYouLive

#AndRememberWhoLivedThereFirst

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

 

 

 

 

mrs. moes cookies

 
Ten thousand years ago when summers were long and the sun shone every day, when you could play outside up and down the street after supper until the streetlights came on and the lawns had that almost-evening coolness that felt so good on bare legs and made a soft place to lie down and wonder how many leaves or blades of grass or grains of sand or snowflakes there were in the world and if numbers big enough had even been invented, when afternoons were lived on bicycles, beside the lake, or in trees, and long before your parents grew old, long before you even knew such a thing was possible, in the days when people were still called Mrs. whether they liked it or not     —  Mrs. Moes made some cookies and brought them over on a blue plate.

You had at least three at the picnic table with a glass of Koolaid (flavour forgotten) and your parents had coffee and your mother may have been a little miffed at how well those cookies were going down… it’s possible she said something like too buttery if you ask me… and when the plate was empty and washed and you were sent next door to return it to Mrs. Moes and to remember to say thank you…. you could hardly believe it when she smiled and said You’re very welcome  and did not refill the plate.

Years and years later, in your twenties, you asked Mrs. Moes for the recipe for “those cookies that day” and she knew exactly what you meant and she recited the recipe to you right there as you scribbled down what she said.

Maybe you got something wrong because they didn’t turn out anything like you remembered. Or maybe the magic was in the blue plate or the surprise of the gift or the happy unlimited picnic table munching.

Did she ever ask you how they turned out?

Maybe. Maybe not. You don’t remember.

Did you ever make them again?

No.

But you still have the recipe you scribbled that day.

Its purpose no longer to magic up a plate of possibly too buttery cookies, but as a portal to a time of cool nighttime lawns and numbers too big to imagine.


 
 

how to: birthday lunch (thirteenth year), in four parts

 

Part one, the appetizer:

Begin at the fish and chips place you hear is all the rage though oddly it’s entirely empty at 12:30 p.m. on a Friday. (That’s fish day, no?)

Consider leaving until the oh-so-lovely server tells you that Fridays are funny, sometimes busy, sometimes not, that dinner is when things really get hopping and that, “believe me”,  she should know because she has worked there for “twenty five long years”…

Order a plate of fries and enjoy the art.

Get lost in the beauty of entire walls covered in scenes of nautical joy.

Dig into the fries as you draw up plans for the invention of an electric toothbrush you call The Squiggly  (instead of vibrating it squiggles, obvs) (possibly cat shaped) and discuss A Wrinkle in Time, which the thirteen year old tells you is the first book written in third person that she has liked.

Be a little stunned that she knows about third person.

Part two, the main course:

Head to the Mexican place for tacos.

Try all the hot sauces offered.

Notice the table behind you is is talking about Vancouver at precisely the same time you are talking about Vancouver. Talk about Calgary instead.

Part three,  le dessert:

Hint…. DQ is right next door.

Discuss what sports you are bad at and how you don’t care.

Discuss your dislike of certain kinds of shellfish. And liver.

Discuss how you are both practically vegetarian but not quite.

Discuss how one of you is considering becoming an actual vegetarian.

Discuss how only just this xmas one of you gave an actual vegetarian
a lucky fish.

Discuss the word serendipity.

Part four, the libation:

Decide that The L’il Organic Kitchen is possibly your new book club meeting space (except in summer when you will meet at the beach and eat fries from Jenny’s chip truck.).

And that the first book will be Maud, by Melanie Fishbane.

For the thirteen year old… orange, lime, pineapple and strawberry power juice.

For you, warm coconut milk with turmeric, cinnamon and ginger.

Chat includes things you regret having done.

You— among other things, stealing wax lips when you were nine.*

Thirteen year old— accidentally eating her birthday candle.**

The end.

  *   Lips remained stolen for exactly nine seconds. Turns out you weren’t made for a life of crime… (you left them on top of the mailbox outside the store and ran all the way home).

**  The candle remains eaten.

 

pick a word, any word…

 

I do writing workshops with women who are currently living in shelters. They teach me extraordinary things.

Most recently, the meaning of prehensile.

It came up in one of the exercises where we give each other a word and the word T. gave me was prehensile.

It had a vague ring about it, I was sure I’d heard it before… maybe… but I couldn’t put it into context. “Pre what?”  I said. And T. smiled, said a monkey’s tail was prehensile. “Anything like that,”  she said. “I watch a lot of nature shows.”

Hmm. Okay.

So the exercise was to use the word as a prompt to write fast and without thinking for a couple of minutes. And this is what I wrote:

Pre tail? Do I assume hensile  means tail? Before tail? Where’s the monkey part fit in? I mean in terms of word origins—I’ll be figuring this out for a long time—I’ll be discussing it with friends: do you know what prehensile means, I’ll say, and I can guarantee you several will say… pre what?? And so it will go. And this is the beauty of not knowing because we’re never the only one who doesn’t. What somebody knows, another is clueless about and so on. None of us knows it all, which is a fine thing to remember. In fact I honestly consider it a good day when I bump into a word I don’t know or one I’ve heard but can’t actually say I know the meaning of, like when you read a book and don’t quite get the meaning, you can’t actually say   what it means, but you get the gist of it, enough to keep reading. About monkey tails though—I wonder when we lost ours.
I wonder what direct descendant of mine was the last to have a tail and where he or she lived and what was their favourite colour…

~

(Please don’t look for a lot of meaning here. Notice I’ve filed this post under Blather and ShillyShally. Am partial to a regular dollop of both. Essential at times. Also, it’s Friday. Also, if you happen to play the pick a word game and want to share the spoils… I’ll welcome that with pleasure and a pot of tea.)

Photos taken at Story Book Primate Sanctuary, in Sunderland.

Important to say THIS IS NOT A ZOO. The animals here are rescued from horrible circumstances and given a chance to live in a safe environment. (The guy in the pic is Rudy… found in a storage locker with a lot of other ‘exotic’ animals… People, eh? Prehensile is better.)

More info here…    and a fabulous place to send loose change.

 

*don’t tell me to buy a lawnmower either, shirley

 
Kerry Clare recently wrote a piece about the prospect of not necessarily coveting a house or even lamenting the impossibility of owning one in Toronto any time soon. She wrote about being a happy renter in her city of choice, about living close enough for her husband to stroll to work, close enough to walk the kids to and from school and how everybody’s home at the same time to have dinner together.

You wouldn’t think this would inspire negative comments, but then you’d be silly. Because, it seems, everything inspires negative comments.

It’s actually stunning to watch, anthropologically, this need humans apparently have to take things personally. How almost anything can be interpreted as a slight against something else. In this case the fact that she’s coming out as a contented renter is really pissing off a lot of people who own, which begs the question why?  If you’re happy in your world why does it trouble you that others are happy in their different  worlds?

This isn’t about lawns or renting or owning, it’s much bigger. Sadly, the emotions triggered by the small stuff may suggest an intolerance also to the bigger stuff… race, class, gender, religion, age, and all those other isms.

So what is it? Are we wired to create divisions? How else to explain this constant sorting of them  from us. And why don’t we get that there is no them? There’s only  an us. Some of us like lawns. Others of us don’t. Some of us like bubble gum flavoured ice cream and others of us have taste. (Ah, see that? That’s exactly how easy it is…)

Also, don’t we get tired of it all? The sides, the I’m right you’re wrong, no I’m right you’re wrong, no me, no me…  the incessant, uninformed griping about The Other. Do we ever get beyond it, smarter, more broad-minded? Or does our brain function max out at self-righteous smugness?

For the record, Shirley, (tho’ I doubt this makes us kindred spirits) I live in a house probably similar to yours. I didn’t always. For more than a decade I lived in Toronto in various apartments similar to Clare’s. I also lived in a council flat in Oxford, a pretty house on a hill in the Caribbean, an impossibly tiny bachelor in an Edmonton basement. Had you asked, while I was living in any of these spaces, I’d have told you I was content with my world, not just the structure of where I lived, but the lifestyle it allowed me to live.

Because that’s what it comes down to: are you happy with your life/style?

The point, Shirley, is that I would love it if we all stopped categorizing everyone. We are all of us ever-changing bits of various things based on where we’ve been and where we happen to be at the moment. Today’s renters are tomorrows owners. Or not. And vice versa. Who cares. We deal as best we can. And if someone’s managed to make their own version of lemonade (or bubble gum ice cream) then maybe we can celebrate that instead of telling them iced tea (or vanilla, obvs) is the way to go…

Finally, Shirley (are you still there?), I think it’s important you know that not everyone who lives in a house needs a lawnmower. And that you surely, Shirley, do not speak for me.

* The title for this post is a riff on Kerry Clare’s response to one of the comments her piece inspired and it amused me no end.

 

 

 

 

 

things i learned in a few patio hours with my favourite eccentric

A teaspoon of red wine vinegar tossed into a bowl of lentil soup just before serving apparently turns lentil soup into nectar.

Shivasana is THE most important yoga move. Ten minutes is good.

Persimmons for arthritis.

Raccoon poop is best disposed of with a) gloves, b) crumpled newspaper. Forget the trowel or shovel because then  how do you clean off the toxic??

Margaret Carney, nature writer and birder extraordinaire, once upon a time worked as an editor at Harlequin.

Lima beans, aka butter beans, will last — tops — three days in the fridge once the tin is opened so after you use half a tin for making a butter bean flan, use the other half — straightaway! — in a butter bean salad (red onion, celery, dressing of choice).

A lavender farm has opened not a million miles away from my front door.

And if that isn’t enough there’s ANOTHER lavender place even closer.

Ways of peeling garlic. (The knife crush is but one.)

Levine Flexhaug.  (1918 – 1974)  Famous for more or less painting the same cheesy landscape scene over and over in audacious colours and with various ‘differences’. So bad it’s brilliant.

The word minim.