So I go to the lake.
Cloud then sun, then cloud again.
This is good.
This is balance—the reason I like rain and snow, sunshine, warmth and sleet.
And the reason I could never live in Los Angeles.
This couch, these cats, this morning, my handwriting, breath, this page, that light, the sun waiting to rise, the way my mind wanders to pumpkin soup vs puree the moment I congratulate myself on achieving something close to a state of meditation, the backyard, the large hostas that need dividing, a bushel of garlic, fresh string beans, tomatoes in a silver bowl, friends for lunch, the wine last night, the olives and raw milk cheese and crumbs of baguette, the new tradition of running away at xmas (already exciting), the poem about Edmonton, the pillow of peace and a shoelace with feathers tied to either end, the Benjamina and the fern, the ferns outside, the way something smells both sweet and spicy under the honeysuckle arch but I can’t work out what—catmint?, the beautiful green success of the kale and spinach and chicory, the nasturtium leaves (in October!), the way the red dress hangs in the park and the boy who said to his mother after they stopped to read the sign on it: what if we get to 30,000? , that painting of oranges and a vase of yellow flowers, a laundry line, the homemade chairs on our porch, always enough toothpaste, these feet and these hands and the way Laura Smith sings about joy, that open window, these books, this tea, breath—I said breath already, right?
I meet a friend mid-way between her town and mine in a town the size of a walnut that neither of us know.
The kind of place where you can buy a summer dress, ice cream and a box of worms in the same store. Time-saving ingenuity, this, and sadly lacking in larger urban centres.
My friend brings her dog, a border collie named Becky, whose goal, given the amount of attention she gives the trees and hydrants, is to pretty much own the town.
We wander through the cemetery (where it always feels too weird to take pictures) and talk about people who come to tend their loved one’s graves and those who don’t and how it’s impossible to judge these things.
A reminder about judgment generally.
I tell her about a certain Olive and Burt, who now reside in the ground side by side but for years it was just Olive that was buried and her plot was never without the most beautiful arrangements, Bird of Paradise, that kind of thing. I’d notice them when I went to visit my sister there. Then one day the flowers stopped. Soon after Burt’s name was added to the headstone.
Here people leave more ‘things’ than flowers and I wonder why that is. Stuffed animals, a yellow toy truck, one of those windmilly doodads you hold up as you run and it flutters… I wonder at the stories behind them all. My favourite is the solar powered dog light. No story required.
We walk down side streets where the houses are made for jewellery’d windows…
…and the porches for sitting a while.
And if you’re wondering where all the flamingos went, they’re here in this walnut-sized town.
We walk across Becky’s newly christened bridge…
… past places no one has the heart to tear down but which I would love to see used and maintained before they fall down.
There’s a gas station, a grocery store, a place to sit outside and eat fish and chips, a shady corner to park the cars…
…and a bakery that opens at 5 a.m. to feed farmers and town workers and people driving into the city, and people who come in later too, people who’ve known each other close to forty years and still don’t run out of things to say, who come to do nothing at all except wander in this nut-sized town and eat freshly baked cheese bread with a few deli slices on the side…
Woke this morning expecting it to be Wednesday. But it didn’t sound anything like Wednesday. More like Sunday or New Years Day. So I wondered and then remembered the holiday and thought how amazing, really, that a few thousand people not going to work can change the atmosphere to this degree.
Even now as I write, the paperboy is making deliveries (with a red wagon, bless him); I hear the trundling sound of the wheels through an open window and neighbours chatting. The sun is out. A faint hum of traffic, birds sing, dogs bark, train whistle, wind chimes; it’s all there, all normal, and yet…
… something undefinable is quiet that usually isn’t.
Happy red and white day. (And keep it down, willya?)
Other Wordless Friends—
“The human ritual of marking individual birthdays started with the advent of the calendar, when people began to track time according to the sky, to notice when it got dark, when it got light, when the moon appeared, and when it didn’t.”
She continues with some background to the origins of birthday celebrations, considers the idea of birth and what, exactly, we’re celebrating, then moves into her own personal likes and dislikes about the occasion.
This just happens to be one of my favourite things to discuss and so instead of responding out loud to the pages from a park bench, which only frightens passersby, I decided to bring the conversation here.
Warning: the following might not be suitable reading for traditionalists, or anyone who shops at The Party Store.
Coulter says she doesn’t like the Happy Birthday song. Calls it grating and trivial with only five words to the lyrics, and a sixth to be added by the singer. “The sentiment is a tedious repetitive demand to be happy.”
Hard to argue. It’s not the greatest piece of music ever written (she tells us the copyright is worth five million dollars), yet I sing it loud and proud to a circle of lucky souls each year. And they do the same for me. And I kind of love it. When I was a kid the song made me cry. I think that had more to do with how my parents liked to go through the whole day pretending they’d forgotten what day it was and then after dinner a cake would come out, a few gifts would appear, and the song would be sung. Tears of relief followed. To be honest I still weep a little, though for different reasons now.
Coulter enjoys planning parties for friends and family. I don’t like parties. (Could I plan the party and not attend? Because then I could get into it.)
She describes how kids’ parties have changed, how today they have themes and décor and tapenade and rules about everything. She says it used to be simpler and I get the feeling she prefers the simpler.
Me too. Pin the Tail on the Donkey; pound cake with rosettes and a misspelled name; (what’s a loot bag?? kids go home with extra piece of pound cake)
Preference for simplicity aside, she says she’s actually impressed with these parties but relieved that her kids are grown and she doesn’t have to throw them.
Me: I am less impressed than cringey at the very idea. I once organized a birthday party for a nine-year old in a bowling alley. Lunch was included. Plus bowling. Plus a few jokes from my repertoire. And I pretended to enjoy myself. (There was lunch, I mentioned that, right?) When the parents arrived to pick up the little darlings, they asked where was the loot bag… I had no idea what they were talking about. Can’t even remember how I answered. But there was a distinct ‘attitude’ as they left. (Hey, there was lunch!!)
She says she likes other people’s birthdays but not her own, that the thought of it approaching actually tightens her throat.
I know just what she means. And it’s not an age thing. It’s an expectation thing.
“To distract myself after that initial birthday thought wanders in, I start thinking about how I want to spend my day. My first idea is always the same: I just want to disappear. No obligations, no hanging around to receive birthday wishes, no smiling when I really fell like roaring into the wind”
I get that. I hate handing my birthday over to someone else (shades of childhood trauma, i.e. late-in-the-day cake?)… I think that’s a lot of pressure on the other person and anyway, it’s my day and I want to be responsible for it. I’ll make the dinner or the reservation or run away somewhere, or take a friend… I’ll give the gifts, I’ll bring home a cake, I’ll light the candles. You can sing if you like…
About gifts, she says:
“I don’t like opening birthday presents, especially in front of the people who have given them to me, who sit in my line of vision smiling with eager anticipation.”
For me, it depends on the circumstance, because some people are a delight to share these moments with. But then there are those others, the ones who have pretty much given the gift for what they get out of your reaction, which better be what they expect.
“When I open gifts in front a large group of people, what falls into my hands is secondary, because I’m hoping that my smile is big enough, that I’m not over-reacting or under-rewarding my donor, that I’m appropriately grateful without resorting to an ‘I’ve always wanted one of these’ gusher statements. I wince when I recall times I have gushed.”
Agree. I would love it if birthdays were a time to give rather than receive.
She says birthdays ending in zero or five are toughest.
They make no difference to me. Numbers are not my thing.
“The frenzy exhausted me. Surrounded by people I love, I looked forward to the moment they all left.”
“What I do know is that the day after my birthday will be a good day. I will feel normal again, relieved, and somehow refreshed.”
It’s that kind of essay. Sits you down and says, so what about you?
—So what about you?
A Year of Days is available online at Blue Heron Books. Shop indies! ♥
So I’m driving home from lunch with a friend. Said friend lives way over yonder and I live here, and so we meet in the middle once or twice a year.
There’s a lot of countryside between here and way over yonder and it pleases me to drive through it.
But I’m late and there’s a cement truck in front of me all the way up one (two lane) highway, and then construction on the other (two lane) highway, so I can’t stop for pictures, except the ones I take while stopped, to prove there’s actual construction and that I’m not just rudely late. Not that said friend needs proof; but taking pictures is something to do while stopped.
Lunch is a patio, an endless strings of words, hugs and laughter. This person has been through much in the past few years, one of the strongest people I know. Yet she, in the way of such people, has no clue as to her own strength. It’s my pleasure to remind her. And to celebrate having come out the other side intact, more brilliantly herself than ever.
Driving back home, I’m in no rush and so decide to turn left here, and right there, venturing down the occasional country lane.
As a woman, I’m always aware of the potential for trouble in venturing down lanes. I take in the air and the sights. But I remain alert. I’d like to pretend this isn’t the case, to throw out some bravado, but it wouldn’t be true. Not that the ‘awareness’ stops me from the venturing, it’s just that I don’t do it casually, the way, maybe, a fellow would.
I suspect that every woman has a few dicey-situation stories to tell. Keeping one’s wits about one helps ensure they have happy endings.
Not especially noteworthy, except that I can tell it’s slowing down. A beater of car, as if the driver forwards and backs into walls as a matter of course.
I tell myself it’s a kind soul who wonders if maybe I’m in distress, but even I don’t believe me. I am very obviously not in distress. I am very obviously taking pictures. And the car is very obviously now stopping right in front of me. The window is lowered. Inside, a large man in a dirty tee-shirt. His stomach abuts the steering wheel as he looks me over before speaking, says so, what ya doin’, taking pictures?
He doesn’t care about pictures. I’m pretty sure he’s not big into the creative arts. My car is clearly visible, but it would take me a good minute to walk back to it. Long enough. There’s no traffic on this road.
I look him in the eye. That’s right, I say. See ya.
He continues to stare at me a moment and I stare back, give him the best f**k-you look I can muster. (It’s not hard.) And maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s the look, or that it occurs to him that it’s only a matter of time before someone drives by (although no one ever did)… but he snarls a bit then steps on the gas and tears away in what feels distinctly like some kind of moronic snit.
I’d like to say that I was emboldened by all this, that my veins surged with a kind of f**k you, assholes who bother women, you can’t stop us from taking pictures on deserted country lanes, “superpower”. But the truth is I walked quickly back to my car.
I continued on my way, still stopping for pictures, albeit on less untraveled roads; I found a greenhouse and bought a fern. I was grateful for traffic. And I hated that this is the way it is for women. On empty country roads, on crowded city ones. There is an ever-present ‘lurking’ that goes on among a certain kind of men.
And it occurs to me how important the friendship of women, how its embrace is one of the few truly safe places. I’m equally grateful for friendships with good men, and it’s a sad thing that that particular bunch is so tarnished with the likes of so many others.
Mostly, though, I’m grateful for a good f**k you look, which I believe I inherited, quite by chance, from my mother.
And moves from there along a lane through many trees…
—to a house on a lake across which I’m ferried to a patio with a view.
Caesar salad and veggie wraps are involved.
And then back via nautical means—and views of bear habitat.
And habitats among the bears.
Eventually returning to the house at the end of the lane for quite a bit of this…..
—with exactly the right amount of that…
All the while, plenty of citronella-scrunching to let the mozzies know who’s boss.
Here’s a pink one giving the citronella two fingers.
And chatter. Much chatter. And bbq’d salmon. And later an attempt to sit by the dock, thwarted by the absence of light. A decision I don’t question because those trees look much bigger in the dark, and so very much better for bears to lurk behind —bibs tied around their mammoth necks, knives and forks at the ready, lips smacking… Thank god for the absence of light I say.
Instead, we chatter some more and only when voices and stamina give out do we call it a night, and then in my room I find a magic lamp. It has no buttons. You merely approach it with a what the? where’s the frigging button? and it senses your need and lights up. A copy of The Antigonish Review magically appears.
There are large windows and no curtains and again I wonder about the lurking bears pressing their muzzles against the glass, breaking through, ransacking my overnight bag for snacks. And wouldn’t you know it I happen to have a small container of peanut butter in my purse, snatched from the diner where I had breakfast last weekend.
I try to put this out of my urban mind, concentrate on the winning stories from the 2013 Sheldon Currie Fiction Contest, the plan being to read them, but my eyes are doing that closing thing that no matter how much you try to force yourself to stay awake you just keep going over exactly the same three words.
I give up trying to read or to survive imminent bear attacks and then, as if sympatico to my mood, the magic lamp goes dark with but a touch, or was it a wave?, of my hand.
And a walk with bells on.
And by the time I leave bear country, I have learned three things:
1) There are no shortage of bees in these parts.
2) The essentials for survival are simple:
3) Most importantly, should a bear manage to break through your curtain-less windows in search of your contraband peanut butter, or is drawn to you by the scent of recently BBQ’d salmon on your breath, or you encounter one anywhere else, whatever you do, do not buy the myth of playing dead. This, apparently, only assures the bear that you are in fact deceased and it will use you as a hacky sack. (This comes to me via my house-in-the-trees-at-the-end-of-the-lane host, and is largely paraphrased. But you get the point.) (Oh, and it only goes for black bears. If you encounter a grizzly, do whatever you want, you’re pretty much toast.)