johnny cash & me (he walks the line; i walk in circles)

 

I have a labyrinth.DSC02015I made it out of snow.DSC02017It runs past all the stuff I didn’t cut down because the birds like the Rudbeckia seeds… and I didn’t get around to the tall grasses or the hydrangea.DSC01932_1DSC01927A trained eye will see that it’s technically more “snowy paths in my yard”… but it works exactly the way a labyrinth does.DSC01922That is, you walk and walk and walk in a more or less circular way, turning left or right without thinking because the goal is not to think — once you begin thinking you’re toast. At that point it becomes less meditative labyrinth walking and more I wonder if the neighbours are frightened yet  walking.DSC01921If you’re doing it right, you’re not thinking a single thing except maybe about the crunch, crunch, crunch of the snow under your steps. The zen of crunch.DSC01946It’s occurred to me to wonder how many steps long the labyrinth is but I’ve never paced it out. There are angles to be considered and the whole process would require a certain amount of addition.

And who needs the math…

DSC02020

On the subject of labyrinths…

the hypnotic quality of squirrels

 
Driving from point A to point B… I pass a body of water that sparkles like a cliché in this autumnal way that can’t be ignored. I turn the car around, park, walk directly to it.

I’ve been here before but never noticed the ‘canoes only’ sign. I wonder if that means kayaks too. I would argue a kayak is a canoe made for people who would rather not tip over…
DSC01342DSC01346
I’m immediately not sorry I allowed this diversion from point A to point B.
DSC01343DSC01361
I meet a smiling man and woman with cameras and tripods, they ask if I saw him. Him who, I say and they tell me about an eagle, a baby bald eagle, swooping majestically… just there. They point. I point in the opposite direction and explain I was watching ducks and geese dunk their heads. They continue to smile, but I think a little less sincerely.
DSC01355DSC01359 - Copy
On the woodsy trail, a few children with parents. The kids squeal with pleasure at the squirrels, as if they’ve never seen one. A boy’s voice over the others: “These squirrels are mesmerizing…”  and even though I agree (I’m a veteran squirrel watcher), I can’t help feel he’s just elevated their watchability cred even more.
DSC01363
I take the road less travelled that leads past open fields on one side and the forest on the other. About twenty or so metres ahead, a white-tailed deer leaps across, from field to woods.

There is no picture to document this, only milkweed and asters.
DSC01368
After that a gang of turkeys shows up.DSC01374
Fortunately they shuffle off into the woods without incident.
DSC01372DSC01371DSC01369
This is tempting. I would only need to install bookshelves and a fridge.
DSC01367
Before I leave I run into a few more people: an older couple on a tricycle built for two. And a very young couple, she, chatty with long fire-hydrant-red hair and he, merely besotted, unassuming in his oh-so-thin-Goth look, walking beside her. They could be spending the day anywhere, but they chose here, and it pleases me when she cries out Oh, look, a chipmunk! 

Another young couple, the dad in jeans and a top hat, the toddler being followed by a herd of ducks fresh out of the pond, the mum getting it all on film.
DSC01366DSC01365
A swimming hole.
DSC01364
And then onward, to point B.

 

 

cue the theme from deliverance

 
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.
DSC00915
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.
DSC00922
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.
DSC00945
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.

But back to all that green.
DSC00921DSC00927 - Copy (2)DSC00926 - CopyDSC00929
And then, as I walk along the shoulder of a particularly untraveled road in order to get the optimal view of greenness, a car in the distance coming toward me.

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.

The moral of the story? How’s this: ladies, teach your daughters it’s not always good to be polite.
DSC00941
And enjoy all the scenery you’re entitled to enjoy…

blackberries and a shrunken sweater — the things that stick

 
I was in Niagara recently, driving past the house where I grew up. An elderly woman was sweeping the front walk. I pulled over and watched, remembered how on that very bit of pavement, next to the stone planter, I wore a bathrobe with pink rosebuds and corduroy slippers and a bowl haircut and wrote my name in sparklers one firecracker night while my dad—in a Hawaiian shirt, cigarette tucked into a wide smile, face tanned and dark hair falling forward a bit, Clark Gable style—scrunched down, arms around me, for a photo.

He built that planter, two of them in fact, from stones I helped him collect at the beach. I see that someone has knocked one of them down and put nothing in its place.

On a whim I get out the car, pace in front of the house. The sweeping woman doesn’t seem to notice but it occurs to me the pacing might look odd so I decide to walk over, tell her I’m not staking the place out; I explain that I used to live here, that my parents lived here forty something years. She asks if I’d like to see around. I wasn’t expecting that, but yes. The woman’s name is Minerva. She’s from Nova Scotia and she says Come along then, my dear.

We start in the backyard. My dad’s gardens, rockeries [more stones from the beach] are wildly overgrown. Trees and shrubs haven’t been trimmed for years, a rose bush has become a tree. The vegetable garden is gone, but the conch shells my parents brought back from Bermuda thirty years ago are still there in a small triangle of white stones beside the patio.  I ask about the blackberries that grew on a trellis and she shows me through a forest of leaves that, yes, they’re still there. She says there’s not much fruit though. I don’t explain about pruning, how that increases yield. She’s smiling the whole time, proud, beaming, clearly in love with this mad wilderness.

We move inside where things are tidy with doilies on furniture, tea cups in a china cabinet. There are homemade quilts and afghans, newly stencilled walls. The bathroom is bright blue with a nautical theme, maybe for memories of Nova Scotia.  A mural of flowers and trees is painted on the inside of the front window. She takes time finding the switch to turn on fairy lights woven among some branches in a large floor vase, a gift from her son. She likes to knit. She shows me a yellow dress for her granddaughter.

The whole time, I’m kind of listening, mostly remembering. She’s made changes, yes, but not as many as I imagined. (She kept a wall-sized mural of a beloved Bermuda beach scene that my dad painted a million years ago.) It’s different, definitely, yet absolutely familiar. We are everywhere here—my mum, my dad, my sister. And we are nowhere. They’re gone, it’s just me.

And Minerva.

And her life in this house. Her son, her grandkids.

And it’s okay. It’s very good in fact. If anyone had to live here, I’m glad it’s her.

We’re oddly connected, all of us.

She tells me to come back anytime.
IMG_9524
I couldn’t find that firecracker night picture, but here’s another. Five hundred years ago, the blackberry trellis in the background. He, wearing a sweater I gave him that my mum accidentally shrunk and that he would not let her throw out.

a moment of sameness

I live within the sound of Highway 401’s constant hum, a stone’s throw (a long walk or a short drive) from the beach, near a park where rabbits don’t stop eating grass still wet with dew when I stroll past; only when I pause to consider taking a picture do they become concerned.

I put my camera away. They resume munching.

A woman walks ahead of me with a backpack. She’s small and wears sneakers and I think maybe it’s not a woman but a girl… but no, something about the precision of her steps tells me she’s walked a lot further than any girl and when a big yellow lab named Haley lumbers over to say hello, I catch up to her and we’re all smiling and talking to Haley and I see that indeed the woman is not a girl but someone my own age.

Haley and her person go off in one direction while the woman and I continue in the other. I walk ahead of her now at a slightly faster clip and at a turn in the path I look back and see her standing on a small footbridge, taking a moment to watch the creek that runs underneath it. A common enough thing to do—I’ve done it a thousand times myself—yet something about it strikes me as unusual. The backpack and the way she walks tell me she’s going somewhere, punctuality is required, she’s not just out for a morning stroll. And yet, this pause. I have the idea that it might be a ritual. She seems the disciplined type, the sort that would have rituals, routines. It occurs to me (and within seconds I’ve made it a fact, in my own mind at least) that she might pause here every morning on her way to wherever, that she calculates the time to include this thirty second break, that perhaps it’s a kind of meditation, a moment of sameness in her day that she can compare to yesterday’s moment and express gratitude for today’s.

This is how it feels, though why it should feel this way I haven’t a clue.

**

The birds are noisy this morning, not merely singing their usual songs but an over-the-top joyful cacophony that reminds me of sunrise in the Everglades and I wonder if it’s this sudden warmth that has shot them through with adrenaline in the way it has us non-feathery types. (How else to explain some very strange maneuvers on the roads?)

[A distant screech of tires right on cue.]

The bluebells are out and I follow them along a path to a part of the creek where the most prominent sound is water tumbling over rock.
IMG_1414
And there are trilliums. And bloodroot.
IMG_1433
And buds on a wild apple tree that every year I mean to pick from to make wild apple crumble, but forget.

Back on the main path I see the woman veer off across a field that leads to the street and the bus stop and I notice the wind must have shifted because the sound of the 401 has all but disappeared.

I walk back over the footbridge, pause a moment, then carry on.
IMG_1421 - Copy