Eating yoghurt and blueberries
in the company of
a single swan attending to its morning toilette.
Red winged blackbirds. Darting in and out of reeds, returning sometimes with nesting material. Sometimes I think they just go out for smokes.
Morning pond air chock full of chittering, occasional grunts from somewhere in the bull rushes behind my boat. I tend not to worry about strange sounds on the water… it’s only what’s on land that’s worrisome.
Kingfisher. Flies like she means business.
Seagull. On perpetual holiday.
All this singing, chittering, trilling, cawing. Is it a band or a choir?
[Every time I don’t bring a sandwich, I regret it.]
Yellow finch flits to the accompaniment of frog solo bass.
Have lodged my boat among lily pads and stare at opposite shore wondering what it must be like to understand nature, to know what tree that is or what everything’s surviving on, what kind of fish is it that keeps jumping here, and then here… to have some idea of how to move through the world less clunkily, to disturb little, to be still. I ask these questions then open my tupperware container of market blue berries and eat them with inelegant fingers.
[The lily pads work extremely well keeping my boat in place. I wonder if the voyageurs knew this trick.]
Water level too high for egrets, herons, both blue and green, cormorants too.
Deer. First one, then two. I paddle gently, watching them on the woodland side of the pond but they must see me because their nonchalance suddenly turns to startled and then they turn into the woods. And, poof, they’re gone.
A kind of elation, mild ecstasy, maybe not even so mild… arrives if I stay in one place long enough. The opposite of boredom. The pleasure of being somewhere long enough to have questions, to understand… something…
Two cardinals. I may have caught them in a picture I was taking of the light that has turned lime green yellow bright on this summer morning.
Or maybe not.
Once upon a time I used to spend hours trying to arrange the garden so that the tall blue things would grow behind the shorter yellow things but not bloom before the red things and I’d get frustrated if it all didn’t work to plan.
We had just moved into our house. There was still a lawn then, and a couple of tidy but boring flowerbeds with unloved plants. (The beds were boring not because they were tidy but because they were unloved. You can always tell.)
We planted a veggie bed and took up the lawn and enlarged the boring beds and laid down some stone paths (that become a labyrinth in winter) and although I was still trying to control the reds and the yellows, I began to notice things moving around on their own. And instead of fighting it, I eased up a little and watched the changes, the way the joe pye weed took over the space that was once thick with lupins and though I love lupins and missed them, the joe pye weed brought new pleasures. And dragonflies.
It seemed the garden knew how to be.
And it occurred to me that it didn’t need a foreman or a director orchestrating the blues and the reds. (It needed a maintenance manager for sure, but not a lot else.) The garden knew what to do all on its own.
It knew that this grows well here and that doesn’t. No matter how much you try to force the issue… this will grow and that will not. And it knew that the daisies didn’t want to grow in a clump and somehow they became willy nilly singles and twosomes in places of their own choosing.
So I surrendered to the wisdom of the garden, accepted the job of maintenance manager and let the plants pretty much decide what works.
The result is a chock-a-block, semi-naturalized space with a variety of things, some planted by me, many pooped by birds or self sown and appearing in areas of their own choosing. The dragonflies rest in the sun on native solomon’s seal and the flutterbys flutter by and everything is hale and hearty because nothing is there against its will. *Nothing requires extra watering to stay alive (except the veggies), nothing needs fertilizer. Just the maintenance of clipping and weeding and the joy of daily walks to see what’s new and — oh yes, very definitely yes! — commentary en route. (Plants love a bit of chat.)
Every year it’s the same but different… a drift of bee balm has slowly taken over from black eyed susan while the black eyed susan has moved in among the grape vines and the prairie sunflowers have nudged out the yarrow but make room for the salvia… and the pleasure I get from watching these changes, the symbiosis of the plants, is beyond measure better than anything my wee human mind trained in symmetry could ever plot out.
Perfection is a myth in all its forms.
And even if some form of it were achievable (the gardens of Versailles? the hanging sotsits of Babylon?), I’d opt for the imperfection of happy surprises around every corner. Every time.
For which I take no credit.
Avoid traffic. Leave early. Eat your banana breakfast in the car.
Somewhere in the countryside near Beamsville realize you’ve forgotten your notebook so stop at a back-roads Dollar Store and find a gorgeous red spiral bound one with creamy lined pages.
Let the holidaying begin.
Quick stop at a winery you heard makes a raw and organic beverage without sulphur. Anticipate a pleasant conversation. Be disappointed. Your host is a cranky soul who should a) have stayed in bed, or b) better yet, avoid work that involves speaking to people, or maybe c) have some sulphur.
Go directly to lunch on a shaded patio with a view that is so lovely you forget to take a picture. Also the fries are excellent.
Find a sleeveless polka dot blouse for $2 at a thrift shop.
Head to second winery (also no sulphur) where conversation (with owner/winemaker) is top notch and much is learned and wine samples are offered (siphoned) directly from fermenting barrels, a rare treat.
Make annual pilgrimage to house you grew up in. Marvel how stone planter your dad made two thousand years ago is still there, as are the chicks and hens he planted (consider calling Guinness… or is it normal for chicks and hens to live this long? Surely they owe their life to neglect). See Minerva (new owner) sitting on shady porch. Wander in to say hey ho and end up spending the better part of half an hour realizing she is as sweet as ever but losing her faculties and it won’t be long before she can’t manage the place and whoever buys it won’t be so welcoming and so perfectly and wonderfully eccentric. Chat away the time and ask to see the wildly overgrown backyard (because she has done almost no yard work since moving in a dozen years ago) which still has the shrubs, trees, rocks and shells that your mum and dad put there, and see how the patio and carport your dad made is crumbling and a field of weeds blocks what was once a path along the blackberry bushes… but Minerva’s eyes are bright with love for the place. Isn’t it beautiful, she says, and it is, yes, it’s absolutely beautiful in the most bittersweet way. Ask to take pictures and she will say yes, dear, take all the pictures you want.
Discover remnants of old fort and be reminded of the people who used to live on this land (before forts). Do some research. Find out their names. Be reminded there wasn’t always a pedal pub pedaling by on the street at dusk with merry/raucous passengers singing Sweet Caroline. (Although, really, how raucous can anyone be while singing Sweet Caroline? )
Be happy that you are alone for morning swim. Until you aren’t. Until Serious Swimmer arrives, turning bliss into a wave pool. Pretend you are in the ocean.
Take three things to patio: red notebook, breakfast date ball, peppermint tea.
Drive along Welland Canal as far as Thorold. Be surprised at how pretty the streets of Thorold are and how really extraordinary is this canal that connects Lake Ontario with the higher elevation of Lake Erie, a canal you grew up around, played Tom Sawyer on, but have never driven the entire length of (eight Locks) nor have ever seen the ‘steps’ of Locks 4, 5, and 6, which allow freighters to climb over the escarpment. Watch two freighters pass in opposite directions. One, coming into the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence Seaway and/or Atlantic Ocean, and the other, ocean bound. Watch a couple of sailors embark on ocean bound one. Chat with young family from Woodstock who share your awe. Wilt a little in the heat.
Continue to end of canal (Lock 8) at Port Colbourne where you see sand piles like those you remember from Lock 1 where, as a kid you used to climb them until someone realized they posed a danger of air pockets into which you or your friends could easily fall and suffocate and so they were removed. Probably coincident with the end of the unsupervised lawn darts era.
Find yourself on a heaven-sent patio overlooking Lake Erie eating freshly caught pickerel for lunch. (Heaven-sent because it’s the real deal, nothing fancy, great music, and on this scorching day it’s shaded, with an unexpected cool breeze off the lake that you learn is common, even constant, on this shore. A slice of old Crystal Beach.)
Stop at one more winery. Be grateful it’s air-conditioned, has a four-legged host (Simba), and an owner who talks you through the tasting while explaining the wine history of Turkey, from whence she and her partner came twelve years ago with zip wine knowledge.
Remind yourself that your parents, too, came to this country with their own variation of zip (and so many others!) and how proud they were to be all things Canadian, just like Simba’s mum and dad. Raise a glass to that.
Remind yourself of the people who lived here first. (Not as sweet a story.)
Another swim, another dinner, another walk, more tea on the patio.
Morning of last day. Another book store and then farmers’ market where the bat mobile is picking up some new potatoes.
Be unaware of gallery hours and arrive a half hour before it opens. Be happy to have this time to sit in the shade of a park-like garden with a view of backyards and bridges and remember growing up in this town.
Inside gallery find Carolyn Wren’s exhibition celebrating “meditation in the repetitive tasks of life”, featuring installations such as the entire text of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own hand-embroidered on canvas, a video showing Wren hauling a sack of 50 one pound rocks up and down a hill, depositing a single rock each time she reaches the top (to a voice-over of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus). Dresses representing maps made for pilots during the war, made out of Dupont silk because they were light and durable, and which women used after the war… to make dresses. And more. So much more.
Don’t attempt an answer.
Just embrace your one dollar summer jeans… and run.
Following my instinct I stop at a playground early, early, in the morning with the sun up only an hour, still inching above the treeline. I surprise myself as I stand in mountain pose a moment and feel the warmth of it.
I do not go on the monkey bars because I do warrior I and II instead.
And I do not go on the slidey thing but use the vertical posts either side of it for balance in king dancer pose.
I do a version of sun salutation and the breathing is exceptional.
…I’ve been there long enough for the sky to turn blue blue blue.
And then I climb up the ladder and slide into the day.
All winter it’s been almost impossible to walk the beach. So much forever-never-melting ice this year. And when it did melt, it just froze up the next day even icier. So, yes, it’s been impossible to walk the beach.
… and just the other day I was at the beach and it’s all sand and pebbles again, and ridges of stones where a recent wind storm has pushed them several metres from shore. (Given the size of stones one wonders how that is even possible.)
Seasonal differences are extraordinary but, even more extraordinary is the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) transformation of every day, the way the water changes colour, the size and sound and movement of waves, their connection to moon and tides and us.
And beach glass.
And whatever it’s connected to. (Sometimes cartwheeling along the shore with my nieces… those who know me… I can hear you laughing!... we imagine the maybe-stories attached to the glass we find. And sometimes I do the imagining on my own, in which case pirates with a penchant for expensive olive oil very often figure into things.)
The type of glass found in various places (these things are predictable to a point), on different shorelines, is fascinating. For instance, my Lake Ontario beach offers up big numbers of small pieces. I used to think they were a good size, but they’re really quite tiny compared to pieces I’ve since seen on PEI (though I find much less of it there; it’s possible I don’t know where to look and no one’s telling me); also small compared with what I understand is found on the shores of the St. Lawrence, and elsewhere, which begs a Why?… what makes the difference in what washes up? Not that it matters because a piece of smooth glass winking at me from the sand is a joy, no matter the size. And if it’s not quite ‘cooked’, i.e. entirely smooth, I toss it back into the water. Apparently to be fully cooked takes decades, between fifty to a hundred years on average.
If you’re still reading this it might be that you have some small interest in beach glass, or maybe you haven’t quite finished your tea yet. In any case, here’s some glassy trivia gathered from various sites for glass nerds—
Lavender glass is called ‘sun glass’ because it’s glass made with manganese, which, if left in a sunny window, will turn various shades of purple. (And can be dated to around the time of WWI, when the bleaching agent used to make it clear couldn’t be sourced and manganese was used instead.)
And that frosted look? Comes from lime leaching out of the glass over time.
But my FAVOURITE bit of sea glass trivia is that the cobalt blue pieces could very well come from bottles once made to contain poison. (Also possibly Vick’s VapoRub; Evening in Paris perfume [oh my god, the very mention of which takes me back to my family’s bathroom shelves, home to a small bottle of EIP I’d given my mother for xmas and which I pray she never actually wore though fear she did]; Noxema, and a certain brand of either Milk of Magnesia or Bromo Seltzer.) The poison angle is so much better though. Apparently when lights were dim and not everyone could read, a trip to the medicine cabinet (where, unwisely perhaps, both medicines and poisons were kept)(poisons being useful for ‘some’ things) mistakes were made. Move the poison I say but, no, someone thought it simpler to change the colour of the poison bottles, to cobalt blue, as well as the shape (triangular, etc.) so they could be both seen and/or ‘felt’ in a dimly lit room in the once-upon-a-times…
And should you be out glassing, here’s a list of glasses from the book Pure Sea Glass, by Richard LaMotte, who is some kind of travelling guru on the subject, giving seminars and talks all over the world and about whom much can be read. (And whose job wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.)
I’m not a social person. Let’s just get that straight, because what follows may lead some to believe I am. But… I am not. Blips in scheduling sometimes occur, blips that have me gadding about in ways completely alien to my true nature. Happy blips in this case.
Thursday: Writing workshop at the shelter and there is talk of a spaghetti dinner on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of a one year old. I am invited.
Thursday Night: Eve of International Women’s Day and I am at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery eating scrumptious Berry Hill Food kabobs and food in various other forms and quaffing free red wine. (Also being one of thirty five women honoured for commitment and support of the Denise House shelter. Still feeling a little emotional about that one.)
Friday: International Women’s Day and I am at Soebys buying bunches of tulips for a couple of gals who inspire me with their passion in all matters of art and life and kindness. We sit down to lunch over bowls of seafood bisque, crusty bread, and endless, truly endless, chat.
Saturday: I am at the Visual Arts Centre in Bowmanville, listening to Jane Eccles tell the stories of women from all walks of life, women whose dresses she’s painted over the past fifteen or so years. There’s something about a disembodied dress that begs story, that reminds us of the difference yet sameness we all share. I have a soft spot for textile (including upholstory), the way fabric holds things, the essence of memory it conveys.
Saturday night: I drop by the shelter for a spaghetti dinner that is nowhere near ready and I can’t stay until it is but I chat for an hour anyway with a couple of residents and so begins a series of spaghetti sauce secrets that takes me to something called passata which is so apparently ubiquitous that I’m not sure I know how I’ve managed all these many decades without it.
Sunday: I have been invited to a UAW hall in Oshawa where I listen to women speakers, women affected by the loss of the GM plant, who with brave voices encourage both women and men to find ways ahead, to remain positive but to challenge governments, to question when necessary and, (my favourite bit) to be not only trail blazers, but path wideners for each other. Path wideners.
Monday night: I am at the shelter again where I bump into a few of the women from last week’s writing workshop. There are hugs and stories about birthday cake (and spaghetti dinners that may or may not have materialized) and visits to Ripley’s Aquarium and I have to bite my tongue because I have strong feelings about how I’d like Ripley’s to better use their power to more accurately portray the oceans, i.e. how there are areas of plastic twice the size of Texas, and how wildlife is dying from ingesting it all, not to mention the lingering effects of oil spills, but there is a child who’s recently had to leave its home under the worst kind of circumstances and whose future is up in the air and who lovingly embraces a stuffed blue shark as I speak to his mother and so I smile and simply say nice shark and then I have a brief chat about fish, generally, with a couple of kids. No mention of plastic. Not yet.