human beans, as souvenirs

 
When I come back from the east coast it’s usually sand and shells that come with me, the memory of cormorants flying a thin line above the ocean at sunset, the embrace of solitude in all that surf and space and horizon, the pleasure of spending time on red dirt roads that lead sometimes to a new beach where (I once overheard someone say) there is nothing to see.

But this time it’s more than the tangible, the feathers and stones, that have stayed with me… it’s the two women at the shared lunch table at Point Prim who have not only heard of the obscure Ontario town where I live but who lived there too, twenty something years before moving to PEI.

The guy who works at the lighthouse (also from Ontario) who says the ferry crossing over to Nova Scotia should be okay but calls ahead to check and then gives me his card and says if it isn’t I can phone and yell at him.

It’s the young man and his guitar who sings about the girl he left behind in Moncton, and a chef on the same boat, making free blueberry crepes.

And the owners of our B&B who tell us they’ve had 1200 people stay in their not so very large home in the past year and then invite us for a glass of wine.

And the photographer at breakfast, on his way to the Cabot Trail, and next to him a slightly addled couple with almost no sense of direction who you wonder how they drove here from Alberta and you just pray they’ll find the lobster supper they’re heading for in New Glasgow, and next to them the American who says her favourite part of Canada is the gasp, which, after a few questions, we understand to be The Gaspé.

The woman who runs the local co-op art gallery.

And the woman who runs a magical world of love, laughter and literature for people of all sizes.

The person who takes time to show us a ‘hotel’ room in an old railway car at Tatamagoush and the guy behind me in line at the Charlottetown Dollar Store who’s talking to someone in front of me about the number of frogs dying in ponds and rivers because of pesticide run-off from farmers’ fields.

It’s the group of elderly tourists, German maybe?, who arrive at Brackley beach as I’m sitting on the wooden steps, hello, hello, hello, they all say in passing and then take pictures of each other… and how there’s always one in every group that tears away from the herd, seeking a moment of solitude. The way that one plays at the edge of the water and jumps backward with all the joy of a child when the waves roll in as he knew they would.

And the woman who works at the tourist place in St. Peters who tells me that most restaurants are closed at this time of year and when I ask So where do the locals eat?  she replies, Well, at home of course…

It’s the server who says that winter on PEI is so quiet the speed limit on certain streets changes from 50 to 70. It’s everyone on the beach, including the guy who asked if I was Nicole Picot, the Minister of something for New Brunswick. (I am not.)

The discovery of George S. Zimbel while waiting out a rainstorm after seeing the wonderfulness of an exhibition that included Montgomery’s manuscript for Anne of Green Gables.

Familiar faces wandering around Summerside farmers’ market and a woman who sells me bags of freshly picked dulse.

The seaweed fanciers at a seaweed workshop where seaweed is fondled and used to paint seaweedy scenes.

The couple who, on a dockside patio, check their phone for info on Acadian history and then one of them reads out loud… loud enough for us all to hear. Go ahead, ask me anything.

The woman who is almost my friend and the warmth of her welcome.

The young people who on this beach of red sand discuss having once been on a beach where the sand was black but can’t remember where that was…

The people from the south shore who come to the north shore and stand in line for fish. But only on weekends.

And lovely Arthur from Florida, originally from Boston, embarrassed about Trump… and the equally charming people he’s travelling with and how they meet up each night to play cribbage.

Barb and Barry from Milton who in not more than ten minutes not only introduce themselves but list everywhere they’ve been on this driving holiday (because they’re retired; he from the fire department, she from banking), everywhere they’ve played golf, hiked (they “did” four hikes in Fundy in one morning “plus saw the tide thing”), where they’ve spent every night (because every day and every night are laid out in advance), as well as how one daughter who has a new boyfriend is studying in Guelph to be a vet while the other is working as a teacher in the U.K. but her landlord is giving her a bit of a runaround at the moment because his email has been hacked. The daughter happens to text while Barb is sharing all this so Barb texts her back then reads me the text her daughter sends in return. The landlord problem seem to be resolving, albeit slowly.

(The next day Barb and Barry announce “they have done the entire shoreline” of PEI. They also “did” Greenwich but can’t remember much and sadly have terrible things to say about the lovely woman at the St. Peters tourist place. Felt she was holding out on them about there being few places open to eat.)

The wedding party who take photos on the dunes beside the signs saying don’t climb the dunes and the guy who parks his car almost on the dunes at the sweetest beach but only steps out for a second, long enough to take a shot of the lighthouse then drives off.

A woman who made a museum of the place LM Montgomery boarded while she taught school and the view from her window.

A guy who knits socks.

A guy and his food truck.

A cat named Charlie (because cats are people too).

And his not necessarily best friend.

The painter who tells me about the land she’s just bought where she wants to build a studio. I tell her I’d love to move here.

She says do it, buy the property next to mine, I’d like to have good neighbours.

 

 

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*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.

 

 

the reason my house and car and pockets are filled with stones

 

They line stairs, window ledges and bookshelves; fill flowerpots and bowls beside my bed. And that little space in my car, the alcove-esque area above the gear shift, is for what if not stones…?

My theory for the why of this (apart from stones are lovely) is the way my dad would every now and then on a summer night after working in a factory all day and after mowing the lawn and after supper… announce that he was heading to the beach to get some rocks.

He didn’t ask me to come with him. I was a skinny kid with noodly arms. Not super helpful in the rock lifting department.

But something in the way he said he was going to the beach… different from the way he said he was off to Canadian Tire… sounded like an invitation.

And so we went.

He and me.

He to collect rocks for alpine gardens, to edge various beds or frame his collection of seashells.

And me, to skip stones, bury my legs in cool nighttime sand and wonder how long it would take to swim across Lake Ontario and what, if anything, was on the other side.

It’s possible he took breaks from the rock gathering. He may have sat on a length of driftwood at some point, lit a cigarette and wondered too about the swimming and the other side.

I don’t remember the details of these beachy missions.

Only that cool nighttime sand.

And my first pocketful of stones.

 

 

 

closing time

 
It took the better part of two days to install.

Just over an hour to take down.

The weeks in between were a sheer loveliness of spending time with my own couches in a public space and meeting people and having conversations start out of the thin air of upholstery.

The woman who told me her grandparents were happy as clams all their livelong lives together and maybe not in small part because of the mickeys of hootch they kept down the sides of their respective armchairs.

Another who said her first couch was an old door on top of bricks (for legs) and a slab of foam with fabric wrapped around it and several pillows propped against the wall.

The couch someone had forgotten but suddenly remembered hauling from a curb in Whistler and how much they loved it for the year they lived there.

The people who left me postcards.

And the strangers who sat down and talked as though we were old pals.

The kid who told me that sleeping on a pullout feels like a vacation.

And the kids who came on the last day to play the lava game and the scavenger game and ran around looking for things in the photos… a fire hydrant, geese, a porch, leaves, a rock, curtains, stairs, a dog wearing sunglasses. I loved their names— Violet, Autumn, Pandora, Audrey, Lucas, Madeleine, Maxine, Susie… I’ve forgotten some, but not the boy with the glasses and the girl who was so painfully shy.

The friends who brought me greenteacoconutmilkmachalatte, and those who were there when wine was on offer. Friends who travelled a distance to see this show and those who couldn’t come but were there in spirit. (I felt that spirit!) To friends who gave up part of a Sunday afternoon to hear me talk about how underwear affected furniture design. And to friends I missed seeing… sorry I missed you! Thank you all for coming and making this experience exactly what I hoped it would be… a stirring of memory and invitation to story.

Above all, thanks to The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, and the amazing gift that is Gallery A, for allowing me and my orphaned furniture this time and space.

Putting rubbish to some good purpose is my whole thing, after all.

That, and writing mystery thrillers set in art galleries…

 
 

wordless wednesday

 
Not encouraging anyone to be wordless today.

indexIt’s #BellLetsTalk and every single form of online communication using that hashtag (until midnight) will generate five cents for mental health initiatives.

Am writing this not so much for a friend as because of them, someone who is an inspiration to me in ways he’ll never realize. Twenty something years ago his bipolar disorder and psychotic episodes got bad enough that it was recommended he move into a residence designed for people with mental health issues at every level. It’s become home and he says he’s lucky to be there and feels safe, but he also says that most other residents are very low functioning and it can be a depressing environment. So he keeps busy. He listens to the radio in his room. Local news stations, every kind of music, sports. TV is less interesting to him, too much an assault on the senses and, anyway, it’s in the common area, which he prefers to avoid.

Not that he’s anti social. Quite the opposite. He’s forever in search of a good conversation. It’s just that where he lives it’s impossible. So, every day, without fail, he does something to work around that.

He once told me he tried to speak to at least three people a day. Even if it was just to say hello in passing on the street.

He loves the phone. Computers are beyond his ability. He’ll spend weeks composing a letter he sends by mail. He doesn’t have a lot of money but he likes to go out, so he spends afternoons walking and drinking coffee or tea in various cafes where he always asks if there’s anything he can do to be helpful. One place said they’d be grateful to have him tidy up their bulletin board occasionally. He does this with extraordinary devotion to detail and all kinds of pride and tells me why he arranged things on the board as he did that day. This place has become his new favourite haunt and he’ll spend money he can’t really afford on too many muffins just to support them, so grateful is he to be able to tidy that board.

Sometimes at night he’ll go out to hear a local band and if likes them he’ll tell everyone he knows and several he doesn’t that they need to hear this band. Not pushy, just passionate.

He goes through phases of doing things left-handed, brushing his teeth, holding the phone, eating soup. Someone told him it’s good for your brain.

For awhile he took it upon himself to report street lights that had burned out. He would note the location and call the city works department. He gets involved with various local groups, folds envelopes, whatever needs doing. He discovers a second hand shop that’s struggling to make ends meet but the people are nice so he buys a belt he can’t afford, just to help them out.

What he doesn’t do is complain. Which is astonishing to me.

He knows how some people see him. He doesn’t fool himself, he knows what his limitations are, what he’s dealing with. He’s just somehow able to override all that and keep going.

Though he gets weary of it all sometimes.

Occasionally his disorder turns psychotic and he ends up at The Royal, the mental health centre in Ottawa, where he might spend months at a time.

There are aspects of his life that are so frightening I don’t know how he copes as casually as he does. He says he’s used to it. But surely becoming used to something awful can as easily destroy spirit as it can be the reason to work even harder. That his spirit is not only intact but shines as brightly as it does…. is extraordinary. I never take it for granted.

And so he is an inspiration like no one else I know.

I tell him all the time. But I’m not sure he believes me.

He called the other day to remind me of #BellLetsTalk. And he’ll be calling everyone he knows today, at least once. It’s what he can do, so he does it. So, yeah, not wordless today. Let’s talk up a storm.

This one’s for all of us, but especially for E.

Shine on, my friend.

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Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

 

 

i drove to barrie

 
I’ve never been to Barrie before.

dsc08000I’d heard there was a nice waterfront.

It’s true.

dsc08006dsc08008But I didn’t go for the waterfront. That was simply a bonus, a nice way to spend the hour before sunset.

dsc08010 dsc08014At 7 p.m. I was in the living room of people I’d never met, about to be entertained by one of my favourite musicians, Laura Smith.

And Paul Mills.

A house concert, my first.

dsc08015 dsc08016And I really can’t even begin to describe how extraordinary it is to hear a concert quality performance in the comfort of a private home.

dsc08036And Laura Smith’s voice… well, if you’ve ever heard it, you might understand the mind-boggling effect of hearing it up close. If you’ve never heard it, listen to this…  And more, here.

It was Laura’s voice on a couple of CD’s that kept me company as I drove back, solo, from Prince Edward Island last year. For me, her voice and driving, travelling, looking and seeing and finding new things… are all connected.

I’ve also been known to dance in my own living room to her tunes.

I did not dance in the living room of strangers, though I suspect they might not have minded.

dsc08048I must have had the feeling I wouldn’t be able to describe anything and so I scribbled down lines throughout the evening… some from stories Laura told about the origins of the songs, why and how she wrote them; others from the songs themselves. This is a sliver of things, my concert mash up…

 

I Drove to Barrie to Hear Laura Smith

I was never safer
because of my smart dog
—the hardest part was starting.
Only an echo will answer my name;
I look into your eyes and see stories
that will never get told, like a father
and a daughter—love to have you here
havin’ a beer, right about now, steamin’
with toil, with the seagulls around me
and crows on the plough; you are loved
and you are loved always, you’re home.
I hear voices in the salt spray, the last
light of the sun going down; I sit in the
same chair every night, Jordy—
a bad hair day in a cheap motel—I’m a
beauty. I’m a beauty.

dsc08049

Nothing else to say.

Except, thanks. It was the best…