My annual ‘love seen in unusual places‘ post — re-posted with updates.
Love loves reminding us it’s everywhere…
Yesterday a cousin sends pictures of alpine snow heavy on branches, mountains, rooftops, and me here in the rain feeling snow envy, sending a message back to her… “A slice of heaven!” I write and forget my laundry on the line and then this morning I open the blinds and see snow heavy on branches and rooftops and the morning light is just starting and I put the kettle on and go out to the porch, my laundry frozen and me here in coat and boots and a bright yellow cup, lemon balm tea as the sun rises through a slice of heaven.
The couple in the parking spot in the alley behind my dentist. They must be in their nineties. He standing outside chatting to her through the driver’s window. She in the driver’s seat. The car parked at an angle across the only two spots reserved for the dental office. Me wondering what they are doing. He looking at me and asking if I want to park there. Me saying yes I do… and then him explaining that they are just there to get a xmas tree and his wife is going to stay in the car and me saying, well, okie dokes, but could she park so that she takes up only one spot and I can use the other? And he, finding this a reasonable request, turns to tell his wife in what feels, even in this alley on this cold day, like such a gentle manner and her face all sweet and agreeable and she moves her car back and I move mine in and I get out and by this time he has gone to the xmas tree lot that’s just there and I can see him, slightly hunched, hands clasped behind his back, looking for just the right tree and me thinking how I was so quickly prepared to be annoyed by the parking situation until their kindness and tenderness, especially with each other, and the fact that they, despite the difficulty of getting around this city, are looking for a tree on their own at some funky Yonge Street place and the whole alley and street corner smelling like pine and she happily waiting in the car and as if all this isn’t enough (& I’m not making this up…) the music playing through speakers at the tree lot is Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman.
Click on the song, inhale some pine, and it’ll be like you were there too…
Wee moments as gifts.
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 wotsits 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.
I remember thinking how ridiculous my mother was
when she said she preferred
looking at flowers in the garden
rather than in the house.
She only ever cut a few at a time, usually things that needed pruning anyway or had been snapped off.
Why not cut a bouquet, I said.
Why not leave them outside for the birds and bees to enjoy, she said.
And I laughed.
Silly woman, I thought. You’re missing the whole point of a garden.
I was young.
Birds and bees weren’t a thing anyone talked about then.
I get her now.
She’d laugh if she knew.
p.s. Anyone with voracious tulip-decapitating squirrels is exempt from above sentiments and wise to cut the biggest bouquets their house will hold.
The ice has finally melted and walking is once again possible in the ravine and woods and parks without cleats or sticks or fear of sliding down some never before noticed incline.
I go in search of signs of early blooms.
I know where to look for coltsfoot and bloodroot, banks of bluebells and trilliums but those aren’t up yet. It’s mostly very brown and then a sweet surprise among the scruff, a different kind of sign, one that indicates I’m not alone in my thoughts.
For a while the only bit of colour I find is dog poop bags and I wonder (and I’m forever wondering this) what’s the point of bagging poop if you’re just going to leave it hanging on a fence or tossed under a tree or someplace you think is out of sight? (Not a rhetorical question.)
I rarely pick up this kind of litter.
There’s plenty of other stuff but I’ve forgotten to bring a litter bag and so I make little nests of what I find with the idea of picking it up and carrying as much as I can in my hands on the way back.
But it’s soon obvious there’s more than I can carry so I need a bag, and I know I’ll find one because it’s like magic… it’s like the universe is saying thank you for cleaning me… and, oh, I hear you need a bag… here’s one…
And then… presto bongo… there one is.
So I walk and pick up litter and wonder why there aren’t more garbage cans and who are these people dropping stuff all over the place because I never actually see anyone do it…
and then I notice the way spring has this sound, the birds, like they have a whole new repertoire and the light is different and then I see a red-winged blackbird and I remember something I read earlier this very morning in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek…
about how she was once startled by the hundreds of red-winged blackbirds that flew out of a tree and how the tree didn’t look any different when they were gone because it’s like they’d been invisible in there, and still were… because even though there were hundreds a moment ago, there was suddenly not one to be seen anywhere…
and how this reminded me of the very same experience when I was kayaking one morning when hundreds of red-winged blackbirds flew out of the reeds at sunrise… and just as quickly disappeared…