Except for the daring blue heron that wades in the creek up to its icy blue thighs, and the black and white bird that watches from an overhead branch. No idea what it is. Magpie? But we don’t get those here… I haven’t seen one since Edmonton in the eighties when everything was a revelation. I had a friend there who grew up on a dairy farm so we spent a lot of time in the country. That’s where I learned that magpies aren’t exactly the most beloved birds. Also, that you can drink directly from a cow. No middleman or cartons required. This was big. I didn’t believe it at first. Could not fathom that a tin bucket in the kitchen was what I was meant to ladle milk from for my Cheerios. One afternoon I took a walk in the back forty, picked some flowers, brought them inside, found a jar and filled it with water, a gift for the dinner table. When my friend’s mother came in she said Where did those stink weeks come from? It’s true that there was a very distinct and un-gift-like odour in the room… I’d assumed it was the fermenting milk.
But today’s walk.
Uneventful, except for the above and a dove too— just because the sight of them always makes me happy. They needn’t be doing anything and they usually aren’t; something about their shape pleases me, the way they look to the left, the right, left again, as if always curious, forever surprised at the sameness of things. And a blackbird soaring above yellow and crimson leaves, circling and dipping and dipping some more, just because it can. A sparrow hiding under a Toyota Camry, or maybe just keeping out of the rain.
And a man in his eighties, wrinkled from laughter, bright-eyed and sprightly, carrying two logs from the back of a house where I hear a chain saw working. He tells me he’s looking for volunteers to help… I tell him I’ll help him look, send them all his way. I circle the block and when I pass his house again, he’s there carrying more logs. He laughs, calls out, says in a wink-wink tone, “You haven’t forgotten where you’re going have you??” I realize the fact that I’m carrying a full shopping bag makes it look as though I should be heading home with my groceries, not strolling about the neighbourhood. I don’t tell him the bag is full of litter… I’m simply pleased that I’m finally worthy of insider status to an octogenarian’s joke…
In the space of a block I see not one, not two, not three, but four street hockey nets… two games in progress. Also a driveway basketball match, a skateboarder and a jogger who can’t be any older than twelve (when did twelve year olds start jogging?). Plus a man who looks like Santa Claus walking a dog that looks like Toto.
I see sprawling trees I’d love to lunch in and two hopscotch courts chalked out on sidewalks, inviting me to remember that my favourite playing piece was a bit of chain… the kind sink plugs used to be attached to. You’d snap off a couple inches and it became a thing of beauty for throwing and aiming. No bounce.
The weeds are growing madly and the cherry popsicles are waiting in the freezer.
Get your priorities right, boys and girls.
Happy longest day of the year!
—Let the tom foolery begin.
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.
And there are trilliums. And bloodroot.
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.
Willie Nelson walks across a bridge behind the art gallery carrying a plastic shopping bag—Metro, Food Basics, A&P maybe. Long white braid down his back and a red lumberjacket over jeans. We pass and momentarily catch one another’s eyes. He is grizzled and possibly hungry, but he does not look unhappy. Or even slightly mad.
Going into the Quicker’s Dairy Mart, which is next to the place that will cut glass to size for you, is that blond guy from The Dukes of Hazzard. Not him grown up but as a kid. He stops to let me go by. He’s only about fourteen so I think this is sweet; in fact his politeness amazes me.
On a bench in front of Benjamin Moore sits Glenn Gould smoking a cigar without gloves. He wears black rubber-soled shoes and grey socks, a grey winter jacket and blue jeans. Not jeans but blue jeans, the kind that might be belted up around his rib cage. I can’t tell. The jacket is zipped. The cigar is two inches long and he holds it carefully, ceremoniously, as if he’d just signed a contract for the biggest deal of his life and he’s celebrating with the best cheroot his filthy lucre can buy. He inhales with a slightly addled smile, a kind of wide grimace that stretches his mouth a little too much [there’s a hint of yellow teeth] then exhales like a goldfish breathing, mouth rounded and pulsing like he’s trying for smoke rings. But you can tell smoke rings are the last thing on his mind. I suspect he may not even know what such a thing is. He goes on, rapidly, inhaling and exhaling like this, making those faces, until the cheroot is nothing more than a tiny stub, which he tosses onto the pavement. He stands, walks a few steps as if to leave then leans down when he spies a good-sized cigarette butt. He returns to the bench, finds his cigar stub and uses it to light his latest smoke. When it takes, and just fort the merest of moments, he smiles for real then returns to his weird face isometrics all the while watching a boy in a purple hoodie do tricks on a silver scooter.
Seven cars idling.
I’d like to tell you it’s a line from a new xmas carol I’m writing but there were in fact seven cars idling on my walk this morning while drivers were inside…their houses, presumably waiting until… until what?? Until their cars got to the boiling point? Just how hot does someone need an interior to be before they slip their tender selves into it?
A pitiful sight. And the smell was worse.
I mentioned this briefly the other day but I’ll say it again… this is what makes me really hope that oil prices get raised to ridiculous levels because it seems that money, not common sense, is the best motivator. [I’m thinking of the ruse used by grocery stores for a while—that quarter we got back if we returned our shopping carts to the right place rather than leave them strewn about the parking lot. Because it seems we’re an untidy bag of bones unless we’re paid/bribed to be otherwise.]
So much to be proud of.
But here’s the kicker. When I see one of the idlers come out of his house and get into his car I notice that on this chilly morning he’s wearing a light jacket that isn’t even done up. Then again, why bother? He’d only break into an uncomfy sweat if he wore a buttoned up winter coat inside a car that had been sizzling for ten minutes.
I was tempted to write a note in chalk on his driveway after he left, maybe offer coat buttoning lessons, introduce him to the concept of hats [easily taken off when things get toasty, the way they do as you motor along]. Heck, for the sake of less filth being spewed into the atmosphere, I’d even go so far as to lend him a pair of gloves.
“P.S.” I might add. “The next time an entire eco-system is drenched in oil spill, or even just a part thereof, wings and gills gummed up until there’s nothing to do but suffocate, and your children are crying over pictures of greasy little ducklings from the back seat of your over-heated, over-sized ‘vehicle’… all you are allowed to to say to them is— So what? Doesn’t affect us.”
And not that we were speaking of squirrels but I can’t help wondering why their nests don’t fall out of trees in high winds yet I once found our very solid steel patio chair in the pool…
As if that’s not enough to be curious about for one morning, there is also the mystery of the Seemingly Forever Idling Car in the Driveway, which, when I loop the block and pass by again a full ten minutes later, there it sits, still idling and spewing gunk from its exhaust. This kind of thing is Exhibit ‘A’ in my case for increasing oil prices by at least 300 percent (with all those ‘extra’ profits going into cleaning up the mess oil makes in the first place).
But the biggest unexplainable is how, later, I find myself at the beach on this gloriously windy day, all set to snap some wild and wooly waves only to have my camera tell me its batteries need changing. And I haven’t brought any spares.
Because the waves are BIG alright, and beautiful too, but even better than that there’s a madwoman, madder even than me, also with a camera, who walks a few metres out onto the pier against which the lake is slapping and sloshing something fierce, which is what she’s shooting. And probably getting some brilliant shots. But it’s completely crazy to take the chance. The pier’s not wide and the waves not always predictable where they come up over the side. I can’t take my eyes off her and steel myself for action if necessary, locate the bright orange life saver near the “At Your Own Risk” sign. I exhale only when she starts walking back, all annoyingly calm and smug.
By now I’ve convinced myself I don’t want photos of stupid waves anyway. But I’m sorry I’m not able to take a picture of her.