journal notes, solstice in muskoka, 2011

Silver morning. No, scratch that. Too cliché. Go with first instinct: grey and dull and lacking yesterday’s slow copper cherry sunrise followed by blue blue sky.

No. Scratch that too. Here’s the thing: this winter morning lacks nothing.

Frost on new wood of deck at water’s edge. In the lake, a plastic bottle, loose on the ice. I wonder how it got there; did somebody throw it to see if the lake was frozen? What is wrong with the somebodies of us?

The fire pit from last night where we burned marshmallows. No one believed me when I said roasting is an art. They said charcoal was their favourite flavour.
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A writing exercise in a book I find tells me to write in third person.

Not me.

She sits cross-legged on a lime green duvet cover that is identical to the one she used to have until it ripped and she gave it to the Humane Society instead of repairing it. Plus it had become too lime green for her taste. Animals, being colour blind [or so the rumour goes], may indeed like it, she figured.

People she knows will have done a series of sun salutations at the yoga studio in the town a few hundred kilometers south where she lives. Once the sun sets they’ll meet again for chanting and meditation. She is at a cottage with husband and stepson. There will be no chanting. Maybe a movie later.

Last night at the bonfire she wanted to talk about all of it, the air, the frozen lake and the extraordinary ways of fish that they remain unfrozen; the lichen and inukshuks on their walk and the puddle in the shape of a rabbit; the smarts of nature and the distance humans have travelled from their original DNA. She wanted to hear about the books her husband and the boy were reading and talk about the day and the places they’d walked and what they’d seen and what thoughts, ideas and questions all of those places and sights had inspired.

But there were marshmallows to cook.

The exercise goes on to suggest that I write about what I see and what makes me comfortable. Excuse me, what makes her comfortable.

She is at a cottage. I think we’ve established that. And what she sees is the vague outline of a lake beyond cedars and through a window whose night-time glass is warming and what makes her comfortable is this rather odd and empty room off the main bedroom, where no one else goes because there is a proper living room elsewhere. This extra room is a private nook, a sanctuary, an addition to the cottage, an afterthought. But it’s heated and there are big windows on three sides and a door to the patio and steps. I like escape routes—she likes them.

She writes in this silent, private space, looking up only occasionally (although even a momentary pause in the writing is frowned upon by the rules of the exercise) to assure herself the lake is still there and when the snow turns to slushy rain she hears it on the roof of this thin-walled room and writes about it. And although it’s irrelevant she writes about how the friends who own the cottage lived here for six months after their dishwasher set fire to their house. The exercise recommends just going with whatever comes to mind so she writes about how she can’t imagine the noise and disruption of kids and a beautiful giant black dog in this space, and how remarkable that none of those frenetic vibes remain. And then she writes about vibes, about lingering energy, the kind you can feel and how some rooms you’ve never been in before can immediately feel good or bad.

She digresses here and writes about how she likes places—buildings, cabins, tents, trailers, everything habitable. She likes paintings and photographs of houses and the ones about to be demolished… she likes imagining their stories, the people who stood on those doorsteps on a thousand snowy Christmas Eves, bearing gifts and casseroles.
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Coincidentally, the next step of the exercise is to write about diversions so I skip that.

After breakfast the husband and stepson go out and I’m alone with the radio and the rain in this lovely space and I read and write some more…

And before I know it I’m dancing to the hallelujah chorus on this silver day at noon.

the story of fred (a winter’s tale)

It begins, as most stories do, on a dark and stormy night in Edmonton. Nineteen eighty something. The storm was made of snow and arrived without warning at the end of the work day. Normally, this would have meant nothing more complicated than standing at the bus stop for a much longer than normal period in the whipping wind and infamous Edmonton but-it’s-a-dry-cold  minus forty temps. [They tell you that dry part as if it means your fingers won’t snap off as easily as if it were a wet cold.]

But all was not entirely normal… for that very day at lunch I had purchased a hamster cage.

Why? Because the sign said this: Buy A Cage and Get a Hamster FREE!!

Who could resist?

And so I had walked back to my office carrying, in one hand a hamster cage, cedar shavings and hamster food, and in the other a hamster in a cardboard box. Then I asked a guy at work to please transfer the furry little cherub from box to cage because a) I couldn’t imagine touching it myself, and b) the cherub was rapidly gnawing its way through the cardboard.

The guy’s name was Fred and now so was the hamster’s.

It might have been a reasonable enough series of events were it not for the storm. Suddenly the idea of standing in the but-it’s-a-dry-cold, waiting for a bus that might be hours away, wasn’t on… not with a hamster named Fred in an open-concept cage. I called for a taxi and was told the wait would be at least two hours. Undaunted, I did what anyone in this situation might do—I walked over to the Four Seasons Hotel [Fred’s cage wrapped inside my coat] with the genius plan of hopping into one of the many cabs queued up outside the front doors.

Except there was no queue.

Wait time: hours.

Well, the next logical step is obvious. I took solace in the hotel lounge… Fred on one chair, me on the other. A glass of wine between us. No need to panic. [Animals can sense fear.] We’d simply wait until a cab arrived. In the meantime I ordered something to eat, offered my companion some lettuce, and was grateful no one enforced the No Rodent Rule, [which I’m assuming is one of those things that gets waived during acts of god].

We eventually made it home and Fred seemed content enough with his new digs.

The story becomes considerably duller from here on out, mostly involving a wheel on which he ran several times the circumference of the earth.

I’ll spare you the scampering, squeaking, cedar scented details, other than to say I did, eventually, touch him but never loved the feel of his squirmy rodent-ness.

My tiny-toed flatmate lived to a respectable age and rests in a backyard on the south side.