Step by Step

I hike nearby trails and the shoreline for inspiration and pleasure year round. I stop often to take pictures, draw in my sketch book, wade out into the shallow waters of Lake Erie in summer, or brave the ice bound shores in winter. There are times though when I want to walk without any purpose other than to walk, think a little (or a lot), and feel the ground move beneath my feet. During the winter poor weather and snow banks force me inside to walk for kilometres on a gym treadmill. Early spring brings the thaw but not good walking conditions. The snow banks are dark with dirt and crusted salt. As the banks melt, brine bleached trash and frozen roadkill are laid bare. Sometimes the snow under the dead animals takes longer to melt and the bodies seem to sleep curled up on snowy biers sporadically marking the gravel shoulder. Summer has now arrived and with the fair weather I can finally walk along the roadside. I set up little routes for myself so I’m not gone for too long (or too short- I want to take a WALK not a little stroll). I use Google maps to pick a distance and direction. Seven to ten kilometres does the trick, the points of the compass are variable.

I walk mostly in the early evening to avoid the sun and the heat. I try not to start too late as nightfall on a rural road is a singularly isolating experience. I don’t mind being alone. In the dark though, walking along the unlit gravel shoulder, the lights of distant farm houses take on a mysterious aura. You can hear an approaching car from far away but the sudden interruption of the headlights is still blinding. It must be startling to see a woman at the side of the road caught in the beams, stark against the darkness of the fields. A glance into the rear view mirror would show me melting from the red cast of the tail lights to fade back into the darkness. Last month I did walk past the village boundary very late to try to see the Aurora Borealis. It was well past midnight, still and clear. I didn’t go far though as the coyotes were sending up a full chorus that echoed round the fields to come back from the darkness all around.

So I walk in the early evening where I often encounter the golden hour. The quality of light is such that everything is bathed in a warm glow. The growing darkness under the hedgerows is velvet soft. My shadow stretches out away from me, a thin giant, elongated by the rays of the sinking sun. Walking along the roadside I can take the time to see things. I acknowledge birds on barbed wire fences, deer off in the thickets, all of the sky with the setting sun and the rising moon opposite each other, and everything else around me. I listen to the wind and the sound of my feet crunching on the gravel. I think about everything and nothing. It doesn’t free me from the cares and concerns that mark any life. It’s true that you take yourself with you wherever you go. But for ever how long it is that I am walking I enjoy the act of being where I am with nothing else to do but move forward and be.

The song for this post is The Talking Heads ‘Road to Nowhere’ because I’m walking but I’m not really going anywhere other than exactly where I am.

Friendship

I’ve been on Facebook since 2007. My account currently indicates that I have 440 Facebook friends. Some of the people on my Friends List are family or individuals I actually know. Others are people who I have common interests with, or I “liked” something on a page we both frequent, or we play the same online game. I occasionally go through my Friends List to clear accounts that have been abandoned or were added for games I don’t play any more. I don’t always remove former game players as I sometimes develop an online relationship that I guess would translate to a kind of neighbourly liking of each others’ posts or commenting on happy or sad statuses. Recently whilst cleaning up my account I discovered that two people on my List had passed away. We’d played the same Facebook game. Neither had popped up on my feed for a while and when I checked their accounts there were messages of condolence, outpourings of grief and disbelief, from people who actually knew them.

One account belonged to a young man who had died of complications following a car accident. The other account belonged to a woman who, along with other members of her family, had been murdered. The postings on their account pages clearly spoke to the tragedy of these deaths and that the deceased were well loved and held a special place in the hearts of those who knew them. That, more than anything else, was why I deleted their accounts from my Friends List.

I didn’t know either of these people in real life but I felt a twinge of guilt removing them from my Friends List. For several years I’d seen their family/friends photos as well as status postings about life and family events. We’d liked some of the same things. But that didn’t make us friends. Perhaps that twinge of guilt had to do with sympathy for lives lost to violence and lives ended too soon. Or maybe it had to do with that overlapping of our online interactions that provided an illusion of connection. I’m not sure. I do know that for me, maintaining access to those two Facebook accounts, where their friends and families were posting heartbreaking messages, felt like an invasion of privacy. Facebook is a public forum but the few postings I did read made me feel as if I was eavesdropping on a very personal and painful conversation that I had no right to hear. Even though they will never know, deleting those account connections seemed like the very least I could do to honour the loss, and respect and acknowledge the right of their friends and families to grieve.

Music for this post – I went back and forth trying to decide what would best suit this post and I finally decided on Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me In Your Heart’ . I hope the friends and families of those who passed on will hold close to any good memories they have.

A quick bit of research revealed that most online organizations have, or are in the process of implementing, policies that deal with death and the internet. I think they still have a long way to go. Perhaps in the future instead of sifting through ancient tombs to explore history, archaeologists will have to recreate ancient operating systems and applications to access first hand knowledge of life (and death) during the birth of the digital age.

 

Socks and Puddles

I have water in my basement. I don’t mean a sink with a tap (though I have that down there as well). I mean I have water leaking into my basement which led to someone asking me why there was a sock in my toilet. At first glance the “toilet sock” and a leaky basement wouldn’t seem connected but there are. Normally I can attribute things out of place to Lola. Out of my 2 cats she’s the one who likes to carry things around. Once I saw her walk by with a ring box clenched in her mouth. I’m not sure where she was going with it but I made sure she didn’t get there. She is fond of the toilet in a butt in the air head below the rim sort of way but to my knowledge she hasn’t been storing stuff in there.

I most likely dropped the sock in the toilet while I was sorting laundry in the bathroom. My washer is in the basement so I’ve been sorting laundry upstairs because of the puddles downstairs. Thank goodness someone saw the sock before using the toilet. I’m pretty sure it would have created a clog if flushed down. I would prefer to have zero puddles inside so the prospect of an overflowing toilet on top of the already wet basement was very unattractive.

My house was built in 1910 so it wouldn’t have been constructed with a full basement. Here’s a picture of my house (probably taken 1940 to 1950-ish).

Our house back in the day

Back in the day, with no electricity or plumbing, a basement wasn’t important because you didn’t need to make sure you had a warm space to protect your infrastructure from the elements. My basement shows clear signs that it was a work in progress for a number of years with a hodgepodge of older and newer bits formed from different materials. There’s a room in my basement that’s not completely dug out and we do our best to pretend it doesn’t exist because it’s kind of creepy.

So where is the water coming from? Well something called hydrostatic pressure is pushing ground water from the spring thaw up through any little crack it can find in the foundation. We have a sump pump pit but it can only do so much. It wasn’t a problem when we first moved in but when the municipality updated the drains along the road, the change in the elevation of the shoulder resulted in increased snow and rain run off onto our property. I’m sure it didn’t help that we went awhile without cleaning out our eaves. Last summer we had the roof re-shingled and the roofers took care of that for us. It was quite timely as there was a sapling growing up there that needed to come out before it got much larger.

Daily vacuuming helps to keep the water under control but it gets a bit disheartening to have to jump puddles in your basement. To add insult to injury my dryer broke down last week. The basement is too wet to have a repair tech come and fix the dryer right now. I do have a clothes line outside but it’s April and April means spring showers which makes hanging clothes out to dry an iffy proposition. Alas my laundry is beset both inside and out by the forces of nature. Hopefully everything will dry out soon. Eventually I’ll have to take care of the basement puddle problem permanently as a leaky foundation can lead to a whole host of other serious problems. It’ll be expensive …what house repair isn’t? But it would be even more expensive just to leave it. In the mean time I’ll do my best to keep my feet dry and my socks out of the toilet.

Music for this post;

Al Jolson – April Showers
MC Tracky-Dactyl – Laundryman

Hit The Road Jack (or Jill)

It’s -12°C right now (that’s about 10 °F for you Fahrenheit users). I think the coldest it’s been here this winter has been – 22°C. The drifts of snow are so high in my backyard that the dogs are having trouble finding spots to comfortably do their business. The cats act as if it’s a personal insult every time the kitchen door opens and a blast of winter air rushes in. It’s cold outside and I have ladybugs in my kitchen.

Ladybug ladybug

When the crop rotation behind my house is beans, come harvest time, we’re inundated with ladybugs. They cover the back of the house and creep in through cracks. You have to give the back door a good shake before you open it all the way or ladybugs will drop off the screen right onto you like nasty little assassins (despite the “lady” in the name they certainly aren’t ladylike – they bite). Because they range in colour from light brown to red, I accidentally ate one once thinking it was an un-popped kernel of popping corn. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten but it was pretty close.

Two weeks ago a big fat fly flew into my head. It ricocheted off and landed on the floor all winter sleepy and easy to catch. A couple of days later I watched one of the dogs lick a spider off the wall. It wasn’t even a regular house spider but one of those stilt legged monstrosities that lunge along like the alien machines in a H.G. Wells novel. The other night I was lying in bed and I thought I heard a mosquito. Maybe I was dreaming, or it could have been a delayed concussion from that fly whacking me in the head. On reflection it couldn’t have been a mosquito. It could have been the hum of a dying light bulb or a fly induced ringing of the ears. The alternative would be to have to wonder about the why/ how of a mosquito in my house – in FEBRUARY – in ONTARIO – CANADA. And I’m not willing to do that.

Fall is long past. It’s February which is the time of year that all the creepy crawlies and antennaed thing-a-ma-bobs should be hunkered down into whatever crevice they’ve opted for to avoid the deadly grip of the season. Having bugs around in winter is definitely something I could do without (especially the ladybugs). If I had my way the fact that it’s cold enough to freeze our pond outside should mean it is cold enough to keep the bugs down and out. Here’s the thing- Summer and fall it is warm so you put up with the bugs. Winter you put up with the cold so you shouldn’t have to deal with the bugs. It makes perfect sense to me. Now if I could just get the laws of nature to fall in line-that would be great.

Music for this post is Weezer- Go Away ft. Bethany Cosentino (Live Acoustic KROQ Soundspace)

Or if you prefer (in deference to the title of this post) here’s something from Ray Charles Hit the Road Jack

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

I can’t tell if this plant is dead.Hmmm What seems to be the problem It looks dead but maybe it isn’t.  Things do seem pretty dire but this plant has a history of fading only to suddenly spring back to life; quite on its own with no help from me. It’s never looked this bad though.

I’d like to say that I try really hard to keep my house plants going. I’d like to say it – but I can’t. The truth is I don’t. As long as the weather permits they’re outside on the porch under the auspices of Mother Nature. The spring, summer, and early fall are a great time for house plants on the porch. It’s winter inside that’s the kicker.

It’s not that I don’t care. I try to position them out of draughts and close to light sources. I cover the soil with tin foil and rocks so the cats can’t dig in it. But I don’t have that green thumb thing going on. I don’t always remember to water or I over water. I’ve tried plant food but with limited success. I don’t talk to my plants. My mother talks to her plants. My mother has the touch. She is the reason I have house plants. I’ve never bought a plant for inside (plenty for outdoors- they seem to respond well to my plant ‘em and leave ‘em alone approach). For my mom a house isn’t a home without plants therefore I have house plants.

My mom’s house is full of beautiful, healthy plants. She collects plant clippings and she’s not shy about it. Public gardens, shops, doctors’ offices- if she sees a plant she likes she grabs a bit to take home. Once whilst attending a family funeral she snapped a sprig from a plant in the funeral home lobby. She wasn’t the least bit discrete about it. It was after the service and everyone was drinking coffee, expressing their condolences, sharing memories of the deceased. She dampened a napkin with water from her drinking glass, grabbed some Saran wrap off a sandwich tray that was being unwrapped, and packaged up her clipping to keep it fresh for the trip home. There’s no way that this situation I currently find myself in would ever happen under her watch.

I just read a story about a guy who was in a vegetative state for 12 years. They thought he’d never recover. Well he came to and now he’s right as rain and happily living his life.* It wouldn’t make a lick of sense to compare an individual’s life journey to that of a plant. It’s not the same thing at all. But there is some kind of parallel in that things aren’t always the way they seem to be. I could be wrong obviously. After all, my mother does steal plant clippings so my world may be a little more grey (or green) than black and white. I think I’m going to tuck the plant back on the shelf and see what happens. It can’t hurt it and relatively speaking spring is not that far away.

Music for this post
Frank Sinatra and Eddie Hodges High Hopes

*. Well he does have quite the hate for Barney the Dinosaur. Turns out that he was aware but trapped inside his body for 10 of those years and they didn’t know it. Whilst in care they would prop him up and pop a Barney tape into the old VCR for hours at a time. They probably thought they were doing a bit of kindness when in fact they were irritating the snot out of him.

Chariot

It’s 4 am and I’m standing in the middle of my back yard. The wind is sweeping across the empty fields. I can hear it rushing along beyond the blue spruce trees that mark the divide between the fields and the yard. I can’t see the trees clearly but I can feel them towering above. Overhead the moon fades in and out of sight, just visible and then bright, behind and in the breaks of the ragged swathes of misty clouds that race across the sky. The moon is framed by a rainbow-hued corona. The flow of the clouds creates the illusion that the moon is moving quickly across the sky. An arm’s reach downwind there’s a bright shimmer, a planet I think. It’s ever so bright (perhaps it’s Jupiter, Jupiter is supposed to be visible this time of year) and so close to the moon that they appear to be moving together. It’s as if the smaller body is pulling the moon across the sky. The illusion is so perfect, their light so clear and close, that I half expect them to sail right over my head, brushing the tops of the trees before they disappear into the blackness of the fields. I’d like to wait and see (just in case) but the dogs don’t like the wind at night. They hear things in the wind, and because they can’t see, it makes them nervous. Maybe I hear things too but only just a little. And the wind is cold; it’s December. And I’m almost positive the moon and Jupiter aren’t sailing away wildly on the wind. So in the house we go.

Kitty Update

Several weeks ago I wrote about our cat Charlie and his scary health situation. We weren’t sure how it was going to turn out but I can now happily say he appears to have made almost a full recovery. It looks like it was idiopathic vestibular syndrome. He seems to have recovered his mobility and his head no longer tilts. For awhile we thought he was going to have a droopy eye but that’s resolved itself. His voice is a bit rough (he used to have a very sweet meow and now it’s sort of crackly) but if that’s the only residual symptom we’ll consider ourselves lucky!! We’re happy to have our lovely boy out and about again.

Music for this post- I Can See Clearly Now by Jimmy CliffCharlie in the gardenCharlie on the moveCharlie checking out the harvestCharlie catching some rays

Sleepy Charlie

Tech Support Calling

Windows Technical Support called me this morning to inform me that my computer was in “danger”. I had just gotten up, which is not a great time of the day for me. I’m not particularly “verbal” or clear-headed before I’ve finished my first cup of coffee. Rather than hanging up immediately I said “no”. I then proceeded to say “no” every time he paused to take a breath during his spiel. He eventually realized I wasn’t responding in the appropriate/hoped for way and asked me what I meant when I said “no”. He became a little testy when my first full sentence included the words “everyone knows this is a scam”. Once again I know I should have hung up but in my defense I was still half asleep. He then expressed interest in the intimacy of my assumed marital status. “I hope your husband fucks you”. Um -no you don’t but thanks…I guess. Not content to stop there he took it one step further and informed me that he “wanted to fuck me”.  Actually what he said was “I want to fuck you ma’am”. I should add here that the caller had a South Asian/Indian accent. One could assume he was calling from India so rape from afar wasn’t much of a threat. Perhaps I should keep an eye out during the next week for someone stalking me wearing a fake Windows Support Team polo shirt and a South Asian complexion. At that point I did wake up a little more and hung up the phone after wishing him a future filled with prison bars. What a lovely start to my day.

Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect 2 questions come to mind that I have no answers for;

#1-Threat of rape “ma’ am”(Don’t get me wrong –I’m not traumatized by some douche on the phone being an idiot) – Is that a cultural “go to” thing threat wise? Is that a racist thing for me to wonder? I know sexual assault can happen anywhere so that’s not the point. I live in North America where, I think, you’re more likely to hear fuck you or go fuck yourself (at least over the phone). Rape is a big media headline for South Asia/India so would I be making a judgement via a cultural bias (admittedly based on actual events) emphasized through media exposure?

#2- WHO IS BUYING INTO THIS SCAM??? I mean they wouldn’t do it unless it was making money so it must work. The idea that “Microsoft” or “Windows Support” individually monitors every one of their products purchased and calls you when there’s a problem is so outlandish. In addition this one has been making the rounds so often that my 74-year-old mother has sent me a “FWD: FWD: FWD” email about it (along with a number of others concerning –not flashing your headlights at another car, not pulling over for an unmarked police car, not accepting business cards from strangers…etc-Lord love her). I’m not saying there aren’t sophisticated scams out there that could fool even literate/savvy computer users but this one doesn’t come close.

The call made me a little nostalgic for the Nigerian Prince scam emails… at least they were sometimes addressed to “My Dearest”.

Music for this post- Lowest of the Low “Salesmen, Cheats and Liars

Should I Ever Stumble and Fall

Monday morning Charlie, my brown tiger tabby, ran past trying to get to the stairs before me. As he turned to go down his back feet tangled and he almost fell. It struck me as strange but he recovered immediately and raced down to the first floor. When he mewed to be let out there didn’t seem to be a problem so off he went. He was gone all day and it was after 9 pm when he finally reappeared. He was a mess. He could barely walk. His legs didn’t work properly. He looked like a furry four-legged drunk. That might sound cute in theory but in real life it was scary as hell. My first concern was that he’d been hit by a car. The second was that he might have been shot. I live in a rural area and though rare that kind of thing does happen. He didn’t seem to have any marks or tender areas.  His symptoms started getting worse. There was something wrong with his eyes. It was after business hours so I decided to take him to the emergency clinic in London (about a 45 minute drive from home).  He usually puts up a fuss about the cat carrier but he was quiet on the way in.

The vet technician did Charlie’s intake. We waited for the doctor to come in. It was a long wait. It was a busy night at the clinic. Charlie sat up on the examination table. He wasn’t even trying to move any more. He looked, to be indelicate, as high as fuck. His eyes were wide open but non-reactive. His head was slightly tilted back and to the side. His gaze seemed to be fixed on the ceiling lights but I didn’t get the impression that he saw them. Whenever there was a loud sound in the clinic he would flinch but otherwise he didn’t move. When the vet came in to examine him the first thing she did was put her face right up to his. He didn’t see her. She flicked her fingers in front of each eye almost tapping the surface. There was no flinch, no change in pupil dilation…nothing.  She listed off possible causes (some with really long names). Then she asked me if there was a possibility that he had gotten into some marijuana.  I guess she thought he looked high as fuck too. I assured her there was nothing like that in my house (there isn’t).  She asked again suggesting that perhaps “teenagers might have dropped some on the side-walk”.  I informed her that I live in a rural area at the edge of a small hamlet. People don’t walk in front of my house. I have farm fields behind my house but one is lying fallow and the other has soy beans in it (no place for pot plants to hide). My nearest neighbours, on my side of the highway, are ½ an acre away to the west and east but if they were smoking pot outside I would have known (no secrets in a small place). I’d had my roof re-shingled the week before but I’m pretty sure roofers, a roof with an extreme pitch, and pot, don’t mix on the job site.  If my cat had gotten into something toxic it wasn’t “weed”.  She explained some possibilities for tests and treatment and then went off to put an estimate together for services.

As I waited for the veterinarian to return I could hear what was going on across the hallway in another room.  What sounded like a senior couple had brought their dog in. The dog had been vomiting blood as well as bleeding from the back-end. The vet was telling them, in the kindest way possible (there’s no use sugar-coating it) that she didn’t know what was wrong with their dog Mickey, that it was going to take a lot of tests and a lot of money to figure that out, and that they would need to make a decision because it wasn’t going to be a cheap or easy journey. I would see them later in the lobby settling their bill. They were taking the dog home and the wife was crying.

When the vet came back with the estimate it was $1100 to $1500. I signed the paper and put the deposit on my credit card. She mentioned marijuana again and I realized she thought I might be lying. I can’t be mad about that I guess as I’m sure they do have people lie to them. Still the fact that I had just agreed to pay up to $1500 for my cat’s medical treatment should be a pretty good indication that I wouldn’t be holding back any info that would help it.   I do have to say none the less that I was very impressed with the staff at the clinic. They obviously care deeply about the animals in their care. While being completely professional they went out of their way to be kind and comforting during what was a very difficult/emotional situation.

After a battery of blood tests (all negative though that didn’t stop the day shift veterinarian  from mentioning pot again the following day), and a night on IV, they were still no closer to a diagnosis. They had ruled out toxic exposure as after 24 hours something toxic would have been flushed out of Charlie’s system by the IV (resulting in a cessation of symptoms) or the toxin would have killed him. Charlie didn’t seem to have any injuries and there’d been a great deal of improvement but he still couldn’t walk properly.  The vet hypothesized that it could be something called Idiopathic Vestibular Syndrome. It usually goes away on its own but occasionally some long-term symptoms remain. He might have Feline Infectious Peritonitis (dry). There’s no definitive test or set treatment for that. You just do your best to make your cat comfortable until they pass (death occurs in a relatively short period of time). It might be a brain tumor (unlikely though for how quickly his symptoms developed) or some other kind of neurological disorder.  There was nothing to do but wait it out so I agreed to take him home. To add to the stress of the situation, while I was waiting for them to get Charlie ready, a pet owner who’d brought her dog in had a (possible) heart attack in the waiting room. She kept apologizing to me, the vet, and the receptionist, whilst panting in pain waiting for the ambulance to arrive. After she’d gone I went to finish up the finances and realized I’d lost my credit card sometime between paying the night before and picking up Charlie to take him home.

It’s been a couple of days.  I can see improvements though he still has the head tilt. I thought he was a little further along and allowed him access to the main floor of the house.  He had a spill down the basement stairs. He’s very tired. He tries to do the things he could do before but his body says no. He doesn’t understand why he can’t go outside.  His entire life has changed and I don’t know yet if it will be a permanent change. Despite his illness he is still his unfailingly sweet and affectionate self. He tries to rub up against legs and hands to get his loving though he often falls over as he leans in.

Charlie wasn't impressed with the shave job they did at the emergency clinic. They did both front legs as they had trouble finding a good vein to draw blood from.
Charlie wasn’t impressed with the shave job they did at the emergency clinic. They did both front legs as they had trouble finding a good vein to draw blood from.

His medical condition has turned the house upside down. The dogs are confused by the attention Charlie is getting and are upset that they are being admonished to be careful around him. My other cat, Lola Mae, seems to think I’ve brought an unfamiliar cat into her territory. I’m not sure if he smells different or if it’s the way he’s acting that’s set her off.  She’s never been the friendliest of cats but she and Charlie had an “agreement”. It was along the lines that she would do her best to not give him a moment’s peace and he would try to stay away from her. She’s called “Princess” Lola Mae for good reason. When Charlie first came home I confined him to a small room with all his necessities. Lola Mae spent some time hissing and growling at the door. She also took up hissing and growling at the dogs and everyone else no matter how nicely she was being treated.  Since I’ve let him out, she’s attacked Charlie at least once and continues to show aggressive behaviour. If it turns out that Charlie’s condition is a chronic neurological disorder I may have to think about re-homing her.

It’s never been a secret that she’s the kind of cat that would do better in a household with no small children or other pets. She’s a young beautiful looking cat and when she gets her own way she can be nice. She makes lovely little chirruping noises and will come for a treat if she’s awake when you call her name. But if Lola Mae isn’t happy, no one gets to be happy. I may have a place lined up for her already with an older woman who lives with her senior mother but I’m still going to wait and see how everything turns out. Honestly I’ve never been the kind of person who takes in a pet thinking it will be anything but a lifelong commitment so the thought of possibly “giving up” on Lola leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But if Charlie’s mobility is permanently affected and he can’t protect himself from her I might have to. Time will tell.

Music for this post- Danny O’Keefe’s ‘Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues