The Black House

It’s very late. Or very early depending on how you look at it. There’s a smell – dry, copper and electric scorch. It’s so strong that I get up to fumble along in the darkness looking for a source. The smell is everywhere and nowhere so I go back to bed. I lay under the sheet with one leg out trying to find the best position for comfort in the heat. It’s going to rain late tomorrow but it’s not tomorrow yet. In the dark, with my head pointing west and my feet pointing east (well to be completely clear my one foot is pointing north-east) I close my eyes and think about the black house.

The black house rests road side near a curve on Pioneer Line. Pioneer Line runs west to east, or east to west, relative to your starting point and destination. The black house was built on the Dutton end of the curve. It’s a double curve and if you were generous you could call it an S curve but it’s so stretched out it barely qualifies as any kind of letter. Spanning the townships of Dutton/Dunwich and West Elgin, Pioneer Line travels through the villages of Dutton, and West Lorne, and touches the edge of Rodney. The section between Dutton and West Lorne runs parallel to the 401 corridor and in the distance you can see cars and transport trucks on the highway, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. They say that Pioneer Line, or a portion of it, used to be called Starvation Road. The story goes that the soil wasn’t any good (too much clay or too wet- it’s not clear) and you can’t feed a family on land that won’t yield. I don’t know if it’s a true story.

I’m not sure how old the black house is. It’s small so it can’t be very new. People don’t build that kind of small any more. It hasn’t been black for very long though. Before it was black it was clapboard white; faded, peeling, and abandoned, in a lot that was mowed just enough to keep the weeds down. Someone bought it in the spring and began to fix it up but didn’t finish. Before the work stopped the siding was removed exposing the black tar paper underneath.

New houses, old houses, derelict houses, barely there foundations that mark where farmhouses once stood, call Pioneer Line home. They are in the process of being, or becoming something, or un-becoming something-but not the black house. Stuck between being something old(er) and maybe something new, it’s in limbo. Curtain-less windows expose the studs of gutted walls. One window on the second floor is gone leaving the upstairs open to the elements. As I lay in bed I wonder if the air in the black house smells scorched like the air in my house. I wonder if bats or birds come and go through the open window. Do they fill the upstairs bedroom with fluttering wings and shrill cries or is it silent like my room? I wonder if anyone else thinks about the black house, perhaps someone who used to live there. How would it feel to see the black house and remember when you looked out of the windows to see the world passing by instead of peering in through the windows to find only emptiness where you once stood?

When dawn comes I know I’ll see the branches of the cedar tree outside my bedroom window turn warm with that break of day. The light will steal past the lace curtain and wake the cat asleep at the end of my bed. He’ll stir and stretch, sending up a small scatter of dust. The motes will float a lazy dance in the early morning glow. I know daylight will be easing into the black house too, spilling through the grime covered glass, inching across the bare floors, and expanding into the empty rooms.

I draw in a breath of warm air and think about later today when I’ll shut my blinds to keep out the afternoon swelter. There are no blinds to close in the black house. With the August sun overhead the air inside will be harsh and heavy; so hot if you aren’t careful you’ll choke on it. All around the house there’ll be the smell of corn, sweet and cloying, in the afternoon haze. In the distance the heat shimmer on Pioneer Line will look like water on the road. The background hum of the traffic on the 401 will, as ever, be constant and as it is August there’ll be the rising scream of the cicadas’ chorus.

I check the clock and see that it’s even later…or earlier. As I said it all depends on your point of view. I flip my pillow over to the cool side and drift off into sleep thinking about the trucks passing by, day in and day out, and about the black house small against the sky, baking in the sun, just before (if you’re coming) or after (if you’re going) the curve on Pioneer Line.

 

Music for this post is The Devlins Waiting

 

By the curve

 

Between here and there

 

Waiting

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