Make a Wish and Blow Out the Candles

My birthday has never been a favourite day of mine. Maybe it stems from many years ago on the occasion of my 5th birthday which was celebrated with a broken arm. I had actually broken the arm several days before. My mother had found me crouched in the sun room on the porch of our old Victorian house hiding from the sun. I remember that I held my arm up to her and told her the sun was burning it. Three days later she took me to the hospital to find that it was indeed broken and a cast was duly applied. She still has a picture of me in front of a birthday cake, tiny and tow headed wearing pastel blue and pink beads with a cast starting just above the elbow and stretching down to cover most of my hand. Birthdays have just never been my thing.
This year my birthday was one of those “landmark” birthdays that sometimes cause people to look back upon their life and assess their progress as they see fit.  The past two years have been full of a great deal of change for me.
Big change number one – I married approximately two years ago. There’s a book that could be written about that. Family always puts such an “interesting” spin on those things.
Big change number two – A new plan for my employment situation was required a little more than a  year ago as I was on the receiving end of a hockey puck that gave me a cut that took 15 stitches to close and permanently altered my depth perception and ability to tell the difference between particular colours. The old job was a dead end but it was a hell of a nasty way out.
Big change number three – Nine months ago I moved from a good sized urban center to a very small community leaving behind all my friends and networking opportunities. So definitely there was a lot to look back on.
So lots of things to think about. As well for the first time that I’d really noticed my birthday coincided with Fathers Day. So that was more to reflect on.
I have no memory of ever having met my father. As a matter of fact, although my mother has been married several times I grew up having no idea what a father did or even that having one around might be an asset. When I was younger I never gave it much thought. I was a single parent at 25 and that did not strike me as odd. It was the type of family I had grown up in. I probably would have gone through life none the wiser but for one thing; I married a good father. I’m not saying that he’s Ward Cleaver, don’t get me wrong. He’s an actual human being with all the flaws and quirks that all of us have.
He hogs the television and falls asleep on the couch. I made him breakfast in bed on Fathers Day and when he spilled his orange juice he laid in bed and yelled for me to come up and clean it. He’s a smart ass with the kids. When they go out he eats their Christmas and Easter candy. He nags them to pick up their stuff and to take the dog out. I’ll ask him to do something and he’ll tell the kids they have to do it. He drives them crazy and he loves them. He calls his kids every day because they don’t live with us. He helps support his children financially. He is raising another man’s child as his own with all that entails. He gets along with his ex wife to the best of his ability. He tries to be a fair and decent human being and set a good example for his kids and my son who lives with us. He loves his children more than anything else. It shapes his days and his nights. It has determined the course of his life and there have been times when it has been very difficult. Even so, while he might change a few of the details he wouldn’t give up the whole of it for anything. That is how I know what a father is and what a father does.
We were watching something on television, some Kodak moment between television father and daughter. I said to my husband, ” I wonder, why my father didn’t love me?”. My husband told me that I couldn’t possibly know whether or not my father loved me and that I didn’t really know what had happened. I didn’t say anything. Kindness on his part had extended the benefit of a doubt to a man I have never met. That kindness came from a heart that would never choose to absence himself from his children’s lives and be anything less than a real father.
And this is the man I married, what does that say about me? I don’t know…something…nothing…everything?
So I was miserable on my birthday.
Maybe that is the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve never really been very good at this birthday thing.

Week of the Living Hedge

We have a hedge that marks the northern line of our property. It has run amok, untended for the last several years and as a result it has become misshapen and overgrown with weeds. As often happens in these situations, the hedge has overstepped its original boundaries and now encroaches upon the dirt driveway to the one side and the neighbouring acreage on the other. As the summer begins and the days lengthen, more and more the hedge has acquired a wild and willful appearance. The weeds and vines have taken hold sporadically along the length of the hedge choking the life out of random shrubs. Other sections of the hedge have flowered and stretched for the sky. In some places the foliage looms 15 feet above the ground, an impressive height for a simple shrubbery.

Cooler weather has finally arrived bringing a welcome relief after the unseasonably suffocating heat and humidity of the last week. With the dog days of summer looming ahead and no guarantee of a more temperate future, the time has come to face the hedge. Wednesday was as good a day as any. The sides would be easy I figured but not being tall of stature or long of reach the heights would be interesting. I gathered together the things I thought I would need to get the job done.

One 5 foot 5 inch tall woman stands under an overcast sky. She’s armed only with a pair of light weight hedge clippers (borrowed from my brother-in-law and not really designed for this mammoth undertaking), a ladder, long pruning sheers, short pruning sheers, a wheelbarrow, a bow saw, a rake, 250 feet of electrical cord, and one can of WD-40. Her hair is gathered up in a loose ponytail and she is dressed in her gardening best, a pair of overalls with dirt ground into the knees so deeply that they will never see clean again and an old pair of runners with a hole in the toe of the right shoe.  Bare feet in the shoes as that hole lets in a lot of dirt and a foot is easier to get clean than a white sock that’s been gardening. The dog sits in the kitchen banned from the yard. This is serious business and there is no time to keep tabs on a stick eating squirrel-chasing ball of fur. The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, the trimming and weeding of a 130 foot hedge with a single cut…and so it begins.

Through Wednesday, stopping to wait out random rain showers passing over. Through Thursday, wallowing in the weeds. Standing on the ladder and leaning into the hedge, reaching dangerously far with the clippers flailing in one hand trying to tame the wild heights. Stopping, amazed, to see a snail perched on the very topmost leaf. How long did it take to get there and what would it think of its fall from grace? The surprise of finding not one but two red currant bushes hidden under the weeds, the berries already beginning to ripen. The dawning realization that I am just too small to reach the middle, my husband comes to the rescue. On Friday, making the cruelest cuts of all. The wind is high and the sky is still overcast.  Weed choked and dead or dying, it is time to cull the fallen. There aren’t many but enough that empty spaces like gaping wounds begin to appear in the hedge. Still all is not lost. Cut to the quick, new growth can already be seen sprouting from the ground where the fallen once grew.

The weeds and vines are gone. The fallen are heaped grey and dead upon funeral pyres silhouetted by a setting sun finally finding its way through the cloud scattered sky. The long days of summer are close at hand. They will bring light and life into those empty spaces. The gaping wounds will heal and the hedge will again stand whole and healthy, a sentinel on our northern boundary.

Filtered Light

The early morning light prisms through the lace curtain. It spreads across the bed to create a new pattern on the quilt still smooth on the empty side. Outside the window, a bird perched in the jack pine loudly scolds an unseen intruder. The dew kissed air slips over the window sill and ruffles the curtain with a flip of its tail. Tucked head under the sheet where it is warm and the light filters through in soft white plains and hollows.

Somewhere on the Horizon

Unless you work in a particular profession you’ll never know the ins and outs, the twists and turns, required to be successful.

We were spending the day by the lake at the cottage of one of my many aunts. I say one of many aunts as my mother is the oldest of 11 surviving siblings (2 having gone on ahead). Of the 11 left behind, 7 were sisters. One of those aunts had recently opened a florist shop. She was both enthusiastic and unsure as she discussed her first month in business for herself. She had worked for other florists before but now she was venturing out on her own. The talk covered the obligatory topics of income, taxes, etc. as one of the sisters, whose cottage it was, was a bookkeeper by trade. This went on for a while as we sat, drinks in hand, on the patio overlooking the lake. The clear blue of the sky blended seamlessly with the lake somewhere on the horizon.

The kids sat, fishing poles in hand, at the end of the concrete boat launch where the metal tracks that ran from the boathouse under the patio were swallowed up by the lake. They had spotted what they had said were absolutely “eeeeenormous” fish while snorkeling after lunch and now were determined to land the big one. They had been joined by the neighbour’s dog who wore a collar that asked everyone not to feed her. She was old and blind in one eye. She was allowed to wander the shore even though it was her habit to fetch rocks from the water and leave them randomly in yards along the beach to the perpetual irritation of local lawn mowing residents. A huge pile of driftwood had been heaped up by the lake ready for nightfall and marshmallows. My uncle, co-owner of the cottage and the splitting image of Hunter S. Thompson (in looks and deeds), was renown for his huge bonfires.  Like him, they were larger than life and could be seen for miles away.The talk had gone on for a while when my florist aunt matter of factually began to discuss the ramifications of long holiday weekends on the floral trade.

Apparently, if you are in the floral business it is advisable to purchase extra flowers prior to the long weekend to accommodate the demand created by holiday fatalities. It was the casual acknowledgement of a common practice that struck me in particular. A portion of her business was based on the projection of human miscalculation or stupidity. Someone’s holiday weekend tragedy would be that week’s bread and butter. The greater the number of fatalities the better her business would be. Naturally a portion of floral trade concerns itself with funerary arrangements, death has always been a big business. It was the preparation nature of this practice that framed the act for me…the accepted reality of a Murphy’s law conclusion for a time period that for most people is associated with carefree leisure and mindless relaxation.

I do not think that she is a callous, heartless person. She is a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, and a business woman. Death it seems is part of her business. I wondered, did she scan the statistics for an extended time period for an average of occurrences. She could check the local papers and then pre-order based on the carnage of the past long weekends. If it was a particularly nasty one maybe the funds would be enough for her to enjoy her own holiday weekend.

I didn’t say that of course. I watched the kids’ unsuccessful quest for fishing fame. I watched the dog hunt for the right rock to carry away to someone’s yard. I drank my drink and I made all the appropriate noises as the conversation continued around and over me. I watched the gulls float on the updrafts in the clear blue sky that was melting into the water somewhere on the horizon across the lake.

Come Into My Parlour

The light of day too bright for the hunters. With night they lay in wait striped with deadly intent.

Oh so quiet…these ones who wait on gossamer threads that seem too light to hold their swollen bodies. Round and firm, would they pop like cherry tomatoes with just a little pressure? They have their work. They climb and fall weaving their beautiful traps, silken ties of fate.

The wind

The wind!

The wind has finally come sweeping the heat and moisture away. The pine trees that divide the yard from the farmer’s field sway back and forth. Their tops bob a hundred feet above watching the wind scurry across the lawn. The wind whips around the house. It flies underneath the guelder-rose shaking the branches like a dog shakes a bone. Delicate balls of blossoms scatter. A white spray of petals fly through the air like flakes of snow in November.

Moving through the air

It’s been so absolutely scorching hot. The heat lasts through the night barely lifting only to come full strength again in the morning. It’s 3 am and I’ve just taken the dog out for her last “constitutional ” before retiring. There’s no wind. The air is humid. The grass is sopping wet. The entire village is enveloped in a warm cloud . I can feel the weight of the moisture in the air push against me as I move across the lawn. The light from the barn across the field is softened by the mist into a glowing haze. The scent of the garden hangs all around. There is no particular flower that stands out just the almost overpowering sweetness of the earth as it lolls drenched in the misty humidity. Mosquitoes and crickets alike are silenced by the blanket of moisture. I reach the house and my feet are sodden, small bits of grass cling  to the bottoms and tops. I have to wipe the dog’s paws or she’ll leave wet paw prints across the linoleum in the kitchen. Like Brigadoon, the village seems to hang in the mist hidden from the rest of the world. Tomorrow the sun will rise,the mist will fade and the world will find us again. 

Working in the garden

It’s been so hot the past couple of days. The garden is verdant and alive, moving and being moved. A toad scrambles out of the way as we enter in and out of the mud room. There’s another that scurries into hiding whenever we enter the garage. I’ve finished their houses and I’ll be putting them out tomorrow. The “prodigal son” wonders why toads need such fancy houses. I told him that it’s the least I can do as I was the one who replaced their homes with my gladiolus.