A white bird is silhouetted against the blue autumn sky. Earthbound, it stands, snared in the sooty fingers of ash black naked trees. Solitude, somber and still, is a silent crushing weight. Underfoot the river flows in either direction dirt brown and strewn with stones.
Dancing flames rise into the night. The sting of smoke is smothered and sucked into that dark expanse. Stars peek out from a mist of lace that spreads across the bottomless ceiling. The snow-covered ground reflects the light of a million suns that have come and gone in liquid notes of coral and gold. Coal black ashes rimmed in bright ruby stir to rise and die a hissing death on frozen planes.
A gust of wind feeds a bloom of incandescence that sends our shadows swimming across the ground to drown in white crested drifts as the blaze fades. Bowering pines grumble under the weight of cold and creak and strain as needle-clad arms seek light and warmth.
The sweet smell of burning wood rises and spreads through the fields and down to the road. Wherever it travels it takes a key to countless memories that wait only on serendipity and happenstance to open hearts and minds closed by distance and time.
The wind is full of a coward’s bravado. The downdraft worries the snow into drifts and hollows as it struts and swaggers about lording it over the yard. Ever the playground bully, it browbeats the trees and pushes the last of the leaves to and fro above the white risers. Caught by surprise the icy draught stops, startled, upon hearing a distant rumble. Suddenly uncertain the frightened tempest turns tail to seek out a haven, safe from the looming unknown.
All reason and sanity is cast aside as the cowed current rattles the windows and bangs on the doors to be let in. The ground trembles while the air grows heavy with a monstrous clamour. A metal juggernaut in shades of grey and gold, crowned by a sapphire gem, looms up through the sleeting white. Head down, its blind passage sends sprays of snow rising like crystal rainbows to shine in the wintry sun. Metal meets asphalt and sparks arc out to the side as its horn tears up the hoarfrost covered obsidian. The wind whimpers and cringes round the foundation, head down and eyes averted. The dissonance reaches a tumultuous summit only to fade away as terror lumbers off to devour the land further down the road.
Danger passed, the wind emerges to take up its bluff and bully. Swaggering about the yard the frozen bluster kicks the drifts and hectors the trees but keeps an listening ear pricked up just in case.
Condensation forms a new frame on the clear border between warm and cold. A puff of breath will fill the empty canvas now ready for smiley faces and backwards letters. The concrete stair, stiff and frozen, echoes the bleak sky. Odd shaped pearls of soft snow tremble in the lee of the stone, taking shelter from the inclement weather. An icy arctic river, bitter and wind scoured from the fields, flows across the road. Headlights carve a tunnel through the gloomy wintry night. The white wasps of cold sting and swarm only to fall behind impotent and lost in the inky vacuum of the light’s passing.
My son plays varsity football for his school and that is how I happened to find myself under the lights on a frigid Friday night. Clad in multiply layers of clothing and wrapped in a sleeping bag guaranteed to stave off any cold above -6 degrees Celsius I settled in to show my support. My presence was necessary to provide a physical example of my love for my child, which I did with every shiver that wracked my warmth and comfort loving being. If my personal kinetics are in anyway accurate I love my son more than a lot.
Football, at its best and its worst, is a game of extremes. Highschool varsity football reflects this world in all its multicoloured facets. Ranging from the ages of 14 to 18, these boys (some in the guise of men) make their first forays into the world of competition and conflict that marks all of our days to some extent. It is a game that has everything to do with the nobility of sacrifice and the art of war. It is a game of intellect and strategy. It is a game of brute strength and raw nerves. To those who put on the helmet and toe the line it is not a game at all but a way of life. It is a poetry of motion and planning that can drag you down to the depths or lift you up to heaven. It is, at its essence, not just an issue of physical strength (that does help). One also requires savvy, nerves and intelligence to successfully join the ranks. It takes all of those things to play football and more. Football is truth. It does not lie. It lays you open and bare for all to see. It is an unforgiving and demanding mistress but it awards its disciples with strength, discipline and self-respect.
The frozen field is covered with a powdering of snow. Crashing bodies on a collision course slide and tumble through the cold night air sending dusty plumes up into the atmosphere. The lights over the field prism in the dark like small blazing suns sending rays across the limestone lines and silhouetting the huddled soldiers hunched against the cold. A chorus of voices, deep and harsh, rises up in clouds of misted breath. The lyrics of the game crystallize above our heads and shatter into a testosterone laden harmony. "Iron it out! Iron it out! Iron it out! Smooooooooooth."
A break and the lines are formed. A whistle blows. The ball is snapped and two walls of flesh surge forward. The sound of body on body and helmet on helmet echoes through the crisp autumn dark. The white elephant of war and conquest stands invisible against the dark velvet sky while watchers, swaddled against the cold, people the sidelines.
Tides of aubergine and navy crash and mingle like feuding waves on a flooded plane. "Lucy, Lucy, 49, apple" is a secret code that determines the steps of this choreographed conflict. A game of passion, blood and tears there is no room for the weak or faint of heart. Esprit de corps wipes away all uncertainty and individuality and each side is a nation of one.
The whistle blows and the linesmen change sides as the first quarter slips into the second and the lines reform. Face to face, shoulder-to-shoulder, the manifestation of purpose hovers over the line of scrimmage in the blurred breath of certainty and intent. The sky opens up and the heavens float down in swirling flakes of frozen lace. An arm pulls back and the ball flies into play, a long and lazy ark over the field. It hangs for a moment under the lights, a dark prize held in the glow of late autumn snow, before it dives down to the eerily festive battlefield of the white muffled wildcats and warriors below.
Football is a demanding mistress. No one who has ever played will deny that. Watching the rushing figures as they crash and tumble through frigid swirls under those Friday night lights, I know they wouldn’t have it any other way. The whistle blows and voices rise once more to echo out across the field…"Iron it out! Iron it out! Iron it out! Smoooooooth." Battle is joined again.
Under a sky of Eric Sloane manganese blue the early morning light burnishes the stubble of wheat to a golden glow that runs for acres and acres across the fields. A pristine swirl rises on the thermal as a flock of seagulls take silent distant flight. The flurry of white is stark against the stratus clouds, a long sinuous line forming a Chinese dragon of folded paper wings.
The cooling earth, slick and chill, reclines in the twilight of her year.
Johnny-come-lately, the warm wind is a tentative caress. Fingers of air, velvet and tender, stroke the cool flesh stirring up echoes of sun-heated passion. Her lips part and misty sighs, like summer’s specters, rise to walk the land again. Laid open and bare, her languid arms reach to enfold the warmth and carry it deep inside. The sweet reek of grass and loam seeps up through the ground. Wet and warm, knots of hair catch on fingers of mist. The jagged teeth of bare bark split the waves that seek the hidden places. Entwined so tight the two are one. Earthbound clouds creep close to watch and then draw modesty’s curtain round the brazen embrace.
Blanketed in grey the day is still but for the gentle drip of the rain from tree branch to ground.
If man had never invented the measurement of a life’s span would we live forever?
The heavy second hand is a thunderous roar. Its metered tone divides the time allotted; Neatly slicing and dissecting the portion doled out in minute particles that history will collect as a footnote in the summation of a life. No weight known to man is heavy enough to slow the tempo of truth. From the first breath to the last there is a schedule to be followed, estimated time of arrival and departure written in stone. Through out this scenic circular journey we march on parade to the chorus of time.
The Canadian government has declared 2005 the Year of The Veteran. All year long from coast to coast and continent to continent the Canadian people have commemorated the contributions and the sacrifices of those heroes who fought in the name of freedom. This is a special year to officially recognize all our veterans young and old who fought for peace and still fight to maintain it. The ceremonies and remembrances are as diverse as the people that make up this large country.
Aboriginal veterans’ organizations and the Assembly of First Nations have undertaken a spiritual journey to European shores to honour the sacrifices made by Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis warriors. At each place of resting they performed the Calling Home Ceremony and on their return home they will continue the spiritual ceremonies to receive the spirits of fallen warriors who answered the song of the pipes.
Work continues on the restoration of deteriorating war monuments in France and Belgium. The monument commemorating the loss of more than 11,000 WWI soldiers at Vimy Ridge is currently being restored brick by brick in an effort the workers call “a labour of love”.
The Canadian mint has released commemorative and circulation coins in honour of all those who serve. The design depicts two profiles, one young and one old, to honour not just the veterans of WWI, WWII and the Korean War but also those who have served in places like Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, fostering peace and freedom on behalf of Canada.
Veterans’ organizations are searching out the resting places of those who served their country to place commemorative maple leafs on their stones. Canadians have sailed and feted, skated and danced all in celebration and remembrance of those who have graced this land with their bravery and their sacrifice. Plaques have been unveiled and wreaths have been laid. Newspapers daily recount the heroics and tragedies of the local boys gone off to war, those who returned and those who did not.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month we remember Canadians who served in the name of freedom. We remember the 600,000 Canadian soldiers who volunteered to serve overseas during the First World War (1914-1918). We remember the more than one million men and women from Canada who served during the Second World War (1939-1945). We remember the over 26,000 Canadians who served in Korea (1950-1953). And though it is much debated and not often mentioned we remember the over 30,000 Canadians who chose to cross the border and fight in the jungles of Vietnam.
In my household on November 11th we pay special homage to the late John “Jack” Flynn. Affectionately known as “Pop”, Jack was my husband’s grandfather. Born in Britain, Jack and his wife Lil would immigrate to Canada with their 3 daughters on one of the last ocean liners to make that regular trip. Jack’s older brother served in the First World War and, despite his brother’s advice, Jack enlisted to serve in the Second World War.
He didn’t often speak about his war experiences, he did not see war as something to glorify. When the movie “Saving Private Ryan” debuted he was asked if he intended to see it. His answer was a firm no…He had seen enough of the real thing, why would he want to see a movie about it? Jack was there the day after they bombed Dresden. He said it had been leveled to such an extent that one would be hard pressed to know that just the day before there had been a city there. He spoke about the air raids and families hiding in the Underground. One of the saddest stories he remembered was the mother who had gone back to her house for her baby’s bottle never to be seen alive again.
Jack was one of the gentlest people I’d ever met. He carried his scars from that experience close but he enjoyed life to its fullest. When he left this world in his 88th year he headed home to the arms of his wife Lil, who had gone ahead several years before. He was a great man and the freedom that he fought for is a gift and a monumental legacy to be shared by not just his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren but the entire world.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
– John McCrae
The wind is never ending, roaring and crashing, pounding like waves on a distant beach. Invisible surf whips the trees into a frenzied dance silhouetted dark against the endless sky. Points of light flicker in a wild syncopation keeping time with the feral music of the heavens. The moon clad in rainbow corona sits a distant wallflower flanked by stalwart Mars and fickle Venus. The primitive rhythm, savage and free, is a reminder of the scope of all mankind’s rule and order. Egos laid to waste, minute and storm tossed we ride the crests and flounder in the wells unmarked by a massive ocean of ferocious time and chaotic tide. Indian summer seems a distant memory. The ungentle dogs of autumn have come to savage the land.
Feral and wild they travel in packs baying out a requiem for the passing year. Delicate shades of crimson and gold burn and wither in icy fires of frenzied onslaught. The bare limbs of naked trees bower a funeral pyre built up of corpulence, rain and wind. Ashy snow will cradle the ember, hidden safe from grey bloodied jowls and cold snapping teeth. The lullaby of winter will wipe the tears away. In sweet slumber wounds will heal and scars will fade until the light of spring rouses the sleeper. The warming earth will fan the flames and the phoenix will rise fecund and strong to take to the air once again.
We are a small glimmer in the shadows of giants.