Step 1: Wait until less than a week before Christmas to purchase your Christmas tree.
Step 2: Decide it’s a good idea to purchase your tree in the after dinner hours of a moonless December evening.
Step 3: Head out to the farm you usually buy your tree from to find the farm yard dark. Uncertain as to what to do, wait because you want a tree and this is where you usually get one but it looks like they’re done for the season. After what seems like an uncomfortable amount of time someone will come out of the house.
Step 4: Turn down the farmer’s generous offer to let you head back into the snow covered bush and cut down your own tree.
Step 5: Pick one of the four pre-cut trees that you only just noticed as it is extremely dark in the yard. Pay for the tree. Load it into the van and head for home
Step 6: Once home unload the tree and leave it in the backyard where it will stay for the next day and a half even though you were certain it was absolutely necessary to get it that very evening. Notice the farmer short-changed you a dollar. Well it’s dark, that sort of thing happens, and it is Christmas…so ho ho ho. You will have gotten your tree though and success deserves a glass of wine. Go ahead and indulge.
Intermission- It will rain all the next day and night. Friday morning the winter wonderland will be a sodden muddy mess and it will be very apparent that the “snow drift” in your front yard was just a light cover of snow over top of a huge pile of leaves you never finished raking because someone broke the good rake.
Step 7: Get your first look at the tree in the light and notice the elbow bend in the trunk that you missed when you bought it in the dark. Trim the stump but not too much because you paid for a big tree and dammit you’re going to have a big tree. Make sure you lay lots of plastic sheeting on the floor as it is hardwood and you don’t want that to get wet while the tree drips dry. Drag your sodden tree round the front of the house, in through the front door (pine needles, pine needles everywhere!), and spend a fair amount of time trying to anchor it straight in the tree stand. Realize this tree was just born crooked, you paid for it, and you’re going to have to live with it. It will look okay if you only view it from the front. Anyway it’s the holidays and there’s no need to get in a flap about little things.
Step 8: Shoo the cat away from the tree. Tidy up a bit. Pull the cat out of the tree. Get ready to go out to dinner and the theater with family and friends. You can decorate the tree when you get home. Shoo the cat away from the tree. Close the door to the living room. The cat will not be pleased.
Step 9: Head out for the evening. Make sure the person you’re driving into town with hates city traffic and, despite knowing it is the exact hour of the Friday evening rush hour and that Christmas is less than a week away, will become so incensed they won’t be able to enjoy the restaurant and then later, exhausted, will sleep through the first half of the play. Your other friends will stay awake so you will have people to talk to. Decide that a glass of wine during dinner might be nice. Hell, why not make it two? You should probably super-size those because it is Christmas after all.
Step 10: Return home and check on the tree. Shoo the cat away from the tree. Notice most of the water in the tree stand is gone. Put more water into the bottom. Pull the cat out of the tree. Pour a glass of wine. Check the water level and THEN notice the water leaking from a crack in the bottom of the stand onto your hardwood floor. Grab the shop vac. Turn it on. Don’t panic when it doesn’t work. Grab some towels and sop up the water. Drag the tree outside. Google shop vac trouble shooting. Fix the shop vac despite its horrible design weaknesses. Spend an hour drying your floor with your hairdryer hoping it won’t stain. It will. Drink another two glasses of wine. Go to bed.
Step 11: The next day after your breakfast meeting head to the hardware store where a clerk will convince a dubious you that their puny tree stand will indeed hold your 8 ½ foot tree. Go home.
Step 12: Realize the clerk lied to you. Hate the clerk and wonder if it’s okay to have a glass of wine even though you haven’t had lunch yet.
Step 13: Plop a bucket into the old cracked tree stand, drill holes into the bucket, and run the tree screws through it. Take your tree, which is now 6 feet tall because you so wanted the new stand to work, and put it in the old stand. Voila it’s up. Decorate your tree. Make sure you don’t put a single solitary breakable ornament on it…shoo the cat away from the tree…no tinsel either.
Step 14: Shoo the cat away from the tree. Get a spray bottle to shoo the cat away from the tree. At one point notice the tree has fallen over. Spend a half hour trying to get your already decorated tree to stay upright in the broken stand until you admit it’s just not going to work. Grab some picture wire and string it from the picture rail to your tree. Your tree will be standing upright again. Who knows for how long but yea-a-h! Have a glass of wine.
Step 15: Leave the spray bottle on the ground in front of the tree as a warning to trespassing cats. Have another glass of wine and consider whether or not it’s time to start on the hard liquor.
The music for today’s post is Neil Young’s Comes a Time. When taken in the proper light the lyrics strike me as particularly appropriate for this post.
My sister got the good hair. Her hair is thick and dark with just a hint of a wave and grows at what seems to me to be an unfairly quick rate. My hair on the other hand is made up of delicately fine strands that take forever to get to any real length.
When I was small I developed an aversion to having my hair brushed. Because it was so fine it would constantly knot (still does). Apparently brushing my hair when I was a child was such an ordeal that my mother once lost her temper and hit me over the head with a hair brush. It was one of those hard plastic ones. It had a pink handle and white bristles. I’m not sure if it was a defective brush or she just hit me so hard that it broke but I do remember it coming apart and her being left holding the handle whilst the rest of it flew across the room.
I’ve had all different lengths of hair from a shaved head to almost waist length and there was a time when I wasn’t really sure what my natural hair colour was (my hairstylist assures me that’s normal). I’ve always had to work to keep it under control. I am the grown woman you will see sporting a high ponytail even though I once saw a tongue in cheek comic that stated the higher a woman’s ponytail the lower her IQ was (take from that what you will). I’m no stranger to pigtails or braids. Sometimes I rock a little Princess Leia bagel earmuff action and pile it up on either side of my head above my ears. Why do I do this? Well other than it’s my hair and I can do what I want with it (you judgemental hair police can keep your snarky comments about age appropriate hairstyles to yourselves) it’s just a practical way of avoiding “Hair-maggedon”. It doesn’t always work though.
The other day I woke up and found a big clump of what I think was pine tar in my hair. The day prior I had been in the garden shed, my hair piled in a loose bun atop my head, clearing out old gardening pots and the like so I hadn’t been near any pine trees. You’d think as a mortgage paying adult I would have a handle on stuff coming into contact with my head but apparently I don’t. I still have no idea why/how I woke up with a pine tar head but having lived with this mess of hair for many years I’ve developed a list for fixing this and other sorts of Hair-maggedon issues.
Pine tar or anything really sticky can be removed with Goo Gone (in an emergency you can use WD-40 but it’s really greasy) and then shampoo. Really bad knots require a lot of patience (frankly that’s a given for any method) a comb and conditioner. Latex paint that has dried will come off with a regular wash and then brushing the flakes until it comes out. Oil paint requires a solvent to remove followed by a wash and a good deep conditioning pack. Wood glue can sort of be scraped off but if you want you can soak it until it softens beforehand. If your hair catches on fire PUT IT OUT and then trim off the singed ends as they will smell horrid and look ratty. For the most part food items can just be rinsed out but there are some exceptions.
I don’t only fall victim to knots and pine tar. If I’m enjoying an ice cream cone at the ice cream stand it’s more than likely my hair will come into contact with my ice cream, drag over my cheek and leave a streak of dairy goodness across my sunglasses (you should never lick that off as it just makes a big smudge). Campfire marshmallows are like delicious booby traps and I have multiple memories of waking up in the tent after falling asleep in my bathing suit (don’t judge me I was a child) with clumps of hair and marshmallow glued to my face.
I sometimes have to pull my hair out of my mouth whilst dining in areas that aren’t even the least bit windy. I’ve tooth-brushed my hair right into my teeth and chewed my hair into my gum. Gum by the way is one of those things I very rarely can get out of my hair because the strands are so fine. I’ve tried ice and peanut butter just to name a few methods but depending on how much hair is stuck there may be no other recourse than the scissors. Many years ago I was dating someone and we were joking around. I spit my gum out at him and he responded by picking the gum up and mashing it into a tress of hair at the back of my head as hard as he could. Yes we were adults. Yes it was immature and again it was years ago. I had to cut it out. I lost a section at the back of my head that was an inch across and about 6 inches long. I was lucky it wasn’t right against the scalp or I would have had a nice little bald patch to grow in.
There’s an old saying that states a woman’s hair is her crowning glory. I wouldn’t say that’s true in my case …for me it’s more of a conversation piece.
Several years ago I sustained an eye injury that was rather life changing. I wrote “rather” because in a relative assessment of all possible life changing events it doesn’t alter the bell curve. Still as it is my event, it does seem fairly significant to me. Not earthquake, actual space aliens, win the lottery life changing but more mundane every day life changing. My event was an easily avoidable injury that was in fact totally my fault.
I was acting as manager for my son’s hockey team. I was taking pictures of a practice drill and got too close to the action. I didn’t realize how close as I happened to be looking down into the screen of a digital camera. The reason I was standing so close was also the reason my right eye wasn’t turned into mush. Because I was looking down I had no idea I was right behind the net and because I was looking down the edge of the puck caught me in the supraorbital foramen (which is a fancy name for the brow bone above the eye) rather than the soft jelly of my eyeball. The puck then tipped flat to compress the eye and cheek bone. The bones around the eye socket did what they were supposed to do which was to protect the eye as well as possible but it was a slap shot so I wasn’t getting away scot-free*.
At first I had no idea as to the severity of the injury. I just thought my eye was watering. It was the beginning of the season and that night the team was going to be voting for captain and assistant captain. We were also going to be handing out jerseys. I patiently explained this to my husband (who was coaching the team) and the other hockey mom who had gone with me to the bathroom (I don’t know why but for some reason my first thought after getting hit by a slap shot was that I needed to wash my hands). They both were equally insistent that I had to go to the hospital immediately. I hadn’t looked when I was in the bathroom so I had no idea how bad it was. It hadn’t even really started to hurt yet. I do have to commend that same mom who went to the bathroom with me for not missing a beat (I originally had written “batting an eye” here but I changed it because, well, hockey puck-eye, it seemed like too many eyes) when I asked her how it looked. The fact that she kept all expression from her face and calmly answered that it was probably for the best to have it looked at when she could actually see my skull gaping through the wound was admirable.
The hospital visit was quite an adventure but that’s a story all its own. I’ll save that for another time. The short version was they stitched up the wound and sent me home. I have a scar conveniently located in my eyebrow that you can only see if I point it out and I lost a portion of the vision in that eye. I have a small blind spot. It is in the centre of vision for my right eye so I can’t use that eye to do anything you need central vision for. Additionally the muscle that dilates the pupil was damaged so it doesn’t work properly. It’s been years since the injury occurred and I still experience sharp stabbing pains or a dull aching throb that spreads through the right side of my face. The optometrist says the pain is caused by nerve damage and it’s not going to go away. He showed me a picture of the scar caused by the injury on the back of my eyeball (it was seriously cool to see but obviously I’d trade the “cool” for not having been so careless). Sometimes the pupil is round and sometimes it is oval in shape and it doesn’t react well to strong light. I experience bright flashes of lights or dark spots that move across my vision. My depth perception has been affected so I’ve had to relearn certain skills and practices. I know I’m lucky I didn’t lose the eye. I am extremely thankful for that but now I have to think twice about things I never gave even one thought to before. Applying make-up or putting in my contacts, driving, reading or watching television have all required adjustments.
One of the most problematic things for me as an artist is that for some reason the eye injury has changed the way I perceive colour values. I received treatment for my injury at the Ivey Eye Institute (eyes are what they do there) but they weren’t sure about that one. Also they were confused as to why I would read eye charts from right to left for the first couple of months after my accident. Personally I think it was a concussion which would also explain the forgetfulness and random fits of crying but I’m not a doctor (my former family doctor at the time was not the most attentive guy so who knows?). Anyhow the reading thing worked itself out but the colour thing didn’t. To be clear I can tell different colours apart. I am not colour blind. But say if there are different values of black, or blue, or even white which are close together, I have issues. The painting I am currently working on has made this more than apparent. The composition has sky and clouds that gradate in values that are for the most part very close. I’ve been trying to build up thin layers working from dark to light. I wanted to work with thin layers because I’d never used them before to create depth and I thought the technique would provide a balance of power and delicacy. It’s been an exercise in patience.
There have been some other things that have factored in. I’m working with acrylic paint and gel medium along with a retarder so I have to be careful with the ratio of pigment to additives. The painting is part of a series based on a single image so I have to keep my tendency to explore different directions in check as the piece progresses. It’s a big canvas with a lot of area to cover and despite the fact that I really enjoy the process there are days when it is difficult to stay on task. Normally when I encounter any kind of road block I find that music can help with the process. I purposely pick something to listen to that I last listened to when my work was going smoothly. It helps to bring me back to a state of mind that is engaged in the process. I will put a CD or a song on repeat and listen to it for hours and hours. My latest “go to” is Mahalia Jackson’s “His Eye is on The Sparrow”. Today though I had a bit of a freak out and all the Mahalia Jackson was not going to move me forward. It wasn’t the technique or the materials that caused my little mini meltdown; it was the fact that I could not “see” my way through the resolution of the composition.
The more I worked on the sky the flatter (as in one-dimensional) everything became. Layer after layer, the light seemed to fade back into the middle tones and the more I strove for definition the less I found. When you get to that point it’s usually best to walk away for a bit but to be honest I’ve been working on this piece, on and off, for a couple of months now. I’ve been doing some other stuff but this canvas is dominating my small work space and frankly I’m ready to see it done. There was also the very undeniable fact that my “wonky” eye simply wouldn’t allow me to move forward with the realization in the manner I wanted to. So I abandoned the plan and painted over a portion of the sky I had built up layer by layer. As I was doing it I was actually telling myself not to, to just leave it alone, that I was covering up a ton of work and I was going to be sorry.
At first I was sorry. I stood back and looked at it. Then I took a picture of it and looked at that. The repainted area was stark and not particularly well articulated but looking at the image captured by the camera I could “see” that it accomplished more for creating depth than all my multiple layers. There’s still a lot more work that needs to be done and I still might regret my choice but then again nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I used to get angry with myself every time I had to make some kind of change or compromise because it was my own carelessness that had served to make my life more complicated. Granted on the old bell curve I mentioned in the first paragraph my injury doesn’t rate up there with things like death or divorce but for me it has had a very significant impact on everything I do. We have a tendency to overlook how little is actually required to change the playing field. Like most people I could name at least a handful of other events in my life that have been tragically heart breaking so I can’t help but think how odd it is that such a small slip should be the thing that touches all areas of my life. The things I took as a given changed in the blink of an eye (and yes I did use the phrase “blink of an eye” here on purpose).
The doctors told me there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to develop cataracts because of the injury but I’ll cross that bridge if or when I come to it. If the choice I made with the canvas was a mistake, well I’ll deal with that too. You could quite correctly say that the painting and a possible eye surgery are not even close to the same thing but for me they are in the end about actions and consequences. I think the important thing with any of it is to not get stuck and to not be afraid. If you can, you’ve got to roll with changes. Who knows how it all will turn out?
Songs for this post Mahalia Jackson His Eye is on the Sparrow. This isn’t the version I’ve been listening to but it’s pretty close. And because of the title of the blog entry- David Bowie Changes
Now if you want to see a picture of my eye or the painting I’ve referred to scroll past this little bit about “scot-free”. If I remember correctly the picture of my eye was taken about 10 days after I got hit so it was well on the way to healing but my whole face was still pretty swollen. Also the puck hit me so hard I ended up with a bit of a black eye on the other side as well. They shaved off part of my eyebrow, so they could stitch the wound, but it grew back just fine. I don’ t have a larger picture but I think you can still get the general idea even at a low resolution.
* I just looked up he meaning of “scot free” as I had no idea of the origin of the term.
‘Scot’ as a term for tax has been used since then in various forms – Church scot, Rome scot, Soul scot and so on. Whatever the tax, the phrase ‘getting off scot free’ simply refers to not paying one’s taxes.
No one likes paying tax and people have been getting off scot free since at least the 11th century. The first reference in print to ‘scot free’ is in the Writ of Edward the Confessor. We don’t have a precise date for the writ but Edward died in 1066, which is a long time before Dred Scott.
The use of the figurative version of the phrase, that is, one where no actual scot tax was paid but in which someone escapes custody, began in the 16th century, as in this example from John Maplet’s natural history Green Forest, 1567:
“Daniell scaped scotchfree by Gods prouidence.”
‘Scotchfree’ was a variant based on a mishearing. An example of the currently used form, that is, ‘scot free’, comes a few years later, in Robert Greene’s The Historie of Dorastus and Fawnia, 1588:
These and the like considerations something daunted Pandosto his courage, so that hee was content rather to put up a manifest injurie with peace, then hunt after revenge, dishonor and losse; determining since Egistus had escaped scot-free.
The first day of the spectacular heat was a blessing; finally my feet would be warm for the first time this year. It was definitely humid but a cool drink and a place under the umbrella on the patio always lessens the worst of it and wasn’t it nice that summer had come before spring was officially over. It was warm to sleep but it couldn’t last, summer was officially still over two weeks away. The weatherman said we set a new record and as always noted that, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”
The second day of the unusual spring heat was exasperated by the circumstances of a dark figurative cloud hovering in the otherwise cloudless humid hazy blue sky. The disheartening greyness that can attach itself to one small disappointment or difficulty was an attractor that layered up misfortune in mucousy layers of a nacreous black pearl curse. A garnish of insult added to the day’s injury was the goo of solar melted gum stuck to the bottom of my flip-flop followed by a semi- torturous ride home at a very temperate speed. One eye was locked on the road and the other on the gas gauge after discovered (in direct opposition to what I’d been assured) that the single gas station between there and home was NOT open past 9pm. I suddenly didn’t care that my feet were warm…it’s not like I don’t own socks.
The third day dawns just as sluggish and moist as the first two. The humidity is a curtain of haze layered thick and torpid across the yard. The dog refuses to budge from the kitchen floor. Her shroud of thick fur weighs her down and she lays shamelessly splayed out on her back, legs a brazen wishbone in the air. A thin smear of blackened gum residue still clings stubbornly to the bottom of my flip-flop. It collects clumps of dried grass cuttings as I head out into the yard. The laundry hangs limp on the line. Skirting round the edge of the yard I try to stay in the shadow of the trees. That can only get me so far and finally I step out into the open to stand under the misplaced sun.
A hand of dense heated air reaches out to envelop me. The humidity forces my lips open and oozes down my throat. My lungs labour to separate oxygen from liquid and my chest feels pneumonia heavy. The air, the heat, the humidity have a gravity that pushes down with a strangling weight and I slouch across the lawn.
The crabgrass I had come to weed out is almost two feet high at the back of the yard. The mosquitoes are thriving there as well in the unexpected tropical environment. They swarm up from under the ground cover as I sort through the stems. I try to grab more grass then blooms but in the heat it’s hard to raise too much concern about a lily or two. The heavy air is a sedative; languid, I wanted to lie down, close to the damp earth. I can feel that under the grass it was still dew cool even with the sun overhead. The garden dances under that ferocity in shimmering waves of ultra violent not sleepy in the haze but awake and going about its very serious business.
The chokecherry tree has finally bloomed. The racemes give off a delicate scent, baked by the sweltering sun, the aroma is redolent of candy apples as it is drawn in over the palette. The chives are crowned by little fuzzy heads of punk rock purple. The irises are a shameless study in Georgia O’Keeffe imagery and the pines breathe out smoky clouds of pollen with the least bit of encouragement. Everywhere the insects crawl or fly, alighting to taste from one or to bring to another. Clouds of bees, oligolectic or opportunistic, both full of electrostatic charges defy the sun and toil at their love. There in the languid heat there is no black pessimistic pearl for Wednesday’s child but the busy workings of a greater cycle of appetite and instinct, purpose and avidity.
The wind rises and the storm’s precursor trumpets over the lake. The sky darkens as the rain clouds bring an early dusk to the yard. Those flowers that bow heads and close petals to sleep fall into an uneasy slumber thinking that night has come. An apocalyptic sun, a virus plagued sullen red, hangs low on the horizon. Lightning jumps across the sky. The long jagged whips scorn the ground and fling themselves from cloud to cloud. The rain comes and it is blind, lost in the grey green light, and so the sound arrives first rushing across the fields flicking the hard winter wheat with stiff fingers. I race it to the house weaving in between the big fat drops to slip into the mud room just ahead of the deluge. The screen door slams behind me as raindrops hit the concrete patio and explode like over ripe cherry tomatoes.
Though summer still looms with all its possibilities on the horizon, this heat wave has finally broken. The breeze gently pushes the curtains back from the window where the dog and I sit watching the rain come down.
When we moved from our old townhouse to our country home to say we were a little short in the department of yard care tools would be a vast understatement. The expansion of our yard from a 6 foot by 10 foot plot to an actual acre, complete with hundred year old garden plots, vintage plants and grandfather trees, left us a little shell shocked. Our finances were a bit bumpy the first year with the demands of our lifestyle change so yard maintenance was a bit pitch in and/or patch. We borrowed what we could and were thankful for any donations.
The grass was a big job and needed a big machine but the expense of a lawn tractor was out of the question. Tommy Twin Tower, one of “D”’s work friends, gave us an old push mower he wasn’t using anymore. It was a nasty beast that belched black smoke while oil leaked through the crumpled shop rag that had replaced the lost oil cap but it was free and it did the job. It got us through the first half of the summer when we purchased what we hoped would be at least a small improvement. We still could not afford a lawn tractor (“D” did not want to buy used as he always says it’s just buying someone elses’ problems) so we bought another push mower from, of all places, Canadian “Where Do You Go for Maintenance” Crappy Tire. It proved totally unsuitable for the job and would overheat after an hour and refuse to start up again for another three. It takes a healthy 15 year old around 5 to 6 hours to cut an acre of lawn with a push mower (it took me 3 days when I gave it a go) so there was a LOT of pitching in and patching.
This year we were determined that there would be no repeat of the Lawn Mower Indy 500. When tax return time came around, we shuffled off to the Sears Warehouse to have a look at last year’s discounted models. Now I must mention here that “D” had his heart set on the bright green and yellow of a John Deere. He had been ogling the advertising flyers that came in the Pennysaver for months drooling over additional mulch kits and all the other things that make a masculine heart bleed. Common sense decided that we would buy something “reasonable” for now and in 2 or 3 years time, he could straddle the sweet green tractor of his dreams.
We were able to find a Craftsman lawn tractor in our price range, paid the cash and brought it home. Having bought last year’s model, we didn’t expect it to be perfect but none the less we were a little disconcerted when we got it home to discover there were no keys for the ignition. Luckily, the keys from our neighbour’s John Deere were a perfect fit so we didn’t have to wait for the store to mail us out a pair. To “D”’s further delight he discover that the engine in his Craftsman was the exact same one that was in the neighbour’s John Deere…NOT just the same size but THE SAME ENGINE (something that will no longer be happening as John Deere has recently retained an exclusive contract for those engines). This little bon mot was able to shut up “D”’s coworkers at the factory who were ribbing him about not buying a John Deere.
Last summer the Prodigal Son had several incidents with the push mowers involving tree stumps. He did not manage to bend a shaft but I am sure he came close no matter what he says. There was also an unfortunate occurrence with the new push mower and an oil tank but as I was flying co pilot on that one the only thing I will say is that engine compression cannot occur on a full stomach. Over the winter, there had been a great deal of discussion about past mishaps and the care and concern that was to be taken with our spring purchase and the Prodigal Son had endured all the infamy as he hovered about in the neighbour’s garage hoping to scam a beer. There were threats that all the stumps were to be marked out with bright spray paint so they might be avoided. Since the job had been such a monumental one, over the past summer a nominal fee had been paid for services rendered. The Prodigal was assured that no such salary would be forthcoming with the arrival of the new tool as it would be an embarrassment to accept money for such an easy task (the Prodigal responded with the assertion that he could never be that proud). He was informed that he could not take the girlfriend out on a date with it and that they had better not see him touring around downtown and that if he damaged it he would be paying for it out of his ass (whatever that means). The Prodigal bore it all, if not stoically, with the good grace of a boy allowed to hang with the men. Perhaps he had some knowledge of the way it all would be in the end.
The Saturday dawned and it was time to put the lawn tractor to work. The Stepson was visiting for the weekend and he and the Prodigal set about cleaning up the winter ravaged yard. It proved a boring task and the boys decided to spice it up by taking turns riding in our neighbour’s trailer (we had borrowed it for the day). The Prodigal was driving and the Stepson was balanced on the side of the trailer when his weight tipped the whole thing up gouging a hole in the lawn and popping the spring that holds the trailer in place.
“D” and the neighbour had been replacing a coolant pipe on the Sunfire and they were practically prostrate with laughter as 240lbs of teenage boy rolled on the ground cradling his bruised knees and the Prodigal struggled to put the trailer to rights. It took a woman’s touch to fix the spring and the boys took off again towing at lawn tractor lightspeed. Finally it was time to mow the yard and “D” wanted to try the tractor before the boys “wrecked it”.
He pushed the throttle all the way up to “bunny rabbit” and careened off, slowing down only for the grass over the septic tank, as anyone who has seen it can tell you, that stuff really grows. Just “trying it” turned into him cutting the front lawn and then the back as well. The boys got tired of waiting for him to finish his “turn” and went in to play Xbox. I watched “D” whip across the lawn, squeeze through the garden paths and just about get his block knocked off as he raced under the branches of the pines at the back without ducking down far enough. That was a month and a half ago, the lawn has been cut four times, and the boys have yet to have used the lawn tractor for its original purpose.
Even though we still have to use the push mower to mow the driveway (it’s not paved) and cut in around the garden beds and trees the yard now takes around 1 ½ hours to do instead of 5. If a back gets sore it is not from pushing but from sitting for too long. “D” loves his tractor …if they get a chance, maybe someday the Prodigal and the Stepson will too.
This past span of three days marked the holiday long weekend known as the Victoria Day Weekend or May Two-Four here in Canada. Traditionally honouring Queen Victoria’s birthday or more recently Queen Elizabeth’s (the actual date of which I have no idea) this holiday, celebrated on the Monday of or before the 24th of May, is the unofficial beginning of the summer season up here in the Great White North. The term May “two-four” weekend has been coined most recently in reference to the association of drinking (a case of beer having 24 or “two-four” bottles enclosed) rather than the actually date of occurrence which changes from year to year.
Regardless the May 2-4 weekend can usually be counted on for alcohol, fireworks and, if you are a “fashionista” here in Canada, the all clear for wearing white shoes and white pants from now until Labour Day. This particular holiday weekend is also known for cold and/or rainy weather and this past weekend did not disappoint. The wind was wild and chilly, the sun was intermittent and the only thing lacking was the usual downpour. The post-holiday tradition also continues as the weather forecast following the holiday weekend (that must now be enjoyed from inside the workweek office) is summer warm.
Locally the holiday was marked by a guided tour of the Spicer Trail. The tour heralds a new movement to encourage tourism and historic enrichment in the area. (Next weekend promises to be even busier with a live history weekend at the Backus/Page House presented by the local dramatic society and the T.H.S and the commencement of a number of shunpikers to get everyone out and about.) Spreading out from the nucleus that forms the base of my hamlet, various Optimist and Kinsmen clubs offered the promise of firework delights that, due to the high winds, had to be delayed until the climate was agreeable. Not to worry though, despite the uncooperative weather, there is still a pageant on display. As the season changes from spring to summer, the yard presents its own fireworks.
The first blooms of the year are flaming out in brilliant shades, brief flashes of colour across the expanse of the yard. They will in turn be followed by even greater displays of light and colour until the final climax of fall’s glamorous golden and rusted flares. Here every explosion, every bloom, is appreciated and exclaimed over, an intricate part of the beautiful whole.
The meadowlark, a shocking yellow, is a curious cat that peers a lopsided one eye through the window screen, watching us watching him. The humming bird, mouse grey and lavender, hovers on invisible wings above bunches of saffron blooms until the wind rings the chimes and sends him off in search of a quieter meal. Everywhere the air tastes like lilac, apple blossom and lily of the valley. All this is here now and with the promise of the long summer days just on the horizon and the magic of fall too far off yet to imagine…Really, I think fireworks might actually pale in comparison.
*This post was originally hosted on another blogging platform (MSN Space to MSN Live and finally WordPress). When the content was transferred the media files were lost. I’ve chosen to add new photos rather than delete the posts. I try to match any updated content to previously posted comments. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t so the comments can seem to be out of context but I don’t want to delete any of them as they are a part of my blogging history.
I grew up in a predominately female household. My mother, my sister and I lived on one side of the gender fence while my brother resided on the other. Even with a ratio of three to one, I don’t remember the household being particular frilly but it must have been somewhat feminine through the interests of the majority. My mother was married a number of times but none of them really took for one reason or another and through default my brother almost always sat in the King of the Castle’s empty throne. As titular male head of the household, though, he had no actual parental permission or political power which my sister and I were sure to remind him of on a regular basis.
In the house of my childhood, growing up a boy meant that it was your job to cut the lawn, take out the garbage, do any heavy lifting and make sure you didn’t knock your head on the kitchen cupboard doors regularly left open by the shorter females you lived with. It did not release you from the regular stuff like doing dishes, covering your bed or cooking meals which we all took a crack at while our mother was at work. The one thing my brother didn’t have to help with was canning. He came with us to pick the apples, strawberries, cherries and whatever else. He would get as sick as the rest of us as (at our mother’s urging) we filled up in the field because whatever we took home was going into jars. But by the time he was old enough to be any real use in the kitchen his man hands were much too large to pack cucumbers for pickles and he could never get the hang of jam making. He was excused from the steaming hot kitchen to do what ever he wanted while we sweated it out over sterilized jars, pitted gallons of cherries using bobby pins and peeled and blanched enough peaches and tomatoes to build a skyscraper.
For a while he had an old Chevelle that he worked on out in the driveway and he liked to lift weights down in the basement. After my mother had given up drinking for good he’d moved all his stuff down there and made it into a bedroom. There were mirrors on the wall behind the old bar that she’d never taken out and he used to watch himself as he ran through his routine lifting the bars and counting out the reps. My sister and I would laugh at him thinking that he was stuck on himself with his mirrors and his Charles Atlas and Arnold Schwarzenegger books but of course he wasn’t. He had an old pair of Tacks skates (when they used to be brown) and I think he could skate okay. There wasn’t any money for hockey but he went to Boy Scouts for years and he had an old canteen and a pair of snow goggles he’d made out of two spoons, some felt and an old piece of elastic binding. There was no hockey night in Canada at my house, no male banter, no baseball bats by the door and as our family went their separate ways comparatively early there were no whisker filled sinks and no clouds of Old Spice to fill the air.
Today my household couldn’t be more different. For one thing the ratio has changed and I find myself for the most part in the minority. I’m not a weak woman and I get my way somewhat about the larger decorating choices but I do have to make small concessions to the sports enthusiasts in my life. Laminated newspaper headings of the Blue Jays World Series wins share space with pen and ink drawings of various garden blooms. The Boston Bruins logo is prominently displayed in my bedroom but it is picked out in a counter cross stitch that sits on a miniature easel atop the wardrobe beside china plates commemorating the Huddersfield Town AFC (1908-1998) and the Miami Dolphins Dan Marino. An autographed picture of the captain of Canada’s 2000 Gold Cup winning soccer team is surrounded by acrylic folk art sketches in the west bedroom and the themes of fishing and hockey fight it out on the walls of the east bedroom. The bookshelves are liberally sprinkled with books bearing the names of such sports greats as Muhammad Ali and Wayne Gretzky while decades old Sports Illustrated magazines sit stored in cardboard boxes slowly inching their way toward antique status. Those aren’t the biggest changes though.
Along with the dominant presence of males in my life have come the trappings of their male activity. Any time of the year, day or night, my mudroom and the backdoor of my house play host to any number of objects meant to be used in physical and decidedly sweaty ways. There are golf balls, golf clubs, Frisbees, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, baseball bats, softballs, soccer balls, and footballs. Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg for these are only the tools of each particular trade. The meat of the matter, of all the matters, resides a little further below ground in the back room of the basement. It is here in this subterranean grotto that the flotsam of the years of masculine existence has come to rest. The hopes and fears, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat (to quote the old ABCs Wide World of Sports) or just the smell of de’ feet, de’ soccer shoes, de’ hockey bag and de’ athletic supporters.
It’s a strange sort of alchemy, a laboratory filled with mysteries and formulas. It is a territory that I’ve come to somewhat late in my life and though I’ve purchased, washed, repaired and even used a number of the objects shelved in this room they still speak a foreign language. It’s the language of boys and men. It is a language that rolls out in terms of competition, not just first place or second place, win or lose but the value of a person rated through skill and agility, bravado and blood, endurance and the downright stubborn stupidity that makes old men smile.
The baseball gloves must be stored wrapped around balls so they don’t lose their shape. Skates must be totally dried, the blades wrapped in old hockey socks or laid on wood to protect the edges. There’s toe black on the shelves along with 4 different kinds of tape and paraffin to wax blades. There are helmets and air pumps and buckets of pucks, weighted and regular. There are balls of all shapes and sizes, shin pads, cleats, nets and gloves. All of it is different but all of it is the same. The shape and the heft, the stink and the sweat soaked stiffness, the dirt and the tears speak the language of boys and men.
The shelves are turned out regularly with the seasons and often I’m the one left to gather it all together before the cat decides that the stinky pile of general mess and mayhem is his new litter box. I complain a bit but it always falls short to ears deafened by the sounds of TSNs Top 10 Plays of The Day or the discussion concerning Maggie the Macaque monkey and her bottom scratching ways. I have seen all these things in use by more then one of the “men” in my family but separated from their users they take on a life of their own. I’m a stranger here among all the testosterone memories.
It really is a mystery to me how anyone would want to wear an item of padding that was so sweat and dirt entrenched that it had taken on a permanent “corn chip” aroma. Yet I’ve seen these same items bring smiles of delight and hours of enjoyment to the masculine members of my family. It is the mechanics of their essence, lessons learned on the field, the ice, the floor that they’ve taken into themselves to become the very breath they breathe. Like a knight with his armor these bits of plastic and padding embody and strengthen these men. They create a world of black and white, of good and evil, of us and them and like the Paladins of old these men, these boys, have found a wholeness and a clarity, a nobility that is otherwise lacking in an everyday life.
So these are the things of men and boys, the things that I don’t remember from my childhood. But perhaps they were there and I did not know enough to recognize them back then. It is a wonder to me how a ball or a stick, a helmet or a pair of gloves, a poster or a jersey can alter the nature of a person making them more or less then their everyday self. There is no use questioning it, one must simply accept the reality of it. To me these are the things of men that add to the attraction and mystery of them.
Now there are whiskers in my sink, Old Spice in the air and dirty socks on my living room coffee table and I find myself bemused by the state of things but not totally displeased. I could do without the Blue Jays and soccer posters but it’s a small price to pay. I may not understand the language of men but I like to sit and let it wash over me. Like a tourist in a new place I’m drawn by the arguably bizarre, the unknown and the beauty of a foreign land.
John Kenneth Galbraith died on Saturday April 29th. He was 97 years old. I had no idea who Galbraith was until I moved to my current residence approximately 17 months ago. That he was a person of some importance was made eminently clear to me as the closest library was christened in his honor (one of my favourite places to frequent by the by). Galbraith even has his own monument here. Granted it is on a lonely dirt road backed by acres and acres of farm land but it is well kept and there’s a bench if you’d like to sit and relax in the shadow of that dedicated statuary.
It is a little confusing to me, that monument, as there is an aspect that I find hard to reconcile to a six foot eight inch tall Scot’s descent farm boy done good. The monument that marks the location of the childhood home of one of the greatest economists of the past century is an inukshuk. Although he was a great collector of East Indian art, to my knowledge Galbraith was in no way associated with the native peoples of Canada. But as my maritime relatives like to say “go figure”.
There were some hard feelings out this way in the sixties when Galbraith published his scandalous 1964 memoir “The Scotch”. Some of it still lingers on but for the most part they’ve let bygones be bygones. You can bet that his virtues, grown exponentially with his passing, will rate more than a mention in the local paper that comes out every Friday. Apparently Galbraith still held the small place that engendered him in some regard and here, under the never changing sky that still blankets the old back ways, among all the others that remain (over the earth and under it as well) they held him dear as well. Although he had occasionally visited it has been decades since he walked the dirt roads and looked over the fields that refuse to let him go. I wonder if he knew that in the end, no matter how far he traveled, this place would always claim him as its son.
I didn’t know much about the man but I can tell you that “The Scotch” he wrote about are still out and about and going on with their business in the old township. They and others keep his memory alive and even I, as a new immigrant to the soils that birthed his world genius, have (obliquely, tongue in cheek and admittedly on a coat tail) deigned to poke a toe in his shadow. I wish him a good journey wherever he’s headed off to, while myself and all the rest of us regular folk wait it out here in a place that still remembers his voice and the sight of him heading down the old dirt road to supper and home.
So with respect to the barefoot boy … to many people you walk here still. Travel well.
Fingers of rain rap against the window calling for my attention. The wind fusses around the western side of the house. I ignore the sound and continued to count the seconds. I’m making a chocolate cake and the batter has to be mixed for two more minutes. I miss our old microwave. The new one is shiny chrome and sleek but it doesn’t have a timer like the old one. Clunky and white, it graced my counter for 14 years. It was practically an antique when it gave up the ghost and was put out to pasture in the garage. The time is up and as I pour the batter into the pans I hear the thunder slip and tumble down the roof, shaking the eaves before falling hard to the ground. The kitchen warms with the oven and as I place the pans on the rack I know that in half an hour the damp of the house will be chased away by the velvet of baked chocolate wafting on the heated air.
I pour a second cup of tea and watch the trees sway in the wind. They’ll be no walk to the post office on this rainy day and the dog sighs. A profound sorrow overflows her dark liquid eyes as she settles in for a long day of watching the floor for errant food scraps. The gentle hiss of the gas stove competes with the radio turned downed low to filter the manic morning deejays. It isn’t really a cheery radio morning anyway, all damp and overcast. What this day calls for is Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday to sing a chorus or two along with the wind and the rain.
It’s a typical April day full of the showers that are so important to the May flowers. Nothing like yesterday with its new spring sun, wings stretched to warm the winter grass patched and field bare earth below. Though April has only begun it was warm enough to go coat-less. I had been just about dying to get out into the garden beds but the weather had not been co operative. Late snow had further complicated things and I was hesitant to remove the layer of leaves I’d left in the beds last fall to protect my bulbs over the winter. The sight of daffodil shoots yellow with frost damage kept me cautious but the weatherman had been optimistic and on his advice I had decided it was time to get my hands dirty.
The afternoon passed quickly and I was soon joined by the willing hands of D. D works the night shift and he’s looking to get back into some semblance of a daylight life. The yard is just an acre and I thought that a quarter acre clean up of winter leaves, pine cones and various twigs and branches was a good start. It was after dinner and the moon was almost full in the clear sky when we’d finished moving the whole lot to the compost pile that hides behind the pine windbreak. The composting heap still showed vestiges of last fall’s apple windfall and the remains of black walnuts that squirrels had spent the winter feasting on. The leaves caught fire quickly and the white smoke began to roll across the fields in a widening column.
Drawn by the sound of rustling I looked over at the wood frame that I’d constructed to brace the rotting vegetation against. In the fading light I could see the soft grey of a small body huddled beside the pine slats. The dog and D were otherwise occupied closer to the house with an old soccer ball that had blanched with the winter cold. The dog carried the half inflated ball like a basket with the depressed top conveniently clamped in her mouth while D pretended to wrestle it from her. The fire was far enough away from the frightened bit of fur so I moved some loose straw over top and let him be. When the fire died down I figured he would make his way out into the field in search of another bed and breakfast now that the compost pile was in sate of flux after the winter lull.
Using the pitchfork I turned the heap, spreading the winter debris so that the fire could burn evenly. An open burn can smolder for hours. Even though the fields behind our house have only the barest cover of winter wheat you don’t want to take a chance on something spreading after you’d thought everything was done burning.
As I reached the opposite end of the compost heap I saw a second ball of grey fuzz. It was trying to dig under 2 blackened walnuts resting at the edge of the fire. I banked a bit of dirt up to keep it from getting closer to the flames. The walnuts rolled aside and even in the receding daylight it was apparent that something was odd about the burrower. On closer inspection I could see that it wasn’t a mouse but a dark velvet shrew that had made a winter home in the pile.
Just then D passed the tree line and I called to him to come and see the unexpected nature of the compost pile tenant. He headed over and admired the shrew. We talked for a minute about what to do with it and decide to move it away from the fire it seemed so eager to dig under. As D tried to pick it up the shrew squirmed and made a break for the field. Its funny little body was a round bullet flying through the grass and D called to the dog to come and see what he’d found.
Shocked I called out a warning to him, to keep the dog away. A shrew isn’t a rodent. It’s a member of the order insectivora but to a dog it would look like a rodent and dogs kill rodents. I’d once seen a documentary about northern wolves that survived on a steady diet of field mice, raising whole families on them. I remember watching them hop up in the air to land with a pounce on their miniscule prey. Kera was on the shrew in the same way.
D grabbed for her but it was too late. At his command she dropped it to the grass. The little grey body lay shaking, the smooth fur wet with spit and the blood pouring from its neck. Shamefaced D looked at me. “I’m sorry, he said. Maybe it will be alright”. Nonplussed I looked at him and then back at the broken body that was drawing out its last breath in the dry winter grass. D took the pitch fork and moved the dying shrew over to the slate that marks one of the three pet graves under the cherry tree. I could see how limp the body was, liquid in its last moments. “It might get better and crawl under the rock” D said. I looked at the smudge of grey lying on the ground and then back at him. Wordlessly he handed the pitchfork to me and headed inside with the dog.
The yard was almost dark and the satisfaction of my first bit of yard work was gone like the fading light and the life under the soft grey velvet. Later that evening I went out to check the burn. The moon had misted over and the night had turned cold. I could still see the small mound of fur lying beside the stone.
This morning I woke to the sound of the wind and the traffic of rain on the rooftop. There was a break in the downpour when I took the dog out for her morning constitutional but the trees were still heavy with the wet. As we rounded the back of the yard I could see the shrew now a dark bedraggled shadow in the lee of the stone. The wind wound through the trees shaking the resting rain loose and as it fell a murmur like the mock echo of distant applause sounded. An inanimate shrew held no interest for the dog and instead she kept a close eye on the multitude of birds that wove their way in complicated patterns through the air and hopped across the grass stabbed the lawn with the knives of their beaks looking for tasty tidbits in the soft wet earth. The same wind that had shook the trees swung up the yard carrying the smell of the compost pile, fetid with wet and char. The rain started up again before we made it to the back door. As I wiped Kera’s paws I could smell the yard on her.
I put on the kettle and preheated the oven. The rain is still sleeting down hard against the windows but now the smell of chocolate is finally filling the air. The Billy Holiday CD is the perfect choice as I read the paper and finish my second cup of tea. The dog sighs again, eyeing the remains of my unfinished breakfast, half a bagel smeared with peanut butter and honey. I can hear the wind rise to join Lady Day. They sing together, sad and wild…“Keeps on raining, look how it’s raining…Daddy he can’t make no time…”
The sun was well on its way to risen, I was on my second breakfast (lemon tea and cinnamon toast) and I could smell wood smoke in my hair.
After an unusually premature 7 PM retirement, I had found myself awake at 3:30 am. My brain was totally convinced that dawn was at hand and not at all ready to let go of the perception of a waking world. I lay in bed until the leisurely hour of 4 AM and finally gave up the battle. There’s no convincing a mind when it doesn’t want to be convinced (even when it’s your own). It’s not like there wasn’t anything to do. There’s always something to do around here whether you will it or not.
Friday is garbage day and as Friday had officially started for me, I though I might as well get up and take the trash out. The dog looked a little surprised to see me awake on the rising side of morning, being the night owl I am, but she took it in her stride. After all it meant an early breakfast for her and anything that means food is alright with Kera. The birds were already awake. I could hear them calling to each other outside even though it was still too dark to see them.
As long as I was up I thought I might as well get the laundry started. I don’t know why I say “started” quite frankly the laundry never ends, but that’s just the way of it. The laundry is in the basement as is the kitty litter box. It’s not the best place for the laundry with septic as the sewage solution of necessity required by our rural location. The washing machine is below ground and has to drain “up” so to speak. A laundry pump and a short learning curve have led to several flooding “mishaps” and now I know why a main floor laundry is a huge selling point for rural properties.
On the other hand, the basement is the best place for kitty litter as it prevents the dog from filling up on crunchy coated “kitty fritters” during the day and spoiling her supper. Garbage day is kitty litter day. A day made all that much more important with the approach of our feline room mate’s 17th birthday. If the litter box does not display the proper Feng Shui arrangement of a Japanese sand garden, each particle of litter balanced in a gloriously ordered harmony, he will stroll by and leave a “note” of his displeasure on the rug in front of the washing machine. This is a particularly distressing event after he’s spent a night indulging in his favourite snack of Zesty Cheese Doritos (talk about your junk food hangovers). A quick vacuum of the area rug in the basement (I love owning my own house. Where else can you vacuum at 4:30 in the morning?) and the rest of the trash is gathered up and out by the road all before 5 AM.
First breakfast followed because then I knew for sure I wasn’t going back to bed and there’s just enough time to catch the shirts at that special magical moment in the drying cycle when they are completely dry and wrinkle free. If caught in this fleeting state of grace and enshrined on hangers in their native closet habitats the act of ironing can be avoided indefinitely. This getting up early is for the birds. As a matter of fact they’re gossiping out in the yard like a rioting mob of old fishwives and the red headed woodpecker was jack hammering with such abandon that I had started to feel a little guilty about my feeble housekeeping efforts.
The pile of winter windfall beside the shed needed a quick reduction before it was converted to a spring skunk condo love nest. If you live anywhere that isn’t completely covered in concrete you’ve more that likely got your own skunk story. Mine includes a dog, a shadowy fuzzy figure, tears, the loss of my favourite denim jacket and a 3 AM frantic phone call to my shift working hubby (not so hard to figure out I’m sure).
The sky had finally started to lighten and the air was still, not a breath of wind. The day was on the cusp of heading toward a high of 18 degrees Celsius. Finally spring had arrived, actually here in Canada as far as most people are concerned anything close to 15 degrees Celsius is shorts weather but really it’s a personal thing. I celebrated by wearing flip flops and my favourite maroon stripped jammy bottoms (I love living in the country.)
I could see the morning star above the pines that line the back of the apple orchard. There was a darker smudge of flat striated cloud limning the opposite bell curve of the horizon. As I lit the paper under the kindling it trembled just a bit in the light not light of early morning dark. Catching quickly the smoke curling up and the sweet smell of pine on the air, the blaze, gave the illusion of a small dawn. The birds hovered and hopped closer, drawn by the lesser star.
Under the chorus of the birds I thought I could hear the sound of the waves on the beach past the fields and the trees. Sometimes the wind waits to play there before it heads up the cliffs and falls into the hollow that marks this small settlement. It might have been the crackle and steam of the winter dried apple and the ever green pine but I like to think it was the voice of the wind in the waves blending with the symphony of bird song and fire.
The real dawn came soon enough and eclipsed its infant brother. The birds, caught shamefaced in their foolish idolatry, scattered to warm themselves under the light of their one true god. I headed inside to tea, toast, a little something for the dog (because she likes toast too) and the actual, factual start of my day.