Walk with me.
In the hollow she sleeps. She does not sleep. She is in the ditch laying half on grass and half on drainage rock. What little breeze there is disappears as I start down the incline. The air is stifling, hot and humid. I smell the pine trees that cover the slope of the ravine. She’s on the south side of the road. A driver wouldn’t notice but I’m walking so I can see right into the ditch. In that first glimpse I comprehend a figure gracefully reclined. An odd thought as what grace is there in this death? Her neck is a lyrical curve that rests her head on a swell of grass. Her forelegs are long with delicate ankles demurely crossed. Lost in the sound of my feet on the gravel, she’s taken me by surprise [her stillness].
In the hollow now the cars whiz by. A transport changes lanes to save me from a wake of wind and swirling grit. Always walk facing the traffic on the highway so you see cars and trucks that head towards you. Wave thanks to drivers that move over when they can. The traffic is louder than you would imagine. Faster than it seems when you’re in the car. Up on the far end of the hollow I can see something on the shoulder. It’s ruddy and small. It’s angular and ill-defined in the distance. Drawing close I see it’s her fawn. The birds have already been at its eyes. One of its hind legs is broken. The foot hangs loose from the rest. Were they together when it happened or did the fawn go searching for her when she didn’t return? Does it matter? I walk on and double back at the Coyne Road to head home.
In the hollow there’s a heat shimmer on the road. The sun blazes above. Travelling east now I can see the fawn on the other side of the road. The eyes are cavernous holes that follow me as I walk. I pass opposite the spot where the doe lies. I can’t see her [smooth brow and the soft sweep of long lashes that shade closed eyes] in the ditch. Two cars rush up parallel behind me as a driver defies the solid yellow line to pass on a blind slope. The passing car, close now to the shoulder where I walk, sends a blast of hot air and dust to wrap around me. In my memory she [the doe] reclines [elegant-in grace-in sorrow] as her fawn looks [dark-empty] for her return.
In the hollow a single crow calls. There are three but only one speaks.
In the hollow I can hear a sound [buzzing through the insulation of my ear buds]. Leave the volume low as you walk along the highway. If you can hear your footsteps you should be able to hear oncoming traffic. The origin of the sound is just ahead. It is [was] a raccoon [not fat but bloated] . I can’t see flies but I can hear [a legion – a multitude – a horror] them. The sound is aggressively loud. I think the swollen carcass must be acting as a hollow chamber amplifying the sound of what lies within. I don’t [can’t – won’t] look as I walk by. The fur is beautiful. If I reach out to stroke it would I find an incredible lush softness [vibrating with what lies beneath]? When I double back I look straight ahead. I know [hear] it [you] is [are] there. The air is heavy and cloying. Rain is on the way.
In the hollow there are three crows. They don’t speak.
In the hollow Queen Anne’s Lace [Daucus carota – Why do I know that?] gives off a heavenly smell. Flattened skin tanned to leather is marked with sparse patches of fur. Yellow bone [forearm, jaw bone, sharp stab of teeth] is an anchor that still defines the [broken] form. A car speeds by.
In the hollow there are no crows.
In the hollow a crow calls.
There is a row of spruce trees at the back of the yard. The tallest was struck by lightning. I was two rooms deep into the house and the light that came in was the most incredible thing to see. There was a wash of the coldest white and blue. And though there were no shadows everything was eerily defined. The noise that followed was felt as much as it was heard. The tree still stands but almost four years on it hasn’t healed. The strike left a scar that runs down the length of the trunk to the ground. With every season the crack gets deeper.
I had a lovely thought last week. I was driving in the car and just out of the blue it came to me. It was a wonderful memory – well two sort of but they were connected. The memory was of my youngest nephew, Matthew, when he was small. We had rented a hockey rink for a birthday party and Matthew was so excited to come and get on the ice. He must have been around 4 maybe…I’m not sure… but I do remember how happy he was. The second part also had to do with an arena. My sister brought her boys to see my stepson play and as he came out of the dressing room he said hello to Matthew. Matthew’s whole face lit up because he’d been acknowledged by this older boy heading out to the ice to play. I honestly don’t think he could have been happier that day. He would have loved to play hockey. I’m sure of it. He never got the chance. He was born with an adorable sideways smile and a progressive neuromuscular disease.
Picture time as a hallway broken up by consecutive doors. Each door represents a unit of time. The doors are sheer enough to look back through but there are layers and layers of them. Each one takes you further away from where you have been and try though you may you can never bridge that space between now and then. No matter how much you may long for the “before”, just thin doors of time away, there is only what comes after. We say things like “I would give anything if I could have just one more day…one more hour” but the truth is one more hour or one more day wouldn’t be enough.
The night that Matthew died always comes back to me in sound bites and still pictures – the phone call – the car ride – standing on the porch as they return from the hospital – my sister opening the car door – her face as she tells me and it’s like that flash of lightning filling everything up with something alien and terrifying as I move in slow motion to take her into my arms. The rest of the night, the weeks, the months, the years, are marked by moments of awful clarity distinct as pale figures caught naked in the stark flickering of a strobe light.
Matthew lived 16 years. The brevity of his life along with much of what he endured and what has come to pass since he left us is beyond difficult to fully grasp. I am grateful for the things that offer a counter balance to the downright unfairness of it all. I need those things; like those days in the arena, or any moment I’m called to mind the good things that were a part of his life and what good things he brought to all of ours.
I like to watch the birds in the garden. I can see them as I gaze out the kitchen window. The blue jays scream and argue. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are a circus of acrobats as they negotiate the expanse of tree trunks. There are different kinds of sparrows, cardinal couples, and flocks of dark-eyed juncos. In the summer there’ll be hummingbirds and orioles. Several times a day the birds will suddenly scatter. I don’t know why. Perhaps there’s a noise, a movement, or a falling shadow that sets them off. Often it’s nothing and they quickly return. Sometimes though, that shadow will be a hunting hawk. Maybe a red tail but more likely a Cooper’s hawk. There will be a flash of darkness and then silence as a few stray feathers float to the ground.
The garden will be silent then, sometimes for hours. I watch to see if the birds return. And they do but I can never tell if they’re the same ones that were here before. At dawn and dusk there’s always the call of the mourning doves. A storm might blow in and I’ll watch as a curtain of rain sweeps across the fields before it engulfs the house.
I wonder how long it will be until the spruce tree finally falls.
Music for this post –Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers- Day is Gone
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
– Ernest Dowson, from “Vitae Summa Brevis” (1896).
Around mid-January I received an unexpected phone call. It was from a representative of the organization that oversees the administration of a place I used to work at. They were going to be embarking on a transitional period in their staffing and wanted to know if I would assist them during that time. I have to confess I had some misgivings. Not just because there were some serious issues surrounding their change in staffing but also because this was a position I had resigned from with no intention of ever returning. In the summer of 2012 I gave my notice. I got all my files and paper work in order (with the exception of a government grant application that I would finish pro bono for them a couple of weeks later) and spent the last 2 weeks of my employment training my replacement. I hadn’t resigned because I hated the job. I quite enjoyed the work. Granted it was a very demanding position (there was a 6 page job description) but I had a good handle on that. I had some really good times there, met some great people, and found great satisfaction in moving the organization into a new period of growth but it certainly wasn’t all sunshine and roses. There were some pretty significant issues that negatively impacted my life both on and off site. In the end I left because of a number of factors (people and situations) that eventually created what I felt was an untenable working environment.
I’m not a grudge holder AND I had invested almost 5 years of my life in the place so I cautiously agreed to lend a hand. What I said I would do was update all their security information, write a couple of employment grants, and assist with an event they were holding in early February. I thought I had made the limited nature of my commitment very clear but when I arrived on site I was handed keys to the buildings and a one paragraph job description for an interim manager’s position. I was also told I was welcome to apply for my old job if I liked. Yikes!! I reiterated my acceptable level of commitment and in the end I was on site for around 90 hours over a 3 week period. And you know what? It was just a really, really, really weird experience.
It was sort of what I think it would feel like to suddenly find yourself hanging out with your “ex”. It’s not like I’ve done that kind of thing but I can imagine the strangeness of something like it. You genuinely loved that person but had to leave them because it turned out they were pretty loopy and the relationship just wasn’t healthy. The qualities you fell in love with are still there but you can’t deny the loopy stuff that let you know it was time to go.
I found myself sitting at my old desk doing some of the things it used to be my job to do. But it hadn’t been my job in a long time and it wasn’t going to be my job in the future. It felt familiar yet foreign. One thing I did on my brief return was read my personnel file. Now don’t get your knickers in a knot because I wasn’t snooping. It wasn’t locked away or anything like that. It was in the drawer of my old desk where anyone could see it. If any of you had the wherewithal to not read your personnel file if you came across it… well hats off to you. Just so you know there weren’t any surprises in there any way. It was an opportunity though to take a trip down memory lane. It was a short trip. I hadn’t worked there in over a year and a half. I’d only been on site for a couple of days before I found the file. While I could see there were some changes since I’d left, under the surface it was still a lot of the “same old same old”. It was just an odd little twist that the “same old same old” was what had me sitting at my old desk reading about myself in the third person. If nothing else (well I did get paid- I’m not that much of a patsy) my three weeks on site, hanging out with my ex so to speak, let me know I had made the right decision in the summer of 2012.
I finished up the night of the February event. During my exit interview I was pretty candid about a great number of things I would never have addressed as an employee. It’s definitely easier to speak out when you don’t feel like your job is on the line. I really hope what I had to say helps the organization. Maybe they’ll take some of it under consideration but if they don’t, well that’s life isn’t it? Tomorrow becomes today, and then it is yesterday, and we move on. It’s all just water under the bridge.
Music for this post is Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree“
I’m not sure how old my house is but when it was built it was erected with no plumbing or vented heating. The walls are lath and plaster. The plaster is the kind that has horse or cow hair in it. I know about the plaster because several years ago a section of my living room ceiling collapsed. A road crew was using the bucket of an excavator to break through the road asphalt in front of my house. With each bang of the bucket on the road I watched part of the ceiling droop. It didn’t fall right away but several days later I heard a big crash and walked into the room to find bare lath and a whole pile of plaster on the ground. Old houses are like that. Stuff just happens.
I have a lot of questions about my house that will probably never be answered. Like what’s the deal with that room in the basement. I’ll call it a room but it’s sort of not as it isn’t completely excavated. To clarify my basement has two rooms with concrete floors. The first room has a lath and plaster ceiling but the walls are just poured concrete. The second room is less finished. There is a door in that second room. When opened that door reveals a space which is a sort of room but it’s filled with dirt. There is dirt that is lower by the door opening but piled up higher towards the back wall within a foot of the ceiling. Water pools in the partially dug out area when it’s really damp out. Looking at it I really can’t tell if they were in the process of filling it in or digging it out. The only time I ever open the door is if I find water in the “proper” part of the basement.
I have always had a very active imagination. Since I was a child I’ve seen things. Catching glimpses of objects out of the corner of my eye or from far away I sometimes perceive them to be other than what they really are. I see the huddled figure of a solitary walker that turns out to be a shrub along the rail line. The monkey (I live in Canada) sitting on the deadfall out in the field is just a part of the deadfall. I know that it’s a big log with a broken branch but it still looks like a monkey to me; a real monkey. In the shadows of the alley way for just a second one day I honestly believed I’d seen a crocodile, or something crocodile-like, nestled beside the wall. Intellectually I know these things can not be but part of me still believes that the shapes in the shadows under the trees are cats or people or elephants or trolls. I’m not saying that trolls aren’t people. If there are trolls I’m sure they think of themselves as people. In my house occasionally the shadows form shapes. Like cats, cat-like shapes or, I don’t know, maybe like a baby crawling at my feet; something small though and just a blush of colour or form. When I dream, I dream in colour. As I fall asleep gold flecks of light coalesce to form the pictures I see behind my closed eyes. It always, all of it, makes for an interesting inner dialogue.
The other night I was using my bandsaw to cut a fairy door for a project I’m working on. My bandsaw sits on top of a workbench which is located in the part of the basement where the mystery door is. It was a particularly windy night which is not unusual where I live. Normally on a very windy (or cold) night I like to snuggle down right in the middle of my bed and take comfort in the space that divides me from the wild elements. But that night I had work to do. A bandsaw is fairly noisy but not so noisy as to block the sound that seemed to come from behind that door. There was a noise from the other side of that door that sounded big, howling big, wild and mad. Granted it was windy outside but I was in the basement so why would the sound of the wind come from behind that door? It’s underground. I suppose I should have opened the door to check it out. It’s just a half dug out or half filled in space. But you know what? I didn’t. In my mind’s eye I already knew there was an enormous twilight zone whirling vortex to hell behind that door so I didn’t really need to open it. My imagination provided more than enough of a story line to send me hurrying back up to my work space. I’m not one to poke the possum. I think it’s better if we all just act like it really is dead.
This project I’ve been crazy busy with the past month is some volunteer work I’m doing for a non-profit group that supports local amateur theatre. I’ve been designing and building a set for their next production. It’s really fun and a great opportunity to try new things while contributing to a community based organization. The space I’ve been doing the majority of the construction work in is an old defunct Mason’s lodge that the municipality rented to the theatre group. There are peep holes in the doors and a sliding door with a padlock to close off the largest room. The ceiling of that room is arranged in such a way as to indicate the 4 compass points and there is a separate switch connected to a single light bulb located at the centre of those points.
It’s probably not the best place for someone like me to spend a large amount of time alone. I haven’t discovered a small town conspiracy of hidden ritual murder or been dragged into the clutches of the Cult of Cthulhu that is secretly still operating there. I haven’t been sucked into the wormhole that only opens at midnight on a certain night of the year when the stars are in perfect alignment…
Music for this post-
No one seems to call here anymore. The phone rings occasionally but more often than not it is auto dial telemarketers. Pre-recorded messages offer free exotic trips if we answer a few questions or some other ridiculous lie. That one would believe their opinion on anything has an equal value of a trip to paradise is beyond me but then I know squat about telemarketing.
It’s quiet here and I like that.
When we first moved into the house I found the silence unsettling. From waking to retiring I needed to have some sort of background noise to drown out the weight of that quiet. I don’t anymore. I’m not sure when that changed, just that it did. The silence still has a certain quality but I no longer find it cumbersome. It’s more a comfort, a buffer that provides room to breathe…and to think.
I like it best when the quiet finds a place inside me and I can take it with me wherever I go. When I hold it inside of me I feel apart from my world but still connected. As I move from place to place I imagine that time is folded like a long ribbon of sheer muslin. I sense my yesterdays beside me. I am aware of an invisible cord that connects me to all my instances evoked by geographic reunion. I visualize passing through the fabric to settle into myself in a remembered moment. Leaving this time as a dream, not lived, no choices made.
The quiet rides along with me and I am a disconnected observer moving through scenery. I see but I do not interpret… as if it wasn’t me but someone else watching the world through my eyes.
Sometimes I feel an ache that’s as much like an itch as it isn’t deep in my bones.
On windy days, when the sky is full of restless clouds, a dark bruise crowns the line of pines and winter bare branches that mark the shore. A purple watercolour blush, it bleeds up into an endless firmament where the cold gusts and driven clouds devour it whole.
It would be easy to believe that January and February are only made of driven snow and biting winds if winter did not throw us a bone of a sunny day here while the earth sleeps.
The rare sun in a cornflower blue sky festooned with puffs of giant clouds that swim through the air like white vaporous whales is brilliant. The light of sun and sky and snow dazzles so that the eye can weep tears of joy or discomfort.
Those days never last. What dawns bright is shaded by evening. Over night Old Man Winter howls around the house shaking the foundation and scratching at the walls with tree branches, ice stiff and brittle. Often the new day finds another layer of white covering the fields and trees.
Down on the shore the waves continue their ceaseless motion, building up layer upon layer of ice. The spray rises in the air, misting fingers of beach tossed driftwood and creating bridges that reach far out into the lake. Round floes bob up and down in the surf, concave saucers formed by the motion of the water and fickle heat of a winter sun.
Against the skies of blue grey, black vees describe the geometry of flight. The croaks of jays and the peeps of chickadees are hushed by a flash of the hunting hawk’s red tail feathers. Only the mourning doves call soft and low in the cold winter light.