Again in the Hollow Again

First [Alpha – A – α]

I.

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.

II.

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.

III.

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.

Last [Omega – Ω – ω]

In the hollow a crow calls.

Again ∞:║:∞ Again ∞:║:∞ Again ∞:║:∞ Again  ∞:║:∞ Again ∞:║:∞ Again

Within the Embrace of Entropy and The Arrow of Time

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 

 

 

Friendship

I’ve been on Facebook since 2007. My account currently indicates that I have 440 Facebook friends. Some of the people on my Friends List are family or individuals I actually know. Others are people who I have common interests with, or I “liked” something on a page we both frequent, or we play the same online game. I occasionally go through my Friends List to clear accounts that have been abandoned or were added for games I don’t play any more. I don’t always remove former game players as I sometimes develop an online relationship that I guess would translate to a kind of neighbourly liking of each others’ posts or commenting on happy or sad statuses. Recently whilst cleaning up my account I discovered that two people on my List had passed away. We’d played the same Facebook game. Neither had popped up on my feed for a while and when I checked their accounts there were messages of condolence, outpourings of grief and disbelief, from people who actually knew them.

One account belonged to a young man who had died of complications following a car accident. The other account belonged to a woman who, along with other members of her family, had been murdered. The postings on their account pages clearly spoke to the tragedy of these deaths and that the deceased were well loved and held a special place in the hearts of those who knew them. That, more than anything else, was why I deleted their accounts from my Friends List.

I didn’t know either of these people in real life but I felt a twinge of guilt removing them from my Friends List. For several years I’d seen their family/friends photos as well as status postings about life and family events. We’d liked some of the same things. But that didn’t make us friends. Perhaps that twinge of guilt had to do with sympathy for lives lost to violence and lives ended too soon. Or maybe it had to do with that overlapping of our online interactions that provided an illusion of connection. I’m not sure. I do know that for me, maintaining access to those two Facebook accounts, where their friends and families were posting heartbreaking messages, felt like an invasion of privacy. Facebook is a public forum but the few postings I did read made me feel as if I was eavesdropping on a very personal and painful conversation that I had no right to hear. Even though they will never know, deleting those account connections seemed like the very least I could do to honour the loss, and respect and acknowledge the right of their friends and families to grieve.

Music for this post – I went back and forth trying to decide what would best suit this post and I finally decided on Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me In Your Heart’ . I hope the friends and families of those who passed on will hold close to any good memories they have.

A quick bit of research revealed that most online organizations have, or are in the process of implementing, policies that deal with death and the internet. I think they still have a long way to go. Perhaps in the future instead of sifting through ancient tombs to explore history, archaeologists will have to recreate ancient operating systems and applications to access first hand knowledge of life (and death) during the birth of the digital age.

 

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…

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…

…yet.

Music for this post-

The Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood and Gene Wilder with Pure Imagination from Willie Wonka.

The “Lodge”…

Peep hole Narrow stairs up to the old lodgePadlock to guard their secretsLights to the 4 corners of the earth The Alexandra Lodge at night.

 

All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need…or a reasonable facsimile.

Every year a sort of whole sale slaughter goes on in my garden. Flowers and shrubs face an onslaught of hungry over sexed Japanese beetles that skeletonize foliage leaving only fragile ghosts of delicate lacy green. I’ve seen entire plants stripped bare, left to die in the heat of the August sun. According to Wikipedia the Japanese beetle isn’t much of a problem in its native Japan as natural predators keep populations in check. Here in North America we’re not so lucky. The plants that seem to attract the beetles to my yard include hostas, hollyhocks, snowball viburnums and corkscrew hazels. The beetles’ M.O. is to set up shop in these plants and fill their days and nights with snacking and shacking up.

Corkscrew Hazel

I decided this would be the year I fought back. An internet search was narrowed down to two popular methods of attack, each with their merits and draw backs. The manual approach is to place a container of soapy water under the plants and knock the beetles loose. The beetles are quite clumsy and usually drop right into the water and drown. Effective I suppose if you have twenty-four hours a day to sit in the garden like some kind of beetle chaperone keeping an eye out for any sign of beetle hanky-panky. The other suggested method is a Japanese beetle trap that uses scent to lure the beetles to their doom. The traps could be effective if used correctly but if used incorrectly might draw more beetles to the area. Given the mixed reviews I thought I’d try both.

I bought two traps but decided to only set one up. I had read how the traps worked so I already knew that floral or pheromone scent was what attracted the beetles.  When I opened the package I found the manufacturers had been much less euphemistic.  The outside packaging indicated I had bought a “Biolure Beetle Trap” the inside literature made no bones about it- I had bought a “sex trap”. I’m not big on the old nudge-nudge wink-wink type of humor. I do remember watching some of the old ‘Carry On’ movies on Sunday afternoon television when I was very young but I primarily recall being vaguely repulsed by the innuendo while enjoying the slapstick.  Still when I read Japanese Beetle Sex Lure (no biolure euphemism there) on the bait package and saw one of the ingredients was something called PEP well my brain did a little 360 and once it started it would not stop. It was wincingly juvenile and yet I just couldn’t (and still can’t) help myself.

Selective Advertising

The Truth in Plain Print

“PEP” Really? I thought…PEP? What was that? Some kind of Japanese beetle Viagra? What if I got it on my hands? Ew-w-w-w. Would beetles chase me around the yard? I told myself not to be so silly. I gingerly put the bait package down and picked up the little plastic walls that would form the top of the trap. The instructions said to “slide the vanes together at the slots to form a cross”. I slid the vanes together and in my head a little voice whispered scissor together. This thought was immediately followed by an intense self-irritation manifested through my aware interior voice answering that whisper with an “OMG REALLY???” Did you really just think that? WHERE did that come from?  But it didn’t stop there. To my chagrin everything about the process seemed to engage the formerly unknown juvenile that hitherto had resided silent in my head. I tried to be careful when I peeled the cover off the bait package. I tried not to get it on my skin but I couldn’t avoid smelling it because it smelled really strong. A-a-a-a-a-ah I didn’t want to smell it but I couldn’t help it! The voice inside my head said that’s what Japanese beetle sex smells like. Some part of me acknowledged that, as if I would need to know it sometime in the future.  Will that be the answer to some long far off crossword puzzle clue? Will I meet an entomologist someday and need a topic to make small talk about? Ugh why would I do that? Talk bug sex talk with an entomologist. They might think I was making some sort of overt pass at them. If you’re curious I can tell you that it smelled like cloves. There, now you can make bug sex small talk with an entomologist. There’s some underlying pheromone thing going on (that’s how it works for people too) but to my very human nose it smelled like my kitchen when I’m making spiced coffee cake.

Setting up the trap wasn’t rocket science and before too long the bag hanging below (see there it is again) was full. There is a bug bordello in my backyard that smells like spice cake and I am the bug bordello Madame. I get that it smells all sexy (Love for sale, appetizing young love for sale) but it doesn’t look anything like a den of iniquity. Maybe the pheromones are hallucinogenic (Love that’s fresh and still unspoiled)  and the beetles hear a siren’s call or imagine they see the seduction of  will- o’-the-wisp fairy lights leading them on (Love that’s only slightly soiled, love for sale).

The disposable collection bags are just plastic bags with holes in the bottom so the rain won’t fill them up. The beetles don’t die right away. As a matter of fact by the amount of writhing that seems to be going on in the bags I’m pretty sure they are still doing it. Even in the throes of death they are still getting it on…orgy style (OMG will it never stop?). Each new addition to the trap is probably doing it right on top of the dead beetles that were trapped there days before. Maybe the new beetles are even doing it  with the dead beetles. Maybe they’re self-aware. Well that took a dark turn. Maybe they think the entire world is ending. It’s the Japanese beetle apocalypse. There’s nothing left to lose so they might as well screw. I imagine I hear the chorus of Ultra Vox’s “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes”. SHUT UP Ultra Vox in my head.

I’ve only managed to get rid of a dozen or so beetles by knocking them off the plants into the bowl of soapy water. That might simply be that there hasn’t been as many on the plants because of the traps. I’ve had to change the bag three times in the past week.  I think I’ve trapped over two hundred beetles. Holding a bag heavy with Japanese beetles I can see little legs waving out of the drainage holes on the bottom. I wonder why they don’t climb out of the bag. I think I’m killing them with sex. It’s a sexy, sexy, death, and then, Should I shake the bag? NO! Just put the full bag in the garbage…sigh… It’s like I’m arguing with a 12-year-old psychopath but not out loud because he/she is sitting inside my head.

Do you think a time out will work or is it too late?

Songs for this post.

My U tube search for music for this post was a hilarious excursion. Did you know Tom Jones has a song called ‘Sex Bomb’? I had to look up the lyrics. Though he was singing “infrared to see me move through the night” to me it sounded like “infrared semen move through the night” (what???) . I decided to double check just in case I run across one of those obscure crossword puzzle clues. I’m not linking to the video. I’m embarrassed for him. You can look that one up yourself. I found many, many other things that were funny both to my adult self and the wayward child inside but I digress.

I thought I would include the Cole Porter classic ‘Love for Sale’ as I used the lyrics above but there were so many good versions I couldn’t choose. Some of the runners-up were the Vengaboys ‘Boom Boom Boom’, Nazareth’s ‘Love Hurts’, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get it On’ and Barry White’s ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love’ but I finally decided on the ones below.

Redbone’s ‘Come and Get Your Love’ .

Crowded House with ‘Into Temptation’.

Ultra Vox’s ‘Dancing with Tears in My Eyes’.

If you’ve never heard of the “Carry On” series you can check them out her .

Fire and Rain

There’s been a downturn on the health side for a friend of mine. He and his wife stopped by earlier today to drop off some stuff and let us in on the news. Years ago he was the victim of a virus that damaged his heart. He and his wife have never made a big deal about it but it’s always there in the background. Lately he’s been feeling a little more tired than usual and decided to find out if there was reason for additional concern…unfortunately there was. His heart is now only working at a 20% capacity (compared to the 40% it was at before). It’s time for a pacemaker. I can unequivocally swear that though this man’s heart may be physically weak it works overtime in the generosity and caring department. He’s the type of person that is always trying to figure out how he can make life better for those around him (whether they want him to or not- I say that with the greatest affection). He works in an industry where he is exposed to the lowest of the low when it comes to the awful things that people can do to each other. Although it’s made him a bit jaded he does his best not to let that drag him down. He’d give you the shirt off his back if his wife didn’t point out that other people don’t need or want used shirts with bold Hawaiian themed prints on them. My friend isn’t a small guy and he enjoys “orange chips” (Nacho Doritos), the occasional libation and bacon- lots and lots of bacon. Though his weight didn’t cause his heart problems it doesn’t take a genius to determine that his heart wouldn’t be as stressed if he weighed less. They’ve decided a paleo type diet might be the way to go. It calls for lots of small meals, lean meats, no processed food or dairy and (unfortunately for my friend) as much fruit and vegetables as he’d like. To be honest the amount of fruit and vegetables that he would like would be “zero” so they’re going to have to work on that.

It’s always hard to know what to say at times like these. Obviously it’s upsetting and the first thing you want to do is offer comfort and support. Sometimes though I’m an idiot and I either say the wrong thing or I try to say the right thing but I don’t say it the right way. Case in point…My friend is a writer. It’s not his primary occupation but he’s been published in local print papers. For as long as I’ve known him he’s been mulling over the idea of writing a book. He wants writing to be his legacy. I can understand that. My family makes jokes about how my work will be worth more after I’m dead (SO hilarious every time they make that joke-NOT). They don’t understand that one of the most important things for me, after the all-encompassing fascination of the process and how “whole” I feel when I’m painting or drawing, is that it does carry on even when I’m gone but it’s not about money. Though that would be nice for my family (don’t tell them I said that). I want my work to have a life of its own, to touch people and continue to develop in ways I can’t even imagine. In a way I’m endeavouring to leave my mark on the world. History decides what constitutes culture. I have no control over that but I still want to be part of the mix no matter the outcome.  You might wonder who I think I am; to have such a grandiose ambition. My answer would be, I am merely my own self and as such I’m free to dream my own dream…as is anyone. So what did I say when my friend told me his heart is literally breaking? I said “It’s time to write your book”.

Not the first thing out of my mouth but pretty damn close. I’m surprised it could make it out from around the foot that I was determined to wedge in there. I meant what I said in the best possible way. He wants to write a book. He is more than capable. He has just never got around to starting. To be someone who creates regularly you have to feel a sense of urgency. You have to make it a priority. I, for example, get terribly distracted by the minutia that makes up a day-to-day routine until I sometimes find all the time in the day has been used up by things that only take me further from where I want to be. You can’t let that happen if you want to produce a body of work. I repeat that to myself daily as I try to focus on becoming who/what I want to be. You have to remove the barriers that you’ve created. The first thing my friend said when I told him he should write his book was that he was concerned about the stress working on it might bring. I told him that if he would just try to write an hour a day he was not going to up his stress level (it might even reduce it as he would be doing what he’s really meant to do). So I had opened up my mouth and said this thing and of course his wife, who is also my very good friend, started to cry and then I started to cry. We ended up hugging and laughing because despite my inability to keep my mouth shut, she knows I love them both dearly. After they left I spent an hour online looking up paleo snacks that he could have at the bonfire we’re having next weekend. Apparently you can buy organic paleo hot dogs so he can have those (if I can find them locally) with no bun while everyone else has the regular ones.

I don’t think my friend is going to up and die on us just yet. There are no guarantees but even if he had a smidgen of a thought about giving in without a fight his wife would never have it. That doesn’t mean this isn’t scaring the shit out of him. He’d be a fool if it didn’t and he’s no fool. You may be familiar with the saying “Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is one hundred percent”. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned more about the latter part of that quote than I would prefer. I have had people I love leave suddenly (the unfairness of a child’s death will ever be a mystery to me). I’ve said good-bye to loved ones who suffered terribly before they left. I never did say good-bye to the one who decided he would just rather not be here. Although I accept all these as truths, there is still a part of me that can’t help but find it all utterly surreal.

Years ago I had a wonderful friend. Her name was Sue. Sue and her girlfriend were originally friends of my mother and her 4th husband.  She and her girlfriend were breaking up at the same time that I came back to live at home after leaving a horrendous relationship. I had a 3 month old baby, a crazy stalker ex-boyfriend, I was 20 years younger than her, and I had returned to live with my mother because I had nowhere else to go and I was in terrible trouble. Despite our differences we became great friends for the year I lived at my mother’s house. When I moved back out on my own our lives grew apart but we still kept in touch. Several years later Sue was diagnosed with cancer. She made it through the first treatment and then the cancer came back. She couldn’t go through it again and opted to let nature take its course. The last time I called to talk to her was on a Wednesday evening. She was lying down and didn’t want to come to the phone. She died that night. She wasn’t alone though. She’d met a woman and taken a chance on love again. Sue was a person who enjoyed everything that life had to offer. That didn’t mean she hadn’t struggled in her journey. She was gay well before there was any kind of advocacy for lesbians. She was a large woman and had faced negativity because of it. She had an 18 year long relationship with a woman who had physically and mentally abused her. That partner had come to the relationship with a child that Sue helped raise as her own until he was killed when he rode his bike out of the driveway into the road without looking. She hadn’t had it easy but she was full of joy. Sue loved children, cats and dogs, food, and talking about her big boobs, and laughing at her own farts. You may think those last two things are childish but she rocked who she was and when she laughed she made you laugh too. And then one day she wasn’t there and the world was a poorer place for it.  I had known people before who died but this was the first person I considered not just a contemporary (despite our age difference) but an actual friend. I’ve been thinking about her lately. She had this fantastically big booming laugh that made you want to be in on the joke and when she said my son’s name you could actually hear the love in her voice.

What does this have to do with my heavy-hearted friend and the foot in my mouth? What I really want for my friends is what I want for myself and for my family; for them to be fulfilled and to live life to the fullest. Ugh…that sounds terribly optimistic but it is how I feel. Truth be told, as a rule I run more along the pessimistic line. I always expect the worst. If it turns out bad, well that’s what I expected. If it turns out well, I get a happy surprise. Despite all that, I still believe in “the dream”. There are factors we can’t control like cancer or a heart virus but if you have something you really think you should be doing, do it. Now I’m not advocating abandoning your family or shooting hobos (if that last one is your dream I feel compelled to tell you that’s definitely a “no-no” and  there are better things you should be doing with your time “treatment” than reading this blog post). What I am saying is stop getting in your own way. Find a version of your dream that works for you. You want to act? Register with a talent agency or try community theater. You want to sing? There’s an audience of millions waiting for you on U tube. Are you going to make big money? Probably not but then again …you might. Is everybody going to love you? Who knows?

As far as I could tell Sue always remained true to herself, living life and facing her death on her terms and to the best of her ability.  She owned her death like she owned her life. None of it was easy but she took everything she could from it and she didn’t apologize for that. I’m not saying she didn’t have regrets. What I’m saying is she didn’t let fear hold her back…not from life or from death. That’s what I meant when I told my friend to write his book. Not “Hey you’re going to die you better get on it” (because really that could be said of us all). What I was trying to say was “Wow that’s scary but you’re going to get through it – one way or another (as a reader of this blog please feel free to substitute whatever bit of shittiness you prefer for the word “it” in this context). While you’re working your way through it why not look for a bit of happiness (immortality if you so desire) doing that thing you were born to do?” In addition to the wonderful friendship that Sue gave me during a difficult time in my life she taught me this great lesson. You’ve got to own it. It’s yours so why not? I really hope my friend writes his book.  He was thinking about it. I could tell.  In a way I guess it would be a story within a story. Whether the subplot has a happy ending is really up to him.

Music for this post

Ben Taylor’s ‘Not Alone’ as it speaks to friends, relationships and changes that come. Then there’s the Fabulous Thunderbirds with ‘Stand Back’, a song that captures the spirit of “getting it done”. Lastly for my dear friend Sue (pictured below having a chat with my son when he was a baby) because this post is not only about how much I miss her but how she continues to be a presence in my life so many years after she left, James Taylor’s ‘Fire and Rain’.

Chatting with Sue

Visiting With The Dead

     Death is one of the great mysteries. It’s surrounded by theology, theory, speculation and emotion. There are deaths that are thought to be a blessing, a release from a life full of sorrow and pain. There are deaths that mark the end of lives cut short through brutality, chance or mistake in such a way that none can deny the tragedy. There are deaths that are the natural destination of the journey reached at last. Death is the universal leveler. It shows no favouritism or mercy for that matter. Young or old, rich or poor, we are all equal in the eyes of Atropos as she cuts the thread of each life.

     For centuries the living have memorialized those passed on through monuments, rites and celebrations. To that end tombstones, national holidays, scholarships, bursaries, schools and streets, bridges and hospitals all carry the names of those who have made their mark on this world, large or small. Stories are told, books are written and names are passed down from generation to generation. General philosophy holds that this phenomenon is for the dead but it is in fact performed by and for the living.

         Almost everyday the dead come and we visit. I don’t mean the ghosts that live here…they never leave. My guests come with the arrival of the daily paper. Sometimes their entire lives are laid out for me to see and those are usually the ones who are the most welcome.

     The obituary section of the paper is divided into two parts. The first is a small box that lists the basic details of name, age and date of passing. The second part lists the full entry, complete with most of the details pertaining to the passing and if one is lucky the story of the life lived before. Please don’t think I’m a morbid person. I don’t read the obituaries because I take joy in the misery of mankind. A passing of any kind holds tragedy and the death of any child in particular can bring me to tears. That being said, a full life memorialized in an obituary is like a good book thoroughly enjoyed. One is sad to see the end of it but thankful that someone took the time to lovingly craft the contents and then share them with the world.

     The obituary of a life well lived and beautifully eulogized is a testimony not only to the dearly departed but to those he or she has left behind. Although it records the death, it reaffirms the life and vision of the protagonist. The names listed, family and friends now left behind or sometimes gone ahead gives evidence to the world of the love both given and received. The mention of hobbies, travels, accomplishments or associations tells a tale of time not just spent but wrung dry of everything it could offer. It may seem odd to seek light where dark is thought to reign but an obituary can be one of the best illustrations of life affirmation to be found. It is the lives of the departed that these notices celebrate, not their deaths. It is proof concrete that despite sorrow and loss someone remembers. It is through those memories that a life, though ended, will continue on as a foundation for those who follow. 

     One of my favourite obituaries was published last year. It wasn’t very long but it didn’t need to be. The usual information was included but at the end, in lieu of flowers, mourners were asked to add to a garden or send some to a friend. There was a picture included of the deceased. His head was thrown back as his image was caught in mid laughter while he held the hand of a beautiful smiling woman. Although William, or Bill as he was referred to in the notice, was a stranger to me that one shining moment spoke to my heart in a beautiful tribute. In that captured image there were no questions, no mysteries, no tears.

     I’m not without reservations; I know that all lives hold some part of those things as well as tedium, insecurity and sorrows. But the course of a life is not defined by the bumps along the way but by the path we open up as we move through the wilderness. I think that Bill’s path was mossy, cobbled and garden lined, full of bird song and a sun so bright the occasional cloud could never linger long. That image, chosen by his children, represents what he engendered and left behind as his legacy. He left love, laughter, flowers and healing. What more can you ask of a man or his life?

 When I can, I visit with the dead. It helps to remind me what living should be about.

Trouble in the garden

Last week’s full moon marked the passing of the summer solstice. The longest day of the year raced by unremarked among the long stretch of humid afternoons. Here in the northern hemisphere the days will slowly shorten as the earth recedes from the sun weary from a feverish embrace so eagerly pursued just days before. The heat of that embrace will linger, fading every day until the whip of winter’s northern winds chase away the last ember.
Those days are still to come and as yet we bask in the afterglow of that fiery  kiss. Where there are no trees to shelter, the caress of the sun lays dormant the grasses leaving fragile fringes to crisp and crunch under foot. Even the weeds are cowed by the glory of that furnace and cringe with heads bowed to hide from the light. Flowers blooming in the morning dew are crushed beneath the wheels of Apollo’s great chariot as it soars through the azure expanse above.
Beneath the wooden eaves of the garage the hollyhocks and gladiolus grow. The nest opening tucked beneath those eaves has been a busy portal all of June and July with bumblebees carrying on the business of the garden. The workers spend the days among the flora harvesting pollen. They return to the nest only when their pollen sacs are so full they appear to be clad in bright yellow pantaloons.
This day though, there are no bumblebees in sight. Something new marks the entrance of the nest. How it got there, I don’t even want to speculate. It is macabre in its appearance and possible purpose. It is apparent, as the earth lays spent, weary and languid beneath the insistent weight of the sun that something is not right.

Petry

The floor of the foyer is a warm maple, the wallpaper a soft cream that matches the newel post of the sage stained stairs that lead to the second floor hallway. The rainfall of carpet that covers the stairs mutes your steps as you climb to the second story. The hallway is lined with cream coloured doors accented by black iron square locks and knobs. Several of the doors have brass knockers too small to really be of any use but picturesque nonetheless. There is a door two thirds of the way down the hallway that divides the front and the back of the house. Behind that door is a small bedroom, a white and black hex tiled bathroom and another set of stairs that lead to the kitchen below.

At one time the bedroom might have been home to the household help but today it is the private fortress of my long suffering stepdaughter. An occasional resident, when here, she spends most of her days in the role of Janet Leigh of Psycho fame as her brother and stepbrother take great delight in trying to scare her half to death. Some of their more intricate escapades have included fake figures made out of pillows under blankets, plastic swords, remote control helicopters and double attacks from inside and outside of the room simultaneously.

Janet Leigh, as we’ll continue to call her, does not sleep alone in her room. Her space is also occupied by a grey and orange zebra finch called Petry. Of all the things in that room that one might find frightening, Petry gives me the most cause for concern. Petry seems quite content in his solitude and is living far beyond the time predicted by the pet store experts. Oddly, he is vocal only when alone. On the occasion of another presence in the room he is still and eerily quiet.

Petry has not always been a lone bird. When he first came to live with us he had a companion that shared his cage. This is a common practice as zebra finches are said to be communal birds and will live longer when paired with a companion. There was trouble right from the start. Petria was white with the very smallest brush of grey across her wings and the same bright orange beak as Petry. That is where the similarities ended. The two couldn’t be more different in temperament. Petria was loud and aggressive where Petry was quiet and meek.  At first it was just small squabbles between the two. Nothing too serious, some wing flapping and twittering. Night would find the two finches huddled together asleep. Time passed and we began to notice that Petry was beginning to look a bit ragged. The squabbles began to turn into fights and Petry seemed to be on the losing end as bald patches could be seen growing on the back of his head.

The pet store advised us that the best course of action would be to divide the birds for several days and then slowly reintroduce them to each other. It seemed to work. The two birds sat side by side in separate cages for several days. We moved the cages closer to each other until they touched. Finally we open the doors between the two cages and the birds were together again. Peace, so we thought, had been restored.

Zebra finches are rarely silent and greet the day with great volume at a great volume. An eerie silence greeted me the next morning as I approached the birdcage. Petry sat huddled up on the wooden perch. He was in the grip of some strong emotion, shaking with the intensity of it. I thought at the time that he seemed terrified.  A bright white patch that had somehow appeared over night now marred his once smooth grey head. It was so quiet in the room. Where was Petria? I stepped closer to the cage and then I saw her. Birds have a very quick metabolism and illness has been known to overtake them in a matter of days but last night she had been fine. There was not a mark on her, no indication of any reason she should be lying so still on the bottom of the cage.

I looked at Petry and I swear he looked right back at me. His body was shaking but his gaze was steady. I opened the door of the cage and carefully lifted Petria’s body out. Normally a hand in the cage would cause Petry to flutter about energetically, that morning he didn’t even move.

I gave Petria the burial that all birds get in the winter. The garbage man never even knew she was in the bag. I checked on Petry after I was done and he seemed fine, perky even. The pet store didn’t expect him to last much longer given the loss of his companion but obviously he’s still here and frankly he has lived an abnormally long time.

I can hear Petry singing as I come up the back stairs. Silence falls as I enter the room. It’s always this way now, ever since that day. Sometimes when I’m moving through the room I feel him watching me, his eyes black and bright under that strange white patch. I’m not sure if it’s his longevity or that silent speculative look that makes me reconsider but I have a growing conviction that I was mistaken so many years ago. You see lately I’ve begun to think that maybe it wasn’t fear that whitened Petry’s head and shook him to his core. Maybe, just maybe, it was a murderous rage. You probably think that seems silly. I know it sounds strange but something in that heavy silence, present since Petria’s death, speaks to me… Something in those eyes makes me think that Petry’s not afraid of anything anymore. You know, Hitchcock might have been onto something. Maybe I should stop calling my stepdaughter Janet Leigh. The weighty silence in her room makes me think that I should change that to Tippi Hedren instead. 

Somewhere on the Horizon

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

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

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

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

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

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