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 

 

 

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November’s Embrace

*A brief note of explanation to avoid confusion – This passage was written in mid December. Life being what it is (busy/unpredictable) I wasn’t able to post it until now. 

It’s night and the house shudders in the wind. Today’s snow has turned to sleet. Freezing rain is a burst of pellet spray against the windows. Something heavy thuds down outside. There’s a hum before the furnace kicks in with a comforting rumble but cold air still finds a way to creep in through the lath and plaster walls. For the first time this year I hear a plow pass by out on the highway. I miss November.

Normally by this time I’ve seen enough snow to last me the season. This year there’s barely been a dusting (until today). December’s brought a lot of rain mostly. It was a brief reprieve before the inevitability of a Canadian winter. The gravel drag of the plow blade as it meets pavement can’t be denied. I am nostalgic for November.

I don’t remember such a November. Maybe it seems singular in that every warm beautiful day stood in startling contrast to the rain and sleet and snow of Novembers past.  Along the lakeshore the wind that ushers in the end of autumn is stinging, bitter with the winter to come. The wind that came this November was silken and warm. It was still strong but smelled of clean earth and sunshine instead of the damp and rot of a dying season. What should have been skies of pale tones of cornflower or dead slate gray were draped in summer shades of magnesium blue. The light was such that the early sunsets of short autumn days came as a surprise. Rather than frost-bitten brown, the fields and lawns wore green velvet expanses of fallow, moss, grass, and winter wheat.

The night sky was the most remarkable thing. On clear nights, a low ceiling of stars blazed over head so bright I swear you’d think twice before reaching out your hand for fear it could burn in that cold fire.  The moon, in part, and in whole, was like no other moon. Early in the evening it rose as a titan figure gigantic on the horizon. Often crowned in a halo, at its zenith the light of even a sliver was bright enough to give pause. One night in particular, at its rising, the moon was a Cheshire grin of golden caramel scooped out of black velvet skin. By midnight the crescent above was hard white, so brilliant that the moon was outlined in a diamond silhouette. That night I dreamt I lay sleeping within a curved arm of golden skin sheened in silver light. I sheltered in that languid embrace until the break of day. When I awoke I swore a scent lingered in the linen, the crisp smell of fallen leaves and something else indefinable.

 

The wind is howling now.

It’s so cold and dark.

I miss November.

The Black House

It’s very late. Or very early depending on how you look at it. There’s a smell – dry, copper and electric scorch. It’s so strong that I get up to fumble along in the darkness looking for a source. The smell is everywhere and nowhere so I go back to bed. I lay under the sheet with one leg out trying to find the best position for comfort in the heat. It’s going to rain late tomorrow but it’s not tomorrow yet. In the dark, with my head pointing west and my feet pointing east (well to be completely clear my one foot is pointing north-east) I close my eyes and think about the black house.

The black house rests road side near a curve on Pioneer Line. Pioneer Line runs west to east, or east to west, relative to your starting point and destination. The black house was built on the Dutton end of the curve. It’s a double curve and if you were generous you could call it an S curve but it’s so stretched out it barely qualifies as any kind of letter. Spanning the townships of Dutton/Dunwich and West Elgin, Pioneer Line travels through the villages of Dutton, and West Lorne, and touches the edge of Rodney. The section between Dutton and West Lorne runs parallel to the 401 corridor and in the distance you can see cars and transport trucks on the highway, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. They say that Pioneer Line, or a portion of it, used to be called Starvation Road. The story goes that the soil wasn’t any good (too much clay or too wet- it’s not clear) and you can’t feed a family on land that won’t yield. I don’t know if it’s a true story.

I’m not sure how old the black house is. It’s small so it can’t be very new. People don’t build that kind of small any more. It hasn’t been black for very long though. Before it was black it was clapboard white; faded, peeling, and abandoned, in a lot that was mowed just enough to keep the weeds down. Someone bought it in the spring and began to fix it up but didn’t finish. Before the work stopped the siding was removed exposing the black tar paper underneath.

New houses, old houses, derelict houses, barely there foundations that mark where farmhouses once stood, call Pioneer Line home. They are in the process of being, or becoming something, or un-becoming something-but not the black house. Stuck between being something old(er) and maybe something new, it’s in limbo. Curtain-less windows expose the studs of gutted walls. One window on the second floor is gone leaving the upstairs open to the elements. As I lay in bed I wonder if the air in the black house smells scorched like the air in my house. I wonder if bats or birds come and go through the open window. Do they fill the upstairs bedroom with fluttering wings and shrill cries or is it silent like my room? I wonder if anyone else thinks about the black house, perhaps someone who used to live there. How would it feel to see the black house and remember when you looked out of the windows to see the world passing by instead of peering in through the windows to find only emptiness where you once stood?

When dawn comes I know I’ll see the branches of the cedar tree outside my bedroom window turn warm with that break of day. The light will steal past the lace curtain and wake the cat asleep at the end of my bed. He’ll stir and stretch, sending up a small scatter of dust. The motes will float a lazy dance in the early morning glow. I know daylight will be easing into the black house too, spilling through the grime covered glass, inching across the bare floors, and expanding into the empty rooms.

I draw in a breath of warm air and think about later today when I’ll shut my blinds to keep out the afternoon swelter. There are no blinds to close in the black house. With the August sun overhead the air inside will be harsh and heavy; so hot if you aren’t careful you’ll choke on it. All around the house there’ll be the smell of corn, sweet and cloying, in the afternoon haze. In the distance the heat shimmer on Pioneer Line will look like water on the road. The background hum of the traffic on the 401 will, as ever, be constant and as it is August there’ll be the rising scream of the cicadas’ chorus.

I check the clock and see that it’s even later…or earlier. As I said it all depends on your point of view. I flip my pillow over to the cool side and drift off into sleep thinking about the trucks passing by, day in and day out, and about the black house small against the sky, baking in the sun, just before (if you’re coming) or after (if you’re going) the curve on Pioneer Line.

 

Music for this post is The Devlins Waiting

 

By the curve

 

Between here and there

 

Waiting

Socks and Puddles

I have water in my basement. I don’t mean a sink with a tap (though I have that down there as well). I mean I have water leaking into my basement which led to someone asking me why there was a sock in my toilet. At first glance the “toilet sock” and a leaky basement wouldn’t seem connected but there are. Normally I can attribute things out of place to Lola. Out of my 2 cats she’s the one who likes to carry things around. Once I saw her walk by with a ring box clenched in her mouth. I’m not sure where she was going with it but I made sure she didn’t get there. She is fond of the toilet in a butt in the air head below the rim sort of way but to my knowledge she hasn’t been storing stuff in there.

I most likely dropped the sock in the toilet while I was sorting laundry in the bathroom. My washer is in the basement so I’ve been sorting laundry upstairs because of the puddles downstairs. Thank goodness someone saw the sock before using the toilet. I’m pretty sure it would have created a clog if flushed down. I would prefer to have zero puddles inside so the prospect of an overflowing toilet on top of the already wet basement was very unattractive.

My house was built in 1910 so it wouldn’t have been constructed with a full basement. Here’s a picture of my house (probably taken 1940 to 1950-ish).

Our house back in the day

Back in the day, with no electricity or plumbing, a basement wasn’t important because you didn’t need to make sure you had a warm space to protect your infrastructure from the elements. My basement shows clear signs that it was a work in progress for a number of years with a hodgepodge of older and newer bits formed from different materials. There’s a room in my basement that’s not completely dug out and we do our best to pretend it doesn’t exist because it’s kind of creepy.

So where is the water coming from? Well something called hydrostatic pressure is pushing ground water from the spring thaw up through any little crack it can find in the foundation. We have a sump pump pit but it can only do so much. It wasn’t a problem when we first moved in but when the municipality updated the drains along the road, the change in the elevation of the shoulder resulted in increased snow and rain run off onto our property. I’m sure it didn’t help that we went awhile without cleaning out our eaves. Last summer we had the roof re-shingled and the roofers took care of that for us. It was quite timely as there was a sapling growing up there that needed to come out before it got much larger.

Daily vacuuming helps to keep the water under control but it gets a bit disheartening to have to jump puddles in your basement. To add insult to injury my dryer broke down last week. The basement is too wet to have a repair tech come and fix the dryer right now. I do have a clothes line outside but it’s April and April means spring showers which makes hanging clothes out to dry an iffy proposition. Alas my laundry is beset both inside and out by the forces of nature. Hopefully everything will dry out soon. Eventually I’ll have to take care of the basement puddle problem permanently as a leaky foundation can lead to a whole host of other serious problems. It’ll be expensive …what house repair isn’t? But it would be even more expensive just to leave it. In the mean time I’ll do my best to keep my feet dry and my socks out of the toilet.

Music for this post;

Al Jolson – April Showers
MC Tracky-Dactyl – Laundryman

Four Footed Friends

I popped downstairs last night to grab another cup of tea and when I came back to my work space I found I had a visitor. Our outdoor cat, Captain Charlie Awesome, had come to check out my new work space.

Charlie takes a seat
Charlie takes a seat

Our home is divided into distinct pet friendly zones which limits the access of our 2 yellow labs to the main floor of the house. The one and only time one of them made it upstairs was in the puppy years. An empty house and an unlocked crate allowed for what must have been a glorious stretch of hours in which newspapers and toilet paper were spread from one end of the house to another and several “special gifts” were left on each and every bed as well as on the floor beside the bed in the master bedroom. Without a doubt it was my fault. That isn’t the reason though that we confine the dogs to the main floor. It has more to do with providing a space for our cats free of friendly but extremely slobbery canine attention when desired or required. The cats also rule the basement as we try to limit our dogs’ intake of kitty litter crunchies. The main floor is where we spend most of our time so it doesn’t weigh too heavily on the boys.

Our dogs are brothers from the same litter. The larger, John A. Macdonald, better known as Mac, dominates by size but his stockier brother Lester B. (short for Lester B. Pearson) gets by just fine on cunning and charm. I’m an advocate of pets for life. You take them-you keep them so I wouldn’t change anything now. That being said if I knew then what I know now I would have thought twice about taking in two puppies at once. Admittedly it’s twice the cuteness, sweetness and love but it’s also twice the mayhem, murder and mess. Maybe you’re the next Caesar Milan and that sort of situation doesn’t faze you but if someone asked me I’d say from our experience that two dogs are great but train one and then get another. Cats of course are a different matter…they are basically who they’re going to be right from the beginning. The newest member of our furry pack (Princess) Lola Mae (Piwacket) likes to play fetch with her ball and sits in one of the dogs’ crates when they eat their dinner so she can have a little snack too. She’s our first stab at an indoor cat and despite coming from a farm she’s taken to the house quite well with the exception of when her dog brothers head out to play without her. She cries, LOUDLY, the entire time they’re gone. Our outdoor cat, Charlie, is usually a bit of a lone wolf but he has his moments.

Why do we have an indoor cat and an outdoor cat?  We have an outdoor cat because we live in a rural area and he works to keep the rodent and rabbit population down in our yard. Several years ago someone decided to let domestic rabbits loose in our hamlet. They of course breed prodigiously (like rabbits, ha-ha, except it’s not really funny). They are quite destructive to lawns and gardens and they attract larger predators like coyotes. Technically Lola Mae was to have the same job as Charlie but she’s ridiculously cute and an absolute torment to Charlie so we have decided to keep her in the house for the time being.

So as I said, last night Charlie was in my new work space checking things out. It is just as new for the pets as it is for me. My space on the main floor was connected to the house by a door off the dining room that used to be an exterior door. Visits from the dogs weren’t unusual. Though quite different in personality both Lester B and Mac would employ the same technique. One or both would lie outside the door and wait for me to acknowledge their existence. If that didn’t happen in a timely fashion, there would be a heartfelt sigh, and then another, and then another if the desired invitation to visit wasn’t extended. Once inside the enclosed porch a dog that placed a head on my lap could expect a proper scratching with maybe a belly rub to follow. Unfortunately sibling rivalry often surfaced  requiring banishment for both- you just can’t have  that kind of shoving in a small space and my lap is not big enough for 65 plus 75 pounds of dog respectively. Cats don’t require any kind of invitation to drop in. The distraction they provide is purely of their nature. There are attempts to drink the water used to clean paint brushes or half-finished cups of cold tea, games of bat the pencil or a head-butt while you’re trying to draw just to name a few. And of course there’s the hair…not the greatest mix with applied finishes.

Now I’m on the second floor and there won’t be any visits from Lester B or Mac and probably not too many from Lola Mae who thinks she’s one of the dogs. It is winter now so Charlie is in the house more but come summer I’ll probably be seeing less of him as well.  I suppose I’ll get more work done with fewer distractions and not having to check every surface I’m varnishing before and after for cat or dog hair. That being said I always feel like a space is a little more alive with a friendly furry presence about.

Last night’s play list standout in honour of Charlie’s visit is Ry Cooder’s entire CD “My Name is Buddy” which Wikipedia lists as a social political concept album. You can look at it as political piece or just enjoy the music about the travels of Buddy the cat and his friends.  

Tonight I have Blackie and The Rodeo Kings playing in the background…Stoned and a cover of Folsom Prison Blues are the standouts there for me.

Lola Mae, Mac and Lester B.
Lola Mae, Mac and Lester B.

Here Among the Scotch

The day dawns clear with a bright sun in a cloudless sky. There is a light breeze skipping among the garden blooms and the humidity of the past week is history. To some it might seem the perfect day for a picnic but, for myself, it seems the perfect day to hang the wash out on the line. 

As I live here, among “the Scotch” (to quote John Kenneth Galbraith), there is no guarantee that the skies will stay clear so one must make hay while the sun shines. A common saying in this part of the country states that if you don’t like the weather…wait 5 minutes. During the past several rainy days the laundry pile has been multiplying in girth exponentially on the basement floor so I decide to take the chance.

A perfect laundry day as I have said; the sun is warm and the breeze is steady but not strong. There’s nothing worse than a wind that sends you 2 concessions over looking for your potholders. Today even the towels are dry in an hour. All is well and fine, until I get to the white load. Herein lies my weakness, my hypocrisy. Today the white load is my Waterloo.

I’ve never had the least bit of trouble hanging out my “tidy whities” (at least not the romantic ones) but the husband is consumed by the thought that the neighbours must have an all-consuming interest in his delicates. He insists that his unmentionables must be hung in the basement away from the mysterious league of underwear inspectors that wander the rural backyards seeking out the jockey shorts of the local men. It is a subject that I’ve never failed to exploit for some small bit of humour at his expense placing an emphasis on the fact that no one is interested in our laundry. Imagine my chagrin when my laundry hang up came to light.

I take some pride in my whites and I am constantly carping at the prodigal son to stop walking around outside in his white socks with no shoes on. Of course a brick wall responds with more interest than the prodigal son. Frustrated, I finally tell him that I am ashamed to hang his socks out on the line lest the neighbours see my whites aren’t the whitest and judge my merit as a woman /domestic goddess/ member of the human race … Oops, I should never had said that in front of the husband.

One underwear joke too many apparently makes one a little touchy on the subject of neighbourly laundry inspections. I’m not quite sure when I will hear the end of it and I “guess” I deserve it (but it was fun while it lasted).

Here among “the Scotch” my laundry hangs on the line sans jockey shorts and the prodigal son’s not so white socks even though I know the neighbours aren’t interested in either. Personally, I think the less said about the secret league of laundry inspectors the better. Your personal hang-ups are just that…personal and people should respect them.

I think I’ll buy some 20 Mule Borax tomorrow…just in case.