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 

 

 

Our path emerges for a while, then closes…

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

Chair from an abandoned squat camp on a Lake Erie shoreline cliff
Chair from an abandoned squat camp on a Lake Erie shoreline cliff

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.

 

Muslin Ribbon

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.

Precipice

     The winter dried grass, a golden expanse soft like the velvet fuzz in the warm nape of a baby’s neck, slides down to meet the sharp stubble of the cornstalk graveyard. Winding off in the distance the furrows are crowded in a jumble of waves. Distinct and stiff the guerrillas’ pit is laid flat, open to the air. The stabbing swords are sometimes bare under the mercurial sky or hide in the dark moonless nights waiting only to break the skin.

     The gate way to the fields is guarded by the weighted bows of sentries. Old generals’ vanities dangle from camouflaged limbs only to be cast aside to lie forgotten on the needle covered parapet. Lateral roots in the shallow bed wind through the acrid soil. The questing tendrils, cinnamon grey scabby fingers that poke out here and there, break the surface like the backs of whales as they gasp before sinking below the surface again. The morning sun strikes the three quarter profile running from pate to sole and sinks warm to the roots. The profile strains in a light flush from labouring up distant cliffs. Languorous, first arms and then legs, light and clear, crystal dew misted, wrap round to caresses the sap crusted bores.

     In the daylight, overcast or bright, the trees mark the way to the world beyond and the preternatural quiet is not as noticeable. The empty thump of the root riddled ground, the hollow echo of an underground warren, is not so solemn, not so full. The trees are graceful, heavy and benevolent in the light of day. Back behind that green needled barrier the orchard spreads out and the acres of field behind seem just that and nothing more. Hemlock and nightshade are speckled in bright reds and blossoms of purple and gold, just that and nothing more.

     In the dark of night, in the bright light of a blue moon (the moon light is always blue even when the moon is golden and full of the secret harvest) the evergreens are suddenly unknown and dark. The safety of the house floodlight reaches back as far as the trees where it is set upon and divided into long streamers. They falter and the warm comfort of home fades behind. The moonlight and the darkness paint the rises and the falls. The shadows should be black and empty but they’re not. They are full.      

     In the dark the nightshade glows and creeps. The hemlock is blacker than black. The line of the orchard caught frozen in a fleeing strand, shows surprised, a figure watching from the edge. A dun coat…a deer…no an upright figure…silent there and then lost as the dark tide rises again.

     The passage from the controlled confines of the garden across the border to the place beyond is marked by the knell. The taproot and laterals have eaten away the foundations. Giants hang from perches, their limbs dangling in the sky anchored by macramé weavings. The pale strings vibrate to the tap of a step, booming loud through the delicate tatting that decorates the skin and the caves beneath. Stepping across the ridge, the alarm sounds, alerting the earth and whatever dwells beneath that someone walks there …in the dark or under a moon…sometimes hidden, sometimes bare, under the stars cloaked or jewel bright.

     The small grave yard is marked by flats of slate. Old roofing tiles mark the slumber of the ones we brought to this place, the one who trusted us, that are with us no more. I did find a bullet casing in the garden buried a foot or so down but that was closer to the house; a most curious place for something like that. We buried them and in doing so carry some of the responsibility for the hand dealt. The scratching of claws on bark and the soft trill of a night bird join the rising wind. One would think that the darkest nights are the direst but that is not so. It is the moonlit nights that are the most laden, dripping with purpose and superstition.

     In the blue light, the landscape is altered. The pines loom over head, a hundred feet high or more, blocking off the house. The flood light seems weaker under the full face of the pearl. The three graves are aligned but not even. Hemlock and nightshade creep and glow. Standing on that swell of velvet gold, the ocean of jagged knives is thrown into sharp relief and spread out in choppy furrows that lap on the shores of the orchard tree line. Perspective demands a precipice where reason says there isn’t. I could turn back and pass through the trees, past the graves while my steps sing a betrayal to the hollow ground below. I could step off the ledge into that bayoneted ocean and swim out to the distant tree line and whatever waits in the blackened raspberry caned corridors beyond.

I could.

Sleeping

I’ve slept through my days. For years I’ve lived in a trance. Waiting. Through years and seasons, bright days or dark, I’ve waited to wake from a twilight slumber. Waiting without answer. Drowning in daily minutia. A Rip Van Winkle I look around with sleep gummed eyes to find my world is gone. I’m not sure if I’ve lost all my time or time lost me.