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Leaning on a tree by the green stage, shoulder to shoulder with other music nerds, rockin’ their best summer look. Funking out with Seu Jorge, hash joint and a cup from the beer boy for lunch. Sun shining, and watching a long strand of some guy’s lover’s hair float like an antenna above his head, fleur de lis stitched on his jeans back pocket… The woman who checked my boy-headed backpack was able to tell me the writing on my bag was Japanese… Lobster sandwiches and crepes and poutine… the musical sounds of now, three choices deep… Sunsets on Montreal skyline, - Mount Royale, Hydro-Quebec & CBC buildings all nest above a double stage… OSHEAGA 2010
FLYING “J” All You Can Eat Family Buffet at the Napanee truck stop… iceberg lettuce, pickled beets, hardboiled eggs, cottage cheese, green peppers, pickled jalapeno peppers, potato salad, mashed potatoes, cubed home-fried potatoes, thin sliced fried potatoes, mysteriously too - white mashed potatoes au gratin, (perhaps yesterday’s scalloped as mash ?), elbow macaroni & cheese, macaroni & crushed tomatoes, macaroni & chili, macaroni salad, thawed frozen spinach, ham slices with pineapple tidbits, chicken in hot sauce, corn niblets, gravy, stove-top stuffing, a dessert bar with cake & pudding, but no ice cream or sprinkles….. A study in white trash quantity beting down quality.
Sitting on my front porch, looking up at the small bowl of flowers that sit on the sill of Irish John’s room. Of course, Irish John lives higher than the second floor now… Two winters ago… police on our street… whispers of a death… but no name attached. Irish John had died in his room, only to be found days later. Word spread to the local bar Irish John lived at… Deep the next night… someone saw a man sitting on our roof… gazing toward Irish John’s window… we heard nothing…. Now a small bowl of flowers marks what once was Irish John’s tomb.
Neighbours…. Russian spills from the green house, as next door, Senora blithely speaks Portuguese to all. The nanny quit abruptly at 69, and the tow-truck driver’s wife had a party at 71 last night, (streamers still adorn her door - she stood on her stoop smoking - curlers in her hair.) The painted lady lives upstairs at 73, silently coming & going, keeping to herself… Could Richie’s Mother be the last Polish- speaker left on the street? This spring’s bumper crop of raccoons - a single mom with 4 kits - has dwindled to a big and little brother - the others evicted.
Summer break - a week of weekends… the art gallery, a free concert, a day at the park, going out for pizza, friends over for a BBQ, escaping the heat through a movie, renting more movies, hunting for a new family member in the dog room at the humane society, chasing chickens at Riverdale Farm, a family outing with grandpa and cousins and aunts and uncles to St. Jacob’s farmer’s market, to collect delicious things for our picnic today. Now we grab a map, and pin point a destination for today… hoping to swim, eat, and make family memories that will last.
H2O… Precipatory pulsations pound pavement… Wind pulls sway like an invisible magnetic force… trees become a symphony under it’s conduction… a leafy orchestra ebbs & flows as the wind strengthens & calms… the percussion section varies as drops hit hard surfaces or vegetation… small rivers of accumulation trickle towards grates, adding their voice to the opus… those first few sentry drops, individual arias, herald the crescendo that may follow… steady streams that fall from higher up chime in as sopranos… an ancient musical arena, with players as old as eternity, and each song as unique as a snowflake …. Stormy symphony.
The Group of 7 found inspiration not only in the grandeur & spectacle of the forests & mountains & lakes of Canada, but in simpler stands of natural beautyfound closer to home…The Tangled Garden, by J.E.H. MacDonald shows a scene of domesticated flora that’s thrown off the shackles of imposed rules and orderly rows - and grown free…. Sunflowers mingle with the hollyhocks - tall & casual… black-eyed susans & daisies mirror each other’s shapes, yet relish their differences… amaranth droop down while zinnias pop out… an organic tapestry woven by the subjects themselves… a unified colony… a tangled masterpiece.
What drives critics? Painters strive to paint, actors to perform, writers to relate, - But what do critics strive to do? Better other’s attempts with their own constructive criticism? Or really is it about bettering themselves by belittling others? Do they fel they must warn the public, lest it happen upon bad art somewhere? Like a public service? Or do they feel they were born to be a measuring stick, subjectively accounting for how good or bad something is? Is it a power trip, unleashing endorphans like a drug? Or are they simply blowhards who can’t keep their opinions to themselves?
Can you ever really go back? Places that held magical sway over your heart diminish through age. Sometimes normalcy dulls your immediate experience and only upon reflection does the essence of your past transformation begin to shine like a jewel… But can you go back and hold that jewel again? Or does your precious diamond turn back into coal? They say that your childhood home seems smaller upon your adult return… But have you completely grown out of who you were back then? Can a return connect your dots backwards to your original self? Does it give you more depth?
Sneaky Park… At the end of Sneaky Alley sits a small park… previously the domain of winos & teenagers… reclaimed by young families & re-built. Where once hooligans burnt down the plastic slide, a new climbing structure sits. Two young pine trees whose tops were hacked off by someone looking for a xmas tree have re-grown - their scars hidden by a fuller crown. Gravel that hid broken glass has been replaced. Gentlemen of ill repute still linger, but are now outnumbered by families, hipsters, dog people, …. Witness to it all, the giant linden tree, majestically overlooking all the sneakies.
Broken Family… Limping alomg through puddles of parental conflict, drenched in uncertainty and guilt, standing firmly in the boots of responsibility, hating your life but resigned to your lot, children act up or worse yet shut down, innocence lost, compelled to hurt those you love, stuck together in financial necessity, bound by obligations to rear kids until they can cope, new ways found to share a roof, fights & spite, vitriolic revenge for crimes of the heart, disintegrating bonds, brakes screech as the end of the road appears…. Love lost yet firmly attached like a dying Siamese twin… Ripped nest.
PUBLIC SPACE… Free for all tug of war. What’s mine is yours is ours…. often inelegantly. The sharing of common resources can work wonderfully… or can cause territorial instincts to bare teeth. Crown Land … seems to give license to steal a little back for ourselves… Common Ground … leads to a meeting point we can all agree on… Public Holdings … make us expect that it would be better kept by the authorities… Conservation Areas … remind us to share with other species. After all, stuck to this big silly ball… our mental connections as much a public realm as our physical manifestations.
Friday the 13th… Following bikers along the highway as they congregate in Port Dover… Memories rev up… Holding onto the back of my Dad on the back of his Kawasaki 400 on the back roads of Massey - a family moment. Discovering unknown lakes & fields & tractor roads in high school, sitting behind my farm boy on his dirt bike - freed to explore our rural neighbourhood on the next level… Gracing the bitch pad of the Harley Fat Boy in my purple fringed leather jacket , submerged in biker culture in the Black Hills of South Dakota - Sturgis - the crowning glory of motorcycle flirtations… Baffled Vibrations.
Waves… Lake Erie works persistently at building a long thin sand castle… pushing, persuading, shoving, blowing, crashing… bullying billions of tiny particles of silicon back into the spit it demands… smooth green surface grows in amplitude, forcing itself up & up… no longer able to contain it’s glossy surface sheen, it explodes into frothy elation… white hysterical laughter tickling it’s way up onto shore…a zen master’s painting of an oceanic moment…seagulls wade in and applaud the epic show… millions of footprints reset… tabula rasa… game over & start again… A Great Lake confessional here to forgive our sins.
He rises late for a farmer, yet accomplishes so much. Original organic homestead, remade to better fit the planet & people… reclaimed lakes, re-newed pastures, protected creek, ancient seeds brought back to grow a plethora of bounty once more… An intimate knowledge of the land and it’s history - geologically, anthropologically, biologically… The land now speaks to him, his heart & soul so entwined with this place he hears it’s thoughts… Small marks left by others lead him to know more history - discovering old growth forests, discovering old lakes, expanding a unique biosphere’s legal protection… Our guide to the food chain.
Tiny tracks through the sand… an uninterrupted line with pock marks on either side in close intervals… like a sewn-up scar… or an embroidery stitch. Follow it back to the dunes, and up into the grasses… to it’s source, the spot chosen by a female snapping turtle to lay her eggs… One by one, tiny turtles with fierce long tails and sturdy shells would begin their journey… their virgin trek to the lake… small human stewards stand guard for them, shepherding them across roads and away from birds to the sanctuary of the wetlands. Their tiny trails a testament to their brand new spirit.
HER… She seems to always be there… that girl… the one that gets under your skin, by getting too close to your lover’s skin. It doesn’t matter her name, - she relishes in the power she gets from turning a head whose heart belongs to another. I guess it’s an ego boost, a sword to wield, almost like a twisted, sex appeal workout. Who gets hurt doesn’t seem to matter to them, - it’s thievery… I broke things off with an Irish bloke when I found out he was married: “I can’t do that to the sisterhood” I said…. Narcissistic Lilies.
A quarter century on… The next generation well underway… reconnect. All those years ago… still matter. The first boy I ever kissed, The first girl I ever kissed… The couple from grade 10, - still together , 3 kids later… The actress, the forgotten, The even-keeled one who would play host, The Party-Hardy turned boilermaker… The nurse who stayed in the north,… And me. The pride of offspring having their own party… A meal shared, with heart… Venison hunted on his land, garlic grown himself, Purple potato salad from the obsessive, Death By Chocolate and Sex in a Pan,… A personally historic gathering.
Ursa Familiar… Parallel existence… the bear caught in a barrel trap after it knocked my Dad’s bee hives over again - only to return (recognizable by it’s scar from biting the cage)… The bear that broke into our house that spring, smelling my wonton soup all day - ripping a screen to get n that night…. Standing inches away from the hibernating bear in it’s den one March, - watching it huff & toss… The cubs stranded roadside, mother shot, - discovered by my school bus… And now, the bear we chase from our campsite with impunity… I know you, - and I win again.
Yellow at Bon Echo… Two girls, not yet teens, in yellow shirts out in their yellow canoe… Paddling around the bay, learning to turn and beat wind, in & out of the canoe with comfort now on all terrain, - mud, rocks, gravel beach… exploring, collecting mussels for lunch. One little girl in a yellow life jacket, learning to hold a paddle in the front of the yellow canoe with her mom. We call to the loon and her baby and she replies. Yellowed wood sits atop the beaver’s lodge – all quiet…. Yellow sun warms us – raising kids at our travellers’ cottage.
Transmission… A contagious élan… learning how to get a kick out of something – through apprenticeship… Just being in the presence of someone whose fire is lit can cause you to catch fire too… An obvious passion can be attractive, inspiring others to join in the fun… Sharing a new part of someone’s niche… a few words of advice makes one person feel like an expert and the novice feel like they have the secret password to get into the club… Joie de vivre can be exponential… a multiplier that gives you a larger sum than it’s parts… Pastime Enabler… Transmission
Here I sit on a Siamese tree – blown over by a strong wind, having grown in mere inches of mossy soil, over solid, ungiving Canadian Shield rock. It seemed the end, all those decades ago – blown over, roots exposed…
but I was determined… I shot up vertically, straight from my root ball… so focused on that endeavour I didn’t notice how large my one limb that landed upright, undisturbed from the main trunk had become…
Two trees now growing from the doomed corpse of a tipped pine … someone to share the view.
Proof that you needn’t accept your fate.
My wet hand print evaporates - in a race with my footprint to see who could disappear first… green paint scraped from a canoe marks the rock beside the lake, canoe long gone … small twigs and chips of wood litter the forest floor all around the fire pit - but the ashes are all cold… empty tin of coffee sits on the picnic table, it’s contents fueling a paddler somewhere out on this lake…flattened pine needles and half-filled in trench belies where countless tents have been pitched… Is a campsite still a dwelling place when no one is home?
Decompression… A quiet afternoon by the lake…. times 4. Taking the time to lay in the hammock & let the wind push you around…sitting on the rocks with your feet dangling in the lake… an afternoon cup of wintergreen tea… followed by a (still cold!) beer… getting lost in a novel, spilling purple ink, concocting new delicacies for lunch, staying still… allowing your mind to wander freely… watching the trees grow… shifting periodically to the left, to catch or dodge a sun ray… sitting back as the spectator, as your kids go out to paddle & explore… a chill-cation.
Loopster leans over my shoulder as we eat, watching the woods… “Mom, I see a bear”, so calmly, between chews. It was a white-tailed deer, but still she spotted it !
All three girls set across the bay at dusk, in their yellow canoe, stalking beavers by their dam… earning at least a dozen big tail splashes.
The big girls roam the rocky shores and muddy wetlands hunting for mussels,then cook up a wildcrafted lunch.
Loopster emerges from the lake, unperterbed by the leech that’s left her leg a bloody mess, giggling when minnows eat her blood…
Highly naturalized children.
This summer’s shoes…
Were too beige and got scribbled on with purple marker…
Portaged the same route as voyageurs did in their moccasins hundreds of years ago, stepping into the Mattawa River rapids to push canoes off rocks…
Were just too ugly to come to the high school reunion, but left footprints beside baby turtle tracks in the Lake Erie sand dunes…
Gripped the rocks at the lake in Bon Echo, paddling us around on our floaty…
Hiked the shores of Lake Ontario with my girls…
And walked Roncesvalles gathering food for my family…
Belong in the land of sparkling waters.
The sky sees…
A giggling five year old in a yellow life jacket lying upside down on top of her mother, cheerfully blowing raspberries on mom’s bare belly… as she lies, wet from the lake, on a bright pink floaty, warming on a pink granite rock… Gathering a bouquet of pearly everlastings and Labrador tea, while being piggy-backed through the woods, learning the difference between white pine (clusters of five needles), and red pine (clusters of two needles), and how to identify wintergreen (by it’s waxt leaves and smell)… Blissful that the plane overhead knows none of us below.
My beloved collection of found name tags, (ELSA - Tim Horton’s, SHELLEY DIETZ - “Sweet Feet”, etc…), accidentally donated to Goodwill, never to be seen again…
My Mom’s three garnet ring, stolen from my bedroom drawer during a crazy house party in my twenties… The 78 record of “Golden Rocket” by Cass Daly and Hoagie Carmichael (hopefully lost in the huge collection upstairs)….
The tiny little babies that my beautiful daughters once were, (but have now grown past that stage)…
Treasures that are now a part of history, replaced by more - precious acquisitions that worm their way into my heart.
Opening up your heart…
Where once a great love thrived, but mortality ended it’s reign. Can that spot regain it’s emotional muscle? Is it like farm land, bereft of nutrients after so many seasons of producing crop after crop. Or is it a seasoned soup pot, just waiting for a few morsels and any liquid before it yields a comforting, hearty meal. One thing’s for sure, Love is exponential in it’s growth, multiplying on a grand scale, with seemingly so little fuel. Love is a salve… it can cure mortal wounds … it is the hubris that can regenerate life.
They seem to have had the same routine for decades… weathered aging British couple, rescuing dogs, living in their little cottage, growing a few vegetables. How this came to be their niche is a mystery… a passion and a commitment to help animals in distress, but clearly there’s more to it than that… a righteous path has a velocity of it’s own sometimes… Good deeds attract the needy, and clearly these two are known for their kindness… not some sappy sentimentalism, or anthropomorphic nonsense, but a genuine sense of responsibility to improve the lot of dogs in need. Saint Hound.
HEY HOSER BUDDY!...
He worked for twenty five years as a school janitor in the projects… watching waves of immigration - Vietnamese, Jamaican, Somalian…. Chatting with dealers who’d ask if he’d seen their misplaced stash… known by the students as SUPERDAVE.
Finnish Canuck from the north - enamoured of winter camping and saunas year round. A train-hopping hobo, seeking comfort in wilderness… Holding a collection of crown land gems - getaways - waiting for his return… the DaveWolf of Sudbury…
“Hey buddy I’m on your stoop”… Can of beer in his pocket, loud-talking, backyard-peeing, hoser of a front porch pal.
The Tip Jar