Up There


We walk on a road that is down below our land. The road is lined with deciduous trees growing out of the rich soil, and our land is clay and rock dotted with steadfast red cedar or, more poetically, juniper trees.

There is a feeling of being carried aloft when you crane your neck and stare straight up over your head at the lean maples. Not sure how there can be a feeling, as such, or what brings it about, if I didn’t learn it from somewhere.

In a few days the leaves will be pulled from their branches as we endure wind, rain, and storms to usher in change and eventually winter. We’ll still venture down, through the snowy lanes and forest to this road, in the dead of winter, freezing fingers, grey clouds of breath, to hear the crack and crackle of these same branches overhead, as they clatter from wind driven winter forces.

And on our own piece of land, when I find time for stillness, I watch as the junipers seem to lean in to listen or watch me. Not that I am the centre of their universe, no, but we seem in some strange way to be holding a kind of curved communion. What do they hear? What do they see? Do they get me as I chase Hugo in circles around their base?

I ask, who listened like this? Who reached for the sky like this.

Radiant Shimmering Light

Radiant Shimmering LightRadiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t want this story to end. Selecky holds up a mirror to our obsession with social media and self marketing tools and leaves one torn between when to laugh and when to cry. Relationships are threatened, compromised or created by the ever-present need to be out there, to garner more followers and to be validated in cyber space.
I found, as I have in the past with Selecky’s writing, that she manages to create prose that works on the reader’s sub-conscious; you know you’re been affected, but how? That is her secret, that is her genius and gift as a writer.
She also has a sharp, wry and very astute sense of humour, that immediately connects with the reader. I know it was great as it continues to stay with me.

View all my reviews

In The Balance

I took a picture of this butterfly this morning, balancing on the end of a piece of grass, gently and irregularly opening and closing his wings. Like my father, I can’t get a clear shot. He is in and out of focus. Will the monarch have the energy to gather with the others at the edge of Lake Ontario and make the thousands of kilometres trek to Mexico? Or is that something for the others. Have they already gathered on this cool September morning.

I am sitting beside my father as he sleeps, restlessly in his hospital bed. He had a couple of strokes last week. It’s been a long week and the long drives have been spent thinking about the past.

As a little boy the only way I could hold my father’s hand was to take hold of his finger with my little hand, to keep him close. And in the car, he would lean forward onto the steering wheel to have me grab him from behind and pull him back off of the steering wheel. I can’t imagine what it felt like for him to have my little hands holding, clutching, pulling. That was our language and our vocabulary.

I’ve brought some enlarged photographs to the hospital for him to see, when he wakes. They are pictures of our favourite place on the Ottawa River. I remember, years ago, maybe in my twenties or thirties––my days of prodigal son long behind––one hot and sunny afternoon, we stood waist high in the river, by the dock, drinking beers from “the French side” ––Quebec. We talked about simple things and perhaps happiness. Out loud, I said to my father, “maybe this is as good as it gets,” only because it was so perfect to be in that moment with my dad, with the sun seeming to hang motionless in the middle of the afternoon.

I am blessed with these stills and vignettes from my life. I suppose our lives have been complicated, interesting, challenging, but never boring. My father is a bright man, but our times together have always been filled with simplicity and frequently silent. With little need to speak.

Here, now, watching him, there is so little that needs to be said, it was spoken in those moments years before.

The butterfly surprised me this morning, and it wasn’t until much later that I saw his little balancing act with so much familiarity and recognition.

An Emancipation Day Query: What if Trump were Black?

A colleague (I don’t have many who think this way) recently bemoaned the fact that his cab driver “I think he was Lebanese or something,” was not happier and in a more positive mood upon receiving a twenty per cent tip. “You’d think the guy could be a little happier about living in this country.”

I held my tongue since we have descended down this rabbit hole before, whether it be injustices of native land claim treaties, building out-of-town compounds for the homeless or the intricacies of increasing minimum wage. I tend to change the subject or give an informed view quoted from a respected publication, although I don’t arm wrestle to the bitter end. I usually just say something like “well that’s just stupid,” and like a benign golden retriever he backs off to find another bone to chew.

I was on a café terrace recently with my dog, catching up with a dear friend. A man in the far corner offered free-of-charge comments towards our corner of the terrace. Regarding my dog he had this to say: “no wonder Disney called the dog Goofy.” I thought about what he said, trying to find some redeeming kindness in it. Naïve, as I am, to some people’s innate crabbiness.

My dear friend and I continued to chat while my dog “Hugo” graciously accepted pats and compliments, lapped some water and rejected a piece of rhubarb square I offered him. He barked intermittently––the kind of bark that says I am here. The kind of bark that is isolated, happens once every few minutes and no one pays much attention to.

The man in the corner––I’ll call him the ‘dog whisperer’––continued to offer his sage unsolicited advice to the terrace: “He’s bored, he just wants to play.” (Thank you, after seven years I think I figured that one out). I hadn’t seen my friend in ages. My well-exercised, love-of-my-life, attention getting, centre-of-my-universe dog, in the shade, with water, and all the comforts of life, could suffer for a few moments.

My dear friend, who happens to board, raise and train guide-dogs, said that the man is always offering free-from-the-corner advice on how to treat their latest charge, with no knowledge of seeing-eye-dog training protocol.

This all got me to wondering about explaining the event to my cab-riding colleague. I might take great pleasure in saying something like “A white man, sitting on the terrace this morning was very crabby and didn’t mind interfering in my conversation to advise me on dog rearing protocol. I’m sure he was at least third generation white Canadian and had no reason whatsoever to be so bitter. I mean this country has been so good to him and his ancestors, and he is white after all. He is living in Canada, the greatest country on the earth. What could he possibly have to be cranky about?”

My cab-riding colleague might then look quizzically at me and wonder what the Sam Heck I am talking about. Well think about this. What if the corner of the terrace man had been Lebanese? Or from India or Pakistan? What if he were Native, or Black? Would he be given the same wide berth for bad behavior? I won’t answer that because I have been thinking about it ever since the incident, and it has been bothering me.

What if my cab-riding colleague’s cab driver had been white? Would he have been subjected to the same scrutiny? The same happiness quotient? Might he just be a white guy having a bad day? And what about Trump? What if he were Black? Would he be given the same carte blanche look-the-other way leniency that he seems to get?

Take any of your recent top headlines and change the skin tone, the background, the colour, like I did as a kid with my big sister’s Vogue cut out dolls. See what you come up with.

The Second Chance

A few weeks ago I had an early afternoon off from my day job. I had a few duties to attend to that were government related, phoning aboublogfeb4t their tax mistakes etc. I also wanted to walk the dog, but I hadn’t really made a plan in which order I would do these things. I knew I had to phone during business hours, and walk my dog before dinner. We had a quick foray down the road when I got home, and then I tackled the administrative stuff. Lines were busy, my patience was running thin. Hugo wanted another outing to play frisbee. I dressed, not warm enough and quickly took him out, where my patience ran as thin as my clothing. It was freezing outside and I hadn’t put on anything for an extended time in the cold. I grumbled. Back in we went. Back to the phone. Back to the busy signals. Back to waiting.

We had one more trip out doors, but still I was distracted, and this time it dawned on me just how distracted I was. Enough to realize that I hadn’t been present at all, to our walks. They were walks of duty, which I am sure Hugo could sense. I was disappointed in myself. This was not at all what life was about. Too late, dinner time, cold fingers, setting sun, biting wind, drafty drawers, numb thumbs, simmering discontent, no one on the other end of the line. And I had missed our chance at a perfectly perfect couple of hours. I had blown it.

The next day I had a client who cancelled an appointment late in the afternoon. I went home, bundled up in parka, snow boots, toque, scarf, heavy gloves, and for Hugo to wear, his much disliked but not so bad once they are on, booties.

From the moment we headed out I thanked everything for giving me this second chance to have mindless wandering with my best friend. I thanked deeply and extensively. Hugo was thrilled, sniffing everything. And everything was beautiful from my cozy vantage tucked into my parka; the snow was slightly sticky, the tree branches creaked. Wind howled. Hugo raced, leapt, bounded and bounced from snowdrift to tuft of grass, burying his face, for scents. I noticed field mice or voles or moles or whatever, poking their noses out of places we had stepped. I realized there was a city of life not far below the surface, made up of tunnels and little grass dens.

Time disappeared. There was no rush, no destination. Distractions were made up of no more than new scents, paw prints, and the odd stumble. We squatted by a tree to stare into the wind that blew from miles away (imagining it starting somewhere in California and flying across the continent) onto the field, to us. I looked at Hugo, smiling into the wind, and he looked at me. This was it. We wandered. And I kept saying thank you, for having a chance to retrieve something I had so carelessly missed the day before. It is all too short and so sacred, so divine. I can’t say thank you enough.