Morning mourning

I decided to look at a website for a popular local restaurant this morning that I constantly hear people raving about. It’s a tad on the pricey side (for me)––a glass of wine for 15 bucks––but their modus operandi is in the right place with locally sourced food and a family history of foraging and working lovingly with food over the generations.

So many new places have opened over the past couple of years, during this pandemic, none of which I have sampled. I have eaten out exactly three times, once at a picnic table and the two other times on patios. These were all because there were visitors visiting from away. And two of those times the patio was crowded or people were actually hovering over us until we spoke up. Oh and a lovely yet pandemic conscious coffee out with a friend from really far away.

I don’t care about eating out. I was a privileged white kid whose parents loved to eat out and I have eaten the best moules frite and poutine fois gras this side of the Atlantic and the best steak that Inigo Jones (!) in London had to offer this fifteen year old boy, who went into Inigo’s kitchen to see his meal before it was prepared, and not to forget the Ivy, again as a fifteen year old. I’ve eaten at the Savoy, had calamari and tuna in Spain and sushi in Japan. (I am now and have been vegan for about five years.)

On the less privileged side, but still privileged (because I am a white male and restaurant jobs come easily despite my incompetence), I have served in some of the nicest restaurants and catered in some of the swankiest homes in the land. Big affairs. Food served in martini glasses! You know, tiramisu, maple smoked salmon, truffles, blini with caviar, all gorged upon by myself and co-workers, washed down with expensive wine.

And the privileged vacations, the discount vacations, and the ones I’ve spent some amount of time paying off.

Meanwhile around me people plan vacations and ask if I am going anywhere, but the most I can do is peruse hotel websites, not to dream, just to spend a few minutes on that virtual beach or in that virtual suite and imagine drinking some prosecco while I watch the sunset.

What I’m trying to say is if you are wondering why I haven’t planned a vacation or dinner out it’s because I am in mourning now. I am in mourning for life as it was. As you can tell I am painfully and irrevocably spoiled. I will gladly wait until it is time to venture forth. I support vaccines and masks (if mandates were removed I might find myself running naked down main street), but I am not going to fool myself into thinking that sitting in a restaurant here or in Puerto Vallarta with my mask sitting on my side-plate or wrapped around my throat, and wondering if Joe Blow’s aerosols from that recent throat clearing at my back are going to find their way into my nostrils. I don’t want his bubbles in my bubble, yet he comes from way further away than I do. Bubble be damned. It is not my idea of a good time.

Yes I am in mourning. I am in mourning for the death this pandemic has wrought, just as I am in mourning for the thirty million who have died of AIDS (still no vaccine). And while I’m at it, in mourning for those years wondering just how it was transmitted as I watched friends turn to skeletons. I am mourning. I dreamed I kissed a friend last night and then panicked because I’d forgotten about my mask, and wiped away the kiss with one of my big winter mitts as my friend caught my actions out of the corner of their eye.

Much as I love to travel and I do (and I love travel by plane as my forty odd collection of civil airliners meets my gaze here at my desk), I have no desire to celebrate a vacation sitting in a departure lounge wondering if my face will look and feel like a steamed pork bun when I finally take off my n95 (something heroic health care workers have endured for ages now). Or wondering if I’ll inhale some wayward droplet as I surreptitiously sip my airline bubbly, a tradition of mine––drinking bubbly on a vacation––early flight––pre-breakfast if need be.

I don’t want to hope the beach or the restaurant is empty, or that the coast is clear before I leave my hotel room. I go for the crowds, at times. The noise. The energy. The laughter. And I do love an empty beach at other times. I don’t want a hostess mumbling to me from behind a mask. Seriously? Perhaps I have loved too many aspects of my experiences too deeply to want to try to ignore what it is I love about it. The host or hostess smiling, the waiter snarling, the food, the interaction, the people at other tables.

So no. Don’t ask me if I have eaten out or where I plan to go next. I am in mourning right now with no reason to celebrate. I am tossing my curls and stomping my feet and fully being the spoiled brat I was bred to be. What I will celebrate is the solitude here at home, the trees, the meadow, my family and the comfort, the love and familiarity and of course the roof over my head, and my food. Beyond gratitude. The world is going on as it should, without me. How could I want more than this?

Winter Colours

I took a photo of this anomaly in late December in what felt like the depths of winter. It had already been cold and snowy enough to warrant this term. As you can see, though there is some melting, you can more or less hear the snow and ice crunching under my boots.

I’m not used to seeing such a vivid splash of colour so deep into the season, unless it is a Christmas decoration. But this was actually attached to a stem which was coming out of the ground. It hadn’t been dropped in the middle of nowhere, and believe me our walk is verging on the middle of nowhere. Apparently after some research and questioning around I discovered it is some type of bittersweet.

Now, in the depths of January with the monochromatic whites and greys this discovery has come back to me as a small sign that warmer, more colourful days are ahead. This I know, and I hope however, they do not come too soon, as those kind of early warm days are wreaking havoc on the planet. But the splash of colour touches something hopeful nevertheless.

This time of year has always been a trial for me––a bit of an endurance test. As a very lucky kid, weekends were filled with skiing and skating, but the weekdays were filled with the abhorrent six letter word, school, and staring out the window at the flat plains of snow, wondering whether to walk or bus it home. I was extremely lucky too, in that my dad took us on some unbelievably amazing tropical Christmas vacations. However this made the readjustment to the sterile Ottawa winter that much more painful. Much of my window staring time was accompanied by a tight throat and blinked back tears. Poor me(!)

To be honest I didn’t come alive until the final bell of the final day of classes in June, when stubbed toes and scraped knees were signs that we were truly alive.

But winter now, has a beauty to it. Man’s and my best friend makes sure to get me out the door at least twice a day, and yes, I catch myself, literally surprise myself, by this knee jerk reaction, under what I might have once described as the gloomiest of skies, saying out loud (we are near the middle of nowhere remember), “this is so damn beautiful.” The air is cold on my face. My fingers might sting. There might be a wedge of wayward snow now melting in my boot just around the warmth of my ankle. But the array of greys, the view of a darkening sky and an impending snowfall, the sheer fact of survival in this cold place, the animal tracks, the snow on the cedar boughs, the naked dance and clatter of branches overhead, the brittle wind off the lake or from across the neighbour’s open field, the cold squeak of snow with each step, is all cause for celebration.

It is a reminder of the simple fact that we are here, alive, on this piece of limestone jutting out into Lake Ontario. I have also taken to sitting for an extra long spell, wrapped in my old but very warm parka, scarf, favourite unflattering hat, mitts and boots, to just be for a while (sometimes with frisbee, sometimes without). Even on a -20 degree celsius day, I have felt the sun’s warmth on my face.

If you are young person reading this, I imagine you will think winter goes on forever and what is this crazy guy talking about, but, sadly, like many things, I am noticing even winters start to come and go a bit quicker year by year, which is why I may be taking more time now to relish them, and my place within them.

Huggers and other Strangers

Well, I haven’t written in the blog since late summer and frankly, like they say, neither has Shakespeare. I have been stopping on my way in and out of the house and staring at the garden, seeing how late I can entertain planting a bulb or growing a radish. The time has been oddly compressed and stretched for the past couple of years. I forget what season I’m in, what level of lock-down I’m at, and have odd moments of feeling like I have forgotten my mask even though it is on my face. Much like those dreams where I am caught naked in the town square, with nowhere to hide.

I suppose it hit me yesterday when I had a visit to the doctor (all is fine), and, when leaving some guy was honking his horn in the car beside me as I left the clinic. I figured he had leaned on the horn, or pushed that wrong button on his key fob, but no, he was pointing at me and waving me over. Both of us mysteriously masked but after a moment recognizing the other.

I opened the door on the passenger side, maintaining our distance, and realized that it was an old colleague from the gym. You know, the ones you share a joke or anecdote with, or just a knowing glance. You become quite familiar with your gym colleagues when you are in the throes of muscular pain. It seems to be an underlying bonding agent, as you laugh about nothing in particular.

Ron and I were on a first name basis in that we didn’t actually know each others’ last names. We’d usually have a chat about nothing important, always a laugh and I would marvel that this spry guy with a bounce in his step and a great positive attitude was seventy five. He wandered around the gym like a teenager and I could only hope I was like that at his age.

I hadn’t seen him for well beyond two years as I switched gyms some time before the pandemic set in. So we talked for a few minutes. “I’m eighty-three,” he told me during our conversation, sounding incredulous as if he was more surprised than anyone. He still had that twinkle in his eye. I joked that I knew him when he was seventy-five. We chatted a bit about our lives and how we were attempting to stay fit through it all. Joking about who was going to “go first” to that great beyond. It was obvious that we had both been missing those opportunities to have a chat and a laugh. In fact he mentioned how much he missed those spontaneous opportunities to just have a chat. We talked about our respective fitness regimes and how they had changed to accommodate the current climate.

I was literally glowing when I got in my car, from the interaction, the humour, the reconnection, and the realization of what had been missing in my life. I brought my car around beside his and asked him what his last name is. I thought, I don’t want to let this person fall of my map again. Who knows who would be the next to go. Who knows who would need to be there for the other.

As I drove away, my own private wave hit me. I thought of all of the people in my life or who have been in my life. I thought of the check-out staff at the local grocery and hardware stores, the book store where everyone knows my name, the ones with whom I maintain to-be-continued conversations, the gym folks, the writing group, all the people in town with whom I’ve worked. We talk about my dog, the weather, the heat, the cold. All of them, my friends too, all kept at arms length, unhuggable. Second guessing that impulse. Yet, I had taken it all so much for granted in those years of relative freedom.

I knew then, what had been missing and for a moment driving through the main street of that little town, I felt all of the sadness that I had somehow put aside for about eighteen months. Ron and I were not huggers to one another but there was a definite bubble of care and concern and joy at meetings at the gym and now, after all of that time. There was an element to the relationship that I can’t seem to put into words. But it was so damn nice to see someone so happy to see me, honking their horn, waving me over.

I thought of friends and family and those intimate moments when we assume no one is watching and we look at our reflection in the mirror, you know, into our own eyes, and wonder perhaps how we’ll get through another day. I hoped that they can all dig deep enough if need be and find the strength to go on, and know that the love is out there, waiting for them, waiting for a moment when we can be close again and hug, pat a shoulder, punch a bicep, and finally breathe. Understand our need.

For a moment I felt joined and at one with those friends and colleagues. It was overpowering. A moment of not feeling quite so isolated, in the knowledge that right now we are all sharing in something we don’t quite understand, are saddened by it, disoriented by it, but believing that somehow the fundamentals have survived.

Abundance

These days there is a lushness to the garden that we aren’t used to. We live in a semi-arid area where the rain clouds seem to veer left or right, north or south, before getting to us. I’ve watched great banks of cloud separate and the north half drops a curtain of rain onto the mainland (we are an island jutting out 21 miles into lake Ontario, yet hugging the mainland), while the southern half heads to the south shore of the lake to give the Northern New York folk a spectacular rainfall complete with light show. On the horizon I can see the flashes from my bedroom window as I notice there is clear sky overhead.

So the rain we are receiving is a treat for the farmers, but not so much, I imagine, for the winemakers. Too much rain makes the plants leafy, and I believe the grapes that come are supposed to be in response to dry weather. I planted grapes this year so no doubt I can put that theory to the test.

However, neighbours and locals are talking about the incredible growing season and I am watching so many differences, not sure whether to attribute it all to the different weather patterns and perhaps climate change, or the pandemic and the changes it has brought about. There is a vast amount of growth and in this picture you see our old apple tree out back has provided a bumper crop this year. The grass under the tree has been tramped down by deer, I think and perhaps coyotes. And I have been paying regular visits and eating the apples then and there as I pick them. Back home, as a kid, we were never great at growing anything to eat, other than our crab apple tree –– it was too shady, the soil too compact –– so anything you can pull off of a bush, a tree or out of the ground and munch on is pretty miraculous to me.

You can’t really think about our rich growing season without thinking of others who are not enjoying the same good fortune. Land is burning up. People are on the move, whether climate or political refugees. They aren’t picking apples off of trees. They might be hoping a care package falls from the sky and will be enormously grateful for the offerings. Nowadays it is all too easy to switch the channel, turn down the volume or put our hands over our ears and worry about when we can next sit on an outdoor patio at a local café and ‘enjoy life’. I feel powerless in the face of these huge stories. It is all too easy to forget there is a segment of our own population between the apple tree and the news on the television that is very much in need. Those who can’t afford housing and those who have no access to clean drinking water, simple respect or equality. With the approaching election there will be a tsunami of promises, which, like a character in Peter and the Wolf I am now becoming immune –– bad choice of word –– desensitized to.

And I have started to wonder what a normal day on this planet is supposed look like.

Eternity

We spend time when we can, at this beach. Early summer we have it to ourselves. Even the flies haven’t found us. The beach is comprised of limestone pebbles and rocks that have been ground into smooth discs with the likenesses of thick pancakes. At this particular beach, unlike the other local ones, there is, interspersed, a large amount of varied smaller rocks, some of which have ended up in my garden at the base of our buddha.

The rocks are a variety of colours from greens to reds, some have lines and layers through them, thread thin, or some are half and half. These patterns have grasped at my imagination, taking me onto that extended journey through time and geologic activity, far below the surface of the earth and even farther back in time.

Very often at the beach I try to have a moment of meditation, with my head in the clouds, contemplating the vastness “out there” in that immense horizon off into the stars way beyond that sun that is warming my skin on these days. I envision myself opening to that expanse to become one with it. (Which I am whether I like it or not.)

But it was on one of those days, eyes wide open, wandering along the beach, my poodle piddling here, sniffing there, and me delighting in the array of gems (I’ll call them) at my feet, that my gaze was taken even farther downward, beneath the surface of the earth and time, to really try to understand the organic connection of me to this world.

I thought, to heck with the spiritual, get familiar with this water and rock from which you crawled. Yes, of course, we are stardust, but between the stardust and my full flesh and blood frame there have been eons of growth, while the whole world, every tree and rock grew alongside, all of us evolving at our own rate. I realized how much I owe to mother earth and how much a child of mother earth I really am. I realized how equal I am to my surroundings, no greater, no less. It was embracing, enlightening and reassuring to know that I really am a part of it.

Like the indigenous say “All my relations,” meaning everything and the spirit within everything. I may be so presumptuous to think I have started to understand what this means, in my own limited way. There, it was a feeling, and elsewhere, as I travel through this world, away from my special beach, littered with magical stones and vibrating with my footprints and my dog’s as well, that it is something so easily forgotten and something I need to remind myself. It is the ground beneath my feet, the air I breath, the trees, flowers, birds, bugs and furry things racing around my yard. It is everything, and it us and we have all arrived and we are here, now.

Truth First

I was born and raised in Ottawa, the son of a politician. Obviously Canada day was in the picture, whether guests at the family cottage or trips to Parliament Hill. As the years went on the celebrations on the hill became even more of a spectacle with the Snowbirds, concerts, and mega fireworks.
I’m not sure I knew what it meant to describe myself as a proud Canadian. I was reminded that I lived in a free and fairly liberal place that other people wanted to come to. I knew some Colonial history and had no idea about the history of this land before the Europeans arrived. I had a romantic idea of the noble savage, but not much else.
On the banks of the Ottawa river, at our cottage we argued about whether the path to the beach was made by loggers or “Indians”. We envisioned convoys of boats filled with European explorers led by first nations guides in canoes. (The river, originally know as the Kitchisippi, a rich watershed of wildlife and home to the Huron, Algonquin and Iroquois, later polluted by a Nuclear plant, paper processing and other industry, we were warned that the fish we caught might have too much mercury in it.)
But the aboriginals were always either non-existent, part of a diorama at the national museum or living on someplace called a ‘reserve’.
This year I took advantage of the free course in aboriginal history https://www.ualberta.ca/admissions-programs/online-courses/indigenous-canada/index.html and my eyes were finally opened to the light and the lie I have been living all these years.
I say lie. Passively I have been aware of substandard living conditions for indigenous in this country for many years. Through the press it had come to my attention that developers or oil companies wanted to build golf courses/ pipelines on aboriginal land, still do, and that there were protests and still are. I listened to other non-aboriginals complain about the ‘Indian problem’ and those protests. And passively I tut-tutted, nodded in sadness and sympathy for the First Nations but did little else.
I’ve watched Canadian governments tearfully apologize to the natives, again and again, more heart felt and chest thumping each time. I’ve heard the promises and voted on those hopes.
The U of A course opened my eyes to the absolute fraud of treaty negotiations, the Indian act, the White Paper, and of course residential schools.
I say lie because I was born in 1958 and the last residential school closed in 1997. The math says I was living in a country––and all governments during my lifetime––that supported true appropriation of culture, children, absolute disrespect and meanspiritedness in the true sense of the word. And I had no idea this was going on.
Now, for those leaders and others who say that cancelling Canada Day is tantamount to dismantling the country I say this: Imagine you have lived in a family where Uncle Bob has regularly and secretly raped your siblings for years. Everyone in your family “kind of” knew but wasn’t going to say anything. Your family lived a stilted and perhaps unhappy kind of existence. Gatherings, weddings, new members were celebrated with fake smiles and you may have presented yourself well while deep down knowing the truth. And if you didn’t know the truth you knew something was somehow wrong. Really you were living a half life under the controlling hand of Uncle Bob. Wouldn’t you like to finally break the pattern of continuous lies and abuse.
I say this: I dismantled my crooked deck last summer and got to the root of the problem. It now stands level. Dismantling is sometimes a very worthwhile thing.
This is what has been going on here in Canada. We know a little of our history and we have been living a lie, trying to ignore what we do know. Celebrating every July first, celebrating when Newfoundland joined confederation, tearfully sighing with relief when Quebec didn’t ‘leave’ this great country.
I would say that to heal this country we must know the truth, we must learn just what is here worth celebrating. At this point to ignore the sins created by our leaders, carried out by the Catholic church and condoned by the rest of us who turned a blind eye, is not cause for any means of celebration. There is nowhere to point a finger except towards ourselves for knowingly living the lie.
We talk about aboriginal anger or black rage, well, tell me, whose rage put 150,000 children in residential schools? Whose rage has hidden the truth about their deaths. Whose rage last year arrested an aboriginal journalist for merely putting pen to paper? I will tell you that rage did not originate with the aboriginals. Whose rage continues to lynch and kill blacks, transgender, anyone outside of ‘normal’. Who has the rage? It’s so sadly obvious.
It will take far more than money to rectify this crime, this genocide. It will take upheaval, a paradigm shift and a new way of respecting and acknowledging the true founders and original care takers of this land.
To proudly travel the world, or welcome immigrants to this land, as Canadians we will have to make all aware of the new fabric of what we are truly made.
My wish for this country is that the truth does in fact set us free and that we can be a model for human rights around the world. There will be no reconciliation without truth.

I am (written for St. Andrew’s Pride Service)

I was born in April. White. Male. Gay.

One strike against me

I could masquerade, cause confusion.

Not like the others who have their work cut out

for them

But it was March, in my adolescence, when I sat by the

bedroom window watching our middle class neighbourhood

emerge from winter, that I cried at knowing I

would grow up to be a homo and queer, words

that weren’t yet mine to own. Pervert. Fairy. Faggot. I wept

and felt a  darkness inside

at knowing that I would break my parents’ hearts and that their

raised eyebrows, smug glances and attitudes towards men together

were now meant for the likes of me.

March lasted a very long time, it moved in and

I dreamed of my older self comforting the younger one.

It wasn’t until my twenties that I told them and by

then they already knew – my colours were showing. Before my mother died

she told me that Priscilla Queen of the Desert was her favourite movie. I have been

one of the lucky ones – others leave home, are kicked out, turned away. Yes, I

have had friends who backed away, sat across rather than beside, but

others are shunned, put out of their community. Still it’s been a small

minefield of strangers throwing insults from cars, or empowered by their buddies

using the f-word while I look for the nearest exit, the fastest way to safety. And

I have watched friends die at the will of a strange disease with little effort to

find a vaccine. The fewer of us…

Where others have been beaten and beaten down, I have lived another day.

But now it’s June and what a month to be LGBTQ Gay. A gay month filled with

perfume in the air, peonies, poppies and lilacs, pollen bursting from buds and blossoms, rich

with mating and birth and all of the unexpected delights that nature seeds the path with. All rejoicing in being alive.

Nature has no agenda to eliminate the anomalies. The law of the jungle may be to eat

or be eaten but it has never been to beat or be beaten because your buds and blossoms aren’t like the rest.

Some say why pride? The work has been done, but no, there is still a world frozen by

religion, trapped by prejudice, fear, rhetoric, language and superstition. We cannot

ignore it – we know too much – our eyes are opened ever wider.

So here’s to you who still has to come out every day, whoever you are – has to teach the

world what it is to be you. To those of us who know sooner than later and the ones who arrived late to the party.

Here’s to you who still has to say I am…

And I am proud.

Out loud.

India

Sonnet 34: Why didst thous promise such a beauteous day

And make me travel forth without my cloak…

I think of this often when I am either optimistic about the weather, be it a cool spring morning––too cool––or a summer’s day when the storm clouds are just beyond the horizon and when I am beyond the point of no return and I hear the thunder roll and see the puffy white edges present themselves above the treetops the beginnings of a billowing boiling storm.

Today we headed out the door and went east as we sometimes do, a grey overcast May morning, high cloud like the underside of some soft quilt happening above. And yes we were well on our way when the poodle stopped and looked at me. What? We’re doing what you want. A walk to the lookout, lots of sniffing, in the moment. We continued until I heard it too, the low growling of thunder back towards the west, back towards where the clouds are thick and dark, back towards where I had not looked until that moment. He’d heard it long before me.

Yes I thought, oh shit, done it again. We’ll have to run to get back before getting drenched or hit by a bolt of lightening. But this thought, to which I had become accustomed, because of my habitual carelessness, was replaced by a larger, heavier and far more resonant feeling.

India, I thought. That sound, that thunder is coming all the way, through the earth, from India. The sounds of pain and deep, deep tragedy. It was India. I had read about India and the pandemic, at times not trying to follow the headlines and other times being drawn in to the news of this sad disaster. Both responses akin to trying to not look at a train wreck as it slowly progresses from bad to worse to worst. And there I was walking along a country road, dark clouds gathering and thinking as far removed as I was from India that it was there, somewhere in my consciousness. Very real. Very loud. Roaring in pain and anguish.

It’s odd to be in this world, in this bubble, fairly isolated while a humanitarian disaster of such magnitude takes place on the same planet. Do I want to jinx things by saying “why them?” Closer to home, people are dying while angels hold their hands in place of family, sad stories replay over and over. Care workers are worn to the quick. Raw, spent, yet managing to fight to steer the ship, hold the oars against the tide.

The thunder today caught me by surprise. Spoke volumes.