The Secret Language

 

IMG_7196We do a lot throughout the day. Walks. Coffee and treats. Naps. Playing in the yard with a fabric kind of Frisbee or some other weighted toy. I talk a fair bit to him while all this goes on: “Out of there.” “Off.” “Leave it.” “Good boy.” “Water?” “Pee pee?” “Let’s go home.” “Dinner’s almost ready.” “I love you.” “Move over.” “Let’s go this way.” And a whole lot more, sometimes trying to negotiate our way out of my garden, a patch of poison ivy or a snow bank.

Though we understand a lot, I’ve come to learn that his language, and mine too isn’t my collection of disembodied words or his random barks.

When we are tugging at that toy in the yard we are one hundred percent in our own moment. Engaged with each other and connected by much more than words. And now that summer is here we go to the beach as often as we can. It is here that we have our routine that may be one step from heaven. He barks, I throw the toy in the water, soon I brave the water too and then soon after I am holding him to my chest, his feet tucked under and I have his whole body close. I am chest deep in the water and he is against my chest, held by me and his buoyancy. From here we walk parallel to the beach, our hearts close. He looks at the shore, moving his head from point to point. He likes to have the shore view as we come around to retrace our steps. We like to go as far as the uneven surface will allow. It is a quiet peace that we are part of. It is there that we both know that we are doing what we and the other loves.

Later, our other activity is called “standing”: I am in the water, now maybe waist deep and he is swimming circles in front of me. I take his front paws and his back ones reach for the bottom. Soon his front paws rest on my forearm and he tries taking one paw, then the other and standing on his own. Then he decides he doesn’t need the arm and takes himself for a little walk as far as the sway of water, current and balance will allow. And yesterday he took yet another step, backwards. He watched me, our eyes locked as he removed his paws from my forearm support and walked backwards, as if he was practicing some sort of dance step. He went back and then returned to my arm. I praised his daring, his creativity.

With him there is no “time to go,” we know when that time has come. But for those precious minutes or hours we have found our meeting place where we can speak the same language and know exactly what is the most important thing in life.

Listen. Tell.

IMG-5186

Late Saturday afternoon

and I walk out onto the solitary country road.

The sky has cleared,

no clouds and the wind bears down

on us from the northwest

and on that wind out of that clear sky

over the fields and trees I finally get a sense

of the world, the whole world, the whole whole world

as I had forgotten it – as if wind

is blowing across every surface,

through every tree, mountain pass,

across every dessert and ocean.

And every wall.

 

The great thumb of sadness

presses itself onto my little heart.

My chest swells, a rasp runs up my throat to find a way out

through gasp and spit. There is no one

to hear the sound it makes.

I take a breath and call to the frogs and ducks in the ditch.

I have to tell them we are sick, we have brought illness

upon ourselves.

I know what you mean, they say,

we tried to tell you.

And now the trees are listening too

(like they don’t ever listen), and they lean in

to comfort me. We’ve known for a long time

say the birds, half heartedly, at the bird feeder.

 

But the whole world I say, like one insignificant marble

dropping on the kitchen floor. So small, so very, very small. It could

roll behind the fridge.

We tried to tell you said the trees and the bees,

but you wouldn’t listen. We asked the wind to help

but still you wouldn’t listen. And now you know sad,

and we hate to see you sad.

 

I collapse

into my soul, sadness has nowhere to go, nothing to offer. There are too many faces

telling me to resign, surrender, fight, protest, rebel, deny, accept. The curve

is now a wave that sweeps up my soul off the ground, my feet

into the air, and lifts me, where there is nothing to touch or hold onto.

Good Friday 2020 Angels, Saints and Warriors

DSC_0551
I sit in the meadow this afternoon, every
afternoon now with frog sounds, peepers
over there in the marsh. I bow my head
as if to pray, I want to pray, how
to pray, close
eyes, look into darkness, clasp hands.
Something is going on out there,
ringing against my ears, noise, news, overtaken,
by voices coming from every direction
noisy, inside, out, beneath, through and
around.

Today the prayer-waves are clogged
by those trying to get a message to the one beyond
the door, face down, in emergency, breathing
measured lungs of oxygen. Prayers rush––
each time a door is opened, left ajar,
held for a moment by a foot or an elbow
––prayers seep through the cracks, fly around the world
clamor for space, time, understanding.

But they do get through. Prayers. It’s the angels,
the saints and the warriors, watching their colleagues
rally or falter, knees weak, back firm, one by one
as they fight an uncalled for battle
with made-up rules, decoys, red herrings,
White flags.

For what do I pray, alone in messy spring grass while
they stand bed-side, delivering prayers and saying last rights
to a history they never knew –– their back towards a family
praying –– serving as a conduit for I love you,
bon voyage, we’ll meet again, simply goodbye
or a simple loving touch.
For them I pray.

The Endangered Species

For some insignificant seconds

Our species’ stranglehold on the planet has eased.

Abundance has ceased being manifested.

Dreams are done.

 

Planes and ships not built fast enough, have stopped carrying

the deserving multitudes shoulder to

arse, head to crotch non-stop

To find their get-out-of-my-fucking-way bliss.

 

Others waver, still not convinced, want to feel

The flame, push others over the cliff for a view, to hell

With the curve let’s ride the wave to flatten the front-

Line, obliterate the old, pitch the poor.

 

It’s so simple for crowds

To disappear, silence to settle, to die, but

Be the last goddammit to die beautiful.

I Love You This Much

images

From time to time the lush and evocative love theme from Cinema Paradiso presents itself on my playlist, or elevators, or in my car (I think you can hear it if you click on the album cover). It never fails to pull at my heartstrings, whether Josh Groban or Andrea Bocelli sing it with Italian lyrics or it is Marc-Andre Gautier or Perlman playing it on their violins. Thank you, Ennio Moriconne.

I remember years ago when the movie first came out and how my mother had kept asking if I had seen it yet. She insisted. We had often shared similar preferences in foreign films (Priscilla Queen of the Dessert), shows (I think she even enjoyed Mamma Mia though I had played ABBA to death as a teen) and music (My One and Only).

As a young boy she took me to see the King and I, before I was even in school I believe. She had said we were going grocery shopping but I figured it out just steps from the front lobby of the Rideau theatre in Ottawa. I slept through many musicals and dreamt of having a bed in one of the box seats, so I could listen and dream.

There is a scene in Cinema Paradiso, if I remember it accurately when the old man has compiled deleted love scenes from all the movies he has shown at the cinema. The young boy, who had befriended him, a man now, sees this compilation for the first time. It is like a living love letter from the old man to the little boy, delivered years later. Some of the scenes are familiar to me and some I have yet to see. I’m sure my mother had seen most of the films in her time.

It was devastating, this simple tale of love for a person, for art, it was so well timed, directed and overall such a brilliant film, and brilliant ending to a film.

Now, years later I hear the music that went with that scene I think of my mother insisting that I see the movie and asking me what I had thought.

We weren’t an emotionally demonstrative family for the most part. Well, negative emotions could run rampant but the positive ones, and there were many, stayed buried deep inside, perhaps afraid to emerge, afraid of the power, not understanding how to hug, how to be close. Not being familiar with that language. Of course in later years I believe we came to appreciate how we felt, and showed through actions, the touch of a hand on an elbow, a hug, that we loved one another. We caught up with the rest of the world.

That music always catches me off guard. I need to at least sit for a moment, maybe put on a pair of sunglasses to mask the tears. It seems my mother in her way, was trying to tell me just how much she loved me, as much as the old man for the little boy. I can’t imagine being that small but I must have been at some point. How could you not love a little person, despite all of your duties as a lawyer’s and politician’s wife, and a mother of four? I hear it on a sunny Sunday afternoon, out of the blue and though she is gone now, I hear the message loud and clear and she is close.

Winter

IMG_4659

Well this picture might just sum up my preparedness for things like freezing temperatures, even though I was born into it and have spent seasons of my life in it. This was a hummingbird feeder and I didn’t get to it before the freezing temps did. Nor did I get my spring bulbs planted on time–however we had a bit of a thaw in December and I ran about the yard madly hacking at the soil and dividing many bulbs among few holes. It should be an interesting spring show!

I suppose I’d rather be posting a picture of me on the beach in Mexico from an early December trip, but I should really let the full weight of this time of year press on me to see what pops out. A snowman perhaps?

When I was a kid, winters were long and lush, tons of snow and everything we did was about the ice and snow. Skating everywhere, from the back yard to the school yard and indoor arenas where candy bars and hot chocolate fueled us. Skiing on the weekend–Saturdays getting to the slopes by badly heated school bus, and Sundays with Dad in the station wagon farther into the hills where the slopes were higher and longer, with Bach and Burt Bacharach (our only two tapes) serenading us on the 8-track player.

Friends, colleagues and clients seem to be taking off every other week now, a constant overlapping of trips. A stream of “views from my room”  and “views of my pedicure at sunset.” But I can bear it. Surely I can. If I tune into the hibernatorial nature of the season, I can forgive myself for feeling sloth like, having my face droop to the floor by sunset, and staring wistfully at every warm passing plane heading south.

I heard the phrase “this is the new normal” this week, sadly in regards to climate change. But I have to tell myself that this, frisbee in the yard with my best friend, mice running across the snow, bunnies by the bushel, and the wail of coyotes at 3am is not to be taken lightly. Yesterday we walked into the distant fields, the falling snow creating and acoustic quilt. You stop and stand and there is nothing but your breath, and if you stop breathing…it is indeed a divine place.

The Kindness of Strangers

 

GIPHY-1.gif

Eight and a half years ago my mother died in a rehab facility in Toronto. She was recovering from a broken hip and as with many in her predicament had passed away shortly after, perhaps because of a weak heart, or the shock to her ninety-one year old body.

I had come into Toronto to spend the day with her, sharing photos of my dog with her, laughing, watching old movies, telling her she looked like Doris Day, her insisting I see Billy Elliot since I was in Toronto. That levity collapsed after her first physio session, as I rubbed her leg to give some comfort to the intense pain. But death was definitely not on our minds. That night, the night she died, I was staying at a nearby friend’s house.

I remember the early morning phone call, and running to the rehab, passing laughing kids on their way to school, dodging street cars and traffic, choking back tears with a sense of nightmarish disbelief. My legs numb.

I arrived gasping, and out of breath as I entered her room, where, behind a curtain and still in bed, her quiet body lay as if asleep. I had a sense of peace and light and incredible calm. The head nurse told me that I could spend some time with her, until they had to move her.

Over those next few hours, I sat, head bowed, most of the time crying and sometimes just quietly sitting, empty, sad and tired. Nurses looked in on me, and a couple who had attended on my mother over the previous days asked if they could come into the curtained off area to spend time with me, where they stood at the end of the bed with their heads down, hands clasped, occasionally with a kind comment, “your mother was a classy lady,” said one, which I thought was very observant and right on. We smiled at that. Their company was kind, nonintrusive and much appreciated. They may have suffered their own losses, I thought, obviously being far away from their land of birth.

When my mother’s body was moved to the facility morgue to await transport back to Ottawa, I sat with my brother-in-law for many more hours.

In the late afternoon I finally left for my train back home, assured that she would be moved.

Union station was a sea of rush-hour commuters and I was with the flow in one moment and against it the next. I was confused, light headed and relieved that I would soon be with my own family.

When I got to my seat, the last vacant one in the car, I was sitting, elbows to ribs, beside, across from, and facing businessmen. My eyes were raw, I was soaked with sweat, from the rush to get to the right train.

It was then I felt the panic; I could not endure two hours of trying not to cry while stone faced suits looked on. I rose, climbed across my seatmate’s lap and brief case and found a porter. She told me to talk to the head porter on the platform, which I did. “My mother just died,” I said. I remember my heart pounding and lack of breath. “I can’t sit there. It’s too crowded. I’ll pay extra for first class (not sure how). I can’t sit there.”

The woman took my hand and guided me to the first-class car where many seats were vacant, the lighting dim, and a quiet cool calm prevailed unlike the crowded car I had come from. She showed me to a seat by the window with only a few seated nearby and told me to eat and drink and not to worry about it. But the most I could do during that ride, was look out the window and cry and sniff as quietly as possible.

When we got to my stop, the same porter was on the platform helping people find their car. I approached her, her arms opened and I received a huge generous hard hug. She told me to take care of myself. We might have said more but people were waiting, the train was about to leave. She had saved my short life on that train ride.

I have told this story about the kind porter to my friends many times.

On my most recent train trip into Toronto for dinner with my brother and sister, when I got my train home I thought I recognized that same porter, moving along the aisle from car to car. As fate or luck would have it my seat was the second row from the end of the car, and as we picked up speed and headed east, I saw she was seated behind me, going through her paperwork. It was her.

I could have distracted myself with futile social media check-ins and email follow-ups, but I decided to say something. I spoke through the crack between the seats. “Excuse me, did you work for VIA eight years ago?”

“I’ve worked for them for twenty five years.”

“Eight years ago my mother died and you were so kind to me, you found me a seat in first class and I’ll never forget that. I have told so many people how much it meant to me.”

From where I sat I can say that it seemed she melted. Her eyes widened and then softened. She said it is always nice to hear that you have made some difference. She thanked me again. She told me her father had died since then and then asked me if I was okay. It’s strange how the unimaginable becomes something that is such a part of us. Both of us, now, seemed to share an understanding.

I was so glad I hadn’t let that moment slip by. It had been my turn to return a kindness, however small. When I stepped down from the train, we hugged again. I felt like I had completed a circle or opened a door, one or the other.

Orange and Purple

Initially we came across this lovely Monarch with his wings open and I was caught for a moment at the brilliance of orange against a purple backdrop. We had startled each other so he didn’t hang around for a photo, but once we had both collected our wits, he returned again to land where I had first seen him.

There is always that desire to have the perfect photo however much it takes us away from experiencing the magic of the moment. At times I resolve to commit the natural wonders I come across to memory. I commit to soaking up the visual, recording the audio with my ears and my spirit.

Last night the sound was silence as I sat in the cool autumn evening. In fact the silence was striking. I tried to bring some portable music onto the scene but weak connections and too much fuss, got in the way of the simplicity of the moment. I eventually surrendered.

I write this now sitting in a cafe, where a man many feet away can be heard. He has one of those voices which would be gold in the theatre, vibrating at a resounding and low frequency, but the heavy laborious droning and monotonous lack of inflection is killing me. I have plugged my earbuds into my head — I bought them for the gym, but they seem to fall out at the most intense moments of muscle contraction and they prevent me from the light hearted banter with my other gym colleagues. They are much appreciated right now at this moment, almost blocking the basso profundity of the cafe guy.

If I can imprint the intense orange of the Monarch and let the silence of last evening permeate my spirit in those moments, I can access that memory when I most need to, in a place where colours may be few or sounds may pollute my peace. I will have to put down the camera sometimes, tuck away the sound systems and remind myself of what it means to be in the moment.

Toasting the Micro

IMG-2683I was sitting out enjoying a glass of wine this evening, pre-dinner, all of the busy-ness of the day behind me. Some writing done, the poodle pooped from a game of fetch in the lake, the makings of dinner–roasting garlic and cauliflower for a yummy soup–in the oven. Time to relax.

I try not to let the untended garden bother me too much as I attempt to marvel at what is making an appearance, some small roses, persevering year after year, phlox from God knows when or who. I do some emergency watering but the weeding has gone by the wayside. We live in semi-arid savanna and I know this yet I am forever optimistic that something will grow and flourish, other than scotch thistle which is, even now, wilting. I think cactus may be my next modus operandi. In fact there are the remnants of a cactus farm just south of here.

What struck me though, in all of this glorious growth was the activity. There were bees all over the late season raspberry bush, and a beautiful emerald dragonfly came to rest on my ankle for a moment. There was a spider, you can see in the picture if you squint who was busy building a web as if he were playing a giant base fiddle, up and down the strings. The were other things too, flying and crawling.

I was in Toronto earlier this week to have dinner with my brother and sister and regardless of constant traffic, buildings seeming to go up in an instant, and the constant streams of pedestrians everywhere, the level of activity was nothing compared to what was happening right before my eyes. This country living is a hive of activity. I noticed it when we first moved here. Everyone or everything or every being is quite occupied. There is a family of birds–no idea what–living above one of the screen doors (which we are not using until they spread their wings), an ermine or two under the deck, and the usual bunnies (stepped on a nest of them in the raised bed where the berries weren’t doing so well, so hey, why not grow a bunch of bunnies instead) chipmunks and squirrels.

But it is this microscopic life that hums along as well, supporting things and systems of which I have no idea, pollinating berries I suppose, and performing the most fundamental tasks to keep things working on a macro level so that I can drink my wine and roast my cauliflower and garlic.

The Gardening Weekend

Last week I committed to an at home writing retreat, in which I promised myself no gardening and no baking. Well I got a great bit of writing done, not vast amounts but good insights into a large project I have been working on. I did break my promise to myself and picked rhubarb (gardening) and made a rhubarb pie (baking).

This weekend the sun has been blazing and we are promised a ton of rain on Monday, and have been getting loads of rain and cool weather over the past month. This hasn’t been great for the farmers or my own little amount of edible crops but it has kept the flowers in sort of a slow development. The lilacs have lasted longer it seems, and I now think that many of my flowers are going to all bloom at once, peonies with poppies etc.

I’m not sure what gardening does to the soul. I could say something poetic and philosophical. Come to think of it, it is a bit like writing. Today I did a first draft on part of the property, “editing” unwanted stuff growing beneath other stuff and crowding out things I had planted. I am content to leave things as they are for the moment, and go back for the next edit or draft to bring things closer in line with my vision. The whole place is looking a little ratty right now, like a first draft, rough edges, piles of discarded flotsam and flora and freshly planted annuals wondering where the hell to look and how the heck did they land in my garden.

I have a feeling that after the rain tomorrow things will look and feel a little more fitting, a little more as if they belonged.

Anyway what I love about this ain’t philosophical: Right now my shins and arms are torn to shreds — the dog won’t stop licking my wounds — from thorns and wild raspberries, and before I had a shower I was positively filthy, leaves and cedar things clinging to my hair, my feet black, even in my gardening shoes — fingernails and toenails caked with soil, my back was covered in sweat to which more wood like things and debris had adhered.

So this brings us to the absolute joy which is the pleasure and luxury of running a cool shower and scrubbing it all away the best of both worlds, the woodland wild faun, as I fancy myself, and the shaved guy who has to go out into the world on a rainy Monday morning, dreaming of his weekend wrestling with Junipers, Hawthornes, the shears, the lawn mower, gas, extensions cords and a bit of sunburn.