I was browsing my winter photos the other day, and actually cringed when I found one with the comment, “Yay, the snow is back!” We’ve had so much snow this year, I can hardly believe I felt that way only a few short months ago. At the same time, I’m aware that all this snow will seem as unreal as a dream in another few months.
In the last few days, I’ve been walking around our property, making mental notes:
- the snow is over the top of the driveway reflectors
- look how it’s drifted right across the fence
- it’s higher than the railing on the back stoop
- the snowbanks along the road are taller than me.
Right now, we’re inside looking out at winter and wishing it will go away. But it will go away, and we’ll be outside looking into our memories, shaking our heads as we say to each other, “Do you remember all that snow we had last winter? It was up to here!”
Photo taken on February 28, 2011
I used to wish I could be a cat, to have nothing more to worry about than whether to sleep, eat or play. I’d watch the family cat saunter from one cosy corner to another, leaping effortlessly to the back of the couch to watch out the window, tail twitching, then on to the floor to stretch luxuriously in a patch of warm sunlight. To our current cat, playtime is as important as sleep. As I write this, I can hear him chasing his foam jingly spool up and down stairs, the floor over my head resounding as he pounces and leaps and races across the room.
One of the things I admire most about cats is their ability to watch and wait, as patient as a rock (except when they think it’s meal time). Outdoors, they will do their watching from a hiding spot — a shaded blind under a bush or the back steps — but indoors they are bold, they know the window protects them and they do not hide their curiosity at the comings and goings of the world outside. Like these cats, I spend a lot of time looking out windows, watching the changing sky, the people walking by, the wind in the trees.
I used to think that a cat looking out the window was longing to be outside, but now I’m not so sure. Like me, they are watchers; they just want to see.
Photo taken on February 21, 2011
I’m been feeling down lately — and it’s just silly, because I’m really enjoying my job at the moment, and we went to the theatre and symphony and caught up with friends over the past week — but…
- It’s February, and the sidewalks are horribly icy, but spring is coming in the sense that today’s snow will be mixed with rain and freezing rain (yuck).
- I have all but disappeared from my online communities (my apologies for not coming by to visit lately) due to total lack of inspiration.
- I haven’t even taken any photos for a week (this image taken two years ago shows Saint John looking almost exactly as it does today, icicles included).
- When I was reorganizing my desk a few weeks ago, I dropped my favourite lens, a 24mm prime. Fortunately the lens itself seems to be fine, but the autofocus is no longer working.
- My ankle sometimes still aches where I hurt it last fall.
- And, well, I’m going to be 50 next month. I’m not shy about claiming my age, but I am afraid of aging, I am afraid of not being able to walk, I am afraid of not being able to carry my camera wherever impulse takes me, I am afraid of not being able to see clearly.
Yes, I know these February blues will pass, that my petulant whining will magically disappear in the face of a new adventure or new accomplishment, or new month. I’ll be waiting.
Photo taken on February 25, 2009
You don’t know what will trigger it, whether storms or stillness cause the shift. It could be as simple as water dripping from the end of a melting icicle, or the gradual realization that, yes, the days are getting longer at last! But when the longing for spring hits you, there’s no turning back.
I love Terra’s comment on my barbecue dreaming post, “I have been having the same feelings of longing and separation from the earth, the green, the smell of the dirt (or my own sweat!). I love winter but I am starting to really yearn bodily for the warmth of spring…”
At home, we’ve been talking about our plans for this year’s garden. My partner has ordered a whole slew of seeds, and I suddenly have the deep desire to plant something. Winter, yes it’s been a lovely visit, but it’s time to pack your bags. We’re waiting for spring to arrive.
Photo taken on February 5, 2011
After the storm had blown through yesterday, we went through a walk through the quiet streets in our neighbourhood. As we walked, we admired the sculptured snowbanks piled high by plow, snowblower and shovel, and smoothed to softness by the wind.
Walkways and driveways had already been cleared in front of some houses, and others were deep in drifts. A dog ran out to greet us as we walked by; his owner was busy with the shovel in front of his house — you wouldn’t have known he was there except for the snow flying up over the high bank. Another man with a snowblower was working farther down the street, and I could hear the sound of an ice scraper behind a running car in a nearby driveway. A taxi drove by, taking the turns carefully.
There was still a nip in the wind, and the soft snow swirled from snowbank to snowbank as we followed the tire tracks through the snow. We returned home, our cheeks red from the cold, cleared the back steps once more, and hung our hats to dry over the mudroom heater.
Photo taken on February 2, 2011
A few snowflakes are spinning lazily through the air outside my window. I know from the weather forecast that this is just the beginning, the harbinger of a huge storm which has paralyzed portions of the U.S. from Texas to Maine. From what I’ve heard, the storm won’t be as severe here, although we are expecting heavy snow, with about 30 centimetres by tomorrow morning.
It was on this day 35 years ago, in 1976, that Saint Johners experienced our “storm of the century”. The Groundhog Day Gale was completely unexpected. The day started calmly, with the temperature around the freezing mark and a light wind. The winds rose to more than 180 km per hour, causing a huge amount of damage across the city. Windows were smashed, telephone poles toppled, cars and sheds and airplanes were flipped and crushed. At high tide, the water rose over the low-lying parts of the city, and the hurricane-force wind carried the salt water for miles inland, causing electrical failures not only that day, but even months later. The gale was followed by days of bitter cold, which — combined with widespread power outages — sent many people to seek shelter. Miraculously, the only person killed was a man whose ice-fishing shack was blown across the river.
Already, outside my window, the few snowflakes have become a steady snowfall. On the internet I’m reading about the “snowpocalypse” in the States, and — on the other side of the world — a cyclone the size of New Zealand that is pounding northeastern Australia. It looks like many of us will see another storm to remember for years to come. But if it’s any consolation, I don’t think the groundhog will see his shadow today.
Photo taken on December 9, 2009
This streetscape is one of Saint John’s treasures. The group of “jellybean” buildings are c.1860 Second Empire row houses with sophisticated carved window and door surrounds. They are colourful and quaint, old and attractive. They remind us the time when most buildings in the city centre were wood, and the fact that most burnt in the Great Fire of 1877.
A few steps down the street in either direction are modern office buildings, brick and concrete, glass and steel. They house scores of office workers, shops and businesses. They are tall enough to command a view across the city. They are not particularly notable as architecture and do not attract tourists, but they are also a vital part of the city.
The beautifully painted row houses are now locally famous because a citizen’s group lobbied — successfully — to save them from the wrecking ball. The city was concerned that they were decrepit and needed the land to build a new office building. Over time, the old wooden buildings became more expensive to maintain, and the new concrete buildings became easier to construct.
The question is always one of balance, between a city’s historic heart and its economic vitality, between something old — to keep us rooted, and something new — to give us wings.
Photo taken on January 20, 2011
Fact #1: U.S. Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was shot yesterday. Some commentators are linking the shooting in Tucson to violent language on multiple websites, at least one of which showed Giffords’ congressional district in the crosshairs of a gun.
Fact #2: Yesterday I read an article in The Atlantic about the cost of believing everything you find on the internet. The gullibility of the public has allowed radicals and reactionaries to succeed in smear campaigns against their targets, even when their accusations have been proven to be false, because the public loves sensational scandal and ignores the truth that is later uncovered.
Fact #3: I spent more than six hours yesterday reading news feeds and bookmarked blog posts, and catching up on the expected results of South Sudan’s referendum, participating in an online conversation about Saint John’s uptown, and reading about the advantage of planned spending over budgeting.
* * *
If I wanted to remain virtually connected at this rate, I would have to devote at least two hours per day to reading online, and that would be mostly scanning the headlines. No wonder it’s hard to separate facts from fiction and to get a balanced view of the world.
And, in case you haven’t noticed, much of the noise out there (in the virtual world) is recycled information, broken up into byte-sized pieces. Sometimes the information is whitewashed, sometimes it’s muddied. And it’s all thrown together into the great washing machine of the internet, socks and underwear, tourniquets and tennis shoes, the bleeding red bandana and the white silk shirt. The internet does not sort and weigh the information, it does not separate the world’s laundry into the sheep and the wolves.
So take care what you say online, even in jest. Check your temper at the door but do not check your brain. Take care in what you read, and especially what you believe and pass on for fact. It’s not just viruses that we need to guard against. Sadly, very little can be trusted. Everything must be washed, rinsed and hung to dry in the cool light of rational thought.
Photo taken on December 18, 2010
I went uptown to go shopping on Saturday, and found the city centre beautifully decorated. But then the sun set, casting a bright wash of purple colour along the streets and making the harbour glow with reflected golden light, and that was the best decoration of all.
Photo taken on December 18, 2010
Last night I attended the Open House for PlanSJ — the process to create Saint John’s new official plan — and had a good look at the proposed direction for city growth over the next 25 years. In a nutshell, the plan calls the city to grow up, not out.
What this means is that urban areas, where the population is denser and communities are walkable, are recognized as healthier alternatives to suburban “scatteration”. These areas including the priority neighbourhoods of the Old North End, Crescent Valley, Waterloo Village, the South End, and the Lower West Side, areas of the city which desperately need an infusion of cash and smart development and energetic citizens. And the need is desperate: despite generous support for anti-poverty initiatives and community building projects, the neighbourhoods are known more for their decrepit buildings, drug traffickers and arsonists than the tenacious citizens who are trying to make things better.
If the city follows through, if buildings worth saving are rehabilitated, if new construction replaces empty lots and eyesores, and if people are willing to move back into the urban areas to make the city core healthy and happy, then Saint John doesn’t have anything to fear from the growing suburban communities on its east and west that have been attracting city refugees for the past 20 years. But in order for this to work, the city has to make the urban neighbourhoods more attractive — to developers, business owners, and prospective residents — at the same time as ensuring that people who live at or near the poverty line aren’t pushed out of their own neighbourhoods by skyrocketing rents.
It’s a tall order; is the city up to it? I hope so!
Photo taken on November 9, 2010
On the street where I live there is a young mother who goes for walks, pushing her baby in a stroller while keeping a firm grip on the leash of her happy dog. There is a little dog who guards his little porch, and a bigger dog who loves to run, given half a chance. Sometimes I see a Siamese cat slip under the fence to explore the back field, following the tracks of mice and deer and other cats who wander there. There is a young man who has a truck parked in his backyard just for parts, and a family who, I am told, keeps a few chickens in their basement so they can have fresh eggs. There is an old man who keeps his yard as neat as a pin, and an old lady who walks to church every day, her tall hair carefully wrapped in black lace. I think I will go for a walk down the street today, and say hello to my neighbours.
Photo taken on December 7, 2010
It’s a wry joke: Saint John is on the Bay of Fundy, which has the world’s highest tides, so it seems that as soon as our ship has come in, it goes out, it comes in, it goes out… And so it has continued for the history of the city, a tide of fame and fortune, or at least some regional importance, followed by bleak years of being a Maritime backwater.
Established in 1785 by a wave of United Empire Loyalists, buoyed by Irish and Scottish immigrants, Saint John became the transportation and manufacturing hub at the centre of a profitable trade between British North America, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom. Then economic decline followed. The golden age of shipbuilding ended, the Great Fire of 1877 destroyed the city’s business district, and a depression sent many people west to look for jobs.
The pattern continued in the 20th century. Saint John’s ice-free port was the entry point for many goods coming into Canada in the winter. That stopped when the St. Lawrence Seaway was built in the 1950s. Shipbuilding played a huge role in reviving the city’s economy in the 1980s, but then the contracts dried up and the city lost population again.
The cruise ship industry has helped to revive the city once again, and people (including me) have been moving back to find jobs. Just two years ago, Saint John was touted as the new “energy centre” of the Maritimes. Now three potentially huge energy-related projects have been cancelled, and business and industry owners are once again tightening their belts.
So it was somewhat ironic to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pictured getting into his car) flying in to make an announcement (about funding for the harbour bridge) last week. Now he’s gone back to Ottawa, and the city is left to its troubles and the ceaseless tide, looking for the ship that never seems to stay in port long enough.
New England has sent us a storm today; the forecasters predict upwards of 50mm of rain. I heard it beating in waves against the windows last night, along with a wind that howls up from the valley and thrums under the eaves. The city is dark, and the black-paved streets and deep puddles swallow light and create bizarre reflections; down the street I see a bright yellow school bus leading a parade of cautious cars. Drivers hunch over their steering wheels, their windshield wipers just out-of-sync with those of the car behind.
I am heading uptown in an hour, knowing the rain will drive sideways as I scurry around tall buildings, knowing the water will pour in rivers down the steep alleys and my feet will get wet. I will wear my yellow rain jacket and walk quickly. When I come home again, I will run inside, dripping, rain-tossed and bedraggled. My glasses will steam up from the warm house and there will be fresh homemade bread and baked beans. And I will be grateful that it is not yet winter.
Photo taken on October 24, 2009
Last night I dreamed of being happy. We were living in a house and there were other people around and there was laughter. And I realize that one of the things I need is interaction with other people. I love my partner, and we do have a lot of fun together, but I wish we could make new friends more easily. Of course it’s great to invite my parents over for dinner & scrabble, but that’s not the same. We’ve been in this house now for just over a year, and in Saint John for six months more, but how do you start from scratch when you’ve left your friends in Ontario?
It’s been 20 years since I moved away, and in that time my interests have changed. I have changed. If I meet someone from the “old days”, we are strangers to each other. I know we could make friends more easily if we become involved in something, so we have been trying to figure out where to invest our time, which organizations or clubs to join, what charities to support, and how many events to attend. The local naturalist club might be a good fit, but we haven’t yet made it to a meeting — it’s daunting to walk into a room of people who all know each other well, not knowing if you will like them (and they will like you). For me, an obvious choice is the local photo club which meets monthly, and a group of local Flickr members. But I’m not a joiner unless I can be a participant. I’m not satisfied with just sitting in a chair at a monthly meeting; I want to be part of what’s going on, otherwise I lose interest. So I’m hanging in, hoping to get to know people better.
Looking for a community “match” is darn difficult. It feels like dating again. No wonder we’ve been staying home!
Photo taken on November 1, 2010
Storms are like operas. At the start, you can sense the dark clouds building on the horizon, the impending doom. In the midst of the storm, there is a lot of wind and wild movement, small creatures run away and copious tears are shed. The German term sturm und drang (storm and stress) describes well the extremes of emotion expressed during the height of an operatic storm.
Then there is a lull, a deceptively peaceful period when the eye of the storm passes over and it seems that love will prevail, after all. You have a moment to lean back and take a sip of wine, but — watch out — the 2nd act is more dramatic than the first, so hold on to your seat! Again the wind comes howling through, tossing limbs and bending strong trees to the ground. Again the chorus of sirens, as lightning strikes and fire rages. Again the shedding of copious tears, the heartbreak, the tragedy of untimely loss.
At last — yes, once the well-endowed soprano has sung her final dying note — it ends. The world has been scoured and refreshed, the storm has passed on and life will continue. Catharsis, and peace. Tension, and release. Storm, and silence.
Taken on October 15, 2010
Today is — according to the weather forecast — the last mild day of fall. I’ve acclimatized to this first change, finding that 10 degrees celcius does not feel cold after all. But after today, it turns rainy and and cold, and then sunny and cold, and then just cold… that’s when the winter coats will come out.
So I’m harvesting vegetables. I’ve been out in the garden today pulling carrots and parsnips, leeks and celeraic, and adding the last of the zucchini plants to the compost pile. Two sweet peppers I’ve potted up to see if they survive long enough to grow their pistachio-sized sweet peppers into something big enough to eat. The tomatoes, cucumbers and onions have already been picked and eaten (or preserved), and all that’s left of our scarlet runners are a few dry beans ready for planting next year.
The birds and animals have been scurrying around, collecting their harvest as well. Our rowan tree has been picked clean (I don’t know why this one in an uptown park is still covered with berries) and wild creatures of all sorts have made the wild apples behind the fence disappear. The chickadees are back at the feeder, and the purple finches and American goldfinches that kept us entertained all summer have flown south. We have a few more tasks to do — rake more leaves for mulch, empty the garden hose, store the window boxes and whirlygig, and put winter tires on the car — and then we’ll be ready. Are you ready for winter?
Taken on October 2, 2010
This weathered door has seen a lot of Octobers. This door on Elliot Row, a few houses in from the sea in one of the oldest parts of the city, has seen thick fog and hurricane rains, hot sun and freezing gales, and everything in between. You can see the marks where the door has been pushed, shoved and bumped, where the paint is worn down to the wood by frequent use. It looks like this door was painted white before it was red, and before that — before the new owners refinished it and repainted and re-sided and renovated the house from top to bottom — I wonder what it looked like then?
When the Nor’easter rolls up the Eastern seaboard and sends the Bay of Fundy waves pounding against the shore, it will stand firm. When snowbanks ploughed off the street climb all the way to the top of the railing, and ice encases the steps, it will still open and close, firm against the weather. For now, it’s strong enough. For now, there are flowers, and a pumpkin to mark the season of harvest and Hallowe’en. Welcome.
Taken on October 2, 2010
I like toys. I have lots of them: a bike and camping gear and a harp and lots of camera stuff and a computer and an ipod touch and an elliptical exerciser and a bunch of kitchen gadgets and garden tools and, oh yes, a car. Yet I spend most of my spare time on my computer and ipod.
But I’m not doing very well in the fitness department. If I keep sitting all day, I’ll turn into an ottoman (the furniture kind) — all seat and no legs. With the exception of apps for activities such as birding, starwatching and geocaching, computers and being outdoors don’t go together, and unless you’re just listening to music, you’re not actually doing anything.
And it’s not just me. There has been a lot of hand-wringing about child obesity in the so-called developed world. I saw a Saint John photo by Ian McEachern yesterday, showing a group of 9 or 10 kids playing in on the street next to a group of homes, a couple of adults leaning against the stoop, watching. That was 1968; this is 2010. The boy in this photo is alone. He has an electronic toy in his hand. He hasn’t walked the few blocks to the nearest playground, he isn’t kicking a soccer ball with the neighbourhood kids or heading to the library to check out a new book. He’s standing in a neighbourhood parking lot, with a whole universe of playgrounds to explore, at least until the battery runs down.
Taken on October 2, 2010
The universe doesn’t always unfold as it should… or at least not from my admittedly limited human perspective. Sometimes it seems like I’m always running uphill, missing the boat, swimming against the tide.
Take last night, for instance. I had been wanting to get outside for some fresh air and photographs all day, but when I finally grabbed my camera, it was getting dark. I went out anyway, because there was still some light in the sky and the clouds were interesting, but I only took a few photos before my hands started to freeze from the cold wind. I decided to take a nice hot shower, and discovered I had a big scrape on my leg (when? where? who knows?). When I stepped out of the show, all relaxed, there was a huge spider in the middle of my clothes pile. (Did I say HUGE?) Thankfully, LB came to my rescue. Then, after settling into a nice sleep, why was I wide awake at 3:30 am, and I’m pretty sure those weren’t sugar plums dancing around my head.
So, I have a few things on my mind. Besides my increasing concern over not yet finding a job, there’s a growing job list for the house, a half-started project my father is waiting patiently for me to complete, and the huge Thanksgiving feast that we need to plan and prepare for Sunday. Still, I know in a few days, a few months, a few years, I’ll look back and all this will seem but a tiny blip on the radar map of my life.
But for now, there’s much to do… must run!
And to all my Canadian friends, Happy Thanksgiving!
Taken on October 7, 2010
It was foggy yesterday. This wasn’t the vanish-with-dawn kind of fog, or even the sun-burns-through-by-noon kind of fog. This was stay-all-day fog. As I walked through the uptown streets, several times the sky seemed to brighten and I thought ‘A-ha, now the fog will lift and the sun will come out’. But it didn’t. By the time I headed home again, I think I could see a little farther down King Street, but I wouldn’t swear to it in court.
But I was born here. I grew up with fog. I like fog. And most folks here don’t seem to mind it, to judge from the number of people strolling through town and passing a pleasant afternoon in the park. If you need sunshine to enjoy your day, you’d best move to Fredericton. But if you live in Saint John, and it’s foggy, that usually means it’s not windy. It’s calm and mild and easy on the eyes. And sometimes that’s just what you need.
Taken on September 25, 2010
It’s been rainy this week, and the forecast is for more rain next week. When the weather is grey and drizmal, I have two choices:
1) curl up on the couch and catch up on my sleep/reading while I wait for nice weather
2) put on my brightest clothes, look for some eye-popping colour or play some snappy music, then go out for an adventure
An adventure is going places. It could be a walk in a nearby park or an unfamiliar neighbourhood. It could be a shopping expedition, or a drive out in the country. It could be a visit with a friend, or going out to dinner or a movie.
Whatever it is, an adventure is something to look forward to, something to do right now instead of waiting for Mother Nature or the Ship of Opportunity to ring your doorbell.
This photo is loud. It’s a wake-up alarm, a call to action. Because I really need to be a little more active. And, you know, I can’t resist red.
Taken on May 29, 2009
Although most of us think we follow a 12-month calendar, practically speaking, that’s not how we follow the year at all. Kids will mark time by birthdays and holidays, Hallowe’en and Christmas, school start and school finish. Gardeners follow the seasons — frost free date, planting, watering, harvesting, frost date, dreaming, and seed ordering — though I suspect flower gardeners have a completely different calendar. Other common calendars revolve around specific sports, or dog shows, or fashion. There is the “Hallmark” calendar, the “red letter day” calendar (international religious festivals and holidays and other special events), the liturgical calendar (with colour coding, eg. red for Pentecost, blue for Christmas), the wiccan calendar (solstice celebrations and Beltane), the birder’s calendar (migration season, nesting season, etc) and many others. If you put all these calendars together, you would have more than enough to celebrate every day of the year!
What calendars do you follow?
Taken on September 23, 2010
The sun is up, and the air feels fresh. Light is streaming between buildings, casting bright reflections from one side of the street to the other. Walking through the cool shade, you suddenly emerge into blinding light. There is a fluttering of wings as pigeons scatter through the park. Looking down King Street, you can see the sun sparkle on the open water at the bottom of the hill. A seagull calls as it soars high above the bridge. You might stop for a coffee, or maybe meet a friend along the way. The thing is, to get moving. The rest of the day beckons.
Taken on September 14, 2010
I used to have a t-shirt that said “Canadian seasons: winter and construction.” It sure seems that way this year in Saint John — everywhere you look, there’s construction. Sometimes the construction looks more like destruction. It’s hard to hold off on judging whether a project is worthwhile when you see only the mess and inconvenience. But the hardest part isn’t the chaos, it’s the letting go.
Construction projects need to start with a clean slate, which means razing whatever was there before and building a new foundation. Even home renovations require hard choices: you can’t get new stuff unless you make room by getting rid of the old stuff. While I think new building projects and renovations are exciting, I still find it hard to see landmarks disappear and beloved items go out with the trash, even if they are well past their useful life. And let’s not even get started on people!
When an old church is closed, a liturgy is held to “desanctify” it. I think we need a small but significant way to ceremoniously mark a change, and leave the past in the past. We need a way to properly say goodbye. I know I could use the practice.
Taken on May 24, 2009