It’s that first whiff as a wave of wood smoke wafts by your nose. It’s the lawn chairs pulled out from the back of the garage, now waiting on the patio. It’s the surprising warmth of the sun in the late afternoon. It’s the pile of brush heaped into the portable firepit, spitting sparks and sinking into coals and ash. It’s all of this that draws me outdoors, out into the fresh spring air.
That’s when the bag of marshmallows emerges, and last summer’s marshmallow sticks are pulled from their hiding place. The stick ends are whittled clean, and the familiar ritual begins. Bundled against the chilling breeze, we lean into the warmth of the fire as we meditatively twirl our marshmallows over the hot coals. Smoke tendrils spiral upwards as the white-coated sweets turn brown and pocked with heat. I lift the perfectly toasted marshmallow to my mouth. Mmm.
Photo taken on April 10, 2011
The light is changing, I feel sure
that winter’s grip is not so tight
and twilight has a touch of warmth — no more
abrupt sunsets, the sun rudely diving behind the horizon
before evening arrives — now the day lingers, looking back,
drawing curtains of pale pink and indigo across the window of the sky.
The cold still creeps under cover of darkness, encasing the land in ice,
but morning comes early — impatient now to work its own miracles –
turning snow into slush, ice into water,
warming the sleeping world to life.
Photo taken on February 10, 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
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
I am looking at this wide openness, my eyes drinking in the clear light, the bright ribbon of liquid gold winding to the far horizon. And for a moment, a brief instant, this is all I need.
* * *
My cousin recently returned from a two-week medical mission to Mali. Her photos show a loving community that by North American standards has less than nothing. When she returned, her mother asked her what she wants for Christmas. She said she’s realized she doesn’t really need anything.
* * *
At a Christmas party I attended last night, I was not the only who who ate more than I needed, then joked about eating too much. I heard someone telling a story about the frustration of parking at the shopping “maul”. The question “Are you ready for Christmas?” prompted conversations about family expectations, travel plans, food and gifts.
* * *
I already have so much more than I need. I am barnacled with stuff, it has stuck to me over the years like an extra layer of fat. I am holding onto unfulfilled dreams, books half-read, sweaters half-knit, materials gathered and gathering dust. I don’t need more, I need less. I need space and open air. I need to free myself for what lies ahead, to be open to the promise of a new year.
Photograph taken on November 28, 2010
I am a spur-of-the-moment photographer. I tend to take ‘em as I see ‘em. That’s not to say I don’t work with different angles and compositions, and I certainly spend enough time adjusting colour, crop, contrast etc on the computer. But I have to admit that I seldom plan ahead.
Last night was an exception. I had two reasons to take photos. The first was because it was Thursday, and Utata (the Flickr photo group I participate in) always has a weekly project called Thursday walks. The second is the photo conference happening this weekend in Moncton, called Foto Expo, which is also running a contest with the theme “downtown architecture”. I didn’t get out during the daytime because I was making apple chutney, and it took longer than I expected (doesn’t it always). So that’s why I was uptown with a camera and tripod at 8 p.m. last night.
I had been wanting to take a photo of this building for a while, so last night was the perfect opportunity. Finding the puddle was a bonus. I’m really glad I planned ahead and brought the equipment I needed for this photo shoot. I spent about 40 minutes in this parking lot (my car is the 2nd from the right) and took photos of this Old Post Office building from several angles. In fact, it was so much fun, I might do it again (plan ahead, that is)!
Photo taken on October 28, 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
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
It’s so easy to live a nomadic life, here in North America. People change jobs, change cities, move clear across the continent from one ocean to another, or continue moving from one country to another. You might grow up in Omemee and end up in Shubenacadie or Pongapong or Novosibirsk. My dad grew up in Auckland and ended up here, in Saint John, halfway around the world. Why here? Well, there was this girl he met on a boat in the middle of the ocean… but that’s another story.
So this is where my story started, here in Saint John. And even though I left — and eventually returned — this place was always with me. I think that’s the way it is sometimes, the way we carry a place with us, rooted in our psyche. No matter where you are, you will always be here.
Taken on August 26, 2010
Deer are common here — so common that they are considered a nuisance. Gardening columns and nurseries contain lists of “deer resistant” plants. Newspaper articles talk about the pros and cons of “deer culling”. When people mention “the Millidgeville herd”, they’re not talking about a social clique. My parents used to be able to grow bulbs and shrubs in their garden, but now the few plants that survive are protected by chicken wire. Our tulips were destroyed before they even bloomed this spring, and yes, there were deer tracks in the ravished garden bed. In the field behind our house, we often see two or three deer, and the dogs know they’re there even when we don’t. Not even the experts can agree on why the city’s deer population keeps growing, so it seems that we have to learn to live with them. I still think it’s a treat to see them appear… as long as they stay out of my vegetable patch!
Photo taken on July 16, 2010
The nights are cooler now. The sun is setting earlier. The curtains are closed and the lights are on when I go for an evening walk. With the turning of the year, the fading of summer, the last light of day is more precious than ever. Don’t go inside just yet. Look up to see the sky turn from blue to indigo. Wait for the night. Watch for the first star to appear, just there, over the horizon.
Taken on September 9, 2010
Fairgrounds and cotton candy are almost inseparable. When I was younger, I needed one serving of cotton candy each year, to complete the experience of going to “the Ex”, just like I needed one day on the beach to properly appreciate the summer weather. In recent years, I haven’t always made it to the fairgrounds, let alone the beach; time just seems to have been speeding up. But yesterday, it was too perfect an evening to stay home. So we went out to “the Ex” — the one I remember from my childhood — and strolled by the brightly lit rides and the carnies at their games, and soaked in the fun atmosphere. We visited the chickens and the drooping flower displays and watched the dog agility demonstration. But this time I bypassed the cotton candy and chose a caramel apple instead. It was delicious.
Taken on September 1, 2010
Why are we fascinated by desert islands? I know it’s a popular writers’ theme, allowing for a wide variety of plot twists and outcomes, from good (“Treasure Island”) and bad (“Lord of the Flies”) to silly (“Gilligan’s Island”) and bizarre (“Lost”). But I’m sure the desert island appeal goes deeper than the role of adventure playground. Desert islands also turn up in personality profile questionnaires, such as “what would you like to have with you on a desert island?” Perhaps this hints closer to the truth.
How many of us have stood on a beach, mesmerized by the ceaseless motion of the waves, and felt that time is standing still? Imagine being on a tropical beach with no abrupt change of seasons to remind you of the passing of time. And if you suspend time and live only from day to day, enjoying each moment as it happens — and of course have your basic physical needs provided — then you would have no worries, no stress. It’s an attractive fantasy, as old as the Garden of Eden. But I think the old TV show “Fantasy Island” had it right: you can dream for a while, to be refreshed and learn something important about yourself, but then it’s time to wake up, to leave the island and make the most of your life.
Taken on April 29, 2010
This wide street was once lined with houses and businesses. It begins where the river ferry once docked at Indian Town and heads in a beeline for the uptown core, connecting the city’s North End and its South End. In the 1970s, when huge population and economic growth was predicted for Saint John, the city widened the old street to allow for the increased traffic. Now it’s not a destination but a thoroughfare. Instead of connecting the North End, Main Street now isolates it. This six-lane road and the nearby highway have carved a moat between the North End and the central city. No wonder the newly created Harbour Passage walkway around the harbour has become so important — it’s the only walking route into the uptown which doesn’t require pedestrians to travel via a dusty and noisy concrete-and-car desert.
Taken on August 26, 2010
The fog had rolled in while we were enjoying supper in a pub at the foot of Princess Street. The bright afternoon had given way to a different mood, a more contemplative setting for our walk back to the car. The shops had closed, no tourists were lingering about. As we strolled up the hill, a few pedestrians walked quickly by, their heads turned toward home. It was easy to imagine this city a century ago, looking much like this, the uptown streets quiet in the evening.
Taken on August 9, 2010
I love the incongruity of this. The word “smile” written as graffiti. That’s smile without a smiley face, with what looks like an anguished face. That’s smile written on an alley wall just off one of the main shopping streets in uptown Saint John. There is irony here, and humour. It made me smile.
Taken on August 9, 2010
Yesterday, after the showers had passed, the clouds started to lift. The sun appeared, and the moist earth breathed dampness into the air. Then the fog rolled in. (Welcome to summer in Saint John!) Yet, I still love the fog. I love the soft filtered light during the day. And the fog halos around the streetlights in the evening. And the way it adds mystery to the darkness, inviting you out at night, to walk with the fog through the quiet city streets.
Taken on June 25, 2009
The other evening we went for a walk. It had been a hot day, but the temperature dropped suddenly as the sun set. As we turned the corner, we could see why — a bank of fog was spreading its tendrils through the city, bringing with it a refreshing coolness. It was a lovely evening for a walk.
Taken on July 15, 2010
The uptown core of Saint John is fairly low key. Aside from a small cluster of tall buildings at the foot of King Street, the majority of the central city — much of which is 19th century streetscape — is no higher than four or five storeys. And since the city core is built on a hill that climbs up from the harbour, that means there are some interesting views if you know where to look. From the deck of this apartment in the South End where we lived last year, just a stone’s throw from the uptown area, we could see fireworks and the upper decks of cruise ships at high tide. We could see sunsets and steeples. And on a clear night we could see stars. In fact, you can see stars from almost everywhere in the city. All you have to do is look up.
Taken on May 2, 2009
A friend complained to me one day about our “cheap energy”, saying that we don’t pay anywhere near the true cost of our power. So we squander it. Every night, when the sun goes down, lights go on all around the world, but no place beams brighter than the largest cities and richest populations. Check out this view from space to see what the earth looks like at night. It makes me wonder how we would spend our energy if it was limited, if we truly saw it as a precious resource, if we were rationed to a certain amount per day. I suspect that beaming light out into space would not be our first priority.
Taken on December 2, 2009
Saint John is an industrial city. There’s no mistaking the slight tang of sulfur in the air when the wind is blowing the right (or wrong) direction. There’s no avoiding the pulp and paper mill at the site of Saint John’s most famous landmark, the Reversing Falls (Rapids). I was told recently about a survey conducted with tourists at Reversing Falls; one of the questions was about whether they found the sight of the pulp mill offensive. But the tourists didn’t see a problem with having the mill there. What they wanted to know was the history of it — how did the pulp mill get there; what role did it play in Saint John’s history, what does it tell us about the role of timber and pulpwood in the growth of the city? And when you look at it like that, this pulp mill is at least as much a landmark as the blockhouse on Fort Howe, with perhaps more historical significance.
Taken on November 19, 2009
Much of New Brunswick is still wild, and that which is not heavily forested is farmed. As you drive along the river valleys, you can see fertile fields, dairy cows, apple orchards, hay bales, barns. Living in the city, it’s easy to forget that we can enjoy our urban lifestyle only because the settlers came before us, clearing and plowing and farming the land. It’s easy to forget the hunters and trappers, fishers and loggers, collecting food, furs, timber and masts for the explorers and travellers along our shores. It’s easy to forget the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) peoples who named and befriended this part of the country, and taught the newcomers how to survive. Today, on Canada Day, I remember.
Taken on June 8, 2009
If I lived here, I would plant flowers along the walkway, heaps of waving cosmos and clumps of cheerful pinks. I would have a glass jug of fresh lemonade in the refrigerator, with lemon slices to make the lemony taste last when the ice cubes melt. I would keep stacks of old magazines and cookbooks in the enclosed porch, and an old couch for catnaps on hot summer days. I would walk out into the garden in bare feet, my toes delighting in the cool grass, and return with sprigs of basil, parsley and lemon verbena. I would sit on the step at the side door on warm evenings, and look up at the sky, and dream.
Taken on June 15, 2010
I remember coming down to the Bayshore a couple of years ago. There is a beach here, and access to the breakwater where you can walk (on slippery sharp rocks) out to Patridge Island at low tide. They had started building houses on the bluff overlooking the beach, and heavy rains had carved a channel in the sandy bank, undermining one of the new foundations. I suppose seafront properties are prime real estate, but who owns the properties when the sea takes them back?
Taken on April 29, 2010