Here in Canada, it’s just another Thursday, but in the U.S. it’s “Turkey Day” (aka Thanksgiving). It’s hard to escape references to the American holiday — it’s everywhere in the newspaper (especially the comic pages) and we even have our own “Black Friday” sales happening tomorrow to mirror the annual shopping attack south of the border.
Even though I am not celebrating Thanksgiving today, I have a lot of reasons to be thankful. I’m thankful that we have a warm dry house while the cold wind scours the ground outside. I’m thankful that we have enough food to eat, and plenty for our dogs and cat, and the chickadees and nuthatch taking turns at the feeder. I’m thankful that I have a loving family and good health. I’m thankful that I can travel, and go for a walk in the woods, and enjoy photography.
Maybe I’ll go and get some turkey from the freezer. Happy (U.S.) Thanksgiving!
The days are getting so short. It’s still dark when I get up in the morning, and the sun has set by suppertime. Autumn’s spectacular display of colour has been swept away by the November storms, and now the trees stand bare and waiting.
Autumn is over, and winter has not yet begun. We have feasted in celebration of Thanksgiving (except for our friends in the States), the ritual of Hallowe’en has passed in a shower of candy, and the season of Advent will soon begin. Before the last-minute Christmas panic sets in, before the cold weather arrives to stay, there are a few precious days. This is the time for looking back and planning ahead, reflection and preparation, as we anticipate the miracle of Christmas and the gift of light.
Photo taken on November 13, 2010
Memory works in mysterious ways. We can’t remember what we ate for breakfast yesterday, but we can remember who hit the final home run for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1992 World Series*. I occasionally forget my phone number, but I have never forgotten the phone number sung by Stompin’ Tom Connors in the radio ad for PEI++. Childhood memories are the strongest of all.
I’ve been thinking about memory lately because I’m helping my dad with his memoirs, which he would like to have published in some form. The most interesting part of his life story (in my opinion) is the period between school and marriage, when he had many adventures and met the love of his life. But in order to get to this story, a good third of what he has written is about his childhood — home and family, boats and cows, fishing and stamp collecting, school teachers and neighbours. The sights and smells of those early days are still so fresh to him, but more recent years run into each other, their details blurred.
And it’s not just the debilitation that comes with age, because I’ve begun to realize my memories are the same. The memory of hurts and high points from my youngest years are stronger than those in more recent times. I can walk around my parents’ back yard and say with absolute certainty: here is where I fell and cut my hand on the broken bottles; here is where I found Trixie; here is where my dad hung the swing; here is where I hid and cried for my mother to find me. Whatever happens between age 6 and 16 is written in stone; anything after that is malleable, edited or erased by the passage of time.
++ “eight-double-zero, five six five, seven four two one…”
Photo taken on November 1, 2010
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
Our attitude toward weather is clearly biased. Despite the fact that we need precipitation to survive, wet weather is always bad weather, and sunny weather is fair and fine and good. Popular culture mostly reflects this. Think of the classic Harold Arlen song, Stormy Weather: “Life is bare, gloom and misery everywhere/Stormy weather, just can’t get my poor old self together…” Compare Rainy Days and Mondays (always get me down) and Sunshine on My Shoulders (makes me happy). Oh sure, you might hear Laughter in the Rain but you’re much more likely to be Walking in Sunshine.
I don’t know the origin of the term “liquid sunshine”, but I know when applied to rain it sounds much more pleasant. It’s a perfect illustration of the power of language to change how you feel about something. I’d rather drink from a glass which is half-full rather than one which is half-empty. Sure, I feel just as gloomy as the next person when the skies are dark and the rain is coming down in buckets, but maybe I need an attitude-ectomy. Maybe next time it rains, I’ll get out my jungle umbrella and go for a walk (instead of just standing on the front porch, like I did to take this photo). I don’t need more excuses to stay inside, I need more motivation to get out of the house. Would you like to join me? Come on, let’s go “walkin’ in liquid sunshine, oh yeah!”
Photo taken on October 27, 2010
It’s a wet day today. The sky is grey.
Car tires “slissssh” on the pavement.
I watch the rain against the window pane
As chickadees queue at the feeder.
The leaves are forlorn, scattered and torn,
Their autumn fire has faded.
The bare trees wait for a sunny break
And I am waiting, too.
Photo taken on October 15, 2010
Yesterday I spent much of the day outdoors. Only a light breeze was blowing, so it was a good day to rake the leaves and tidy up the fallen branches from the recent storm. I did my best to mulch them as I raked, filling up the garbage can with leaves and then using the weed whipper to break them up and speed the decomposition process. All the leaves were piled in a mesh enclosure in the back of our garden to await the spring, when they will be dug into the garden to enrich the soil.
As I was working out in the front yard, a CBC van pulled up and the driver asked if I would be willing to be on TV! Of course I said, “Sure”. He filmed me raking the leaves, and then I looked at the camera, identified myself, and then asked Peter what the weather would be like tomorrow. Apparently it was to be used as a lead-in to the weather forecast, and Peter is the local meteorologist on the evening newscast. I didn’t get to hear how Peter answered me, however, as we don’t have a TV. I hope somebody saw me in my brief starring role! If everyone has 15 minutes of fame, I wonder how many minutes I have left?
Photo taken on November 6, 2009
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
In New Brunswick, the spruce tree dominates the forest. At one time, the white pine was plentiful, but these tall straight trees were highly prized for use as ships’ masts — shipbuilding was an important industry here during the golden age of sail — and now the spruce trees grow where the white pine once stood. The white spruce has now reached new heights, as a packet of 24 seedlings from New Brunswick were used for an experiment at the International Space Station last April.
I don’t know the difference between the white spruce, black spruce, red spruce and Norway spruce. All I know is that they are by far the most common tree I’ve seen in this province. When you land at Saint John’s airport, you can see spruce trees in every direction, with a few houses and wetlands to add variety. When you drive North to Fredericton, or in almost any direction, spruce trees line the road for hours, broken by occasional stands of birches, maples, oaks and poplars. There are lots of pines and cedars, tamacks and balsam firs, but when you go for a walk through the forest, the trees you are most likely to bump into — fighting those tough lower branches that catch at your clothing — are spruce trees. I read somewhere that New Brunswick is almost 90% covered by trees, and I believe it. Forestry is still a thriving industry, and with 5.9 million hectares of forest, plus about 30 million new trees planted each year, the province isn’t going to run out of trees anytime soon.
Taken on October 11, 2010
October is half over, autumn’s colour is fading. Frost has touched the forest, turning the fiery red and yellow leaves dull and rusty. A wild wind dances through the trees, and the leaves dance with it, twirling and tumbling through the air. Many birch and maple leaves have already fallen, leaving bare gaps between the spruces and pines. We can see the sky through the poplar now, while the oak — that strong-willed spirit — is slower to relinquish its crown.
This is not the end of autumn, as some think, but the heart of it. The show of colour gives way to the fall itself, to the crunch of leaves underfoot as they break and scatter and enrich the earth. Walk, walk now as the fields turn brown and the leaves fly. Drink in the last mild days as the colour fades, before the wind sweeps us all into winter.
Taken on October 11, 2010
When I was young, a car ferry crossed the river at the bottom of the road a few minutes walk from home. I don’t remember taking the ferry much, but I remember the ferry store, where they had penny candy (mmm… pixie sticks) and chocolate bars and chips. The ferry landing has since moved farther down the road, but you can still take the ferry across the river, and travel almost instantly from a city suburb to the rolling countryside. It always feels like an adventure to take the ferry.
On Saturday morning we took the ferry to go to a local farmers’ market. It was cold and windy — a classic fall day — with a bright blue sky and rich oranges and reds decorating the hills. When we returned (with fresh garlic, apple cider, red cabbage and eggs), the line-up for the ferry was a kilometre long. I looked at all the people bundled up in their cars as we drove by. I hope it still feels like an adventure to them as well!
Taken on October 9, 2010
After you’ve lived in one place for a while, it’s easy to think you’ve seen it all. The same architecture, the same streets, the same sprawling malls, the same old, same old. And then one day you’re walking around a corner, looking for something else, only half paying attention, and there it is: something different. Hello, says the red vine, waving brightly from its yellow wall. Hellooooo, do you see me?
On another note, I’ve decided to post entries only on weekdays. As the days get darker, weekends are getting busier and sometimes I’d rather sleep in… So now you don’t have to waste, er, invest your weekends reading my blog, but I hope you’ll keep dropping by on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And thanks as always for your excellent comments!
Taken on October 2, 2010
Already it’s the end of September, and winter is suddenly close at hand. The days seem to be rushing headlong toward the end of the year. Resist the urge to get carried along with the rush. Take a few moments to breathe; stroll for a moment through the garden before leaping into your day. Feel the cool-fingered breeze at your neck. Listen as geese fly overhead, calling to each other. Look around you; see how the leaves are changing, see how they gather in drifts at your feet.
All too soon, this burst of colour will be gone. In a few weeks, you will see the cold stars looking down through the bare fingers of trees. Look well, and drink in the season. Autumn is here, and it is already passing.
Taken on September 23, 2010
Last night it was just starting to rain as I let the dogs out. It was dark. The porch light didn’t come on. I missed a step and fell. Aaugh! Ouch. I landed on the top of my foot and twisted my ankle. How ironic: welcome to fall.
I have fallen badly only a few times, but my first response is always fear. I don’t know why, but that surprises me. Of course, there’s pain, and anger (well that was stupid!), but mostly an intense awareness of how fragile I am, how close to breaking.
Not that I have a history of injury. I’m cautious by nature. So far (knock on wood) I haven’t broken any bones. But I have survived a head-on collision with a car while on my bicycle (because I was wearing a helmet), and a couple of years ago I had another bad fall that left me with a purple bruise on my face and dizzy spells.
I know it could have been worse. I’m thankful that my ankle is not broken, and I don’t think the sprain is serious. I don’t like pain, but I can put up with a little soreness. Still, I’ll try to keep my weight off it for a while. It’s raining, it’s cosy indoors, it’s a good day to stay home and be pampered.
Taken on October 24, 2009
Every fall I go through the same symptoms. No matter how much I avoided hot weather during the summer, I become a serious heat-seeker. As soon as the temperature drops down into the low teens (celcius), I get out my winter clothes and start layering. Today I am wearing a t-shirt, two sweaters, jeans and warm fuzzy socks (plus a few additional items). It has been cold and damp lately. I feel cold and damp.
I know that I can’t wear all my winter clothes yet, because there won’t be anything to add when it really gets cold. The temperature will drop below freezing, some days will be minus 20 or lower. I remind myself that 12 degrees celcius in mid-winter would feel balmy, but it doesn’t help. Every year, I have to wait and shiver for a couple of weeks until my body adjusts. Yes, summer is gone. Live with it!
Taken on September 26, 2010
It’s officially autumn. Overnight, it seems, leaves have started falling. Patches of yellow and red are appearing on the green hills. The market smells like fresh apples.
I remember a greeting card I was given a long time ago. “Stay out of the park: the squirrels are gathering nuts for the winter” it said. And so they are, we are all gathering in, picking the last of the produce from the garden, making green tomato pickle because the tomatoes have not ripened, buying squash and pumpkins while they are cheap and plentiful, storing what we can of summer’s bounty for the cold months ahead.
Taken on October 17, 2009
Yesterday the wind switched direction, blowing strongly from the south. It was a relaxing wind, warm and full of dreams. But it felt like fall. Last night I went out and talked sternly to my tomatoes, still green and undersized. My feet were cold in their sandals. This morning at 6 am it was still dark, only a hint of blue in the east. I can feel the change coming, the nearness of autumn, the breath of snow on the air. No, it’s too early, I cry… but I know in my heart that I cannot stop the seasons any more than I can make those tomatoes grow faster. So I am spending as much time as I can outdoors, basking in the last of the summer sun, trying to store it deep in my bones to last through the winter.