I’ve been walking to work lately, most days. I take the neighbourhood route, avoiding the busy road until the winding residential streets run out. I walk in the cool of the morning, on the sunny side of the street, past quiet houses, and listen to the birds sing. Sometimes I see other people out walking their dogs, or jogging.
I arrive at work, where the spot I used to park has been taken over by roofers, and the rest of the parking lot has been removed by the construction crew working on a large building project. We are surrounded by drilling, thumping, hammering, blasting, and digging. Sometimes we can hardly get out the door for the cement trucks, dumptrucks or other heavy equipment moving in and out of the construction site. Yet people still manage to arrive, anyway, for art classes and gallery openings, workshops and meetings.
Then I walk home again, and when I reach the quiet streets of my neighbourhood, I see kids playing in backyards and cars pulling into driveways. And people are out walking dogs and jogging. And sometimes these two yappy dogs are out in their front yard, watching, ready to scold or gossip or at least make a lot of noise as I walk past, smiling.
Photo taken on March 31, 2011
It feels like a miracle, the way the winter has all but disappeared. Barely more than a week ago, it seemed that the tall snowbanks and thick ice would never leave, but then the mild temperatures and rain arrived and washed most of it away. It’s hard to describe that sudden burst of joy I felt on seeing patches of bare garden already showing signs of life, how quickly the green shoots are starting to emerge!
As the spring solstice nears and the sap starts running, I feel my own energy level respond. I walked in the garden yesterday without a jacket, and it felt like such freedom. The birds are more plentiful, and more vocal, too; yesterday we heard a cardinal, and saw a small flock of red polls in the maple tree. Spring is arriving and I want to be outdoors; I want to revel in it.
There are changes in my own life, too. On Saturday, my partner and I played our first ever “gig”, a 30-minute program of harp & recorder while guests gathered for my aunt’s 95th birthday party. We had both worked hard to prepare the music and it showed; we actually sounded good, and — bonus — it was fun!
And tomorrow I will be celebrating my 50th birthday. This turning of the year is also a turning point in my life. I don’t know what to expect, or even what I’ll be doing in a few months, but I have a hunch that whatever happens next is going to be good!
Photo taken on February 21, 2011
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
If plants had feelings — and who says they don’t? — they would feel very sad at being neglected in a dark corner of the house. You know they are feeling sad, because they literally droop with sadness, moping in the shadows, turning pale and dropping leaves, trying desperately to catch your attention.
And when you relent and place them in a sunny window, giving up your own sunny table to make your plants happy, oh my, what an improvement to their spirits and yours! You can almost see them purring with pleasure as they bask in the light, leaning in to the window as close as they dare and even sacrificing the tips of their leaves in quest of the sun’s life-giving rays.
And if plants had dreams — you know they do — they would dream of mountain slopes and steamy jungles, hot breezes and drenching rains, the call of parrots and the rainbow shimmer of butterfly wings, a tropical paradise where winter is banished forever.
Photo taken on January 20, 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
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
I can’t believe the snow this year.
The snowdrifts are almost hip deep.
The snowbanks on each side of the driveway are over my head.
Can you remember the feel of grass between your toes?
Every day I have to bundle up.
I have so many layers to put on when I go out.
I have so many layers to take off when I come home.
Can you remember the sound of bees humming in the hot afternoon?
It’s impossible to go anywhere.
The sidewalks are deep with drifts, or too icy for safe walking.
The streets are slippery, the parking meters half-buried by snow.
Can you remember the smell of hamburgers cooking on the barbecue?
Photo taken on February 2, 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
My new job is a new beginning, but it’s also an ending. It’s an end to lazy mornings lounging in my pajamas, and mid-afternoon play sessions with the dogs. It’s an end to looking through employment ads and updating only the expense side of my balance sheet.
In the past week I’ve tried to absorb more information than is humanly possible to retain, began to bond with people who will soon be leaving, and learned some of the history of a place which is now in the midst of change. It was a mentally and emotionally exhausting week.
I am preparing for an undefined role in the difficult time of this workplace, at the moment in which everything seems to be in flux. Yet there is so much potential — it could turn out to be a really fascinating and fun job. But if this first week is any indication, I won’t be following a predictable pathway, I’ll be helping to clear a new one. Yikes!
Photo taken on January 30, 2011
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
Do you see the hedge first, or the houses? Do you see the tiny yellow buds on the topmost twigs, or the green wreath decorating the door? As you walk by, do you notice which tidy post-war houses have their walkways freshly cleared of snow, or do you watch the late afternoon sun as it wraps the neighbourhood with yellow ribbons of light?
I know there’s work to be done and phone calls to make, items to check off my to-do list and projects to finish. But right now I’m busy. Right now I’m outdoors, feeling the cold air on my face, watching the dogs track unfamiliar scents from tree to telephone pole, and listening to the crunch of my boots on the snow-crusted sidewalk. For 30 minutes, nothing else matters more than being here. I don’t have a lot of time, so I want to make the most of it.
Photo taken on January 4, 2010
I’ve read a number of other people’s resolutions and goals for 2011 in the last couple of days. It almost seems as if, on the stroke of 12:01 a.m. January 1st, their ambitious plans suddenly popped up on the calendar, ready to be checked off the list.
I look at my calendar, and it tells me nothing.
Sure, there are lots of things I’d like to accomplish in 2011, but my main goal — a successful career change — needs more than a few quick checkmarks. As I’ll be turning the big 5-0 soon, I figure that whatever career I end up (hopefully sooner than later) should be one I can stick with.
I feel like I’m ready for a change, but I don’t want to rush into the wrong decision.
This photo, taken during a snowstorm last January, reminds me how much things can change. Since it was taken, we’ve built a fence and made a lot of improvements to the house and garden. But here in the middle of winter, it’s harder to see the changes, the thick snow falling now doesn’t feel any different than last year’s snow.
So I’m not in a hurry. I’m taking stock, watching the weather, and trying to be prepared for the inevitable changes that lie ahead, just around the corner.
Photo taken on January 20, 2010
This is a family time of year, we are told, as if the nostalgic rosy-eyed view of family could be sold along with the tinsel and this year’s must-have electronic gadget. But what is family? A family is fluid, a river you can’t step in twice. Family dynamics are like skating on thin ice. Family is history and baggage and years of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole (or the other way around). Family is one slippery word; from Norman Rockwell to Mommy Dearest, it carries a boat-load of expectations too easily shipwrecked on the shoals of life.
Christmas can be a difficult time, family wise. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my parents. After staying away for so many years, I am delighted to be home again, but now my brothers are staying away instead. This is family. Over the past four days, my partner’s son and his long-time girlfriend have been visiting us from Montreal. Spending time with this young couple who are so obviously in love reminds me of the magic that happens when people truly care for each other. This, too, is family.
Those who no longer have family find this time of year difficult as well. In a family-centric society, what could be worse than spending the holidays alone? Yet being alone may be better than spending time with a family that does not love you. That’s why we have friends. My friends have been there for me when I really needed them. And isn’t that, after all, what family is all about?
Photo taken on December 29, 2010
We had a green Christmas. The sun shone, the roads were bare and the temperature was mild. Although I was hoping for snow, I admit that it couldn’t have been a better day.
Then, late on Boxing Day, a Nor’easter blew up along the coast and dumped a pile of snow and some rain through the Maritimes. As I write this, a blustery wind is shaking the trees and blowing last night’s fresh snow into sharp-peaked drifts. The landscape has completely changed. My shoulder and back muscles are still sore from shovelling snow yesterday, and I know there will more shovelling to do today.
Welcome back, winter.
Photo taken on December 27, 2010
I wanted to share some photos of the Christmas lights in our neighbourhood. The houses are so beautifully decorated, they just need a good snowfall to make the scene look more like Canada and less like Florida. Instead, I’ve chosen this photo, taken last year during a snow storm. This (to my mind) is what a picture-perfect Christmas looks like, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year. We’ve had rain and wind during the night, and it looks like it will be another day before it blows over. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a few flakes before Christmas, but the temperatures this week are at the point where any snow could turn to rain (or vice versa).
Still, it could be a lot worse than rain on Christmas. It could be a lot of rain, like the 150 cm over 24 hours in southwestern New Brunswick last week that caused a river to overflow its banks, flooding 120 roads and damaging nearly 100 homes. It looked like Christmas would be ruined for many people this year, but for the amazing, generous and heartwarming response from local businesses, neighbouring communities and politicians who have collected funds and organized disaster relief, hosted dinners, offered temporary places to stay and distributed dehumidifiers and other supplies to those affected. With so much generosity, so much warmth, so much welcome, who needs snow?
Photo taken on December 9, 2009
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
I don’t know who coined the term “retail therapy”, but sometimes I think shopping is an addiction. My partner frequently reminds me that I don’t have to buy something every day. If I go for a walk, I don’t need to take any money. I don’t have to buy a sweater or a closet organizer just because it’s on sale. Since I’ve been without work, I’ve found that staying home helps to keep me away from temptation.
So with the absence of spending money, I’m rediscovering the joy of dog. I love our two Cardigan Welsh Corgis, and when I was working full time I loved to be greeted when I returned home by happy tail-wagging dogs. Now that I’m home with them during the day, I’ve honed my tummy-scritching and ball-throwing techniques. And sometimes I’ll take energetic Fergus for a walk around the neighbourhood, and even take a few photos if I can persuade him to sit still for a moment or two. Having two furry friends who unconditionally love me — and are always ready to play and have fun — is one of the best kinds of therapy. No matter what kind of day I’m having, when I see their shining eyes and silly corgi grins, I starting grinning too.
Photo taken on November 11, 2010
Saturday was sunny and 17 degrees (celcius). Today’s temperature is down to 10 degrees with 20 mm of rain forecast. Friday will be only 2 degrees and windy. And I wonder why I have half-a-dozen different jackets competing for space on the coat rack!
This abrupt change in weather tells me that I need to get the car switched over to its winter tires today or tomorrow. I was glad I still had my summer tires on to drive through the 140 mm of rain — and lake-sized puddles — we got the previous weekend. But when the road starts to freeze, there’s nothing like winter tires for keeping you safe on the roads.
When I bought winter tires a couple of years ago, I did some research to see if all-seasons would be all right for New Brunswick. We could have mild temperatures all winter, but it’s more typical here for the thermometer to bounce up and down between minus 20 and plus 5 or so, creating bone-jarring potholes and icy roads. A lot of people (my dad included) don’t bother with winter tires. But all-season tires don’t grip the road as well as they age, and the rubber hardens as the temperature drops, resulting in reduced traction even on dry surfaces. The compound of a winter tire is more pliable and retains its grip in cold temperatures. So, there you have it: if I have winter tires on the car, I won’t lose my grip… or at least, that’s what I’m hoping!
Photo taken on November 13, 2009
You never know what might happen. A storm, a stock market crash, a scammer stealing your life savings. Oh sure, it’s sunny now, but watch out — you don’t know what kind of trouble will appear on your horizon.
Yesterday I picked up the phone to hear that my computer had supposedly been sending error reports indicating serious performance issues that needed to be addressed right away. The caller from some outfit called “computer maintenance services” obviously thought I didn’t seem concerned enough and kept repeating himself, trying to impress on me the need for urgency. I asked a few questions, and found out that they were claiming to work for Microsoft. The caller started asking me for information about my computer operating system. I said goodbye and hung up. Then I looked up information about this scam on this internet.
Apparently people from England to Australia have been getting these same phone calls, where the scammers are trying to get people to go to their “support website” and give them permission to fix their computer by remote access. They end up with a hefty service charge as well as the high probability of someone stealing their personal information.
But if I was not so computer literate, if I was older or more trustworthy, would I have let these strangers talk me into giving them access to my computer? Would my father or my elderly aunt have believed them when they claimed to work for Microsoft?
What really riles me is that these criminals can roam the internet and the telephone lines with no fear of being caught. And yes, there is a whole industry built up to protect you, but no firewall or anti-virus program can help if you open that email attachment or give away information or open the door to strangers. The only thing you can do is say no.
Photo taken on November 11, 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
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
On the weekend, I drove to Moncton and took in three workshops at Foto Expo, getting the chance to work with and learn from photographers including Maurice Henri, Daryl Benson, Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Crysanthou. I met an interesting crowd of photographers, ranging from just-got-a-new-camera to been-shooting-all-my-life, and had some great conversations. And I spent the best part of two days thinking, breathing and doing photography. I loved it.
Then I came back to reality. It was snowing early yesterday morning. I still don’t have a job, but I there’s one that I’m applying for, and I need to spend time crafting the cover letter. The housing insulation project is coming to a point of big investment, along with big decisions about how, and how much, to do, and the pressure is rising to get it done soon. I have to think about money, and the bathroom that needs cleaning, etc etc and at the same time I’m trying to hold onto my dreams about doing a November project, taking time each day for a series of photos looking for beauty (or at least compositional interest) in the bleak November landscape. But right now it feels like I am being selfish to talk about taking photographs while reality waits impatiently, ready to shred my dreams and scatter them to the winds.
Photo taken on October 31, 2010