Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day in Ferguson’s Cove

Today is Boxing Day, also known as St. Stephen’s Day, and also known as December 26, the day after Christmas Day. For many people in Canada it is a big shopping day with great Boxing Day bargains, but here in Nova Scotia it is a holiday. I learned this when I went to the Superstore this morning to pick up a short list of things and found both it and the Sobey’s closed and had to rely on the food aisles in Shopper’s, which was both open and busy, to get some of the things we needed. I wasn’t unhappy that the big stores were closed today because it really enforced the notion that it is a quiet day, a relief from the excitement and celebration of Christmas Day, a day to reflect on our blessings (which are many).

Here the day is pearly grey, the air still and mild, a degree or two above freezing, a good day for us to hang out at home, make mulligatawny soup for lunch, and take Dewi, who is here for a sleepover, for a walk through our quiet neighbourhood and around the Ferguson’s Cove Road loop with my brother and his daughter before she heads back to Ontario.

No lining up for electronics sale items at the big box stores, no rushing around to see how much is off at any store, no need to do anything much. That’s a good Boxing Day.

In fact, there’s even some time to take a picture in our living room (E. is deep into a good book) and write a short post before I go to do some reading myself.

Season’s greetings. Celebrate life and the people you hold dear.

Monday, December 21, 2009

'Tis the season

Today is the Solstice. Olé, I say, or to be truer to my Anglo-Saxon forebears on this northern day, hooray!

There’s always an irony in the solstice, I think. Today the days begin to get longer as the earth’s axis tilts back toward our personal star, that sun of ours. From here we’ll be able to watch the sunrise move from its southeast point in front of Deborah’s house back down the hill to the harbour and follow it through the equinox, when it will rise over by the lighthouse, until the other solstice on June 21, when it’s straight across the harbour from us and ready to start back southward again. The irony lies in the fact that the lengthening of day’s light that starts tomorrow, and the sun’s greater height in the noonday sky, signals the beginning and not the end of winter.

They knew all about this back in Hants County when they said:

As the days get longer
the cold gets stronger.

And it does, count on it!

I’m thinking of something by my old friend WCW called The Descent of Winter. Looking for it I came across “January Morning: Suite”, with this in it, addressed to his grandmother, I’m guessing, the same one whose last words you really should go here to read:


All this----
was for you, old woman.
I wanted to write a poem
that you would understand.
For what good is it to me
if you can’t understand it?
But you got to try hard----
Well, you know how
the young girls run giggling
on Park Avenue after dark
when they ought to be home in bed?
that’s the way it is with me somehow.

That’s the way it is with me too sometimes. I start off writing about the solstice and end up reminiscing about Williams and those years in Vancouver in the late 60’s when I first discovered his words. And then I remember a solstice celebration from back then when we were all self-declared pagans and where I wanted to roast a goose but couldn’t get a fresh one and spent a couple of greasy hours trying to thaw its frigid and elongated carcass in the bathtub for our feast that night.

So it is the solstice, the longest night of the year, and the day (sol + stit) when the sun stands still at its lowest point in the noon sky. But it is also the turning point toward the light, something all of us pagans (paganus: villagers) in this northern world can celebrate with our wassail (ves heill: be in good health!), both the occasion and consumption of it and the libation consumed.

So, like A. suggested this morning, let’s toast the day, let’s wassail!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yup, it's winter now

It’s here, never mind what the date says. It’s exactly a week before Christmas and three more days till the solstice, but winter has arrived this time. It’s here.

We knew it yesterday when we woke up and saw the season’s first wisps of sea smoke sweeping out over the harbour. And we knew it the day before when the temperature began to drop through the afternoon and the damp leaves I was raking up began to stiffen and freeze. It was a blast of cold air, straight out of the northwest, with a drop overnight of about 15 degrees that brought a wind chill yesterday of minus 23, not Edmonton by any means, but plenty cold for here, cold enough in fact to make sea smoke and cold enough to say, yes, it’s winter.

This morning we have sea smoke again. The temperature is minus 13 and the wind chill 10 degrees colder, and the old frostbite in my fingertips is still aching from being outside long enough to load the blue bags of recyclables into the cold car, brush the snow off, tie the green cart on behind, and take them all up to the road. There was a bunch of cuttings from the hydrangea to tie up, but my fingertips decided I should wait for an easier day and get rid of them next time around.

Around sunset yesterday Lorraine plugged in our outside winter lights – the darkness does surround us pretty early these days – and took a few images.

When I went out on the deck much later to unplug them it had snowed a little and the sound it made under my boots was wonderful. It made me think of a couple of lines from my Grade 3 reader that have always stuck with me:

I love snow when it squeaks like leather
Or two wooden spoons that you rub together.

The leather simile makes perfect sense when you hear that kind of snow under your boots; as to the wooden spoons, I’m not so sure, but for Grade 3 students it at least gave us a rhyme to remember.

This poetic phenomenon seems to happen only with the snow that drifts down on these very cold dry days or nights, which doesn’t happen often here with our somewhat temperate maritime climate, but when it does it’s always a treat. And this morning that same snow with its squeaky crystalline structure swept easily (not enough yet for the shovel) from the walkway.

So today it really is winter and we will look for happy ways to adjust to it, like getting a Christmas tree, lighting some candles in the evening, and inviting friends to celebrate the coming of the season.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Maple Leaf Card

It’s official, I picked it up today, my Maple Leaf card, so I am now a certified Permanent Resident of Canada, also known as a PR. Hooray for that, I say, though you might wonder if you saw the image on my card why they decided they wanted to make me permanent since I look neither very happy (the passport photo guy wouldn’t let me smile) nor open to making significant positive contributions to my new homeland. But there we are, so for all of you Canadians out there, I am now one of you! Or, to be more accurate, I almost am.

The next step of course is to get my Canadian citizenship, so I can vote and carry a passport like yours and feel I truly belong here (just like my mother and six brothers and wife and three children and three grandchildren and sundry friends and acquaintances and neighbours). But then getting my citizenship is another story, much longer than this one, and it will just have to wait for another post.

The front of my new card, besides the very stern image of FIELD ROGER MICHAEL, has a tiny Canadian flag in the upper left corner, a stylized Canada goose in the lower right (just above the cute Canada printed with an even tinier flag over the final a), and a silver maple leaf just below centre with built in holograms of other maple leaves and the Canadian coat of arms. It’s a sturdy card, and I will carry it in my wallet as a symbol of my sturdy (and stern) patriotism.

The back of the card tells even more, in very small type, about FIELD ROGER MICHAEL:

Height/Taille 179 cm
COB/PDN BMU (translation: Country of Birth/Pays de Naissance BERMUDA)
PR Since/RP Depuis 15 04 1947
Category/Categoire XXX/XXX

The second last line above tells it all: it says I’ve been a PR since April 15, 1947, which is a very long time. The problem has been that I haven’t had a card to say so since I mislaid my original Landed Immigrant card a few years ago and have carried around a well worn notarized copy of it and my Bermudian birth certificate (also mislaid), which looks like a page from a late Victorian ledger. So now I have my new card to prove that I am truly and officially a Permanent Resident of Canada, at least for the next five years, at which time I may have to renew it if the citizenship thing doesn't work out.

I am puzzled, though, about that last line, my Category/Categoire. Does XXX (the English version) indicate that I’ve been a PR for far too long? After all, it is coming up to 63 years since I was granted status as an immigrant here and maybe my time and Canada’s patience is running out. And what does XXX (the French version) signify? I should have asked J., my CIC officer and greeter today, because she would have been bilingual, but I was so happy to have the card that I didn’t even look on the back. So I think I’ll have to take my Category on faith, unless I can find some other PR’s like me and check out the backs of their cards.

So if you see me walking a little differently over the next few days or even weeks, with a little more bounce in my step, it’s because I am now a PR, I live here, and I’ll happily show you the card to prove it.

All we need now is for our government to do something to make all of us Canadians proud -- just don’t hold your breath right now waiting for that to happen!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Whence cometh our hope?

Last night at dinner with friends and acquaintances the conversation was pretty much continuous, wide ranging, and consistently both engaged and engaging. This morning Lorraine commented about the fact that no one there had mentioned Obama’s acceptance speech in Oslo. It hadn’t occurred to me, perhaps because I was either engaged or engaging, but when she mentioned the fact it did also strike me as odd. It wasn’t that we didn’t talk about politics at all, as there was some discussion of Ron Graham’s article on Michael Ignatieff, but the implicit ironies of Obama’s speech never came up. And when I checked just now on Al Jazeera for some commentary, the America’s Blog piece, Obama’s Big Sellout written by Teymoor Nabili, turned out to be about Wall Street and financial bailouts rather than a reflection on the saddening aspects of that Peace Prize speech.

So there it is. He made his speech, or, to be more accurate, he delivered his lecture. A very thoughtful and capable young student we know in Istanbul posted a Facebook comment: War is Peace. And Lorraine and I talked not about Orwell, but about the end of hope. It was not a statement of despair, and not in fact the end of all hope, but the end of hoping for some change for the better to come from the USA. The fact that the person, that smart and engaging young guy who had once seemed so eloquent and charismatic and inspirational, became President, the President, and then became so entangled in the convolutions of American style legislative bartering, that he had to deliver a speech to appease his opponents at home rather than talk to the world about hope and possibility, was profoundly saddening. It was less an opportunity missed than it was a hard slap of cold reality in a difficult world. And a statement of something that has been lost.

It was not really such a bad lecture/speech. You can find the full text here, and it's definitely worth a read if you missed it on Thursday. It was thoughtful and deliberative and carefully constructed, as I suppose it needed to be in this political world, but the fact that it was more about justifications for the use of power, military power, economic power, American power, than about meaningful reflections on the use of that power and exploration of peaceful alternatives was deeply disappointing. You can’t see it in the text but you can in the look of the crowd who were listening, the deep impassivity on their faces, a suggestion that we were not the only ones saddened by it.

Lorraine talked about a time long ago when we did look to the US for ideas and ideals, where there was some hope, perhaps naïve, but it was a hope for something good that might come from there. It’s not a place to look for hope right now and probably never will be again. And so the question, with its resonances of the King James Version of Christianity, is this: Whence cometh our hope?

It’s a good question, no matter the version or language, and there are some good answers walking around out there, though none are easy. I’m not going to get into them here, because that’s another story, or bunch of stories, but I do just wish that on Thursday Barack Obama could have found a way to be at least a part of one of those answers.

Moving Rocks II

It is a fresh winter day with a gusty norwester, wind chill of minus ten, blue harbour, white-capped waves, and darker squalls moving across the water. B’s small boat is plowing its way in to the Cove, probably with fresh lobster aboard, and the Hapag Lloyd container ship, Dresden Express, is just sailing in, bright spray splashing off its bow bulb, with the pilot boat just behind, likely glazed with ice the way waves are flying over its bow. It’s a sunny cold December day of blue skies and white puffs of travelling cloud with occasional flurries of snow rushing through.

Yesterday provided me with the bit of mild weather I needed to complete a few of those leftover tasks that winter will prevent. The dirt pile next to the walkway has been leveled, with the extra soil wheeled to some low-lying spots that needed filling, and all of the squills and grape hyacinths are now planted. Our granddaughter A. helped me move dirt and get rid of the rocks with a small scoop and plastic bucket, until she discovered the physical joy of tree climbing in our small but strong magnolia. We also checked out the possible site of a small treehouse I have been thinking about building in among the pines; she had some good ideas!

But the walkway is really the story here because I can now call it finished, at least until spring when we develop a herb garden next to it, do some encouragement of lawn at its upper edges, and figure out what to do about the two large red pine stumps on one side of it.

The process of building it, like my progress at moving the firewood into the shed, was slow. In fact, when I look at my post of June 30 about moving rocks, I can see that I had already started to dig out the path for the walkway and get some of the rocks organized for it. Besides figuring out and excavating where the walkway would go, I had to move the huge rock that was to become the first step from the driveway to the walk. I did that with sheets of plywood, pipe rollers, and Stephen’s big pry bar, but needed the assistance of our friends L. and E., who had come early one Wednesday for a walk before dinner, to help me maneuver the rollers and push it up the slope to its position at the near end of the driveway.
There was plenty of digging and leveling, cutting roots back, wheeling gravel, prying out two huge rocks that turned out to be in the way and much bigger than I anticipated, and stopping often to measure and align. It was good to work on it, but the fun part really started with building the wood borders out of treated 4x4’s fastened into the ground with pieces of rebar and figuring out the proportions and angles that would work. Once the borders were built I could start on the bed of crusher dust and begin the work of laying rocks, a process that took a lot of placing and re-placing, shifting and leveling, and calculating as I moved toward the driveway whether I had enough rocks to finish the job and how they would all line up.

Now it is done, and the dirt piles are leveled.
My mother has navigated it with her walker and pronounced it good, and various people have told us that they liked the look of it, so now I just have to wait for a decent snowfall and see how easy it is for shoveling.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Onset of Winter

“before the onset of winter” is a line I wrote about 45 years ago. I can’t recall the rest of the poem, but I have a copy of it somewhere and will likely either find or remember it in the next while. Until then I have just that line and the feeling the line conveys to me, that there is something that sets in every year, some presence or condition or fact, a thing we know as winter. And suddenly this year it seems to be upon us.

November was a great month, mostly bright, mostly mild, and mostly ideal for getting things done outside. But now it’s over. There are no more bright rainbows and no more looking at the previous day’s high and low temperatures on Environment Canada, comparing them with that day’s normals, and smiling that small smug smile that says, Hey, it’s November and we’re not doing badly at all. Now it’s December, and those outside chores, like leveling out more of the dirt pile from the walkway, finishing some last bits of painting, and getting a few more bulbs into the ground, may not get done before the onset of winter, because the onset has begun.

Yesterday I dumped out the wheelbarrow that still held the accumulation from Saturday night’s storm and got a large slosh of water and a pan of ice a couple of centimetres thick that broke neatly on the hard ground. I did plant some squills and grape hyacinth in the black dirt under the pine needles, because it was still soft there, and moved quite a few loads of soil to fill some low spots once I’d broken the frozen crust on the pile, but my look at the forecast showed only one day this week with a high about zero (Thursday morning it’s supposed to be raining and nine degrees) so there were limits to what I could achieve. I knew that the season was changing and my time was limited.

This morning as I walked up the lane to the bus I saw a thin skim of ice on the pond and some small icicles in the brook runoff. It wasn’t really cold, maybe minus six, and I thought of how pleasant winter could be, especially if it was as gentle as this and I had my down jacket on. Almost everyone who got on the bus was bundled up, most wore tuques or hats, and the bus heater seemed to be on full blast. It was an onset of winter morning.

When we drove out around Bedford this afternoon, I realized that Saturday night had brought them a lot more snow than we got down by the harbour. Although we had a few skiffs of white here and there, the clearest sign of winter for us was the crystalline texture of some of the soil I had used for the garden space next to the walk and the fact that the large flowerpots were frozen solid, but out along the highway the spruce trees were still loaded with snow three days after the storm and at Bayers Lake there were huge piles at the edges of all the parking lots.

It is still a couple of weeks until the solstice and the official onset, but something has changed in the season. That something is upon us, and its name, I think, is winter.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sun after rain

Today started cold but soon became tropical, with southerly winds and piles of driving rain. In the late afternoon the wind shifted toward the west and some of the sky cleared. There was a bit of low sun, sun after rain, and it was beautiful. A huge rainbow arched over the harbour, and small fragments of high clouds turned a little pink, while the lower rags and tags of grey cloud from the storm went racing across the sky.

There is something to love about sun after rain. It always seems more golden. And the blue of the sky always looks so washed and fresh that it feels brand new.

I remember my long first winter in Vancouver and the day after day after day of rain, something I had never experienced before. But what still sticks with me is those instances toward sunset when the dome of cloud we lived under would lift in the west just enough to reveal a bit of clear sky and the beneficent rays of sun that shone sideways across the city illuminating everything. It was a wonder.

As today was a wonder. I was driving through a washed world. The low gold of the sun shone on my left side, there was the bright freshness of blue sky with scraps of cloud in front, and a brilliant rainbow was arching on my right.

No photo, just my eyes, and the brief glory of some sun after rain lighting our world. What else do you need?