beauty overshadowed


Sometimes I feel that beauty has gone out of fashion.  All around us beauty sits waiting to be discovered, to be noticed, to be appreciated.  We are busy getting annoyed at some political wrangle, getting frightened over threats beyond our control, getting apathetic because we are overwhelmed.  Beauty sits waiting for a glance and in return she lifts us up, makes us draw a quick breath of joyful surprise. So, even if she is out of fashion, I present her today in two forms.  One is the just opening flower…plumeria or frangipani or as I sometimes call her ” Hawaiian girl’s ear flower” .  She smells like vanilla and as you see, she has kept me waiting all summer in hopes of this cluster of blooms.  The flowers are formed as twists and they slowly unfurl in hot humid weather.

The other picture is of a sunset over Georgian Bay.  I have never seen one quite like it.

Woody Woodpecker


Ladies and gentlemen… here he is, fresh from Hollywood, just as raucous, cheeky and impudent as ever… your favorite and mine, Woody Woodpecker! It is very hot and sunny in Muskoka.  Confused birch trees are gently dropping their small brown leaves in the still air. Not a breath of wind disturbs the bees as they gather the last of clover nectar.   All is tranquil until Woody appears on the scene.  With a series of screeches he flaps around the property, examining the bark of various trees.  After a few half-hearted pecks he immerses himself in the leaves and branches of a choke cherry tree and makes a feast of the ripe fruit.  He hangs upside down, his red poll conspicuous in the leaves.  With a squawk he flies off to the next fruit tree, cackling as he goes,.  He flies very low from one tree to another so that I sometimes get the impression he is dive bombing me. The white underside of his wings make a show as he flaps around from one tree to another.

I always loved  cartoon Woody Woodpecker for his naughty ways and loud voice.  Well, here he is in the flesh and feathers! He hung out in our back lot all afternoon and probably went off to scare up a little feminine companionship with his cackling laugh and pesky ways.  Never a dull moment with Woody!

I Plunge my Hands

Dylan Thomas wrote in ” A Child’s Christmas in Wales” ….”I plunge my hands into the snow and bring out what I can find.” And thus he began a memoir, magical and familiar that has been loved by many for long years.

Yesterday, I had my own childhood memory awoken by plunging my hands into a bin of grain much like those in my grandfather’s hay and corn shop. He made his fortune during the First World War selling supplies to the army. In a time when war ran on live horse power there was money to be made in keeping livestock well fed. He dabbled in futures without really knowing the term. He bought crops in the field betting that the notoriously bad Welsh weather would hold long enough for a good crop to yield him a profit. He was known in the district as ” Honest John” because good crop or bad, the farmers were paid in full and at the agreed time.

After the war horse power was quickly replaced by cars and trucks and John Wybron’s shop had to change. All sorts of animal feed, seeds, pigeon peas for local bird fanciers and pet supplies appeared in the front of the shop. Spot, the terrier, still ruled the big warehouse down a steep hill behind the business.  By the time I was old enough to remember visits my grandfather had died and my two uncles ran the shop, one keeping accounts and the other driving the lorry to pick up and deliver as far as Glouchester. A great distance in those days!

Yesterday, as I absentmindedly plunged my hand into a bin of grain in a shop here in Southern Spain,  I was transported back to those days when, as a little child, I would let grains or dried peas run through my fingers. I could smell the dusty mix and hear the crackle of a paper bag being filled. I could feel the rough wooden counter under my bare legs as I was lifted up to sit next to the old fashioned cash register. What is memory, after all, that it can be triggered by the simple touch of grain on a hand?

Lorca..on the way to the theatre



Last night, just a few miles from the site of the real-life event that inspires the piece, we attended a performance of “Bodas de Sangre” (Blood Wedding) by Frederico Garcia Lorca. Thank goodness I had read the play in translation last year as, naturally, the performance was in Spanish. Lorca, famous for his collaboration with Dali and other surreal artists of the 1920’sand 1930’s was assassinated in 1936. His body has never been found. The play, one of his most famous, is a strange mixture of melodrama and poetry. I enjoyed the performance very much, although what marked the evening more for me was a magical incident that took place before we even entered the theatre.

The performance was advertised on a play-bill stuck up on a kiosk in San Jose where we are staying. It was to take place in Nijar, a hill town about twenty-five kilometres away. We had visited before so we had no doubts about finding the place but once there we had no idea where the theatre was. The town is a maze of steep and narrow streets and the prospect of navigating them blindly in hopes of finding the venue was not a happy one. Fortunately, Joe has the habit of asking directions, sometimes of the most unlikely sources. Yesterday he chose to ask a schoolboy of about ten or eleven years of age. The kid was rolling down a steep street on a scooter and came to a swerving stop when Joe hailed him. He had a head of black curls and an engaging smile.

“Sure, I know where it is. You have to turn around and…oh, never mind. I’ll show you the way. Follow me.” As he sped off he hailed someone called Fatima and yelled out in something that certainly was not Spanish. Off we went! He zoomed down curved and steep narrow streets gliding over speed bumps with both feet on the scooter. We followed behind, our hearts in our mouths. As one point a woman in a hijab called out to him but with a wave of his hand and a few words he dismissed her and carried on leading us – two old strangers – to our destination. Now and then he would look back to be sure we were still with him and with a nod of his head urge us on. After a tight squeeze with an oncoming car at an impossibly sharp turn we emerged at the parking lot of a large modern theatre.

Our personal Hermes who had flown ahead of us as our guide turned out to be called Said. He accepted a few coins with surprise and profuse thanks in what Joe tells me was extremely polite and beautiful Spanish. I think I will remember this “overture” to the play long after the words of Lorca have faded from memory

Sunny Winter Sky

  This may not be your idea of a botanical garden but it is one of my favorites. It is a shot of a rather bare spot in the garden in Rodalquilar in the province of Andalucia in Southern Spain. This pomegranate tree had only a few fruits left and those had been ravaged by the wild birds who live here. It was quiet, sunny and cool in the garden today. We were the only visitors, in fact! A kind attendant told us that the staff had been obliged to chip in to repair the tiller. Seems the Spanish burocracy is so dense that it just seemed easier to make a personal sacrifice than to wrestle with various levels of government. Contacts in the renown Kew Gardens of London are very interested in this unique garden which features native plants from the semi-desert environment. Their offer to translate all the information  panels lies mouldering  on the desk of a fonctionaire somewhere in the maze of Spanish offices that approve such projects. 
On a happier note, today in the garden we saw many happy insects, bees among them ravishing some lovely yellow flowers. Young olive trees nodded benignly at us, knowing they would outlive us by a century or so. On a neighbouring hill we could see the deserted gold mine. Rodalquilar is no longer a mining village but a haven for artists and writers. It is almost time for almonds trees to bloom and I am sure such a sight is more inspiring than any gold mine. 

Do I Have To?

  Spanish hunters buy these birds to use as live lures for wild partridge. We saw lots of them in clean, well-watered cages today. It seemed a kind of mean way to fool the birds. I know, we use duck decoys and moose calls to fool game into getting shot but this seems particularly gruesome to me. There were about thirty birds priced anywhere from €3 to €6 depending on the type of bird . ( They all looked the same to me) 

I could only imagine the procedure in the field as the captive bird calls and his wild brothers and sisters approach. What happens to him at the end  of hunting season, I wonder?

In the Subway

In the University Metro Station

an accordion player.

The young feet hurrying back and forth

in rapid rhythm.

A few minutes before the hour

a crescendo. The crush of crowds

hurrying to class.

No coin, no glance.

With his strong left arm

he opens

the big instrument, black with mother of pearl, keys and buttons.

He pulls it open. He tilts back, body rocking on the chair.

A pleated fan curving, the angle always changing

as the tunes, well-known and loved

or strange, some from his own past, pour forth in an echoing stream.

The weight on his legs and the straps

over his shoulders

tire him at the end of the day.

He plays waltzes and tangos, show tunes and marches.

When some old man or woman loiters beside him

smiling as he nods, he wonders

what the coin will be.

Angels on the Tree



Some of the angels like to come down and inhabit our strange doll-like images. They like hanging out on Christmas trees. These were glad to be gathered together in a group on this tree. They could chat when the house was quiet.

“Next time I’d like to hang around a lighthouse like the one in the picture beside us,” said the golden angel at the very top of the tree. “I’d like to protect ships at sea and maybe visit the lighthouse keeper and his family.”

“How old-fashioned you are,” snorted the little paper angel of brown and red. “Don’t you know the lighthouses are controlled by computer these days?”

“Well then, I could hang around with the computer operators and make sure they didn’t fall asleep or make any mistakes. Somebody has to work on Christmas Day.” retorted the golden angel.

“Don’t quarrel,” whispered the little white fabric angel. “That’s not what we came here for. There’ll be enough squabbling when the presents are opened. I hope they don’t have any uncles who get into the brandy before they pour it over the pudding. Last year an uncle Jack set fire to the tablecloth in the house where I was.”

The little paper angel hung her head and thought how much quieter it was in the green forest where the Christmas tree had been cut. She decided to inspire the oldest child to water the tree. It was quite hot and dry in the house and the tree was starting to droop.

The tree was patient and silent. He had been proud and happy when the ornaments had been  hung on his cool branches but as the days wore on he became weaker and his forest spirit began to fade. He liked to remember how birds and insects had found refuge in his dark recesses. Now, snowmen and crimson bells took their places. In the evening the family switched on the sparkling lights but often after a few moments of admiring him they left the fancy front room and went away to look at television. Truth to tell he did not mind. He was used to dark and quiet.

The angels and the tree sat in quiet companionship. It was Christmas Eve. They enjoyed a few moments of silent fellowship. Soon the company would arrive and sit at the big table spread with a white cloth. In a few days the images of angels would be put away in a cardboard box. The angel spirits would depart to circle the earth and try to do good.  The tree would be put out on the street to be carried away. It was just during these few days at the darkest period of the year that the angel and tree spirits came close to human families. A few people, especially children noticed and were inspired by the strange company. These were the ones who loved Christmas and kept on loving it even when they grew up.

Fall in the woods, and in town

 City and country are different after all. The woods are full of caribou moss and brown oak leaves somehow soft and inviting. Although winter is surely coming there is a comfort in fall. The earth tones  the greys, creams, browns are kind to our eyes. The forest smells of earth and there is a sense of settling down, of turning away from the teeming life that was the forest in summer. Of course, life will carry on in winter. Plenty of birds, and mammals will adapt and live but plant life will sleep, will die, will live in another way.

The city garden is still green, even  bright. Although many leaves have fallen, those on the trees can be green or pale yellow. One miraculous rose bush has continued to put out pink blooms all through  the rainy autumn. I picked a few for the children’s lunch table and left quite as many on the bush. Although it is Halloween, I liked these better than a pumpkin as a table decoration. Life in the city hangs on to the illusion that it is eternal