Drainage Dyke



Suthern Ontario is superb farming country.  I am staying a little North of the farm belt just on the Canadian Shield.  There are still large swaths of farmland too.  I got something of an object lesson in how land is claimed from nature.  It is all very well for me to rapturize about a beautiful field of pale green hay bordered by tall dark trees.  At one time, not so long ago, the whole field was covered with trees and patches of swampy wet land sat hidden in the forest.  My host showed me a large stump that he is burning out. When one has no back-hoe or team of horses to pull it out, that is the time honoured  way of getting rid of an unslightly stump in the middle of a stretch of grass.

What about the wet, marshy patches?  Well, here in pictures, is what you do.  Set a five inch plastic pipe from the source of the wet to a stream or roadside ditch, cover it up and presto….the land dries out.  Hmm….” Set the pipe” means dig a trench with a pick, a scraper and a hoe to remove the earth, grass roots and stones.  Covering it up means hauling slurry from the creek  and a bit of grass seed is a good idea to help the scar heal too.

The whole process involves thought, sweat, persistence and satisfaction.  It’s manipulating the land for human use.  In the adjoining field, the farmer was mowing hay for his animals.  The smell of sunshine wafted over as we worked on the drainage pipe.  I liked this way of spending a summer afternoon.


A Church


Going to church is a strange thing when you consider it. What makes it holy, special, the sort of place that brings me to the spirit world?  This morning I gave a tour at the Museum of the Tiffany windows in the concert hall.  That used to be a church but it was ” deconsecrated “.  How did they make it not holy any more?  Isn’t every place in the world holy?  Is a Walmart store holy? A bordello? A torture chamber?  Maybe not.  Still, those places are built on the sacred earth.  The earth is sacred all over.  The windows depict scenes from scripture but I only talk about the glass-making technique, the business genius of Tiffany, the social class of the people who made up the congregation. Nothing sacred in that discourse.

Then, when the tour was over, I went to St. Joseph’s Oratory.  That church is famous here in Montreal.  It’s a place of pilgrimage and loads of crutches and sticks are hung up as proof of miraculous cures.  They all date from the last century.  Don’t miraculous cures take place any more?  Tourists come by the bus-load but believers come too.  There were many Asian people there today.  I wandered around and lit a candle as a thank you for a wonderful thing that happened.  Like many people I pray in secret for things to happen.  When they do  it feels like good manners to say thank you somehow.  Nothing is “forever”. Even Lazarus had to die a second time.  However, sometimes I feel like I get a really big blessing, a gift from the universe, from the spirit of all life.

The Oratory is a sort of complex of churches and chapels and a garden and a gift shop and the heart of a saint on display and a museum. It’s quite a place.  The part I like best is a sort of hall with altars to the attributes of St. Joseph where I lit my candle among the hundreds of others.  It’s hot and dark in there and people are talking and taking pictures.  It puts me in mind of people struggling and asking the saint for help. From there I went into a chapel where Mass was being said.  The priest was a young man from South India or Siri Lanka.  He had a wonderful voice and a rather charismatic way with him.  Many people went to Holy Communion and I was surprised after Mass to see many people lined up to put their hands on the feet of the figure of Jesus on a large crucifix.  I got the impression most of,them were asking for something.

I don’t understand what church really is.  What are these buildings, and pictures and objects that mean something, some sort of blind searching?  Today I had to go to a place that was still ” consecrated” on a special mission to catch that little flame on the taper and light up a candle in a glass cup.  Beside the  flame there were tears of gratitude too for being alive and being happy.

People were there with their cameras, their best clothes, saris, beautiful African turbans and Sikh turbans too and Vietnamese speech, bewildered American tourists, and the beautiful voice of a Chinese girl who sang the responses.  I liked being in the midst of all these people.  I had my place in there too.

The church is a place to honour the Spirit and to ask for what we need and to thank when we get it and to wonder and wonder what is the whole heart of this existence.

At the Heart of Things


That searching for the heart of things.

What does it mean, after all and where does it spring from?

And what is it, exactly, or even vaguely?

Too perplexing or taxing to examine?  Too frightening?

Well, there’s always shopping or cleaning the house.

Important things to tick tick the clock – like a career

or planning a vacation.  What would be the perfect pair of shoes

for someone else’s wedding?

There’s always someone else’s book to read.

There’s always another early summer iris to look at…always.

Garden Angels



Guardian angels?  This is Blackie, whom I have known from a kitten.  I know him by his crooked tail, stumpy and blunt.  He is a feral cat who has lived down our jungly lane for about four years.  I used to have quite a following among the strays around here.  Ah, I put out food and water.  I always think they must get thirsty.  This morning when he sat quietly in front of me and licked his lips I was sure he was thirsty and, as I hauled garbage to the curb, he lapped up a little water from an old ash tray I put out.  I even found some stale cat food under the sink, but he turned up his street-wise nose at that.  The old folks in the big block that shades my garden  in the afternoon drop down tastier morsels from the balconies.  When he showed signs of pissing on my flower pots, I clapped my hands and chased him out.  I will be nice to you, Blackie, on my terms.  As he turned to jump through a weed patch close to my rose bush, I noticed how broad his head has become.  He now resembles the venerable tom who fathered him and is no more to be seen.

The little blue angel with one wing always behaves herself and presides over the day and night comings and goings  in the garden

Imperfection and Persistence



With the generosity of nature, my pink rose bush is putting forth new buds every day.  It doesn’t hold back, doesn’t judge if the weather is too hot or too cold. Doesn’t sulk if petals fall in drifts as soon as a sweet smelling bloom has matured.  This flower caught my eye because a leaf had pressed against it and not allowed it to open fully on one side.  Perfect in its imperfection.  So I chose it above all the others.

The little orchid leaf is a tribute to persistence.  A clump of leaves burst out of the stem of an old orchid plant I was nursing along into second blooming.  I had never seen such a thing.  Usually the leaves stay down at the base of the pot.  I cut off the leaves with a few roots and planted it, but they withered and some of the roots turned brown.  I put it out onto the balcony, meaning to deal with it when the mess in my house was more under control.  Look what it did! It made some tiny new leaves.  It decided to grow its own way, the way it wanted.  I gave up on it but it did not give up on itself. It stayed alive and lives its own way.

Lessons for me today.




which is, I have been recently reminded, for me and not just all those other people.  I want to be like the bronze statue of the dancer I bought when I was feeling a bit flush.  There she is with her leg perpetually raised in a dance, her hands ready to clash the cymbals, her head turned to laugh at the spectators.  For how many decades did I hop around, run up and down stairs, walk for miles in my dear city, the blocks flowing under my feet without hesitation or fatigue.

I am am prone to joint problems.  It’s in our family and I have always thought it not such a tragic flaw.  Fixing joints is like carpentry, after all.  How lucky I am, I thought, not to have to deal with breathing problems or digestion, or heart.  A hip, a knee, easily fixed and forgotten.

The body doesn’t want to be forgotten, though.  Most of the time, it has insisted I pay attention as it gives me pleasure.  All those posts I make about seeing something new in my garden, or smelling blooms, or hearing wind rustle the leaves close to me are brought to me through my senses, my body.  And all those other pleasures of eating, and sex, and drinking cold water, falling asleep, shedding a few tears…all channelled to me through my dear body.  In that way there is no separation between body and self.

But now I have pain.  Never mind that I brought it on myself, carelessly lifting something too heavy.  It dogs me, follows me from the first waking moment until I sleep.  It refuses to,be calmed with pills or rest.  And here is the new ” secret”.  Age is tempting my body to betray me.  Soon my caprices, my whims, my good judgement, my sound decisions will not play the music. My body insists. “You had your way long enough.  Now it is my turn.”

I will trick it with exercise, and good food and doctor’s care.  But in the end, in the end, the watch in the bottom of the picture will win out.

So……I’d better make the most  of things!  Start the music and let’s dance.


Sidewalk sale



Today Mont Royal Boulevard  was closed to traffic and open to what felt like half the pedestrians  of Montreal.  I went with three friends to stroll along the long street that runs through an old, and now gentrified part of the city.  Hipsterfied, modified, moneyfied, chic’d up fixed up, pulled up, like most of the whole neighborhood, Mont Royal Boulevard is long and flat.  It runs from the foot of the mountain to the Olympic Stadium. There is a Metro station right on the avenue and and that’s where we all met up to set off on our long session of window shopping  and people watching.  A sidewalk sale is usually where one finds bargains but, no, the prices were high.  The styles were démodé and the passing show was much more interesting than anything set out by the shopkeepers.  Dogs and babies were out in force.  It would appear that small dogs are the  rage this summer in Montreal.  I did spy two Australian sheepdogs and a regular mut but in the main tiny fluff balls or naked white rat-like skuttlers were the norm.  Miniature Bulldogs and dwarf Dobermans  were runners up and the star of the canine show was a black fox-like creature with fur that stuck out like a full-body halo.  With her skinny sticklike legs she was a perfect companion for her mistress.  Mlle. was perched on a pair of sky-high thick soled army boots that drew the eye to her artfully torn black tights, miniskirt and mane of dyed grey hair.

Along the way we lost one of our group and at one moment it seemed that another friend had been swallowed up by the mass of people strolling up and down the avenue.  A sea of bobbing heads stretched out in front of us as we took a break on a handy bench. An amature band belted it out behind us. ( one of them was using an empty suitcase as a drum).  We were just debating the pros and cons of plastic surgery …age comes hand in hand with gravity, after all…..when my mobile phone rang.  “Where the hell are you two?  ” our intrepid friend had covered the same five blocks back and forth and was calling from just behind us.  We laughed.  She cursed us.  We had a coffee break on a terrasse ( oh, Montreal) and tore to bits every passerby.  After all, we three ladies embody such perfection – and taste too.

We had a great time at the sidewalk sale.  In spite of urgent attempts we did not spend one cent, except for the coffee. We discussed our kids, work, poetry, will power in various circumstances, internet dating,religion.  We didn’t discuss friendship at all.  We just walked it on Mont Royal Boulevard.





June coming in

Yesterday these irises were closed.  There was only a hint of blue petal at the tip of the tightly twisted cone sitting on the long sturdy stem.  It was a humid day, a waiting sort of day.  Late in the evening it began to rain and I think it rained all night.  At some time in that cool wet night, the big pale blooms opened.  Some darker ones unfurled too.  The pale flowers carry a particular scent, a flowing light scent.  Just as the sappy smell of daffodils makes me believe it is spring, so the smell of these irises tells me it is summer.

I neglected my wild roses.  I should have cut them down in early spring.  Now they are tall canes massed with small pink blossoms just opening up.  The rain made them bow down, creating a barrier for the gentle workmen who came early in the morning to “finish” my renovations.  I do not really believe they will finish.  Like Thomas, unless I see, surely I will continue in this floating existence where all my possessions  conspire to elude me.  My furniture is covered with bedsheets.  My pictures are shoved into cupboards.  I had no idea how precious certain key items of clothing were until they fell into the slow whirlpool that inhabits my house.  I’m convinced I’ll never see that beige brassiere again.  Renovations are like a Fellini movie without the charm.

I retire to the garden to tie up the rose bushes.  My modest little city home does not need to be protected like the castle of Sleeping Beauty.  I feel more like Cinderella eternally sweeping and certainly there is precious little sleep going on.  My miserable bedroom, divested of furniture has no curtains up and a street light shines cruelly into my eyes.  The wicked witch even rises to the surface from time to time.  I go about muttering bad spells and lunch off unenchanted apples.

I gingerly embrace the tall rose canes as I would an old lover.  The memory of past deep wounds makes me cautious. There are few thorns on the new growth, however, and I manage to tie up the drooping branches.  I try to train them up onto a trellis but they  stubbornly turn their heads.  With a few scratches inflicted on my arms I leave the half-assed job.  An apt metaphor in fact. Let the one long ago beloved blossom in his own way.

Come in June! Come poor,tomatoes and peppers that I neglect so!  Come on white roses to rival the pink!  Welcome and let me not fail you.

A Visitor in the Garden






What a long time since I wrote…..almost ten days. We had a long weekend. It used to be called Victoria Day and then that didn’t seem quite right for Quebec and so it was called Dollard des Ormeaux Day and then someone found outs that DDO, far from being an upholder of French Canada was, in fact, a traitor to the cause.  Now we call it Journee des Patriots.   I wonder how long that name will last.

Renovtions are going along very slowly in my little house.  Furniture is covered with sheets and I search and search for the most banal things.  We are at the plastering stage.  I keep telling myself all will be well and that it will pass but it is a bit like an eternal moving day.  The weather was wonderful on the long weekend and since it was unbearable in my house, I stayed out in the back yard and transformed a very ugly little desk into something better.  Mindless jobs like stripping furniture are good when one is alone on a long weekend.  Instead of brooding about not walking arm-in-arm around the town, I scraped away layers of ugly paint with stinky liquids and a heat gun.  I sanded and scraped and finally painted.  How satisfying it is to apply milk paint. That’s an old fashioned paint formula they used to use in the old days.  It doesn’t smell bad at all and it dries in about a minute.  I will get new handles as the old ones don’t really go with the color.

I bought plants for my window boxes today.  I have lavender and small leaf basil and rosemary in pots in the back too.  That brings me to the visitor.  I saw a fat groundhog who turned his stubby tail and scampered away ( well  it was more of a lumbering) as soon as I came out.  I hope he does not start to munch on my tender plants. Perhaps he will bring good luck and I will walk arm-in-arm before long.



Nature’s Lessons



It has has been a roller coaster week.  I have had a few emotional ups and downs. Dear reader, as the Victorians used to write, I will spare you.  It is the mark of a dear friend that he or she can stand to hear the excruciating details of the knife twists endured by a pal.  Since many of you are innocent dabblers in my blog, let us draw a veil over the delicious vagaries of human unkindness and concentrate on the practical matters.

The announcement by my upstairs tenants that water was leaking into their flat was enough to banish any pity party I was having over my broken heart.  As a woman who owns ( well, the part the bank lets me have) a small duplex, such communications induce sleepless nights.  I have learned to deal with plumbing mishaps with a call to the local firm who always put me right for a reasonable sum. I have a handyman ……more about that on another blog.  I know an electrician,whom I trust not to transform my home into a death trap.  I have messily painted a few rooms in my day.  But roofing…..a whole different story.  Mysterious, expensive, vital to the health of my building.  Roofing problems in a Caadian climate are enough to startle even the most intrepid.  My only experience had been 14 years ago shortly after I bought this place.  It took many months of whining to persuade a ” very busy, I can’t keep up with it” young roofer to come and set me up for a good long time.  He gave me a guarantee for ten years.  People were up in arms.  ” A roof should last 20 years” but as he said.  ” I’ll be honest wichew. ( Italian extraction) I could,give you for fifty years a guarantee but I won’t do it..I won’t honor it, Ya know wat I mean ?” There was a certain candour in that that appealed to me and frankly I was at the guy’s mercy.  What did I know?  What do I know now?

When my tenants delivered the bad news I panicked.  I emailed all my friends in town and was bombarded with names and numbers.  Darlings….they took my predicament to heart!  In one day I had the names and numbers of eleven roofing companies.  I started to call.  The very same day a most charming man showed up, examined the brown spots on the upstairs ceiling and declared that he could help me out right away.  I should not delay and , of course, I would want the new membrane material.  Only problem was that I  seemed to have something wrong with my flashing.  I hate when I have to talk about things without really understanding the words coming out of my mouth.  Fortunately, I was sitting down when he told me it would cost about $15,000 dollars.  Of course the flashing would be extra……my life was flashing before my eyes by then….and the little mater  of taxes…But because I was such a nice lady and retired, after all he was a kind man and seriously he was very charming, he would give me at discount of one thousand dollars.  Guarantee?  Well, only  five years…suddenly I felt a great nostalgia for the Gabby of 14 years before.

” Think it over.  Very important the roof . You want to take care of that right away. ” And with a dark hint at mould, he was off.

” I’ll be in touch,” I whispered weakly.  Then followed a frantic scrabbling through my income tax returns as I searched for a number from 2002 , honestly!  Now, I have an odd habit of keeping my agendas.  I have about 20 years of my life condensed into various volumes with phone numbers, appointments of long dead dentists, therapists, doctors, garages.    Well, they’re not all dead of course, but long out of my life.  Gabby’s number was on the inside cover of the very first agenda I pulled out! Fate!  He came over this morning!  Upstairs he went and in a minute pronounced hat I don’t need a new roof!  Condensation.  A new baby, lots of washing and drying clothes, a reluctance to open the windows because of the baby… In my gratitude I even suggested we do the roof now anyway.  Gabby’s reaction:” it’s gonna rain on Monday..let it rain ( like I could control it!) if there’ any drip. It’ll show, right?  I’ll come over . ..check things out and if you need a little touch ….some gravel, a bit of flashing…we’ll arrange. You’ll be good for another four , five years”

Is there really such a thing as an honest roofer?  It appears there is!  Although as he said modestly, ” Listen, you’re my customer, right?  If it was somebody else with a 14 year old roof….who knows? ”

OK so what does this have to do with  lessons from nature?  Don’t let adversity like snowstorms get you down.  You’re not called Snowdrop for nothing – I know this is a crocus.  Stick together and help each other.  No one goes it alone in nature , flowers, birds, bees, even damned sqirrels work together.  How corny it sounds to say the sun does come out but even when things look very dark it’s good to keep in mind.  Be courageous even as nature is courageous.  Always get a second estimate.  That rule is only good for human nature, I guess.

Thus endeth the lesson!