Monthly Archiv: January, 2015
I’ve never written about the property adjacent to ours. It fails the “simple, true, beautiful,” criteria and then some. There is a red house, but no one lives there. The owner keeps the six feet of driveway between the gate and the road plowed. Every so often he stops by with another load of garbage, puts it on his property and leaves. Microwaves, laundry baskets, plastic buckets, green tubs, garbage bags, and various other pieces of junk cover what was at some point, someone’s lawn and driveway. Stray cats go there and in the spring crocuses dare to peek around the edges, but it is as ugly as a lifetime of holding on to worthless things.
The fact that I have to pass it in order to arrive at my preferred walk past the cemetery and into the woods irritates me. I look straight ahead or imagine the red house as it might have been when it was a home. I push down the need to sigh and mutter to myself about townships and taxes and dump trucks. Returning from my walk yesterday I had my eye on a squirrel. Last year there was a really strange one that would run the fence six feet away from me, then leap from tree to tree. One day in particular he must have gone on fifty feet or so until if felt like we were walking together. I wondered if among his fellow squirrels he was viewed as uncannily bright or mentally ill. Yesterday’s squirrel stayed with me for a while and I found myself wondering if it was the same squirrel. I lost him just before I got to the garbage gateway. I could still hear him talking and strained to find him with my eyes.
Which is when I saw this.
I’ve seen porcupines up in trees chewing leaves in the spring, but not in the winter until now. I’m not sure where I think they should be, but I took it as a gift and went to get my camera. By the time I got back, the closer one was almost to the ground. I stood there staring and he began his sloth like ascent up again.
I was quite taken with his tail.
But his face was even better.
I took at least ten pictures which mostly look the same but I couldn’t help myself. I stood at garbage gate delighted – with the wonder of porcupines and redemption and doing what you do without worrying about where you do it.
Imagine beauty, hunkered down in trees above a sea of refuse, mounds upon mounds of it . . . yet there it was. Wild and free, sitting above me, ambling through the branches. Even in junkyards, life comes, rises above, and is.
1. Goodwin Cedric the sheep husband has presumably served his purpose by now and will be departing next week. May his future pastures be finer and his head butting possibilities endless.
2. Despite the intentional naming after an Italian saint, our cat Filippa is now demon possessed. Our borrowed heirloom pine furniture pieces are now wrapped in tin foil to prevent further damage. The water repeatedly found on the laundry room floor turned out to be her handy work as well. She chewed a hole in the rubber seal on the front loading washer. Laundry is piling up while I send DIY you-tube videos to my husband’s e-mail and speak with parts suppliers who laugh that I must be looking at a site from the States when I say, “but it’s only a hundred dollars on Amazon.” The Italian demon (TID) is currently gnawing her way through the electrical wires under my husband’s desk. The internet recommends purchasing covers for the wires as a safety precautions in case of electrocution but they have got to be kidding me. It would be a thousand times easier to weep with the children over a cat’s determined suicide than to defend why you re-homed their kitty. TID also eats voraciously and refuses to go outside when the weather is below freezing, which in Canada is every day from November to April.
1. Anabelle is still pregnant. Three cheers for persistent reproduction attempts everywhere. I hope she works up the courage to tell her mammoth son to get lost and stop nursing soon.
2. Chickens are still laying despite the winter months. Some years they do, some years they don’t. This year we thank them that they are.
My husband needs a whistle and a rule book. Misbehaviour with the kids is not something he notices until he is so frustrated he wants to behead them.
He refereed a basketball tournament this week. I couldn’t help but notice that he was cheerful as can be enforcing rules all day long. Maybe, I pondered, it was because he wasn’t required to set up rules or decide penalties on the fly. The flashy orange whistle may also have played a part.
I am writing a rule book over the weekend. I am also buying him a very bright and respectable whistle. A striped shirt may bolster things further, so I’m considering that as well. Based on quality of performance at the tournament, I anticipate a great deal more free time after this.
It’s General Douglas MacArthur’s birthday too, but his name didn’t fit in the title. This is for my mom, who taught me to write grateful lists . . .
Happy Birthday, Mom. I made your favorite cake for the kids. Blue icing just like the one I made you when I was seven.
Creación de Adán by Michelangelo
Recently, a radio program caught my attention. CBC was interviewing, George Monbiot, about “the age of loneliness.” Mobiot worried that our competitive culture is driving us apart. He argued that we’re designed to be deeply social and that loneliness is dangerous.
“It’s true,” said Girl one as I turned off the ignition. “We really are living in the age of loneliness.” And off we went to wherever it was we were going.
Having heard the first part of the interview, I found myself turning to my own thoughts about loneliness. Not as much around how much we compete with each other as much as how much we ignore each other. I hesitate to discuss my significant and deep concerns about social media, smart phones. I worry about sounding like someone who makes you want to change the channel. But all those virtual “friends,” aren’t helping. We’re getting too distracted to listen. Or think about what we’re doing.
I am profoundly troubled by parents unable to put aside internet access to focus on their children, by children and adults more taken with the world you can see than the world you can touch. We fail to recognize real people because we cannot separate ourselves from technology that preys on our insecurities, feeds our addictions, and lulls us into levels of shallowness and disconnection that would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago.
Surely the rising levels of speech impairment in children bear a connection to an adult world too otherwise absorbed to stop, make eye contact, and speak to them. In full sentences. One after another. Without interruption. Watching a father with his daughters grunt pleasantly from his phone I wondered if even the angle of his head tilted toward the phone was resulting in a distorted view of his lips moving to make the few distracted words available for observation.
An older friend has a basket by her front door. Not unlike the guns of the wild west, grandchildren are required to leave their phones at the door. It took extra courage, she said, to require the same of her son-in-law. But what is the point, she asked, of coming to visit me if you can’t just talk to me?
In October, Monbiot published an article in The Guardian about the ravages of loneliness. If disconnection is a matter of life and death, why are we disconnecting? Addictive behaviors aside, what are we medicating for? If loneliness kills, why are we running away from each other? Why are the imperfections of strangers easier to bear than the habits of the person next to us?
If we could prove that the world was dying of loneliness and we were given the strength for one courageous act to benefit humanity, perhaps it should be to look at the person beside us, smile, and not look away. If we survive this, we might try again. And again, until we know each other. Someday then we might wake up to find ourselves embraced in all our failures by equally imperfect people. We’ll realize that we’re not alone, we never were, we just got a little mixed up for a while.
Taking a page from my mother’s book, I take the kids on dates. Not that often, but sometimes, just me with one of them. Girl two and I had a date last week. We dropped the other kids off at school, went home, moved a table in front of the wood stove, and played games. We had popcorn and tea. Then we got in the car and drove to a skating rink. We arrived towards the end of the adult skate time. Girl two was too pulsing with excitement to wait. We did our best to stay out of the way. She is very enthusiastic about skating. Girl two skates much like I would imagine a person with limited limb control and a deep desire to sprint would skate after say a six pack of beer. Very happy. Very fast. Not so steady on her feet. Somehow oblivious to pain and the possible connection between frequent crashes and speed.
The rink we went to is used for Junior A hockey. Compared to our pond, it’s massive. To our utter amazement, for about fifteen minutes after the adult skaters left, we had the whole place to ourselves. We skated clockwise, counter clockwise, across the centre sideways and every other way we could imagine. We talked about having a dance competition but luckily that fell through. Eventually a few others came. Not being used to an actual rink, I thought Girl two might tire but she insisted on skating for the full hour.
“That was perfect,” she said as we skated off the ice. “That was exactly what I wanted. Just to skate with nobody telling me what to do. Not like at the pond where everybody is always bossing me around.”
We went for lunch and played magic fairy. (The magic fairy makes anything possible.)
“If the magic fairy let you try three things to be when you grow up, what would they be?” I asked.
“Missionary . . . doctor . . . or . . . or own a restaurant,” she said. “Because I want to do something that people actually need and everybody needs to eat. Probably not doctor though. Just the other two. And if I had a restaurant, poor people could always eat there for only one dollar. No matter what.”
It is very frustrating to find times to fit in the dates. I promise them ahead because I worry otherwise I wouldn’t do them. Even so I drag my feet and think of giving rain cheques. Afterwards I can’t imagine how I ever thought of missing it.
Girl one is anxious for our upcoming date. “I like to be with you because I can say anything and I know you won’t make fun of me,” she said. “I like talking to you because I trust you with my words.”
How is it that we find love so inconvenient, and yet it always seeks and waits for us?
Misty with Goodwin’s wives
Sheep husbands are bought once a year and stay for a month. We buy them young so they look exactly like the ewes (I guess unless we cared to view them lying on the ground). Next year’s flock father didn’t look too impressive jumping off the pick-up truck he came in. I reminded myself that with three kids in the family on the smaller end of things, it would be best to keep quiet about the notion that a small ram was somehow less than. Silently, I grumbled that there’s a difference between what you look for in a person and a sheep.
I went outside last week to take some pictures of the winter. Misty looked good with the wind blowing her hair so I snapped that. The sheep always look good to me, but I stopped myself from twenty pictures that all look the same. After fences and clouds my battery died. Although I wasn’t searching for one, it was then that I found my mascot, Goodwin Cedric. (Having previously lived as a number, he deserved a good name.)
Goodwin Cedric (aka Sheep Husband 2015) was facing off with Buster, the steer. As usual, Buster looked bored. All sheep, but male sheep most especially, love butting heads. A good head butt alternately says, “hey,” “want to play?” and “die moron, I hate your guts.”
After Buster, Goodwin Cederic went at Anabelle. Misty is a crankier creature, but for sheer size and strength, cow, Anabelle is the Queen Mama. Three or four times he came at her to smash her head. The approximate translation was along the lines of, “Hey, I might not hate you, but what if I did? Would you want to play?” Large cow largely ignored the little ram bouncing off her nose. Goodwin Cedric then started at Misty. That would have been extremely interesting to watch but at the last second he seemed to realize that taking on an emotionally unstable, easily threatened older woman with big hooves and no sense of humor might not be such a good idea. Goodwin Cedric was heading back to talk to Buster about the theory of head butting when I went in for some tea, happy and with new notions about facing obstacles.
The stuff of my dreams eludes my grasp. Stone-hearted giants hold the keys to unlock the doors, and the fight to hold high the standard and carry on can be hard. I think of giving up. Little voices in the dark spring up here and there like tiny lights along the path and so I don’t. It isn’t much, but it’s enough. Friday it was Goodwin Cedric. Goodwin, meaning God’s friend. Cedric, meaning valiant warrior. The picture’s in my head and not my camera, him determined, oblivious to his size, butting heads with creatures at least ten times his weight. I see him pawing the ground with his hoof, backing up to take another run at it. My spirit’s lifted, I prepare to go and do likewise.
Some people that I love are suffering. I find myself thinking about Huntington’s disease, dementia, and places where we become less than we were. Sometimes we are children growing in the wrong direction. Away from promise and potential into private worlds where possibilities shrink like the future, fall through our fingers like sand, and torn from us with insistent hands are scattered like chaff in the wind forever.
I like to watch chickens. In all their feather finery, they are a curious and going concern until they’re not. One day they run on three toed feet, an apple slice in their beak trying to dodge the flock of chickens in hot pursuit, one day they settle determined on a pile of eggs insisting that the other girls find somewhere else to lay, one day they dart past you out the door . . . and another day, they’re gone. Nothing but a pile of feathers waiting to be buried.
Chickens’ heads bob around at the end of their necks a lot like a person with muscle spasms. All of them do it and none of them care. If anything, they’re proud of it. Now and then it strikes me that chickens essentially invented break dancing (from the shoulders up). Yesterday I found myself stalled, watching chickens again. I’d dumped some scraps in the outside run to try and tempt them out into the fresh air and sunshine. A bold chicken and two flightier birds came curious about the scraps but not quite sure. In and out an inch, and in and out an inch, and in and out three inches then back to the end of the line. Chicken two gave a smaller try then ran to the end of the line and so on. Ten minutes I stood amused although they weren’t doing anything they don’t do every day. Nervous chickens (and they are all nervous) change their minds even more than nervous people.
I don’t know how watching them helped me. I remembered a sick chicken who no longer bobbed her head at all but still knew she was a chicken. The other chickens knew she was a chicken too.
I’m not sure what separates us from the chickens is as big a space as we’d like to think. Or maybe we do know. A microscopic hair’s breadth separates us, people from chickens, well people from sick people, and that’s what hurts. Watching people suffer who were us in another life, three or four seconds ago.
“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” wrote poet Dylan Thomas. But not everybody is handed the ability to rage toward nights gentle or otherwise. In a different poem, Thomas writes, “Though they go mad, they shall be sane, Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again; Though lovers be lost love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.”
Death shall have no dominion. I think the chickens know this.
The Chef, by unknown Spanish master. 17th century.
Occasionally it comes upon me with a great panic: the children are growing up. Sooner than I think they’ll be flying the coop, circling the barn, and cresting the clouds somewhere over the pond. With these thoughts the tears rise hard and fast.
Boy one’s shoes look like we could use them as canoes this summer. I feel already his eventual loss. In his most irritating moments, nostalgia morphs into longing for the clock to tick double time, but lately he isn’t irritating me enough. This put me in need of a list. A list of things I still need to teach him in the two and a half, tiny, little, puny, minuscule years before he graduates from high school.
It turned out tobe a long list, which was good. It gave me something else to worry about. I decided there was no time like the present to start working with the others on departure preparedness. Which is why I instituted weekly cooking nights for the months of January and February. Each child has a night to cook with me. Making it to the end of February earns me a gold star. Further commitment, for now, is not required.
As expected, cooking so regularly with sous-chefs has taken the smooth out of dinner preparations, but otherwise I like it. Boy one started with a chicken chili. He learned about peeling garlic cloves, while I assured him he was still in the game on that one since I didn’t know you could get garlic, without ordering it in butter on bread at a restaurant, until after I left home.
“I want to know how to make soup,” announced Boy two. “Can you make sure I learn how to make soup?” We boiled our bones the night before and went to work when he got home from school. Even the leftovers thrilled him. Girl one began with curried chicken (see a meat theme anyone?) and Girl two’s first go was a stir fry (pork!).
The kids have been in the kitchen a million times but their cooking nights feel different. Smelling spices together, cutting up vegetables, and discussing substitutions, I walk them through the secret passages of my castle. Girl two made buttermilk with the usual mix of vinegar and milk. Nothing special, but to her, the knowledge was an invitation to magic. Boy two cried the usual tears as he chopped an onion. It felt like super powers to hand him a piece of bread, tell him to hold it in his mouth, then watch his amazement as his eyes returned to normal.
Wrapped up in these simple things lies the heart and soul of our loving and being. Without food, we die. To prepare a meal well is to reverence life: not wasting what we have, blessing those who partake. To give someone food says I wish you to live. And with good food, I wish you to live well and long and happy.
Slaying Goliath, by Peter Paul Rubens. 1616.
Hate is a scary thing. I don’t know if most people are afraid of it, but I am. Hate hangs heavy in dark places like a towel sopping wet on the line. Seemingly like Thompson’s hound of heaven, hate haunts down the narrow back alleys. Waits to find us unawares. Stalks us with intent.
To escape it is no small feat. Victory is rarely won in a single battle. Hatred is a tempting response to hatred. Many of us, therefore, know both sides of the monster rather better than we wished.
Like love, there are lesser forms of hate. One of my children “hates” one of their siblings right now. Most everything said sibling does is cause for disgust. I don’t think child A hates child B. I think they love them but feel so terribly insecure about themselves that they need to put another person down. It isn’t hate yet, but unchecked it has the seeds to grow a bumper crop.
I listened once to a mother explain to me how strongly she felt about violence. She could not tolerate it to the extent that were someone to enter her home, she could not imagine attacking them to protect her children. I, on the other hand, can imagine without any effort attempts to inflict as much bodily harm on said intruder as possible with whatever frying pan, steak knife, or cat was handy. This may reflect primordial instinct and a parent’s duty to protect (I think it does) but in my case at least, even the idea of this kind of danger taps into a rage against threat that is not all good.
Most of us have our own supply of hate. The never ending news feeds encourage it’s close cousin, terror. In our rising fear we borrow liberally from a great bank of hate. With so much danger all around, hate (like State Farm insurance) is something we can never have too much of.
The following occurred in my presence. I share because it begs the question.
A boy not mine. Deeply wounded. Deeply troubled.
A girl. Smaller. Younger. Upset because the boy has called her an idiot.
Me. Sighing. Boy breathes rage. Nothing can be done but this is not the time to say that.
Say something loving, I offer, not at all sure of myself.
The girl hesitates the walks to the boy.
You hurt my feelings, she said softly.
What? interrupted the boy loudly.
You hurt my feelings, she said. But I forgive you.
Ok, said the boy.
The girl walked away. The boy followed her.
Hey, he said. He tapped her on the shoulder. Hey, what did I do that hurt your feelings?
You called me an idiot, she said.
For a second he looked confused. Then he tapped her on the shoulder again.
Hey, he said. I’m sorry I said that. Then he followed her across the room and said sorry two more times. For the rest of the class, there was no rage.
Before Christmas, there was this. Then came the rain that washed all the snow away. (There followed wet and brown.)
At last a bit of snow and ice, but some really cold temperatures to go with it. The mother hen in my head began to afflict me so I go out and check on the animals. Twice (it was in the -30’s with windchill) I went to put them inside but they were fine. Even with the animals inside for the night, I lost some sleep when the actual temperature was -33. The barn is far from air tight with four by six feet chunks of open mitigated by hanging feedbags only. I was too afraid to check the windchill while my mother hen head kept me up fretting .
The girls like to have their picture taken (as do the eunuch sheep, but we call them girls too). The husband sheep is in there somewhere right now. He arrived December 13th. With about ten others, he will leave for sunnier pastures sometime in the next few weeks . . . at which point we will not eat chicken for two or three weeks out of gratitude for the fullness of our freezers.
Buster is a rather sulky lad. He is especially irritated by all attempts to have his picture taken. This was his best attempt at a smile. Most attempts end in pictures of his backside.
I have limited patience for this and my fingers outside the glove were beginning to harden.
Misty will look at me for an apple, otherwise, not so much. At least the kids like her. If we lived in France, I’d vote for her making the final journey with the sheep in a few weeks. Alas.
Hope everyone is staying warm. The snap has lifted a bit and the house is toasty again. This weekend we hope to clear the pond and at long last inaugurate the skating season.