After the Eclipse

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Was it any more miraculous than the phases of the moon, than the shortening days of fall, than a sudden snowstorm?  It was in some ways.  Poor Galileo’s ghost hovered, slowly nodding his head and whispering, “I told you so.” As the hot late summer afternoon turned to twilight, excited kids ran down my overgrown lane with home-made viewers.  Something in them answered, “Too bad you had to die before we were enlightened – or unenlightened, sir.” They all know what you were talking about now.  It’s part of their You-Tube, Ted Talks education. Funny how when they grow up and become lawmakers they’ll forget, or find it less important than the gross national product.

How surprising it was to find in the couple of days before the eclipse so many people who didn’t have the faintest idea that it was imminent.  As I scoured the shops for safety glasses for my grandchildren, shop assistants wrinkled their brows and offered me “clips?”.  One bright spark admitted that it might have been a “good idea” to have a few pairs on hand.  I finally found some in a toy shop and was grateful to the intrepid lady in front of me who insisted that the young lady at the cash open the package to be sure they bore an ISO number. Maybe I was overanxious (a fault of grandmothers). After all, even the President of the United States took a sneak peek without his glasses.  He is, however, a specialist in various types of blindness.

How is it possible to be blind to our place in the universe? Given our finite number of days, surely a wonder, a sign like this that the mechanism really is in orderly

motion should be cause for a sort of reverence.  We get blasé about the change of seasons, about the silver lantern in the sky at night, about birth, even about death.  The eclipse makes us see that something grave and mighty is at work.

 

 

A Cord of Wood

 

 

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Yesterday they delivered the wood and we stacked it in the woodshed. Yesterday was Sunday but today is turning out to be the day of rest.  Some may be wondering what a cord of wood is and how it got that name.  I wondered too.  Turns out the cord was the string wound around the stack of split wood to measure it.  It cannot be sold by weight because different woods weigh different amounts and whether the wood is green and wet or dry also makes a difference. The mass should be 128 cubic feet.  The classic dimensions of a cord of wood is 4 x 4x 8 feet. However, it turns out that wood dealers have a whole vague other set of dimensions and names for the loads of wood they offer.  You can buy a “bush cord” a “face cord” or an “apartment cord” and this is one area where no one is going to offer too much of a guarantee.  Problem is that stacking the wood calls for a certain skill.  You want some air between the logs since they have to dry out and yet stacking too loosely leads to instability and inaccurate measurement.  Trust and an understanding of what the buyer and seller mean by a “cord” is important.  Suffice it to say that $330 Canadian dollars for fuel supply for the winter delivered to the door of the woodshed seemed about right.  Yesterday we stacked split wood to a height of 7 feet across a width of 8 feet with a depth of 3 feet (two rows of logs one behind the other.  That’s a lot of wood for two oldies to haul and stack.

You need work gloves and decent shoes.  The loose wood pile is a bit unstable so having an errant log tumble onto sandaled toes would be a disaster.  A short wheelbarrow ride brought the loads inside the woodshed ready to be stacked.  There was something satisfying about seeing the wall of logs climb up.  The hardest part was getting the back wall up high enough.  Each log weighs about ten pounds so the higher you have to stack them the more exhausting it is.  We sweat, we took breaks, we drank lemonade, we persevered even though at some points I thought the pile of wood would never diminish.  There is another wall of logs in the shed from last year.  It is already dry and ready to burn.  In a region where snow is deep and  winters are long and cold, you want to be sure you have your supply of wood in early in the season.

I love the woodshed.  The floor is a beautiful smooth stretch of rock – pure Canadian shield like the rock the house sits on.  The walls and a lot of the roof is made of reinforced plexiglass so there is a lot of light in there.  I proposed to my oldest grandson that he sleep in there when the family came to visit recently.  At that time it held only sweet-smelling dry wood. A little rill that feeds the creek runs down beside the shed.  He still opted for the tent out back. The idea might grow on him though.

The pictures show part of the load delivered and ready to be put in the shed and where the two walls meet – dry wood on the right, green wood just stacked on the left

Absent and Present

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It has been one month since I took a year’s  leave of absence from giving tours as a volunteer guide at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  Do I miss it?  Do I miss walking into the Museum and feeling in a way that it is “mine”?  Do I miss looking for my friends guiding or researching or browsing the book store?  Do I miss checking out who is checking coats or looking at tickets?  Do I miss the nice feeling of waltzing around anywhere I like because I wear a tag?  Not yet.

I have spent almost all the month of July in Muskoka country.  It’s not a bad place for a guide who loves Canadian art to be.  Gliding in a canoe or swimming in a Group of Seven country lake can’t hurt, right?  It is a totally different world from the city environment of the metro or searching for a parking spot.  I have only read for pleasure here and happily concentrated on my own writing.

Some things remain the same though.  I think that besides a love of study, a good guide should have keen observation skills.  Here I learned how many kinds of grass there are.  I learned to look and see how many shades of green there are.  I learned how many minor treasures are to be found in a dump.  After all, one of the lectures we enjoyed in preparation for the Faberge exhibition opened our eyes to the opinion that the missing Imperial Faberge eggs are in North America. Our distinguished speaker encouraged us all to scour garage sales and recycling centers.  Although I haven’t yet found a Faberge piece, you would be amazed at what people throw away.  Yesterday, I came home with two beautifully embroidered tablecloths.  A quick spin in the washing machine and the table is set for the seven (yes, 7 ) visitors we are expecting here in Eden tomorrow.  I can hardly wait to show them the frogs.

The picture?  A certificate I was given just before I left town.  Seems I conducted over 500 tours…..but who’s counting.  I know I’ll be back because I can’t resist the thrill of studying for a new exhibit or for some obscure item in the permanent collection.  In fact, the only pang I have had about my absence was a stab of regret when I missed a reference on the Antiques Roadshow.  Chinese porcelain has been a bit of a mystery to me so far.  I wonder if there’s anything in the library here……..

PS.  Today I was published in an on-line magazine “The Lake” out of the UK in the August edition.  Lucky me that my name starts with “C” which means I get to be read first.  The other poets are certainly more widely published than I am and their awards are pretty inspiring.  Check it out on line.

A Pair of Red Repairs

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The letters we receive

are far between and few.

From cousins old and cranky

or high school friends we knew.

The mail boxes grew shabby.

One even lost its lid

to gale-force winds, a wild raccoon,

perhaps a smart-ass kid.

The hardware store had boxes,

the cheap and nasty kind.

Or fancy and luxurious,

Oh, nothing could I find

to fit my homey little house

so cozy and so sweet,

to make the mailman happy

who comes in cold or heat.

My darling made an offer.

I had my doubts, I vow

that he could transform old to new.

Well, look what I have now!

A plate of tin, a hinge

a coat of red spray paint,

so beautiful, it works well too

this sight could make you faint!

So don’t throw out, recycle friends

and you too, can save money.

It helps to know a handy guy

to fix things, like my honey.

He haunts the Eco Centre

once called the local dump.

Free tiles, a sink, a window,

these things can make him jump

for joy – yes, you should try it.

Recycling saves you cash.

It helps save the environment too

you’ll notice in a flash

how old can be as good as new,

one look at me can show it.

So do the right thing – don’t discard

it’s the “new” way – you know it!

 

 

Ending is Better than Mending

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or is it? In George Orwell’s dystopian novel the slogan that heads today’s blog is a fundamental tenant of society.  It is an absolute ” value” of consumer society to create in the masses (and make no mistake, you and I are part of that class) an unquenchable desire for new objects. This desire is the motor that drives the manufacturing, delivery and sales divisions of industry.  Notice that I did not include the service sector as this is fast becomming obsolete and archaic.

You may argue that we are more than mindless plebeians, forced to toe the party line of Big Brother.  Certainly, but how many of us take the time to examine and challenge the relentlessly promoted idea that new is intrinsically better than old? When did discarding everything at a faster and faster rate become a virtue?

I present a couple of examples of recycling.  Two mailboxes have been fixed to the wall of my modest duplex since before I bought it 18 years ago. The tenent’s box somehow lost the lid that protects mail from rain and both boxes were seriously chipped and shabby.  New boxes cost between $ 18 for a,cheap and nasty plastic one designed to become landfill in 2 or 3 years and $60 for a sturdy metal one of particularly ugly design.  A dear one offered to make a new hinged lid.  I was a little doubtful but persistence, a bit of spare tin sheeting and a can of spray paint can do a lot.  I promise you pictures of my two good-as-new beauties next time

The stoves? I shed a nostalgic tear as the little blue one was dragged out and replaced by a second-hand one ($235 delivered with a year’s guarantee on parts and labour). The little blue stove had been more of a decor choice when, inspired by a couple of trips to Mexico, I decided to go with colour in my kitchen.  Our Lady of Guadalupe smiles gently down from the wall but during an attempt to produce duck a l’orange the switches on the elements failed and even her intercession proved ineffective. Before parting with the blue beauty I invited that rare breed, a repair man, to tell me if it was a hopeless case.  It was.

Even counting the cost of the repair man and a little bottle of enamel to touch up a couple of chips on my ” new” stove, I still came out about four hundred dollars ahead. As to reliability, nothing is more infuriating than to be offered an ” extended waranty” when buying a new product.  It requires me to bet that what I am buying will break down in short order.  That the manufacturer offers this insurance confirms that he too agrees that his product will soon fail me.

In Sweden consumers are given a tax break on the cost of repairing products or buying refurbished second-hand ones. The choices we make have consequences.  The mindless acceptance of our image-worshiping culture results in great destruction of the environment.  Consumers willingly incur massive debt that causes worry, anxiety and family conflict.

Let’s a grip.  Make do and mend.  Shop at the Salvation Army or second-hand stores and let’s pressure our MP’s to follow the good example of innovative policies like those of the Swedes.

 

 

 

Lemonade stands and Fireflies

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I guess it must really be summer. I drank my first glass of homemade lemonade bought from young entrepreneurs.  They sold classic and pink varieties for one dollar a glass.  The price seemed a little steep to me but we were buying charm as well.  The group of youngsters had quite a good marketing strategy.  Some of them made and sold the lemonade and a couple of others yelled ads at a busy street corner encouraging us to walk half a block down the quiet street to where they were set up.  The dad who made the stand really deserves kudos for his classic style.  Worthy of Peanuts comic strip, I’d say.  I quenched my thirst on this first really hot day of the summer and loved the excitement of the youngsters pocketing our money with a satisfied smile.

Another welcome and beloved sign of summer for me is the appearance of fireflies or lightning bugs in my garden.  In the early evening I wonder if my eyes are playing tricks on me but no, they are blinking and winking at each other and I get to enjoy the heartening little flashes that tell me it really is a hot night. It is such a treat to see these little darlings in a city garden and down my rather overgrown lane.  It reassures me and raises my spirits to see these tiny creatures lightening up the dark shadows of my rose bushes.

All during the long dark months of winter I never think of lemonade stands and fireflies.  Summer always brings them as heart melting surprises.

Please note …unusually for me, this piece features a shot of people I don’t know.  I requested and recieved permission from the mother of two of the children, ( she was supervising the event) to take and include the picture in my blog.