Looking and feeling


Is it possible for a writer to write something meaningful about a sunset without falling into corny sentimentality?  Is sentimentality corny?  Last night here in Muskoka we experienced a spectacular sunset.  I had seen a few like that in the far North.  I believe when there is a sort of ceiling of cloud and a gap at the horizon, a special light show results.  Just as the sun sinks into the gap, low golden light shines towards the east.  You can see the bush with the crowns of birches and slender maples illuminated for a few moments before darkness.  The setting sun bathed the low clouds in fiery crimson and orange.  It was all the more beautiful because it was brief.  There is no holding that short time and night is soon coming.

Today we went for a 3.5 km walk.  We started out behind the house where the Seguin Trail is sheltered on both sides by trees.  The sky had been very changeable all morning and a few flakes of snow were driven by strong winds.  Soon, the sun could be glimpsed through grey and white clouds scudding along at a great rate.  Where the trail met the paved road we curved back in a semi-circle toward home.  The tops of the trees were roaring with the high wind that seemed to me like the breath of God.  Spring is coming and the land, full of trickling streams running down to the lake is waking up.

Poem published

I already bragged on Facebook so if you clapped already, please excuse me  but… I have some wordpress followers who might be interested. I recently discovered a wonderful online literary review – with an unusual name – Rat’s Ass Review – I noticed that poets I admired had been featured there.  This made me want to grab a spot too and thanks to the kind editor, yippee, I was accepted.  A big thank you to Roderick Bates who actually made editorial suggestions that improved my poem.  So, go take a look.  It’s in the category “Such an Ugly Time” and the title is “Close Neighbors”

Your cue – I flip the calendar






Spring, like a well-loved old movie star is making her appearance a little too soon.  Of course we adore her and welcome her with open arms, but….I get a little uneasy when I see maple syrup buckets out at the end of February.  This is mid Ontario, for heaven’s sake!  We are not supposed to have torrents of rain at this time of year.  That was supposed to be a blizzard we could brag about to our grandchildren.  I never thought I would see the day I’d be happy to see a little “correction” in the weather forecast with a low tonight of minus 20.  We’ve gotten into the habit of letting the fire die down in the stove late in the evening and not putting a log on for the night.  In February and March!  The wonderful Spring light is encouraging, of course.  This house is built on a big stretch of rock that heats up fast and already the snow melts away revealing that rather steep dark curve down to the driveway.  I imagined it might be slippery considering the rain and ice storms we’ve had but no, somehow it allows our boots to grip the surface very well so that no unexpected shocks occur.  That rock is like an old benign grandmother that just holds everything up and would never betray us by being slippery.

I wonder who thought of boiling maple sap to make syrup.  She must have been a very persistent person. You have to boil down forty gallons of sap to make one of maple syrup and that’s a lot of fuel to expend when you’re not quite sure what the result will be.  I love maple syrup and I am looking forward to trying birch syrup this spring too. That is not boiled but rather drunk right from the tree.  The tree is tapped in the same way as maple trees and this is a traditional drink common in Russia, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.  I was surprised to read (good old Wikipedia ) that it was traditionally given as a first food to newborns in Scotland.  Can’t imagine that in Glasgow!  I thought it was fried Mars bars up there. It says birch sap is good for the hair so I’m surprised more men who worry about such things don’t rush out to the woods to rub it into their scalps.  Spare us from commercial exploitation or there won’t be one graceful birch untouched.

There is something wonderful about embracing trees in early Spring and drinking the sap from these faithful ones who have endured the bitter winter.  Is it a magic idea that the strength and life affirming liquid of the trees can help us carry on too?  I shouldn’t even be thinking about these things yet though. It’s a little too soon. If our sweet old dowager Spring can just hold on for a month or so I’ll be the first to roll out the green carpet.

Mum’s Cooking


It’s only since the advent of Jamie Oliver and the Great British Baking Show that Brits can even talk about cooking without a smirk creeping over the faces of their listeners.  We know our age-old reputation and we live in a humble self-effacing welter of excuses about our ignorance on such matters as olive oil, wine and spices.  Almost all my friends have an “other” background or their partners hail from some exotic corner of the world where grasshopper’s legs are a standard condiment.  Their kitchen equipment is unfamiliar too.  Pans that I would be happy to use for a merry downhill sleighing party are routinely hauled out for a “Sunday special”.  This does not increase my confidence in my cooking ability.

It is one of the blessings of modern feminism that I am no longer required to pretend that I love cooking.  Like everyone else I love eating delicious food and from time to time it is interesting to produce something different, tasty, a triumph of culinary delight but day to day I would be perfectly happy to subsist on bread and cheese with the occasional fruit thrown in.  I am unable to distinguish between various coffee flavors and tisane is anathema to me.  I have been known to whine plaintively in a fancy tea shop (I was dragged there by a trendy friend) that I just want a cup of tea “like your mother gave you first thing in the morning, you know what I mean?”  The look of resignation and disgust on the face of the waitress told me she had detected my faulty British food gene and that although she was obliged by the god of commerce to serve me there would be no pandering to my primitive cravings.

This is not to say that my mother was a bad cook.  She was an unpredictable cook.  She carried the yoke of food provider uneasily but a woman of her generation had no escape.  She had to put food on the table but as the youngest by far of seven children her mother had given her no cooking lessons.  I was overjoyed that she took no interest in pressing me into service in the kitchen either.  When I married at 19, I knew how to boil eggs, make toast and fry up a steak in a cast iron pan.  My mother’s interest in any but the most elementary food involved cookery books.  “If you can read, you can cook,” was a maxim of hers.  I sometimes thought it was trotted out more to reassure herself than anything else.

Her everyday philosophy was to produce something hot and edible as fast as possible.  Not for her the slow cooker, the simmering pot, the slowly emerging delights of lovingly blended ingredients.  Her favorite heat was high and many were the burned pots that were slipped guiltily into the garbage.  So, earlier this week when a suspicious smell of sweet crispiness crept downstairs to where I was reading an interesting novel (always a cardinal sin for cooks) I felt my mother’s frantic presence in the face of “something burning”

The kitchen was filling up with smoke and a nice new frying pan was crackling alarmingly with what remained of some soup I had been heating up.  I know, who heats soup in a frying pan?  I thought it would go faster and obviously, it did.  I flung the offending pan into a handy snowbank and, as it sizzled, I thought I heard my mother chuckling behind me.  Certainly I had a good laugh and consoled myself with a nice cheese sandwich. Thanks to the modern miracles of cancer-causing  coated cookware, I won’t even have to throw the pan away.  Now I just have to check the battery in the smoke alarm.

Cold and Warm


A young man shot many people in a mosque in Quebec City last night.  He shot them when they were at prayer in a space dedicated to prayer.  He took lives. He injured people. He ruined families forever and traumatized communities.  He ruined his own life too and that of people who love him.  Can good come from that?

Tonight I went alone to my first big demonstration.  There were lots of opportunities for me to become a political activist in my youth but I made other choices and spent the turbulent 1960’s happily enough in a domestic dream.  The last few months woke me up in a rough and frightening way.  The last few weeks have seen me glued to news programs or Facebook feeds.  I felt overwhelmed.  Where did all this hate and tyranny come from.  As a Canadian, I felt sad but there was a certain smugness.  We are so nice, so correct, so tolerant.  Then a young man helped me, yes, helped me change my anxiety and frustration into action.

This evening I put on my warm boots, remembered my often neglected gloves and my thick parka with the fur lined hood.  As I walked to the Metro  I noticed a fine crescent moon.  I was going to a vigil, a rally of support for Muslims, grieving those shot in cold blood while they were at prayer.  I decided to make the second leg of my trip to the rally point by bus.  The bus line was one I knew very well.  What was unfamiliar was the crowd of students who packed onto the bus at the University ghetto stop. They were chatty and lighthearted.  One girl had a beautiful ringing laugh that made us smile.  The bus was packed and as we approached the big square where we were to gather, traffic slowed down.  Suddenly the youngsters all got off and started to march together the several blocks that still remained.  I stayed on a little longer, mindful of my arthritic hip.  At one point the traffic simply stopped and the driver pulled over and let the rest of us off.

I was amazed to see thousands of people crowding in the cold air.  It was impossible to get close to the stage where speakers were struggling with an inadequate system.  I admit to being a little nervous as I was alone but soon I was surrounded by a group of young women with candles.  I climbed up onto a concrete block and had a good view of the large crowd. There were parents with their children, old people, even a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair through trampled snow.  It was very cold but fortunately not windy. People close to the stage clapped and cheered.  I later read a newspaper report that politicians were not given the mike.  Only ordinary citizens were allowed to speak in English, French and Arabic. The crowd on the periphery milled around and chatted in groups.  Someone offered free hugs, and free hot chocolate!

After about an hour I joined the crowd headed toward the Metro station.  Everyone wanted to get into the station to get warm.  The bus line had been diverted because of the huge crowd and so the train was the only form of public transportation available.  People were still arriving to continue the manifestation as we, perished with cold, crowded into the station.  A tall young policemen towering over most of us and conspicuous in his red cap stood looking a little nervous as the crowd swept past him. He need not have worried.  No one pushed, people talked to each other and smiled or waved at those coming up the stairs to replace us outside. The mood was quiet and cheerful  as a transport cop directed us to fill up the whole platform.  We got into the train and I resigned myself to standing all the way home.  But no, a young man of Middle Eastern appearance soon jumped up and apologized for not having seen me sooner so he could offer his seat.  “Were you at the vigil?” I asked.  “No, but thank  you for being there for me.”

Tonight was cold, but it was warm too. The candles gave a tender warmth in the winter air.  The parents picked their children up from the frozen ground.  The university students smiled kindly at me even if their breath was ghostly in the frozen air.  People hugged each other and in the face of violence and hatred many came forward to thaw the icy grip of death

Climb the tree


I tried tried get rid of some books yesterday.  The conclusion is that I will buy some more bookshelves and concentrate on getting rid of clothes and bulky furniture.  I will arrange my books in order of subject matter too.  To my surprise I seem to have acquired quite a few books on world religions and I resolve to take  another shot at the Bhagavad Gita.

Today I went to church after a long absence.  It was the Sunday of Zacchaeus.  If you don’t know about him, you can find the story in Luke, chapter 19 verses 1 to 10.  He was a rich and therefore powerful man but he was short and so couldn’t see what was going on.  He had to climb up into a tree, a sycamore tree, so he could “see who Jesus was”.  I always love that detail about the sycamore tree.  That’s the mark of a good writer – observation and attention to detail.

So all these books about Zen and the Koran, perhaps they are the branches of my tree of enlightenment.  In understanding I often come up short and so must find some vantage point.  Better hurry up or I’ll close my eyes and then all really will be revealed.