Three Sisters

Heedless of the calendar

three spirits emerged

into misty late November days.

The merciful gardener

learning of impending frost

clipped and slipped them

into a little crystal vase.

Saved, but do they miss

the homely chaos of the little city plot?

Miss leaves, birds, wind,

the cold mist and faint light of

an alley light?

Too late?

Trees, country and city


In the country trees live their lives unmolested by humans.  They sprout up, mature, die and rot to feed the next generation.  Farmers or other country residents try to ” manage” things a little but it’s a futile struggle and the best they can hope for is a peaceful sharing of land, air, rain and energy. In the city it’s a different story.  Trees get planted, watered and fertilized to green up the environment of city residents.  At the slightest sign of disease or infestation, they are cut down.  They are mangled so that power lines can pass freely through their branches.  I’ve heard grouches grumble about having to sweep up leaves, classing the colourful or drab signs of Autumn as litter.  Poor city trees.  They never have a chance to spread their roots under the miles or paved streets, around sewer pipes or gas installations.  They vie with traffic lights, stop signs, advertisements for our attention.

Country trees have a sort of joyful wildness about them.  They may grow at random in the bush, struggling for light and nutrients but they enjoy that greatest of luxuries, silence.  That’s why they look happier.image

How to get rid of a Trump —err, I mean a stump!


OK I admit it.  I like to get hits on my blog.  Seriously, if you live in the country, sooner or later a big old tree on your property is going to die.  It will rot and pose a threat to power lines, your car parked in the driveway or various life forms passing by.  So, the tree gets cut down by the power company if you are lucky like my friend and there you are, left with an ugly old stump.  I recently read Peter Wohlebon’s great book, ” The Hidden Life of Trees” in which he made a wonderful case for the life-giving properties of dead old trees in the forest.  I felt a bit guilty participating in this whole process but then I remembered I don’t live in the forest and, anyway, a rose garden is planned for the stump site.

Unlike the pioneers, most of us don’t have a team of oxen to pull out stumps, so here are a few helpful hints for those embarking on this task.  You’ll need some tools:  a saw, an axe, a hoe, a small harrow, a narrow shovel, dry newspapers, kindling and narrow pieces of waste wood like chair legs to stuff in between the roots of the tree, large metal plates of tin or aluminum to put over the fire site to keep it under control, gasoline and perhaps the most important tool of all, a large metal ring to contain what will be your main asset in this whole operation….fire!  The ring we used is iron, salvaged from the dump.  It was part of some sort of pipe ( water maybe?) and originally encased in some concrete and mesh.  My friend paid $75 for it, which is a phenomenon in itself.  If you plan on bonfires in the summer or engage in any country  activity which requires fire control, it is invaluable.


The intangible tools are determination, patience, time and a steady temperament.  You will need a sort of fascination with picking away at a project and the ability to ” let go” and not try to do the whole job in one day.  A note about safety…this job involves fire and sharp tools and so is irresistible to kids.  You need one designated person to closely supervise young kids who might be hanging around the site.  Banishing them seems a bit mean to me.  Why deprive them of the pleasure of messing around with fire, ashes and axes?  Oh, if you have close neighbors, you should give them notice that the area will be smoky from  time to to time.  The stump we attacked was close to the road so people stopped and stared or gave advice, criticism or told stories of how they or relatives close or distant got rid of stumps.  ( dynamite, seriously?) they regaled us with stories of how stumps were transformed into sundials, picnic tables or flower planters.  Fascinating as all this may be, at one point you have to stop leaning on the hoe, nod sagely, heave a deep sigh and mutter, ” Well, better get back to it”

This task can take from three days to a week depending on the size of the stump and how perfectly flat you want the area to be when you’re finished.  The damp cool days of fall are perfect for this work.  You don’t want to tackle it in mid summer because of the risk of brush or forest fire. Also, playing around with flames and smoldering ash is not my favourite week-long pastime when it’s 30 degrees.  I’d rather go for a dip in the lake or lie in a hammock with Dickens and a tall drink.

Wear old clothes and boots you don’t mind ruining and keep in mind you’ll need a shower and shampoo every evening when you’re through for the day.  You’ll stink like the bottom of an old ashtray

This is a two or three-person job.  It’s kind of lonesome to do it alone but more people might get in the way.  The stumps of old trees are big and the roots extend, deep and thick on all sides.  Having worked on this for the past three days, I am in awe of Canadian pioneers who cleared scores of such stumps off their land to create farms.  During this process, a strong person will have to hack away at the stump with an axe.  The aim is to get down close to the earthand to expose as many roots as possible.  Keep,in mind that earth and ash extinguish fire so little by little scrape this stuff out with the harrow or the hoe.  That way, your kindling and small logs will have oxygen to burn out the stump.

We’ve done three days of work and then tump has diminished a lot.  Soon we’ll decide that it’s good enough and then we’ll pile dirt over it and next year there should be a beautiful flower patch there.  The ash, the nutrients from the old roots and the sunny position should help with that.  This was an experience that made me appreciate the might of the old tree, made me think about how people managed in the old days and showed me you can accomplish something difficult if you have patience, ingenuity and the right tools.  Come to think of it, maybe my title was accurate after all.

A Viewpoint

imageAs a Canadian I have always had great respect and admiration for our neighbour to the south.  The United States of America is in some ways an unfathomable mystery.  Founded on noble principles, it’s history is a long struggle of good against evil.  It is framed by hope, persistance, grandeur and respect.  What often struck me on my initial visits to the U.S. and in my contacts with Americans was their innate cheerfulness, good humour and relaxed self- confidence.  There was, I felt, a benign indulgence that customs officers, cab drivers, policemen and waitresses bestowed upon me in my first visits. Later, as I made deep and loving friendships with Americans, I felt the depth of culture, faith and love for their country and for the rest of the world.  That has been my personal experience and it has shaped my view of the United States more than decades of news and TV stories about the very important problems the country struggled with.  As an outsider, certainly I cordially detested some presidents just as I felt deep and genuine affection and respect for others.

During the recent Presidential campaign I was amazed and disconcerted that Donald Trump could have risen to the status of Republican candidate.  I listened with alarm to his ignorant, detestable and sometimes ludicrous statements delivered at rallies and notably during his debates with his  Democratic rival.

He was elected.  Enough ink has been spilled in shock and astonishment over this outcome. I will spare you any more. We, and I use this pronoun as a member of the global community, must make the best of it.  Let us hope and pray that Mr. Trump makes the best of it.  Given his stated views and goals it would be naive to assume that ” the best” in terms of the advancement of poor people, women or the handicapped can be achieved.  As for environmental concerns, observe who will, under his guidance, be responsible for the transfer of files from the  EPA.  Google Myron Ebell and weep for our planet.

In his acceptance speech, Donal Trump talked, for the first time in my observation, about ” inclusion , harmony, respect”.  Did Melania give him a few tips on speech plaigarizing?  Too little  too late  Mr Trump.  I suppose we can make a virtue of necessity and evoke this mysterious esteem for the ” office ” of President. Does it magically bestow upon the incumbent virtue, dignity, intelligence?

Was not Hitler Chancellor of Germany?

Is not Vladimir Putin President of the Russian Federation?

Are there not doctors who pursue money rather than the good of patients?

Are there not mothers and fathers who abuse their children?

Are there  not priests who betray the trust of souls in their care?

Are there not writers who close their eyes to the truth or who distort it?

The titles of Chacellor  doctor, parent, pastor or writer do not of themselves bestow virtue or demand respect.  It is the individual who shows  by his or her right action that he or she is worthy of respect and is worthy to carry such a title.  I am a dreamer and therefore hold some faint spark of hope that Donald Trump may astonish me by his good actions as President of the United States.

The picture?  Just feels like this these days: a frail human attempt to control fire….with a few sparks of hope present too


A challenge

imageIt started innocently enough.  The little blue cover looked like a perfect replacement for my iPad cover.  The old cover had started out with a cool ” distressed” Union Jack vibe and over the course of a couple of years descended into sloppy rag status.  While no one knows better than I that such an image can be a “look” all its own, I felt a valuable device to which I am hopelessly addicted deserved a little more protection.  So, when my dear companion ( watch this space for a piece on what to call a “boyfriend” when one is over …well over …..60) so when he spotted the neat blue number at the Salvation Army shop for three dollars, we grabbed it.

Next scene, two puzzled baby boomers finally figuring out that this was not an ipad cover but some protector for a device that went the way of the dodo five minutes after it’s invention. “Wasn’t there some sort of Kindle thing that just let you read stories?” This incredulous question from someone who doesn’t even text!  Then the ominous words…”Don’t worry, honey.  I’m sure I can fix it a bit and you can still use it.”  The poor little blue cover lay forgotten for a couple of days and then I made the mistake of starting the modification.  Not to worry, my beloved handyman soon took over and after a few tricky manoeuvres and some judicious repair of my mistaken initial stab at the remodel, I now have a unique ipad cover.  I particularly like the burn effect at the photo aperture.  Makes it look like something exploded on a particularly raunchy shoot.  “Here, take a look at this retina burner”.   After I finished sewing up a poorly thought- out slit I made with an exacto knife, it was perfect.  And who knew dental floss was the perfect thread for Chinese plastic?  Despite a few suppressed attempts to throw the little blue cover into the wood stove during this whole operation, I think buying it was three dollars well spent.  Persistence and patience were thrown in as part of the bargain.


The yin and yang of autumn leaves

So beautiful!  The crown of the year…don’t you think if some sort of future climate change meant that we stopped having autumn colours it would be a great sadness.  The whole character of the country would change, I believe.  For me there’s a hypnotic mood in looking at the leaves and trying to name the varied beauty.  The words can’t convey the crazy glory of the situation.  There are a lot of trees around.  The conifers provide a dark anchor for gold, crimson, scarlet, oak brown, mustard yellow, rose, interspersed with pale green holdouts.  As the season continues, leaves flurry down like doomed butterflies, like coloured snowflakes ironically foreshadowing what is to come. But every royal robe has it’s seamy side, after all.

A few acres of nicely wooded property magically accumulates a lot of fallen leaves.  Leaving it all to nature would mean in Spring a slimy black and heavy mess all over the land.  It’s a bit like a fairy story in reverse.  You start out with mounds of brilliant treasure and after a long snowy winter you end up with ……well, better to put on your cute hat, grab the rake and get into it.

Manage that magnificence.  Rake up the royal robes of Nature.  Crush the crown of the year with the riding lawn mower and turn that glory into mulch.  Caught between splendour and practicality…..the Canadian fall dilemma.

Snow geese





It is a long way from Montreal to Cap Tourmente past Quebec City but I never begrudge  the drive.  Snow geese come here in the spring and particularly in the fall.  I don’t remember when or with whom I started coming but the sight of thousands of geese taking a stop on their way from the Arctic to  a warm winter home in the Carolinas is truly wonderful.  The Autumn colors blaze from the mountain with its cliffs that are home to falcons.  When my cousin and I arrived today I was just losing a race with rain clouds that had been pursuing us all the way from Montreal.  We just managed to walk to the look-out on the edge of the marsh when the rain started  in earnest.  At first I was a little disappointed as the young man whe greeted us told us there were ” only” 25,000 geese there today.  However he told us that the tide was turning and that soon we could expect to see the birds approach the shore.  Sure enough they did bob into view and to our great joy more and more birds began to appear in typical line formation and to join the birds already in the river.   He said that this flight formation was a sign that they were just arriving from the North.  Birds who are just flying around the shore do not bother to get into formation.

We heard the pop pop of the hunters’ guns but did not notice any birds falling.  The hunters are strictly controlled and only allowed to shoot birds in flight.  Since the spectacular increase in the numbers of Snow Geese over the past 20 years some birds can be taken without damage to the huge flocks that appear.

As more and more birds landed and came closer and closer to the shore I felt the old joy at seeing them.  No matter what chaos reigns anywhere in the world, no matter what dirty politics grab the headlines, no matter my own worries or heartache, these wonderful creatures just keep on doing their thing.  I love them, I pay homage to them, I hope to see them for many many more years.  I wish them safe journey generation after generation.