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.



Keep the Faith



Remember that saying from way back?  Too far back for some you, right?  How about, “Hang in there!”  Persistence, I guess that’s what it boils down to.

I cut this branch of lilac from the tree in my backyard on a dismal and grey day when the mist looked suspiciously like tiny snowflakes and a brisk wind convinced me that Spring just wasn’t going to show up.  The buds on the little tree were there, alright but they were firmly shut.  I could hardly blame them.  Nothing encouraging going on in the sky or in the cold ground.

After two days in a little vase from my grandmother’s house they are opening up.  The scent is faint but unmistakable.

The weather has turned.  It is sunny, still a little cool but with a forecast of warm days ahead.  The other blooms on the tree will come out, unfurl, open and spread their fragrance down the little city lane for birds, cats, dogs and people to enjoy for a few moments.

A nice metaphor that I will not belabour.  Leave things alone, Isobel.  All will come right.

Youth and Hope




I’m sure Adam grumbled to Eve about how the younger generation had totally gone off the rails and that there was no hope for them.  When you come to think of it, he did have a bit of a point…Cain and Abel, you know? This is a theme with us more mature types.  We were complained about and now it is our turn to complain.  However, I’ve had the opportunity recently to be in in the company of some young artists.  Last weekend, on a whim I went to see what a couple of young people were doing when they asked people to come and sing lullabys for a recording they were making.  Who would show up for such an invitation  and what would be done with  these recordings of ordinary people singing lullabies?  The notice directed interested people to go to a ” trailer near Atwater Market”. What a vague address!  And yet, I found it and went in and  found two gentle young people who put the few of us who showed us at ease and quite naturally we all sang some brief snatch of song that could hypnotize a baby into sleep.  I’ll tell you later this year what happens with this odd and gentle project.

Now, I’ll introduce you to the artist who produced the pictures you see above.  Her name is Edith Cambrini. I met her at a writers’ group that was held at our public library.  She was a writer, I thought.  Turns out she is a painter and a photographer  too.  She invited me to her vernissage and there were many other young people there. She has the courage to make her living with her art   If any of you want to decorate your world with beauty drop by and have a look at her Facebook page.

How wonderful it is that there is a whole new generation coming up that has faith in writing and painting and song.  Makes even an old stick like me have hope.

Flowers have a Meaning too


Here in Montreal our winters are long and hard.  Winter does not retreat easily.  He hangs on month after month, week after week.  We tear off pages on the calendar and fool ourselves that “soon…next week……on the weekend” it will be milder, sunnier, warmer.  It takes a long time for these wishes, these hopes to come true.  Winter has its own schedule.  For years my benchmark was St. Patrick’s Day.  The turning point…we’re in spring now, right?  Only when I stood like a pillar of salt in biting cold and saw my grandson dance in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade did I finally give up on this idea. It is not Spring.  It is winters with a little more light.  It is St. Patrick’s Day, no more no less. Even when the light draws green shoots out of the cold dark earth, snow can come.  It does come.  Many times I have covered the tender shoots in my back yard with newspapers to get them through a frosty night or to protect them from a heavy wet snow.  They are beloved to me.  I cannot bear to think of them being pinched, overwhelmed by cold and snow.

So when at last blooms come out, it has a meaning, a significance for us.  The perfection of waxy magnolias is a sudden glory that comes to bless us even before leaves have come out on the other trees.  This white beauty made me stop the car to take its portrait.  The fleeting perfection of these blooms has a heartbreaking quality.  Before you even have a chance to drag a dear friend to ” look, just look at this!” it’s shedding its petals.  Carpe diem…hurry up and look…fall in love with me and be damned the knowledge that I will leave you…and soon.

And here’s this sober statue holding his rose right out there in public.  This picture was taken the morning after Mother’s Day.  So, what does this rose mean?

And this little Japanese almond that was planted in my garden long ago by a dear friend.  It blooms very early but last year it became infested with gall, a disease of its bark that produced ugly growths.  It was sick and I cut it back without mercy.  I even tried to pull it out by the roots. I was a little disgusted by its sick appearance and I was a little angry wih my friend.  I wanted it gone.  But the roots were deep and it would ‘t come out.  Here it is, the first blooming bush around.  Saskatoon berry bush in the lane to come, lilac to come, mock almond still later, still to come.  Even though I wanted to give up on this blossom, it wouldn’t give up on me.

There’s the  thing and there’s it’s meaning.  There’s the flower and there’s its story.


A Happy Surprise


Many thanks to Barbara Black and Rene Robitaille, editors of Contact 26, the magazine of the guides of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  They  kindly gave a full-page feature to my poem “Cold Bronze”.  This piece was inspired by the statues “In memoriam  I”and “In memoriam II”  by Elisabeth Frink. These works stand in the museum Sculpture garden on Ave de la Musee here in Montreal.   The poem is from my collection, Northern Compass, which available in the museum bookstore and online through Amazon.

Old favourites …and a new star


The first day of tulips.  On Thursday I saw showy magnolias for the first time in my town , open and, already falling, falling.  Today in the little city back garden my tulips opened and with them a beauty I have been wondering about for weeks.  Would it survive two significant snowfalls after a couple of mild teaser days in April?  Seems it would….and has!  Now all I have to worry about are the horrid red bugs that attack lilies.  This beautiful brave thing, a fritillia, must be of the lilly family as I have already seen a couple of hungry insects.  I promptly dispatched them to insect heaven.  For beauty to thrive, death must play a part.

On this day before the bear trap that is Mother’s Day, sitting in my sunny kitchen under the mild gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe and thinking about the miracle of fritillia.

The National Archives of Quebec


Officially a nerd, my heart thrilled to the idea of a visit to the National Archives of Quebec right here in Montreal.  Libraries, cemeteries, museums, old industrial  buildings, bring them on!  I could spend hours poking around in those places.  A kind friend of mine, who turns out to be a big historical researcher, offered to take me to the old archive building close to the historical port area of the city.  It has been extensively renovated and adapted to its purpose.

I was surprised to be met at the door by a security officer.  I was given a key to a locker and asked to sign in with my time of entry.  We went to the cloakroom and locked up our coats and bags.  Only portable computers, pads, notebooks and pencils are allowed.  The work area is a large room flooded with natural light and full of beautiful work tables and comfortable chairs  The purpose of our visit was to look up some geneological records.  To my surprise I recently learned that a branch of my mother’s family came to Montreal in 1845 but that the young couple left after their three children died shortly after birth. It seems the sad parents went off to the United States.   My companion,showed me how to look up church records but since my ancestors would have been Protestants we had to look in some segregated volumes.  Finally, thanks to my friend’s expertise, we were able to find two entries in the records of St. Stephen’s Church in Lachine.  The family name, Wybron, is quite unusual and the dates matched so it certainly is the family I was looking for.  Besides accomplishing my own purpose, my friend also showed me the vast volumes of church records for the French Catholic population and he explained that people often changed or added to their names for identification purposes or sometimes to hide a criminal past as they set out in their new lives.  A common complication was that,women often died in childbirth or simply from the burden of work in the early days and then a second family could be established.  The term in French Canada is “”deuxiem lit” or . . . .the second bed.  Men sometimes had a second “bush” family too. They  would establish a relationship wih a native woman when they went off on fur trading or military expeditions.  The church might or might not ecognize these children.  It was so facinating that I hardly noticed the time passing.  A look around the room revealed lots of records from New England where Quebec families settled at various times of conflict or economic hardship.  Marc told me many interesting historical tit bits so the whole expedition was interesting and fun. Besides geneological records there are all sorts of records of early settlement written by the Jesuits, guides to early colonial furniture and records of businesses that date far back.

What a beautiful setting.  And as Marc pointed out it is a great place to get away as no cel phones are allowed.  Even nerds have their refuge.