Anyone who reads this blog knows I can go off into raptures about nature in all its forms. However, living in the country brings home the dark side of Mother Nature. As I told a dear friend of mine today, I had considered myself on top of the food chain. Black flies do not appear to have been informed of their position on the hierarchy and have bitten me unmercifully over the past week. In spite of bug spray, bug jackets, ugly nerdy looking hats with nets attached and a nineteen-thirties look around the feet due to pants tucked into socks, they were not deterred. A couple of the little blighters even managed to get into the house and I awoke on Wednesday morning with my eye swollen shut due to a vicious bite just below the eyebrow. The local pharmacist was quite impressed with my chest – not the first to have exhibited a vivid interest if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, her awe struck gaze was due to a livid string of welts. “Like Christ before he was put on the cross.” was a rather dramatic description by my boyfriend. I doubt Our Saviour was afflicted by the intense itching behind the ears and down my legs incurred by the damned black flies. I had great hopes that the pharmacist would produce some miracle salve – this is 2017 for heaven’s sake. She led me confidently down an aisle and triumphantly produces a bottle of ……calamine lotion. Sixty years ago this chalky liquid was slathered over my legs after I fell into a patch of stinging nettles. Crushed I was led whimpering out of the pharmacy.
Yesterday was a hot and humid day. I helped a bit with the garden and took refuge in the cool house hoping to catch an episode of Coronation Street. It was not to be. At exactly 4 pm – air time for my favorite dose of British working class soap opera, a tornado hit our house. With amazing speed a storm packing gale force winds, torrential rain, thunder and hail engulfed our house and land. I was convinced the living room window was going to blow in and took shelter in the bathroom. The picture shows a substantial tree that was uprooted during the ten minute storm. Many trees in the neighborhood were felled and we had no power for six hours.
So, you can perhaps understand that my feelings towards Mother Nature are a little cooler than usual. I know all moms can have bad days but really, I shall expect some pretty spectacular lilac to make up for this.
The hummingbirds, I mean. This evening just before sunset we heard the unique burring noise of a hummingbird coming to the feeder. We eventually saw three scrappy little miracles at the feeder, fighting and whirring around. It is a wonderful sight and a sign that Spring really is here. It had better be as everything is now planted – potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, bush beans, green peas, peppers and hot peppers (risky as they like it hot) cucumbers and a hopeful melon vine. We are forecast freakish hot weather for the next two days so it is a good thing that the creek is nice and full. The furrows are slightly sloped down hill so the irrigation should be quite efficient. We can only hope for a bit of help from nature and not a parched summer like last year. There was not a drop of rain in the month of July if I remember rightly. However, we must just hope for the best.
The birds are wonderful. We have quite a contingent of blue jays. I always admired them but since I learned that they are pretty savage, breaking the eggs of other birds and eating fledglings, they have lost their luster for me. The good news is that the little nest in the shed once more has an occupant and that one of Joe’s finely crafted bird houses has an occupant. As a precaution against the damned jays Joe partially blocked the entry hole in the shed to make it too small for them to get in. The bird in the new birdhouse is brave and curious. She sits at the little hole and looks out, her black head quite visible – like the newcomer to the neighborhood that she is. I had my doubts about that birdhouse being occupied as it is in a very exposed spot on top of a fence post but she seems to have taken to it. The blackbird in the tree hole is very happy. Oh, we saw the crane again this evening too. She (or he) was stalking quietly around the bush in the farmer’s field. I suppose they pay a visit to the swamp over the trail for frogs who produce quite a din as soon as it is evening. Frog chorus almost like bells tinkling.
It is impossible to get shots of birds except for the flashy jays and I refuse to give them the publicity so here are some lovely shots of white and blue violets that have come out and are quite lovely next to the brilliant dandelions. I never can quite understand why people have a distain for dandelions. I think they are beautiful – certainly better than the poison people liberally spray around to try to get rid of them…..OK, OK, another time.
Here are a few more beauties that just appeared as I was going around this morning. I have no idea what they are called but I will try to find out. Lovely, aren’t they? It is very interesting to see all the nesting pairs of birds and see how they are enjoying the bird feeder. We saw a pair of Jays this morning. Lots of people think they are noisy and bossy and I suppose they are. I love them, though. Part of the crow family, like Magpies they make their presence known. The little nesting pair in the shed are still holding us hostage. I don’t know what we will do when it is time to go to Montreal as we can’t close the door. I hope the little ones will have hatched by then. The days are long but as soon as it gets dark we can hear frogs making that high spring chirping sound that means….what exactly….we’re getting ready to do our springy thing?
Now, about the title – I had this feeling when I found the little pink flowers this morning. What will come next? What is all this? Where does it go in winter? Why and how does it all come to life in Spring? Who am I in all this? Was I like this, springy and innocent when I was young? Am I now like an old tree with a rough bark and what will happen when I die? Will I be like some old fallen trunk rotting away on the floor of the forest? Am I a tadpole? So all these questions come down to one question. What is the meaning of this? So many philosophers and religious leaders, writers and thinkers have wrestled with this. Do we always come to a tie, a draw, a no contest? I think so. These little pink flowers brought forward this question. They are more profound than any newspaper or TV show or book. I bow to the little pink flowers and recognize that I am helpless before them.
Over the past year I have paid long visits to a very dear person who lives in the Muskoka region of Ontario. This is my first spring visit and I was astonished to see the whole of his property carpeted with this charming wild flower. I hate to generalize but I think his reaction to my delight and wonder at this pretty surprise was fairly typical of most men. A sort of shrug and “Oh, this old thing” attitude. It seems that for a very brief period each spring these dappled leaves (hence the trout part of the name) and hanging golden bells appear all over the woods and uncultivated land of the area. A weak sun was struggling yesterday in the afternoon and they were more open but this morning the usual cloud cover and cool temperatures had returned and I could only get a picture of these shy flowers in a closed state. Apparently when they are open, bees just love to come around and enjoy a sort of early snack of nectar. We are suffering from such a wet and cold spring that I wonder if I will ever enjoy that sight. The trout lily is described as “ephemeral” in the article I found on the internet and I am sure they will soon disappear. Just as was swooning over these darlings, a grating and harsh cry startled me out of my Wordsworth mood. “What on earth is that?”
“Look over there – see the crane” In my shortsighted way I peered over to a grove of trees. It took me a few minutes to distinguish a tall brown bird standing before the thicket of trees, still bare of leaves. It seems that every year a pair of cranes come and nest there. These tall mystical birds that migrate great distances with the seasons have chosen this particular quiet corner to raise the next generation of cranes.
Long live trout lily and cranes away from highways and streets – away from development and “progress”. Long live quiet and dark sky. Long live sun too if it ever appears.
I was invited to Passover dinner last Tuesday. This dinner is called a Seder and for the first time I learned that this word means “order”. Certain foods are always served and theses olds have a symbolic meaning. The picture shows a decorative ritual plate put in the centre of the table. On this plate are pictures of the pharaoh of Egypt because this feast celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery under the Egyptians. Spots on the plate are reserved for an egg, bitter herbs, a shank bone of lamb, a wonderful chopped dish of fruits that symbolizes the mortar used in the building of the pyramids. Many of you know these traditions and I will not go into the prayers, songs and toasts that go on through the meal.
The point I want to make is how much of these beautiful traditions are carried into Christian celebrations. This year many of us are celebrating together. Jews and Western and Eastern Christians are all remembering, repeating and modifying the traditions passed down to us over thousands of years.
Today, Holy Saturday, I was so happy to be with my daughters and my beloved grandchildren to dye these lovely Easter eggs. Spring is here.
All is in order. The moon that determines the dates of our festivals is beautiful these days. Birds have begun to sing and to search for mates, buds are swelling on my lilac tree. There is love in my life and for all the chaos, for just a day or two, Spring has brought order.
Spring, I mean. So happy, so relieved, so invigorated! My snowdrops are out. My crocuses are out and the bees are out. I was amazed to see three busy bees hovering around my little purple crocuses. We’ve had terrible rainy and grey weather for at least a week so I wonder where on earth they were holed up. Today, being Palm Sunday, of course, things are pretty Springy and hopeful Now comes Holy Week with its many long and beautiful services to sing. Right in the middle of it is Passover too and so I will be enjoying a nice Seder on Tuesday evening with my dear dear friend. Every season is beautiful and I usually love the one I’m in, but Spring really is special. Hmmm. Winter is good but a bit of a hanger on. He should learn to leave on time. Bees, chase him off for good!
Yes, you read that right. There are about a million and a half people of Japanese descent in Brazil and most of them live in Sao Paulo province. We were lucky enough to be taken to the Japanese section of the city and we enjoyed the atmosphere, the food and the shopping. So, how did this special population come to live in Brazil? Well, at the turn of the 19th to 20th century slavery had already been abolished in the country and there was a great shortage of labor for the coffee and sugar farms. There was a large influx of Italian workers in the 19th century but living conditions and salaries were so poor that eventually the Italian government forbade subsidized immigration to Brazil. By this time the feudal system in Japan had collapsed and there was great poverty and unemployment. The economy was faltering and Brazil looked like a solution for many workers. Unfortunately, the plantation owners still maintained a sort of “slave/worker mentality” and the Japanese workers had a very hard time. More problems arose when Brazil declared war against Japan in 1942. As we saw in Canada during the Second World War, naturalized citizens of Japanese origin were suspected of being spies and interned in many cases.
Fortunately the second and third generation have been able to emerge from the social and economic shadows of the past. We know that many countries that present an image of tolerance still maintain racist currents. However, the vibrancy and size of the Japanese sector of Sao Paulo is a sign of the health and prosperity of the population. We enjoyed shopping at the kiosks and shops and eating a delicious lunch of traditional food. I feature a picture of an artist who was sketching work at an outdoor kitchen. We even saw him the following day in a popular park where we went for a bike ride! What were the chances of that in a city of about 20 million people?