Ode to Summer/Floating

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Silence . . .  silence that is even more deafening than cross country skiing through the deep space between the towering rocky mountains.  I lie on my back, floating just a few feet above tall spires of seaweed.  I lie in the dark water, with the dark sky above me.  I feel as though I am enclosed in a very small space.  My four senses fade away and now there is only scent.  It has been so long since I had the desire to jump into the lake.  The scent brings back the memories of many childhood swims.  I lift my head up immediately, and climb up the ladder and out of the lake within less than a minute from when I slowly stepped in.

I decided to go for a late night swim too get out of the cottage, which was much hotter than the outdoors.  Now, being wet, I lay on the dock to let the cooling effect sink in, a light summer breeze helps.  My bathing suit slowly drips through the boards of the dock, clinking lightly across the metal bars and returns to the lake.

I lay down to watch the stars, my slick wet hair falls smoothly behind me.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Now we are transitioning seasons.  The lake will soon be too cold to swim in; the air is already crisp.  The breeze that blows makes it feel more like sweater weather than swimsuit weather.  I look back on pictures of hikes from last year at this time, and now look forward to many hikes with beautiful colours . . .  leaves floating on water.

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Say Hello

It was about time that I acknowledged my Yucca tree.  It has now faithfully warmed and made two different living rooms feel like home.  It really loved the first living room, it’s narrow pointing leaves shooting out and soaking in all of the sunlight.

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Now here in the second living room it reached a plateau.  A tall apartment building blocks the direct sunlight by mid-morning.  Still, the root system achieved maximum density in the small plastic container.  I would water it and the water would immediately go to the tray below  – there was no more soil left to absorb the moisture, the roots had taken over the pot.

These trees are used to growing in vast deserts where their root systems can expand out for almost a dozen meters.  Now my plant was in a pot less than 50 centimeters in diameter.

Since June, I had a large pot picked out for it and waiting in the basement of my store. A few times I would go down to the dark, cold and moldy basement to lift the large pot off the plastic shelf to test it’s weight.  Each time I deemed it just a bit too heavy to take home with me on the subway.  So the pot waited and waited patiently in the basement of the store.  At home, my plant waited even more patiently.

Weeks went by, and still I had not gotten about to bring my car out to work to pick up the pot.  One morning, after it had spent a few weeks in drought, I walked through the living room and saw the tree as if for the first time and said “Don’t worry, I will take care of you today”.  It was the first time I had acknowledged my tree in this way and I suddenly understood how Lane felt when he addressed the small tree on the other side of his campfire.

“Not usually accustomed to talking to trees, I said hello, feeling a sense of commonality around the fire together.  As we sat there, the young tree, almost like a child, seemed to be asking for a story.  Fires have a way of suggesting such things.”

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes” p. 157  Belden C. Lane

I immediately went about my errands, first stopping by Canadian Tire to purchase some soil.  I had to do my research to be sure that I purchased the right kind of soil for my tree was a cactus and not the usual kind of tree that grows outdoors year-round in Ontario.  I found the potting soil bag labeled “Cactus Soil” and inspected the difference between it and other soil mixes.  Yes, of course – the difference is sand!

I quickly drove North and picked up the pot from my store before rush hour. I brought my supplies home and placed them on the landing on our second floor. The cicadas were buzzing their buzz for the heat of the day.  This tree had been through more than just one day of drought and choking in the pot – I had let it go for a couple of months.  This day it’s drought was to come to an end.

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I tried lifting the tree out of its plastic pot, expecting that it would smoothly glide out, like many of the plantings I had purchased earlier in the spring.  I tried shaking it a bit and giving it a bit of a jolt to pry it out.  Still the plant wouldn’t give.  I had to get the scissors out, carefully cutting one side to reveal the thick red veins.  Luckily I didn’t cut through them.

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Even after cutting one side of the pot, the tree still wouldn’t give.  I had to cut it in three different places and pull the sides down to completely expose the root system that was firmly holding everything together in the shape of the small plastic container.

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As I worked diligently, I sang – singing to the tree my apology for neglecting it for so long.  Unlike in Lane’s case my tree was not asking for a story, but a for a song. I played the song over again and carefully pruned all of the dead branches that accumulated at the base of the foliage.  Carefully I lifted and pried it out of the last two centimeters of the base of the pot and placed it on the small bed of dirt in the new pot.  I began to slowly fill the sides with dirt, and dirt and more dirt.

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My plant now sits in its spot by the window.  A few more branches have dried up since I repotted it, but I hope that in some way it can remember my song.

Soul

Fresh paint on the back wall.  The wares of the store are shuffled around, and many items sit haphazardly so as not to get specks of paint on them.  This late evening at work feels different – change is happening again.

It had been a week since I put up the new front window display.   I decided to feature two beautiful drums that were just over a month old, but had spent too long sitting in the back of the store in the instrument section.   I placed the Djembe drums from Burkina Faso on a beautifully woven wool rug from Kenya.  Simple and beautiful.  The drums were still waiting for the right person to come and bring life into their hollow shells – there were sounds ready to be released.

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Many people had inquired about the drums when they were sitting at the back of the store, but they thought that they were too expensive and did not know for themselves about the quality of the drums – neither did I for I do not play or know very much about drums.

I put the drums in the window to attract the right person, someone who wouldn’t normally come into my store.  That evening it happened – it was a man with long grey hair and life in his face.  He told me that last time he went by the store was closed and he was admiring the drum from the other side of the glass.

I asked him if I could pull the drum out of the window for him.  Those who aren’t serious about it are too afraid of the commitment about asking for too much from me.  They might have to buy it.  All I wanted was for someone to play it, to find it’s potential.  It wanted to know more about this object that had been lifeless for too long.

He found the bamboo bench across from the cash desk and sat down with the drum between his knees.  Beautiful noises followed and filled the store and echoed from the short distance from wall to wall.  Two other customers were overwhelmed by the sound.  I didn’t want them to leave the store, but I knew that this drum needed to be heard.  This is why I work at my store, for these moments when someone connects with something so beautifully made by artisans across the world.  It is beautiful when someone understands the product and why it was made.

The sounds came to a dead stop.  He told me that the drum had an amazing sound with so much potential.  He also told me that he is part of a drumming circle that meets in the park once a week.  I didn’t know about the circle in Toronto, but I did hear about the one in Montreal.  He said, “Yes, that’s the mother drum circle in Mont-Royal Park, Montreal.  They have 3 or more circles there.  We just have one large circle here in Toronto.”

I wish that he had played longer.  I encouraged him to come back, even if the drum cannot be his right now. He told me all drums have a soul – they just need to be brought to life.

Blinded

Calves and heels aching from stop and go traffic, my toes flex back to keep my sandals on and strain back and forth between the clutch, break and gas.  Zak’s tension has eased into consent that we will be at least half an hour late for his appointment.  What did we expect trying to get out of such a huge city and onto one of the busiest highways in North America during rush hour?
I was expecting to spend a long hour in a small waiting room with my book. Speeding my way to the other side of the city, my eyes caught a large brown sign marking the edge of a large section of tree and field. It was right in the middle of a big box store area.  I dropped Zak off at his appointment and headed right back.

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Unprepared, I was lacking the companionship of my camera.  I had nothing between what I saw and me.  I resolved not to regret any missed opportunities, and enjoy my walk. My companions were spires of tall grasses.  Reach forward, grab on, arms fall behind, feel resistance and the grasses come along.  I twirl each strand in my hand and remember making firecrackers in elementary school.  My hand slides up to the thick seeded top, and then back down scattering all the seeds and leaving a long smooth blade.

A rabbit darts across the path, wakening me from my daze.  I am not on the straight and smooth highway anymore.  I settle into the scenery around me.  Then there is a fork in the path.  Now is the time to decide.  I have 40 minutes.  Do I want to walk out for 20 minutes and backtrack, or find my way from this map posted here and make a loop?  I study the circle with paths radiating out and assume that it shouldn’t take me more than the time I have. I make a right turn down a thin dirt path overrun by grasses that slide against my leg, leaving a faint itchy feeling from the seedy heads.

The path starts curving right . . . I thought I was making a circle to the left.  Just keep going, I tell myself.  The sounds of traffic are still in the distance so I can’t stray too far.  I begin to get anxious and wonder if I’ve started to go back in the direction of my car or not.  I don’t want my walk to end too soon, but I don’t want to get lost either.  I come out of the tree and bush and a large field opens up.   This is not where I intended to be.  What if it takes me too long to find my way back and Zak is waiting, stuck waiting for me?

pilgrim-at-tinker-creekLater in the evening, I began reading again from a work of my favourite adventurer and fellow pilgrim.  I came across one line that I had copied many times and have journaled about before.   After staying out too late exploring around the creek, she was enclosed in darkness and had to make her way home barely being able to see what was around her.  She commented that, “If we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light.  When too much light falls on everything, a special terror results” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, First Ed., 22).

I felt this terror.  I hadn’t gone too far, or for too long, but my winding took me to a place and I forgot where I had come from and what direction I had taken.  When I reached the field I was very confused.  It was large and bright compared to the shaded paths that took me there.  I walked my way through the golden field to a large posted map, but it wasn’t the large sign I saw upon entering the Conservation area.  I studied it, but I did not feel oriented.  I made my way along the road, but it did not seem like the road I drove along to get there.

After about 15 more minutes of walking in a direction that I wasn’t sure of I came across the trailhead that I started on, and knew my car wasn’t too far off.  I realized that I had driven by the field earlier before I scouted out my parking spot.  The field looked large and green when I drove by, nothing like the bright and golden field I saw coming out of the trees from the path.

Moroccan Beet Salad

A strong cool breeze brings in looming dark clouds.  A draft pours through the house.  It is a perfect night to bake my beets.  The gas oven sighs it’s heat into the house, warming me up after reading on the couch.  One hour and fifteen minutes wrapped warmly in foil packets, cooked until they’re soft and tender.
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Lifting the lid on the pot, the red juice has spilled its way through, brightly staining the pure white.  I slowly part the foil to reveal the small gems – deep rusty red and bright cherry red, with a hint of sunshine yellow.

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I wait until they are cool enough to handle and gently slide off the skin.  The quiet hum of the fridge joins me in my mediation.

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Recipe:

6 large beets, leaves and stems removed

Dressing:
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 green onions, thinly sliced

a day on my own/my favourite things

morning
While reading on the couch, my breakfast plate slides down the cushion and presses against my leg.  I nurse a large cup of earl grey tea, but even it is not enough to keep me going on this early morning.  I curl up on the pillow and listen to the birds singing outside my window.

afternoon
An appointment and some errands get me out an about on the main street.  I find just the right annuals and take them home for a planter on my front porch.  I cut open my bag of dirt and bring it down to the front entrance.  Sitting cross-legged, I surround myself with the various flowers, my planter and my tools.  Dirt spills over the edge of the pot and finds its way under my nails.

evening
I run the water and fill up the tub.  The sun is setting and pours through the space between the curtain and the window frame, shining on my face.  The music playing in the background understands the moment.  A swift breeze lifts the curtain and cools my dampened feet.  Through the lifted curtain I see the dark clouds roll in, adding texture to the sky.

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late evening
Outside my kitchen door I pick my first few leaves of basil, rubbing and releasing the strong scent.  Fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, freshly sliced lemon and fresh ground pepper along with a glass of wine.

Curb

“Sorry, no beverages allowed in this store,” the gentleman looks up from his book speaking to Z as he enters the store.  The man sits at a desk directly beside the door.  It seems more like a hotel check in than a thrift store.  Z quickly downs his drink, while I have half left and decide to take my time.  Z passes his empty cup over the desk to be deposited in the trashcan and I step back outside and walk slowly along the side of the concrete building.  There is a sidewalk along it that leads to the bushes at the back.  Carefully placed at the back corner at the end of the sidewalk are two dishes.  There is a black cat sitting there.  It reminds me of the one I left at home.  This one has green eyes and peers up at me carelessly.  The cat is not too interested in me and I deem it not a good idea to pick it up or pet this unknown cat roaming around outside.  I walk back down the short sidewalk and sit on the curb in front of the double glass doors.

My thoughts relax as I sit down on this dividing line between the parking lot and the store.  I feel more present to what is around me.  Maybe it is because I am looking at things from a different angle.  I shift my cup in my hand, the cardboard sleeve slowly moves around making a soft rubbing sound.  I take a sip, enjoying the remaining flavours as it slowly cools off and begins to loose its thickness.  My elbows rest casually on my knees and I stretch my legs out, examining my toes as my feet shift back and forth on my heels.    Lushness surrounds me on this Island, even encircling a thrift store parking lot.

There is something about the casual position that relaxes me and makes me remember who I am.  I am closer to the ground, closer to the pavement than I am to the inside of a shop housing the used wares of many different peoples’ houses.

I’ve taken to curb sitting.  I did it just the other day on the streets of Toronto.  There is a new streetcar that I take daily to get to the subway line.  This streetcar isn’t quite as frequent as the Spadina line that I used to take.  Sometimes there are holdups with traffic or malfunctions of the electrical hookups – so I never know when the car will arrive.  My legs are usually tired from running along my newfound trails and from standing all day at work.  It was a nice day and I didn’t feel like sitting on the cool steel bench in the shelter.  The shelter is on a raised platform that acts as a curb marking the perimeter.  I sit away from the crowd of people hovering at the entrance of the shelter and I wait on the curb – my elbows on my knees and my forearms stretched out with a book.

In Transit

I take the last subway car.  It is the closest car to my final subway stop.  There are only a few people in the car, so I sit in an open section of three seats.  Everyone likes their space in subway cars.  Only in rush hour do legs and shoulders press together uncomfortably- each passenger sitting patiently looking straightforward.  Some sit on the edge of their seats to avoid contact.

subway-car1There is a man sitting in the section of three seats across from me.  He holds a square styrofoam container in his hand with the remains of his dinner.  He sits sideways in his seat facing the empty perpendicular seats.  He casually speaks, moving his free hand up and down.  He speaks to the empty seat in a language that I do not understand.  Intermittently throughout his conversation he raises a chicken bone to his mouth, scavenging the remains.  His fingers get greasy and his conversation gets intense.  I wonder what it is about.  I keep my head down but raise my eyes in his direction. His conversation ends as the car slows to its next stop.

The bell rings and the doors start to open.  I have been through this repetition many times – the doors always open at the same slow speed.  Before my stop I usually stand right before the parting of the doors anxiously waiting until the space is large enough to fit through.  I get out quickly to make room for the passengers waiting to rush the doors to enter the car.

This man with the white styrofoam container stands in the same spot I usually do, his jacket slowly slipping off his shoulder.  As the doors start to open, he puts his hand in the small space between them, forcing the door to open faster with no avail.  He steps out and casually walks through the tunnel to the exit, his jacket making its way down his back, his meal still securely in his hand.

Avery & Zak – A Year in Review 2008

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Zachary:
I am writing this unaware of what Ave has already written.  I thought it would be interesting to write independently and then see how our reflections on the year compare (or conflict!).

My year was divided exactly in two (to the day!) by July 1st, 2008.  Wait, you must be thinking, shouldn’t the day Ave and I got married be the defining day?  Well after much thought, the answer is simply no.  What follows is a narrative/explanation.

Chapter 1: January 1st to June 30th

The first half of my (our) year was one of exciting and rapid changes.  In March, I matched to my first choice residency program: Radiology at the University of Toronto.  That meant that my dream of becoming a radiologist, and our shared desire to return to Ontario were simultaneously fulfilled.  Those months were full of anticipation as we planned out our wedding and began looking for a place to live in Toronto.  In June I graduated with my MD and the day after, Ave and I got married at Strawberry Creek, Alberta.  We packed up the car and began a cross-country tour as newlyweds, first to the west coast, and then back to Ontario (about 7000 kms in all).  I had been off of school/work for nearly 2 months at that point and felt free like no other time in recent memory.

Those six months were the best of times.  It was our last six months in Edmonton; I had my last few meetings with the boys club (including of course celebratory cuban incenindery rods and eau de vie); We had our last walks in the river valley, X-Box tournaments and back-yard bar-b-que’s (what is a back yard again anyways?).  We ate and drank and soaked in the end of an era.

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Chapter 2: July 1st to Present

Well, the second half of the year was a little different.  Our wedding is not the dividing point of the year in my mind just as the climax of a story is never the end of the book but rather its fulfillment before the story’s resolution.  Our wedding and my convocation was the culmination of the past 5 years of my life.  Our honeymoon and trek back to Toronto ended the era and began the next one.

July 1st I started residency, which heralded paychecks (and bills), new responsibilities both at work and at home and much anxiety.  I donned my shackles, er, pager, and had my introduction to the standard 26 hour workday.  More than anything, I felt (and still feel) that my time is no longer my own. My choices now are principally how I choose to deal with the situations I am dealt rather than the world being my blank canvas.  Maybe that is just a part of growing up, I don’t know.

Being married is great though.  I look at my single friends and wonder how on earth they can make it through residency.  Avery has been and remains my refuge, my universal supporter, personal gourmet chef and supermodel.  Sometimes the thought of coming home to her the next morning is all that keeps me going at 3 am when I haven’t slept in almost 24 hours.

So here we are, and here I am.  Working and married life is here to stay (I have to say I like one a lot more than the other).  I am now a husband, physician, sleep deprived zombie.  I’ve thought briefly about starting to buy lottery tickets . . . but have resolved myself to push onward, find the good in my job, be present always and open myself to the endless possibilities that I believe still lie beneath the surface.  I resolve to work out a new complicated freedom that will be, perhaps, even better than the previous one.

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Avery:
I have restarted this letter a couple of times by now.  I left a month between the first two drafts and I feel that my thoughts have changed too much from then to keep it as my final draft.  I am trying to reflect on 2008 when 2009 is quite fresh.  Christmas feels so long ago.  We are almost through the bleak ending of winter.  The monochromatic landscape is shifting from whites and greys to browns.  Soon there will be an abundance of colour.

By this time last year, Zak had already finished his interviews for his residency at many different schools across the country.  We were anxiously awaiting the results of where we would live for the next five years.  Perhaps March is like the beginning of a new year for as it was when things were set in motion for us last year.

I look back in my journal and find that I felt like we were holding our breath until we found out where we were moving.  Once we found out we were moving to Toronto we began planning the wedding, our move and finding an apartment.  I also feel that our last few months in Edmonton (March-June) I felt the most alive and involved in a community than I had felt in the three years preceding.  I was settling into prairie life.  I was actively involved in our church through Girls club, College and Career and occasionally in worship services.  I was integrated into Campus life through my job at CaPS, and I was enjoying my studies.  I was soaking up as much of my favourite place as in Edmonton as I could – the river valley.  I went for many runs breathing in the landscape each time as though each time was my last time there.

I learned a great deal of who I am and who I am in relation to Zak, while I was in Edmonton.  We started making a life for ourselves in Edmonton because at first we only had each other, we were so far away from family.

Beggining of the Bruce Trail

Beginning of the Bruce Trail

Now that we have moved to Toronto we are learning again what it is like to make a home together.  We are very happy to be living close to our families again and make many visits to St. Catharines, the Cottage (Allenford) and Kitchener-Waterloo.  We are struggling to find a community in this new place (Toronto) and new landscape that we now live in.  We have been living downtown for our first 8 months here and we feel quite disconnected from the landscape and the people that are around us.  It is a very populated area, but we barely even see our neighbors in our apartment hall.  It has been difficult for me to get used to the lack of green space here as well.  There are trees scattered throughout the downtown lining the streets, but it seems as though they are barely surviving – they are surrounded by concrete and have only a small patch of dirt to collect water.

Our fate is not as bleak as the trees lining the streets downtown though – we have found a church community at Toronto United Mennonite.  We are slowly getting to know the people there and there are many couples our age as well.  This spring we hope to find an apartment in the High Park/Roncesvalles area – which is a community beside a park that is almost 400 acres!  We hope to enjoy many runs, walks and picnics there.

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Thoughts following snow

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I sit here safely inside.  The snow is swirling around swaying the trees, but it is still not enough to sweep the snow off their branches – there is just too much weight.  The screen is still on my window, collecting speckles of snow.  The collection of snow depends upon the surface.  Screens are porous, catching each individual flake of snow.  The unscreened window collects the snow in clumps.

Trees are different too.  Coniferous trees carry their weight.  Large amounts weigh them down collecting between the numerous needles.  When I stood under one of these trees I felt like I was enclosed in a room, sheltered from the wind.  Cedars carry small snowballs, clumping along where the trunk meets the branch.

Deciduous trees carry a slender line of snow along the branch.  Birds and squirrels interrupt the line creating gaps.  Outside the cottage window there is a feast attracting the few that decided to stay through the cold and snowy storms.  The resident and labeled “kamikaze” squirrel jumps from the deck railing to the bird house filled with food, precariously hanging on the edge.

The snow collected on the ground is the most treacherous to us travelers.  We must leave tonight to get to work tomorrow.  Snow among the forest-lined road collects evenly – a smooth blanket.  I am worried about the open country roads where the thin lines of drifting snow form creating a zigzag pattern.  The wind sweeps across the farms picking up speed and blurring the distinction between field, ditch and road.

Back in the city, I pull out my running shoes again.  It is my chance to explore.  I leave my building and the clouds stand still temporarily.  Once I get down to the park on the Lake, the white and wet pellets fly straight into my eyes.  I can’t look up or my eyes will be filled with snow.

I circle the trees that are some of the oldest in my area.  They are all about the same size, as most of them were planted in the same year – one of the largest ceremonial plantings in Canada.  As I round the bend the wind is at my back.  The white is layering on the rough brown surface – one of the few forms visible above the white.  The backdrop is grey.  I feel as though I am enclosed in a large forest, although I know the towering cityscape is just behind.

I proceed past an open area where a memorial has been constructed.  There are two circular shapes, each split in half.

“The memorial is dedicated to the many Canadians who served their country at home and abroad. It was designed by John McEwen and features two pairs of bronze gates in the shape of a ship’s prow. The openings and vistas formed by their north-south orientation provide entranceways which symbolize the departure of troops and their return home.”

I will continue to pass through this place, remembering that I, like many others, have come home, although to my inclination it is my second home.

(http://www.toronto.ca/parks/parks_gardens/coronation_bat2.htm)