Saturday, July 31, 2010

New Job

Next stop, Batam, Indonesia. I had no idea there were places in the world that would value my University degree. But there you have it. Stay in school kids.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Whistling Dixie

When I woke up today I didn't think, today I am going to see a glass bottle house. I didn't think, today I will meet a man in a T-shirt that says "God Says "Go Hunting" Jer 1:6", who will proudly show us his beautiful restaurant, still so new you might choke on the pungent wood smell, even though the restaurant is closed because the cook, his wife, has taken their granddaughter to tea at tea house. When I woke up today I didn't think I would, in a few short hours, find myself in a converted Railway Station buying ice cream in a dixie cup and eating it with a miniature wooden spoon, just like at church picnics when I was a child. I most definitely didn't imagine I'd see a tiny village called Wade sprung up in a forest and only accessible by a rustic dirt road.

But, because every day's an adventure, I did.

I am not the sort who's eager to split the populace in two. "There are two kinds of people in the world: Winners and Losers" or "There two kinds of people in the world: Those who see the glass as half empty and those who see the glass as half full."

Dichotomies are cliche, inaccurate and lacking sophistication. Still, I've come to realize that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who value things and those who value experiences. One is no more correct than the other. Neither is loftier or nobler. One will not get you any more chicks than the other. No, there is nothing wrong with either but I am the sort who values experiences over stuff.

I wish I had figured this out earlier in my life. I think I would have made better choices, in friends, careers, dates, lovers and underwear.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wild Game

I went moose hunting today. I didn't see a moose but I did find a gorilla. The gorilla. That gorilla. In that picture, you know, the one of me and that gorilla. That you took. I've framed it in glass, part of a triptych in black and white. On the left is a marble statue at the top of the National Parliament Building in Havannah, Cuba. On the right side is a dead frog floating in a chlorine pool. And, between them both, is a picture of me, wearing your hat, in front of the highway monument gorilla. I am smiling at you, so naturally and easy, it, the smile looks real, even to me.

Before the picture, Jack, who hadn't smoked a day in his life until his divorce at forty, fell asleep with a lit cigarette between his lips and died in the ensuing fire at the age of forty three. You said, "Baby, baby, baby. What's it going to take to cheer you up?"

I said, "I need a road trip."

Forty-two hours before the picture we dropped off the Boy, the one I'd had a crush on since before you and I met, at his friend's campground. In fact, the night you and I met, I'd been at the pub telling my best friend all about him when he walked in with a girl.

"Huh," I said, watching the two of them walking hand in hand to the bar, "I hadn't considered that possibility at all." When my friend and I finished laughing we ordered another two rounds which is how I ended up pretending to french kiss you through the window pane before we ever spoke a word. (I like to blame the alcohol but you and I both know, I'd have probably done the same sober.) This, the pub and the kiss and the poem you recited when we stumbled out into the street after closing time, are all a years worth of hours before the road trip.

So after dropping off this boy whom I still had a crush on at the camper his friends dubbed the "The Silver Bullet" which, it turns out, was only a double entendre to you and me, after this but still before the gorilla, we spent a night in a nicotine coated cabin under linens that smelled like fermaldehyde and moss. when I couldn't sleep, you called me back to bed and, placing your lips beside my ear, told me the story, again, about your favourite snowboard run. When you got to the part about the unblemished powdery snow and made the swooshing noise that tickled my ear, the vibration made my toes curl for the third time that night.

Thirty-two hours earlier there was that small town with the best ever second hand store, where I had to buy the blue cowboy shirt with snaps and the brown wool sweater, the one like your ski sweater without all the holes, because both were too small on you. After that, any time I wore either one you'd say, "Man, it tears me that that's too small for me," and it made me happy to make you jealous over something so mundane.

Thirty hours prior was the 200 km side road that dead ended in a peculiar town with a two table coffee shop and a grocery store that sold only blighted vegetables and expired milk. The people in both establishments eyed us suspiciously but, while I have no patience for small talk, you quickly won them over with your rent-a-smile and bad jokes.

Twenty-two hours before we were caught in a pulp trailer checkstop by a trucker who went around us to park in front of us and so must have seen everything. "No, wait, c'mon who cares," you said but I was already back in the driver's seat. You smiled and made the airhorn gesture at the driver as we drove past, then you mooned him as we drove away. I ought to have been embarassed but I couldn't stop laughing.

Twenty hours before the photo there were hours of silence; just us and the road and motorized metal containers hurtling behind us like our blurry pasts or towards us like our even blurrier futures. You hit repeat to listen to Leonard Cohen's, "I'm Your Man." three times. After the second listen you said quietly, more to yourself than to me, "I think I'm starting to get it." I didn't know what "it" was and I didn't ask. We finally found relief in the guise of a hitchhiker. A tree planter. Money for school, he said. Was it to be a doctor? Or an engineer? Neither of us cared. He was glad for the ride, we were grateful for the company. He was not either of us. Nothing else was important.

Just eighteen hours before that photo we played pool and owned the juke box in a seedy bar in Thunder Bay, until a drunk girl in white hightops and a ZZ Top t-shirt challenged us to pool and tried to pick a fist fight with me.  You were disappointed I didn't take the bait. This after checking into the Art Deco 50's style hotel, and the steak dinner at the Casino that made you throw a tantrum which in turn made me laugh til I cried.

Four hours before you took that photo I tried telling you the story about the conversation I had with the old man in the Swiss Chalet parking lot only I got the sequence all wrong and somehow it sounded like I had told him I wanted you to propose. "OHHH," you said, "If that's what you want let's do it. Let's get married right now." I told you to fuck off.

After all of this, as if only to prove the absurdity of us, there is a black and white photo of me in front of a gorilla, wearing your straw cowboy hat and smiling at you like I mean every dimple of it. when I got the film developed I couldn't remember where the picture was taken. What remains vivid in my memory is the minute after you snapped the picture.

Three jeering pre-teen girls came walking down the highway, resentful of their tiny town and the tourists passing through to bigger cities with brighter lights and cooler, harder boys. You turned to watch them and I knew you saw your own daughter and wondered what she despised now. There you were, a grown man, wondering what they liked and what was the secret codeword to get into their club. And I, watching you, wanted to tell you, reassure you, there is no way to crack that clique when you are older than twenty, but I realized no matter how many miles we traveled together, the distance between us would always remain the same so I didn't say anything at all.

We got back in the rental car and drove away. We didn't stop again.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Under the Boardwalk

I don't believe I have ever taken ferry without being hungover. I'm still trying to decide whether this is a coincidence or just more evidence that I have a drinking problem but I know for certain that it never makes for a pleasant crossing.

There was an excruciating trip to the island of Ometepe after a night of bar hopping with a couple of Swedes. We'd stayed up to watch one of the most beautiful sunrises I've ever seen before I tossed my belongings into my backpack and made the border crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua. It was early afternoon by the time we finally cleared customs and my headache was peaking by the time we boarded the dilapidated ferry to cross the only shark infested lake in the world. The lake was roiling as wildly as my stomach but, unfortunately, the two were syncopated rather than sympathetic so, in a concerted effort at not hurling, I fixed my gaze on the ancient man who was bailing water from the the leaky bottom, and tried to think of anything but sharks.

Later that same trip a mudslide had made the road out of the penninsula bound Montezuma impassable so we paid ridiculous sums to be ferried across the ocean to the mainland in a motorboat. We were escorted by a pod of black dolphins. Have I ever told you how much I love dolphins? But, that morning, I couldn't even smile at the sight of them for fear of losing my hangover all over the boat.

So, when a party broke out round our campfire on Friday and I drank half a bottle of wine too much, it seemed inevitable that Saturday morning found me on a pontoon boat being ferried to Coney Island for the second annual music festival while wrestling with my hangover. If ferries are the worst place to find yourself with a hangover, music festivals are the best. Particularly music festivals with beaches only four feet away and an art exhibit along the boardwalk.

That's right, a real bonafide wooden boardwalk from the island's heyday in the 1920's. I was strolling this shady edifice when I met the musky chasing Fisherman. We became fast friends, that rare kind, who can sit without saying a word and it isn't awkward in the least though we actually laughed and talked a lot in between the musical acts. He gave me iced tea and we sang along to "Don't give me no hand me down world" and other greatest hits by Bill Wallace and his band the Best of Guess Who.

"See those two couples on the picnic table over there?" he said between sets. I nodded.
"I'm going to sit between the husband and wife on the right, you sit between the two on the left. Just to see what happens." Kindred souls we were but there was an ominous storm brewing in the East by the time the last act hit the stage and too quickly it was time to say goodbye. When he offered I could stay and weather out the storm with him and he'd ferry me back personally when it passed I wanted to say yes but there were bison burgers and sweet potato fries waiting for me at camp-familial duties and obligations really- so I worriedly left him at the mercy of the increasingly howling winds and blackening sky to catch the next ferry back town.

Why it is that, unlike cars, boats always take you someplace good?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sha La La La La Na Na Nee Na

I have often wondered what it might be like to be one of those people for whom things went right, more often than not. The kind who doesn't bother making a "Plan B" because, well, why would they need one? Apparently, I have won the "charmed" lottery and this is my year to live the fantasy. At the risk of inciting the wrath of whatever fates have deemed it so, I must confess, it feels pretty good to be flying without a net, not mapping the emergency exits, or packing the umbrella without any consequences.
Spotted at the local library today:

July 30, 2010 Community Wellness Committee to host a BBQ. Your choice Hot Dog or Hamburger, Chips and Pop for $3.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuscon Sam

I was three rows away from done when the mower began to sputter. "Please, oh please, oh please don't run out of gas," I muttered. But it did. It always does. I sigh. Now I will spill gas on my fingers and smell like petrol all evening. I am resigned. I have, it seems, a subconscious aversion to gardening gloves and have come to regard gasoline soaked skin after mowing, as inevitable. Which is how I came to be sporting parfum de la gas vapors at dinner with Grandma, the Diva, Best Uncle, Fave Aunt and mother at the local pub last night.

A distracting odor that ought to have ruined my meal but, in truth, I find comforting. In fact, when I was ten years old, I traded almost half of my sticker book for a scratch 'n sniff sticker that smelled like a gas station. I know! I really am the product of a bygone era. Can you imagine slipping a kid a gas scented anything to sniff these days without a lawsuit immediately pending? It's a miracle we've all survived to tell these tales.

The reason I traded half my hard won sticker empire for that one singular treasure was not my proclivity for getting high and killing brain cells, which didn't manifest until several years later, but because my father, when I was very young, was a gas station mechanic and that smell reminded me of him. And it still does, even though he hasn't crawled under a car in years and was already a trucker by the time I negotiated that trade decades ago.

So much of memory, and almost all of my nostalgia stems from my nose. Walking down the halls of my alma mater today to pick up transcripts, the smell of coffee and stale cigarettes emanating from the student body, I was punched drunk with desire to return to Uni this fall. I don't recall enjoying University that much. I don't recall ever missing it. But this afternoon, when the subtle pulpy undertone of ruled paper mixed with heady aloof scent of highlighter pen provoked my senses it took every effort of self discipline to not run to the bookstore, buy a tabla rasa virginal notebook whose destiny would be decided when I flipped through the course catalogue and plopped my index finger decisively down on the page:  "Conceptualizing Past Futures: Theocracy and Globalization in Mesopotamia". Sign me up, I want to stay here, where there's always someone in the room who knows all the answers.

Instead I go back into the asphalt, exhaust choked world where no less than five photographers shake their heads sadly and tell me they can't help me with a photo for my work visa.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rain Makes the Flowers Grow

There are some people who prefer, when a cloud crosses the sky, to just go home. I am not this sort. This worked to my advantage when the people my mother planned to spend Saturday with bailed and headed back for the city. I got to spend the day with my partner in crime, who continued down the highway with me to sit on a beach while I went hiking. Turns out the hiking trails, when we got there, were washed out so I went berry picking instead.

The rain started just as I finished filling my container (although truly, I've developed a berry picking compulsion and have trouble walking away no matter how full my basket. "Oooo, but look at those, they're so ripe and big" and before you know it you've scampered over to clean out the next patch) so I hiked back to the beach and went for a swim.

On the way back to the car I spotted the swings. How often do I get to swing in the rain? So, being that I was already wet, I sat down and pumped so high I could see over the trees to the lake while I stuck my tongue out to catch the rain. Afterward Ma and I went into the nearby tourist town in search of hot chocolate. The town is really a village of souvenir shops, Trapper John's Pub, a wigwam and a giant inukshuk.

Oh, and this guy who may be a resident or just another tourist passing through but took my breath away in either case:

On our way out of town Mom wanted to stop at another souvenir shop. I was pretty eager to drive the back roads and sip my hot chocolate-harumph- but I was glad she insisted. Ma found a bracelet she liked and I decided I had to buy it for her as belated Mother's Day/ Birthday present. Nothing is more fun than buying a present for someone when you know they're going to love it particularly when you're trying to do it under their noses without them knowing. I have to give a huge nod to the YMCA men who were running the place. As stoned as I suspect they all were, they not only caught on quickly to my scheming ruse but seemed delighted to be involved in trying to pull it off. This required much interpreting of my darting eyes, twitching face muscles and spastic head bobbling. Plus they were kind enough to laugh at my self deprecating humour, although, like I said, they were pretty giggly all around after coming out of the back room en mass.

We spent the rest of the day driving down washboard gravel roads to various lakes and resorts, finally stumbling upon my Utopia. There is a road that leads to nowhere. There is nothing down it. Why this road even exists is debatable. To give bored cottagers in compact cars thrills perhaps, or maybe it was just a make work project.  I like to think it was built as a Zen koan and so I have access to the place I will one day build my very own hermitage  cottage:

I picked a handful of raspberries for Ma to tide her over until we got back to camp and listened to a waterfall somewhere behind those trees. It was hard to resist a closer look but it was well past dinner time, and judging from the gigantic fresh turd in the middle of the road when we're leaving, we're vacating just in time.

(Nervous) Gales of laughter over of dying of fright at the sight of Windigo "Winnebago" pooh ensue.

"They'll say, 'Her last words were "Holy sh*t!" and there's more hysteria as we crest a hill to see a car below.

"Oh no!" Ma exclaims in mock terror, "Traffic!" We haven't seen anyone on the road since we turned onto it.

The man driving the mid sized sedan seems to be waving at us to stop but when we pull alongside him it turns out he was just chair dancing to his favourite tunes. He's an older man, fully grayed hair and a mildly weathered face, but he's friendly and happy to talk.

"I'm the maintenance guy for the camp. I had to get out of there, it was driving me crazy. I've had two or three hours now I'm going back." He tells us he's Dutch, by way of explaining his music, and that the road today is in good condition and should only take about twenty minutes to make it the 11 km to the camp.

We had taken a fork in the road and never made it to the camp. Another adventure for another day.

I almost forget to give my mother her bracelet but, when I do she tells me she genuinely thought I was buying the $7 polished stone I openly handed the cashier while slipping him the bracelet. Part of me hopes this is true  and the boys and I really pulled it off. The other part of me is still worrying about what it says about me, my character, my budgeting skills, that anyone would think it plausible that I would pay $7 for a rock.


We take death very seriously. We are fascinated and afraid. Law makers spend at least half of their time conjuring up rules in hopes of preventing death. Our lifespans have doubled in quantity, often dwindling in quality, while billions of dollars are invested in research all in a vain attempt to try and cheat death. And, when we inevitably fail to outrun, outwit and outlast death, billions more are spent on the rituals and finery of final dispositions. Of course there's really nothing final about death. Your existence is indelibly marked on this planet whether you are here for five minutes or fifty years. We're all still breathing the same are as Cleopatra. Right now you may be swallowing Genghis Khan molecules from your coffee. Still, humans- whether athiest, agnostic or fundamentalist- insist on marking passings from this life.

Friday night we went on a local cemetery tour. There are more dead occupants in this tourist town than living which, as far as I can tell, makes the cemetery an anthropological hotspot. There were stories of two people dead of fright on the same night at different wharfs, of ghost children-victims of cholera-spotted playing on the hilltop and Oliver Towne the mysterious bank robber who accidentally tripped his dynamite belt on his way to his get away car rendering him, all over town. There's the million dollar monument to the now extinct Hose family, chaste inheritors of a family fortune finally left to a charity on account of their Grandfather's will which deprived them of their inheritance should they ever marry or propagate. There's the tallest monument of Mary O'Connell installed by a loving husband who declared, "May it make her fit for heaven for she was certainly not fit as a wife" and a town founder, a business magnate with investments in every pie, who bought sixteen plots for his wife and fourteen children but never found the time to marry.

All of these characters and more, laid side by each for all eternity on a plot of land at the edge of the city; their legends and stories, mythologized for over a century and engraved in stone. We are not, incidentally, the only animals who orchestrate funerals. Crows do to. But, as far as I know, we are the only animals who take our lives, and deaths, seriously enough to plot and mark our graves. And, while I'm glad cemeteries exist for bit of fun on a Friday night, I can't help but wonder if, perhaps, they don't miss the point.

Back in June I was driving past the town that's home to my grandfather's grave and the thought crossed my mind to stop and pay my respects. I last went to his grave a few years before when my Grandmother moved away from that town and I thought I'd probably never be there again. It was winter then and in a culturally irreverent act I'm certain would have made Grandpa laugh and shake his head, I left him a snow angel. But now it was summer and even as the thought crossed my mind a visit to his grave just didn't seem right so I just kept driving. Ten minutes later I saw the convenience store my Grandpa, a big man with only one thumb and a notorious temper but a boisterous laugh and twinkly eyes, used to take me to for ice cream. This time I pulled off the highway.

I bought strawberry ice cream and sat reminiscing about my stays at my Grandparent's old farm only a few miles away. Almost every afternoon was spent at the Chicken Chef in town where he met his friends to see who could spin off the wildest or funniest stories. Twice a week we would go to town to sell eggs and afterward Grandpa would take me to Tourond for ice cream. Back then it was soft ice cream, a twist cone, sometimes dipped but usually straight up. But even if today it was strawberry, hard and swirled I still felt closer to him sitting on that picnic table, ice cream melting in sticky pink pools at the bottom of a waxy cup, than I ever would have in a field full of bones and stones.

And isn't that the point? You can lay a body down North to South, you can lay a body in the ground East to West, you can mark the spot with sticks or stones, you can lay a wreath or plant a tree. Whatever way you choose to try and thwart it, mortality- yours and mine- is certain, impermanent and impossible to set in stone.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Conscientious Carnivore

I used to be a vegetarian. No, to be precise I used to be an octo-lovo vegetarian.

I quit eating all non-bird meat when I was fifteen because I read that you could feed six people for their life span on the grain required to feed one cow for its. Obviously this is inefficient and I realized that, by simply not eating it, I could make a small difference. I began to understand food as more than just sustenance, more than just an enemy of my waistline. Food was political.

Within a few years I had friends in the punk scene, and the granola scene, most of whom felt that vegetarian wasn't going far enough and you were a brutal boorish caveman unless you were vegan. I often thought about changing my diet in those years. Vegan food, when they shared, was delicious and I admired their principles and work that went into the diet. But I never made the switch in part because most of them were either overweight from eating too much processed junk food, or like my roommates, were pallid, spindly and sickly. So, understanding that eating a truly healthy vegan diet required knowledge and effort I was not prepared to make at the time, I continued to eat eggs and dairy. I ate chicken if I was in a restaurant, though I never bought it in the grocery store or cooked it myself.

In my mid twenties I decided that plants, as living beings, are no less or more important than any of us animals. It would be rather arrogant and arbitrary to assume they were. So the argument regarding the cruelty of killing and eating animals no longer held sway with me. We are all a part of nature, we all have roles to play within nature and it's important to our fulfillment, whether animal or vegetable, to be allowed to live out those roles to their logical conclusion.

What is cruel, by my measure, are the lives most animals are subjected to while they are being raised. What is objectionable are the genetic modification and poisons plants are subjected to in the name of cheap, mass production. What is unconscionable is the damage we are inflicting on our only food source, the planet, and our bodies by not accepting that we are actually a part of nature.

I once overheard some co-workers having a self righteous discussion about hunters and hunting. "I eat beef but shooting a deer is just unnecessary and cruel," was the crux of the argument that went on for twenty minutes until I couldn't bite my lip for another second.

"Actually, eating a cow that has spent his life trapped in a feeder barn being fed hormones and antibiotics is unnatural and cruel. Hunting your own food for the meat of an animal that has lived a good life roaming the forest and foraging like it was meant to can bring dignity to both you and the deer." 

Urban life has created a false illusion, a disconnect. A deer has become Bambi, while a cow or pig is not even an animal, it is "beef" or "pork". This is part of an even greater illusion that we can control nature or at least separate ourselves from it. We are, somehow, above it. We use language, and butchers, to distance ourselves from our food. We build dams and flood arable land to save cement cities. We spray insecticides and herbicides that weaken, make sick and kill whole ecosystems in attempts to control what we deem ugly and undesirable, all in the name of having what we want, when we want it, at prices far less than we can pay but at costs far greater than we can afford. What the planet has offered in good faith for our use we spoil, corrupt and abuse.

A few years ago I discovered that a big part of why I had been so sickly for several years was an intolerance to a grain protein called gluten. So, after fifteen years, I have made adjustments to my diet. Unable to eat the most commonly available grains I began to eat more animal products including meat. I still don't eat as much meat as the average North American and, when I do, I try to look for halal meat, organic pasture grazed cow or bison, or organic free roaming chickens. At the moment it's next to impossible to know how the dairy cows who contributed to my yogurt or cheese were treated. I wish these products were easier to find and the cost less prohibitive because more North American consumers would demand ethical food.

I think a season spent in nature, possibly three-spring through fall- should be a requisite part of high school. Without it well-meaning, bleeding heart urbanites, hippies, yuppies and punks are at risk of developing dangerous pretensions about their place in the universe. I support vegetarians and vegans and their right to choose not to eat other animals but I think their accusations that carnivores are barbarians is a misguided conclusion based on the denial of our true nature as animals and the even more sinister assumption that we are god(s).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Camp Brat

I had guests this weekend! I had a wonderful time though there just wasn't enough of that-time-to get everything in. Maybe that means they'll come back again one day... They shared wine and garden fresh veggies, great stories, ideas and insights. And I finally got to share my island with someone. YAY!

                                                 The Diva- note her perfect paddle form

Happy 100th

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong... Guess which one I'm feeling like?

Still, it's Four Letters' 100th post so we're posting cheery, happy pictures of wild berries.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

There is an owl who hoots me to sleep at night.

There is a crow who has learned to imitate a car alarm who wakes me up every morning.

You can run but you can't hide.

Swimmin' In the Rain

I finally spotted the otters today, just before rounding the final bend to the island. The waves were squalling as I did and I could see rain on the opposite shore of the lake. We both, the rain and I, made landfall on the island at the same time. I quickly stripped down to my bathing suit and stashed everything under my kayak to keep it dry before I dove straight into the water.

I love swimming in the rain.

Afterward I sat on the rocky ledge of the sitting pool and Piper (the plover) perched on the rock above chattering at me until the sun came out and dried us both as quickly as the rain had begun.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


"Oh yes
there are worse things
than being alone
but it often takes
decades to realize this
and most often when you do
it's too late
and there's nothing worse
than too late"

-Charles Bukowski

The Mother Corp has come up with some interesting summer radio programming including an environmental show with, who else, David Suzuki, a show called "The Main Ingredient" about food and food issues (you know I'm all over that one) and another called "Asunder", a show about divorce. In a country where 40% of marriages end in divorce I think it's about time we started being able to talk about it.

The curious thing about divorce is that, despite how common it is, it still seems to be a taboo subject. In many ways the loss is similar to experiencing the death of your spouse but, while the recently widowed are granted understanding and empathy, it was my experience that the separated and divorced are shunned, reviled and blamed.

If you can't make a relationship work, it's your fault. There is something wrong with you. You have no right to feel sad, or angry or upset. After all, you chose to end the relationship and whatever your reasons might be, they're irrelevant because there are other people still in relationships, at this very moment, having the exact same problems or worse and they're toughing it out. Why do you get to quit and they don't? You shouldn't. You are a failure.

Your friends and family, the people you thought would support you, most of them will not want to discuss it. What happened is between you and your Ex, they don't want to know the gory details, they just want to judge you for it. Most of them will pick a side. You think it will be yours. It most likely will not be.

When I left the Ex after six years it was after three years of hoping things would get better. I'm certain it was the thousand tiny cuts in those years that bled the relationship dry until, by the seminole day when my world came crashing round about me, we were so brittle it was nothing to snap me in two. I came home from a doctor's appointment and walked up the creaky ninety year old stairs of our house to his office. He was in front of his computer, as he almost always was, playing a fishing game.

I hesitated in the doorway. Everything in the room, including him, seemed so fixed and secure and ordinary while I felt superfluous. Finally I announced, with all the stoic pragmatism I could muster, "Well, the good news is I'm not pregnant, the bad news is I have a cancer that needs to be removed. Tomorrow. I need someone to be at the hospital with me."

"You don't expect me to take a day off work just for that, do you?" He asked, without looking up from the screen.

In that moment, on what seemed, at the time, like the worst day of my life, with terror coursing through my veins and now my heart crushed in a care less second, there was no longer any hope. Obviously things were not going to get better.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Zen and the Art of Kayaking

Friday: The humidex approaches forty degrees celcius and the wind blows wild but I decide to see how close to my island I can get. I struggle for the first ten minutes, digging in against the current, pulling hard against the wind. But then there is a moment where I fix my gaze on the white caps and accept that the elements must do what they do. I relax. Everything changes. There is no longer any resistance between us and, although the water feels heavy under my paddle, my kayak skims easily amidst the waves.

The boaters and fishermen think I am crazy, tossing about in the wind and waves, but the challenge helps me focus, regain my center, keeps me sane. And there are rewards along the way, calm waters in eddies and bays, sheltered lee shores and buffer zones. And, of course, at the end, an island I can call my own. Not really of course. The island belongs to the plover and frog, and juniper bushes and jack pines. There are also wasps and a giant dock spider with equally giant fangs who seems, so far, as distressed by me as I am of her and has, with the exception of the day we met, given me wide berth. But mostly I've felt quite welcome.


In the evening, over a glass of wine at the neighbour's, D. tells me there is a pack of wolves hunting in the area. I laugh, thinking she is trying to frighten me into not going out at night.

"No," she says, "I'm quite serious. They've had a few kills over at the bison farm down the road."

Then she tells me about the mangey wolf who died under their cabin over a winter past.

I am impressed but not concerned.

Saturday: The humidity finally breaks and we (perhaps only I) revel in the relief of thunderstorms and, at times torrential, rain. In the evening I decide to watch a movie while the storm lights up the heavens above and rumbles the earth below. I choose a horror flick "Blood and Chocolate". I mistakenly believe it's about vampires and truffles. It's about werewolves. I no longer have the fortitude to walk across the road to the bathroom after dark.

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Today we saw beautiful red fox with a fresh kill- a rabbit, possibly, or maybe a groundhog- trotting alongside the road. We stopped for a photo but a giant monster truck pulled up behind us then peeled off, spinning wheels and spitting gravel. How can people not be awed by such and amazing creature? Of all the wild creatures here, this is the one I most wish, if there would be no consequences, I could tame.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fireworks and Fuzzy Dreams

Happy Independence Day to my American friends, cousins and readers!

May all your soldiers be home soon,
All your oil spills be capped and cleaned up before another week is through
And all your recessions be truly behind you.

And more than this
May all your new poet laureates
Be prolific and spry of wit

(P.S Are we cool with that Russian spy ring incident?)


Flying back from Nepal to India I was seated in business class, next to a man who, it turned out, worked for the WHO on global food issues. He really wanted to talk to me, and went so far as to wake me up several times throughout the flight to try and engage me in conversation. Unfortunately I was mind bogglingly hung over, possibly still drunk, and it was all I could do to focus on not throwing up. The book I am currently trying to write would, no doubt, have benefited greatly from that conversation. Instead all I am left with is a deep regret that I had over indulged the night before and missed such a fantastic opportunity.

I wish I could say that's the only time it's happened but I actually have an extensive list of moments not seized, or fully lived, because of a smashing headache and tilt-a-whirl stomach. There's the trip to New York and the matinee viewing of "Cabaret" at Studio 54. Neat huh? I think I fell asleep for about ten minutes before intermission despite a heroic attempt to fight the all encompassing hangover stupor.

I am not an alcoholic. I like to joke about my love of wine and spirits but I have never in my life felt compelled to drink (unless I've already had two or three, which is about when I begin mindlessly refilling my glass- but this isn't about my need to find an AA meeting), and now that I am in my 30's I, more often than not, have a few drinks in an evening and wake up fine the next morning. Still, in retrospect, I have deprived myself of far too many satisfying, potentially rewarding, experiences simply by losing track of where I'm at in terms of drink consumption and paying for the poison the next day. There's been family events, weddings, even romantic possibilities all reduced to vague and blurry memories obscured by an unrelenting pounding head and cotton mouth.

But, I've come to realize this affliction is even more deeply rooted and insidious than I've suspected. Inspired by Joseph at Somewhere in Dhamma I've started to add five minutes of simple sitting meditation to the end of my yoga sessions. It usually goes something like:

One, one, two, two (I count both inhales and exhales), three, I'm thirsty...oops, four, five, I think I forgot sunscreen aaack, seven, eight, eight wow, my distractions aren't very deep, I am an incredibly dull person, oh crap... fourteen?

But a few days ago I had a moment on a ten count inhale where my wandering mind said, this is the only time you will breathe this breath. And in that moment I suddenly understood, profoundly, something I've known, which I mistook as understanding, for a long time.

So I'm trying to take my life more seriously. I don't mean I'm abandoning my absurdist views and exuberant gratitude and joy. I think I already live richly and well, passionately and creatively. But more than that I hope, from now on, to live deliberately. No more surfing the web while I unappreciatively eat a bountiful breakfast. I am going to revel in every bite of garden fresh tomato and sweet potato hash browns. No more toss away responses to half heard conversations. I am going to relearn the lost art of listening. No more lost hours or days. No more meandering motion and wasted words.

At least not unintentionally. After all, it was a liberated, not deliberated, mind that brought me here.

Curious Condiment

I wanted something tangy but not mayonnaise for a condiment so I thought I'd try yogurt, mustard and paprika. Ummm, not good. Being that it was already nasty and having nothing to lose I added a bit of this and a bit of that and came up with a deliciously palatable dipping sauce/ salad dressing.

1/4 c. plain balkan style yogurt
1T dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cajun spice
juice squeezed from 1/4 lemon
3T unsweetened applesauce
1/4 tsp. Saigon cinnamon

Totally weird. Totally tasty.

Friday, July 2, 2010

O Canada

O Canada
You know I will always be grateful to you,
like a child to a benevolent parent
for days like today:
spent swimming in the pristine waters of a virtually empty beach
a hike along a forest trail with fossil sightings and blueberries for the picking.

There was a local grown dinner of rosemary new potatoes, asparagus and bison
with fresh strawberries and German wine.

There were fireworks and sparklers.

This accident of birth has afforded me immeasurable blessings and opportunities.

But Canada,
my true patriot love, once glowing and proud, has dwindled and died.
With every soldier who comes home in a body bag
every voice of protest silenced in a society you still tout as democratic,
you break my heart a little more.

Still, today's your day,
and I will raise a glass
and drink to all my
hopes and dreams for better times ahead.