Sunday, August 28, 2005


Nothing quite like it to impress upon the onlooker what a tiny mote we are upon the landscape of this earth. On top of a mountain looking down, looking out toward companion peaks marching out toward the horizon you realize the vastness of the landscape we inhabit, the minuscule presence of a human. We have, over millennia, as a disparate group of thinkers and doers impacted our landscape in ways large and small, mostly for the purpose of giving us comfort within the landscape we inhabit. Nature permits us to use her malleable resources to some extent, she lets us imagine that we are able to manipulate her vast resources for the management of our lifestyles. This is hubris, to feel that we humans control the empire upon which we have encroached, this vast natural world. Truth is we have made our habitations from the resources selected and torn from the living earth, we feed ourselves, adorn ourselves and imagine ourselves to be omnipotent.

How did I ever start on this for heaven's sake? This was not my intent. My intention was to write of the needs and cravings of our youngest child, our second-born son. He of the scientific mind whose idea of creativity is to throw a clay bowl, a teapot, a vase, and gift the finished product to a friend. He whose ability to build wonderful pieces of furniture by hand with only the hand tools used in the 19th century to produce case pieces reminiscent of the 18th and 19th centuries become instant and beloved family heirlooms. This balances his love of nature, a love which presses him to understand part of the community of nature's creatures as a biologist, an environmentalist. He is driven to continually reinstate his place in nature as few others do. His self-imposed challenge is to meet nature at her most basic. To do this he will take upon himself a state of utter aloneness in a vast arena of soil, trees, rocky mountains; his ideal landscape. His attachment to nature isn't without its recreational side, compelling him to snowshoe, ski in winter; kayak, canoe and hike in summer.

Although he takes many such trips, this one took place in late August, only an hour so from Vancouver, relatively close to Squamish and Garibaldi park. His little old Nissan truck could take him just so close on the logging road, and no closer. So, hoisting his backpack full of supplies for a three-day alpine camping stay on his short, slight but muscular frame, he hiked upward for three hours to finally reach the trailhead. From there another three hours took him to the peak where he was able to set up his tent. As he had set out at one in the afternoon he reached his destination at seven, and he was bushed. He was surprised to see deer tracks visible in a number of places. He saw and heard picas here and there. He set up his tent in the place most resembling a flat area on the side of the mountain top, not far from the alpine lake which was his destination.

Unlike alpine lakes which we had seen when we'd gone alpine camping with him, where the lakes were continually being fed by the summertime-melting glaciers nearby, this lakebed had been scoured out by receding glaciers which had covered the land thousands of years ago. In their retreat they had left glacial deposits in the shapes of huge block-like boulders and elsewhere ridges of gravel deposition at the far edge of the lake. During the night he saw the moon reflected hugely in the still of the lake. Quiet stillness reigns, unlike any quiet known in the world we normally inhabit.

In the morning he awakens to the vastness of this silent world he has placed himself into, and watches layers of mist rise from the valleys below to the peaks above. Does this seem like nature raw or an other-worldly apparition of some alien place not yet discovered by mankind? He boils water for morning tea, prepares milk and eats his breakfast of granola and an orange. Then he prepares his small backpack for a day trip to go beyond and far above the glacial lake, where he can peer down upon the lake in the distance, and his small yellow tent nestled in its rocky bed. A stand of tough, Lodgepole Pine pins down the landscape.

This is his escape and his solace, his embrace of nature and appreciation of the earth which succours us and which we in turn abuse relentlessly. Escapes are by their very nature temporary measures and in this instance a healing resource. Although this is the real world in every possible way, it is not the real world which we have fashioned and must make our way through in one way or another.

Our son will return to his home and his workplace in Vancouver. In two weeks' time he heads off to Anchorage for a week-long conference. He will make the most of his time in Alaska, going off for a few trips of discovery while there. And a mere week later he will set out on a trip to Sweden for an international meeting. When he is finished there, he will do a little tour of Greece and Italy to further expand his horizons.

Our admiration, respect and love for this young man knows no bounds. Would that he had a companion. Gender of the companion would be irrelevant to us, but perhaps not to him. We would simply feel far more easeful at heart about our beloved son were he to have a loving companion, someone with whom he could share his passions, his energy, his love for life for nature at her finest. Nature, after all, produced him.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Our Sculpture Garden

We love art. So we surround ourselves with as much art as we can possibly shove sideways, any old way into this house of ours. Well, the garden is part of our home, is it not? It too hosts pieces of art in a sense. Copies of original artworks perhaps is more like it. There's something about seeing a classical statue surrounded by greenery that gladdens the heart, celebrates the kind of aesthetic that we most enjoy.

So, about fourteen years ago we bought our first garden sculpture, a copy of Antonio Canova's 18th century "The Three Graces". The man from whom we bought this is of Italian descent, and travels to Italy for his moulds. Not surpisingly, this type of garden ornament weighs a lot. We also bought a large square pedestal for the sculpture to sit on. It was hard work moving the two pieces into place in our backyard garden. To the left of the sculpture can be seen our Corkscrew Hazel, itself a piece of nature's art. To the right of the Three Graces is a concrete pedestal sitting beside the lateral juniper, holding a large terra cotta pot. To the right of it, (unseen) is a bench sitting under the largest of our apple trees, and a plum tree, beside which are three composters.

Over the years we bought a large number of classical urns from the same master-caster, of various sizes, some of which sit on classical Greek or Roman-style pedestals, and capitals as well. We also had him customize a set of classical ballistrades, columns with the visage of Bacchus intaglioed on them, and bannisters for our porch surround, and upon which sit two large stone acorns at the approach to the front door. The gothic-inspired gargoyls also are from the same caster, one each installed at either end of the porch. They inspire respect in the children who come trick-or-treating at Hallowe'en.

About seven years ago we bought another sculpture, this one of the Greek goddess Demeter, and it stands before our dining room windows in the front gardens. She is surrounded by a weeping caragena tree, lilies, roses, clematis and hostas. In the winter she looks over a frozen landscape, but doesn't seem to mind. She knows that her daughter Persephone is held prisoner inside the frozen earth, and she will be briefly re-united with her come spring. Winter is her way of mourning the loss of her daughter. Above her, on the brick wall, is installed a head of Aeolus, the Greek god of the wind; he weathers anything nature tosses our way.

In celebration of our 49th wedding anniversary last summer we bought a copy of "Discobolus", the Discus Thrower. He's fairly massive, and he too stands on a squarish plinth, albeit much smaller in size than that which hosts the Three Graces. It took brute strength and a balancing act (both of which are compliments of my Irving) to put him into place. Our weight-lifting daughter and her then-partner helped to install the Three Graces 'way back when; we were on our own this time around). We first thought about putting a hot tub in the backyard, but nixed it in favour of Discobolus. We're not sorry we made that decision.

Although we have other, minor sculptures, they will have to await another posting. The last one I'll post here is another fairly recent acquisition. This sculpture represents an 18th century countrywoman, with two small children standing among her long loose skirts. She is a bit of a departure from our classical statuary, but not completely. I like to see her hidden among the flowers. At her feet are Lambs Ears, a Bergenia, to the left an Explorer rose, to the right a peony. At this time of year Cleome grow large before her, day lilies behind her.

This is but a glimpse at our gardens. Doesn't everyone love their gardens? Don't they delight our senses with their fragrance, their riotous colour spring, summer and fall, their texture and surprises glimpsed when dew sits upon newly-opened flowers, the way they shimmer after a rain, the way white flowers gleam softly at night and release their scents, the way something we'd forgotten about, say a bunch of toad lilies begin to bloom in fall? Yes, yes, yes and yes!

Monday, August 22, 2005

R.I.P., Blackie

We first saw the signs four days ago. At first, striding toward the twin pines whose separation we walk through to continue the path which gains onto the bridge, we couldn't make out what it said, despite its large black lettering. The sign itself, about one-and-a-half by two-and-a-half feet, white, was wrapped around the left-hand trunk, secured by a string. It was shaped like a headstone. And in large black lettering the top line read: "Blackie"; second line "1987 - 1995"; third "R.I.P.". Therein lay a tale. We were saddened to hear of Blackie's death, but hardly surprised, given his age. Blackie being a medium-sized, long-haired black-and-white mutt of very good disposition and much loved by its owners.

Today, we noted, the signs were gone. Ken is like that. Wanting us and all the other trail buddies to know about his tremendous loss, but cognizant too that the ravine is to be respected and litter, however well intentioned, is not appreciated. Ken is the type of person who goes out on his walks (ah, past tense, that now) with a pocket full of peanuts, each of which he will find a home for, struck into some crevice of a tree, along the pathways.

We first met Ken and Blackie about twelve, perhaps fourteen years ago. Not long after we moved into this house of ours and discovered the wonders of the ravine. Oh, we knew the ravine was there for it was one of the many bonuses about relocating to this new home, but we hadn't explored its interior until after our move. When we first moved, when we first became acquainted with the ravine, it wasn't at all unusual to see pheasant, partridges, raccoons, rabbits and red foxes on our daily walks. All that are left now are the rabbits, seen occasionally, and the raccoons, seen even less often. The foxes were so bold they hardly heeded our presence. We would occasionally witness the mating ritual of a pair of grouse.
We once saw a huge snapping turtle in the creek, and wondered how on earth he managed his way there. We would occasionally, back then, see beavers and muskrats, although of course not together. In the spring we still sometimes see pairs of ducks in the creek in their brief stopovers. Great Blue Herons too will drop by on us. In the winter we've seen Great Grey Owls there. We still have bluejays, cardinals, chick-a-dees, robins aplenty, hairy and downy woodpeckers, along with their big cousins the Pileated; crows and sometimes ravensre. From time to time we see hawks prospecting overhead, and vultures. Porcupines are shy and we've only seen evidence they've left behind, of stripped winter branches.

That was then, this is now. Now, although the ravine is protected by law, housing density has increased on its perimeter, and its wild denizens have found it a far less appealing home than formerly. It's changed in other ways as well. We enjoyed, back then, the pleasure of meeting and appreciating a fair number of other dedicated raviners and dog lovers. They've fallen by the wayside. Dog partners grow old, decrepit, no longer able to make the steep hills and their person partners spare them the indignity of the effort, the pain of inability. And then they die.

Blackie was a very cosmopolitan dog. Very laid back, he was too. Ken, a former truck driver with the Canadian military, met his wife Hilda in Germany when he was still serving. Only Hilda wasn't his wife back in Germany; Ken had a legitimate wife, and several young children too. When we knew Ken he and Hilda were married, living about three miles or so from where we lived, and they had Blackie. Hilda would always bemoan Blackie's weight, she would swear she was going to stop giving him ice cream, he was getting too lazy. But it was mostly Ken who walked Blackie, and he was the one we saw most often. After Ken retired from the military he worried about what he was going to do, as he wasn't even fifty at the time. He soon found work as a courier, and that lasted a few years, but it wasn't his kind of work. Ultimately he was hired by the Red Cross and he soon became their top driver, delivering blood, for example, out to Cornwall or wherever it was needed. He was reliable.

So Blackie is gone. We suspect that Jack is also no longer on this earth. We haven't seen Harry in quite a long time, and the last few times we saw him walking Jack, that poor old dog just barely managed to move his short twisted legs under his big barrel body. Even so, if our Riley got a little too close to Jack, whom he adored, Jack would make every effort to position innocent little Riley just so...until we'd notic and whisk Riley away. Jack was like that. Like all beagles Jack wasn't allowed off leash. You'd never know where he would end up. Jack thought it was heaven anyway, hauling Harry, a former policeman, along on the other end of the leash, and treeing a squirrel. He was in his element. Mornings, Jack would heft himself astride Harry in bed, his weight like a stone, until Harry agreed to get up. Jack would moan and croon, wild to get out into the backyard, when he was certain a raccoon was rummaging around back there. Harry is quiet, and very sweet, not outgoing and rambunctious like Ken. Harry isn't the type of put up signs. His would be a silent grief. He would share it with Jack's other ardent admirer, his wife Mellissa, who would sometimes accompany us through the trails. She worked for CIDA and had occasional overseas assignments, when Harry and Jack would wait patiently for her return. Harry and she bought a fixer-upper cottage about four years ago, and that, no doubt, is what Harry is busy doing now, burying that large void with work.

Then I think of Barrie. A few weeks back Barry emailed that they'd put Della down. He'd told me months ago that was the plan, and I told him he really shouldn't. Barrie is in his mid-70s; three years ago he'd had an operation for prostate cancer. Prior to which Barrie would walk Della daily in the ravine. For a golden retriever with a past history of hip displasia (surgery helped) Della was doing all right. She was slow, but she was determined. Sometimes instead of Barrie, Suzanne would walk Della. They both loved that dog. But Suzanne is about twenty years younger than Barrie and she wants to do things, go places. She anticipates a trip abroad once or twice a year, and most week-ends she joins other women doing things like bicycling or hiking trails farther afield. Or golfing. Barrie was married, with twin boys when he first met Suzanne. He was actually her supervisor at work and, he told me, he encouraged Suzanne to look elsewhere for love, but she "chose" him, he said. He hasn't seen his sons in a decade, and has no intention of doing so, claiming all they want from him is money.

Barrie has become almost sedentary. This was a guy who loved the external trappings of the outdoor life, and he was always dressed to the nines. Barrie loved going to Bushtaka or Mountain Equipment for the latest gear, money no object. Together, he and Della, and just occasionally Suzanne too, would treat the rest of us shleppers to a glossy-lifestyle, active-seniors' foldout in real time. Suzanne has planned another trip, somewhere in France, I think, or Switzerland, for this coming fall. Barrie said, with his poor health and diminished strength he could no longer lift Della upstairs to bed, or into the car, so she was, in effect, sacrificed. Well, Barrie said she had arthritis, it was difficult for her to get around. Well, I said, Della is Della, she seems pretty happy to me.

Well, that's life. Or is it death?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Shopping we will go!

Rained most of the day yesterday, but we managed to get out late morning for our ravine walk in a light rain, just before it began to really descend with a vengeance. At the corner, just before entering the ravine, there was Janet with her 13-year-old twins, shaking up their old ornamental crab apple tree. They had spread large sheets under the tree (that wonderful old-type crab with its beautiful exfoliating bark) and the children were quite far up the tree having the time of their lives shaking the hell out of the branches to loose the apples. Mind, if they waited another few weeks the tiny crabapples would fall more readily but Janet has taken it into her head to try out their new juicer. I'd asked if she was going to make crabapple jelly, but she shrugged - too much work (she should try making gooseberries, what a pain in the arse, but what else can I do with the basketsful that one of our neighbours across the back gifts us with?). We don't think those tiny dry, still unripe crabapples will render down much, but don't disabuse her of her enthusiasm because, truth to tell, they're all having a good time.

Today when we went out after breakfast we could see that all of the crabapples, plus small bits of branches had been surrendered to the floor of the ravine. Janet had obviously changed her mind. Perhaps her venture had failed, perhaps when I casually mentioned the full bushel of Macintosh apples Irving had pulled down off our large apple tree, and the great pies I'd baked from the meagre offerings of the new apple trees in our backyard it turned her off her venture. In any event, it was really wet out there, the trees still steadily dripping, for the rain had continued all night. We like that, Irv and me, to hear the rain steadily pounding throught the night. The resident raccoon had been around, Irv told me, as we began our descent into the ravine, and had nibbled happily on a cob of corn, some leftover breakfast toast and the rind of breakfast melons. Because we've two composters sitting side by side, the raccoon likes to use the lid of the second (cooking) composter to hold his selections for the night.

Mushrooms have sprung up, it seems, overnight. And little wonder, given the dampness and the rain. A nice change, for our money, from the extreme heat we've had the past several months. It was cooler yesterday, but it's still nice and cool today under completely overcast skies. As we approach the old apple trees up on the heights the fragrance is almost overpowering. When Angie was really small and we carried her in a backpack daily through the ravine Irv would try out at least one apple from each of the trees and now he knows which tree hosts the tastiest apples, which the meanest. There are still thimbleberries turning ripe in the ravine and they're truly sweet. Here too in certain areas there is an overwhelming fragrance like fresh-made jam.

Hey, this was supposed to be about shopping, right? Oh, right. I forgot. I get carried away. You might have noticed. So, shopping. Well, we did a lot of that, sure enough. I'd forgotten to get a block of Mozzarella cheese when I did the food shopping yesterday afternoon.

We started out, though, at the video store. We hate Rogers, but it seems they're the only game in town. This town in any event. Irv bought a neat booklet from them months ago for $20 containing 'tickets' good for new releases, 7-day rentals, that type of thing. His $20 investment paid off handsomely, as we've seldom since paid for a rental, still using the booklet's tickets. Quite the bargoon. Anyway, we (he, and I acqiesced, what else is gnu) selected two foreign films and off we went. To a Jean Cotou pharmacy. What for? well, (blush, dammit) since I'm on antibiotics (because of that bloody spider bite that became infected) I've been plugged up and need help. We also needed large bandages which have to be changed daily as the pus is still discharging (nice, huh?). And I wanted a small pair of barber scissors because the old one (not so old) I've been using to cut Button's and Riley's hair is no longer as reliable as it had been.

Still with me? Not finding this interesting? Well, what can I say? This is my blog, after all, so go away. Next stop: bulk/health food shop, so I could replace our scaley the uninitiated that is a crystal-type deodorant. Also got some black currants, and a huge bag of flax seeds which I use often when baking bread, and which I also crush and use daily as a food supplement, an aid to lowering cholesterol levels.

Then it's Irving's turn. He goes into the large Loblaws store, which I hate to enter. I can't stand those large supermarkets which feel they must offer non-food items to their shoppers. When I go shopping for food, it's food items I want to see, not clothing, not furniture, not electronics. Irv is more forgiving of these retailing failures, and in he goes. They've got cheese on sale, and, never one to stint, he buys up three large bars, one of cheddar, two of mozzarella, and we'll use them all quite handily, even though we still have a large bar of old cheddar. We love cheese. He got himself a big log of spreadable goat cheese. He also bagged some whole-grain rolls, and those light crusty ones he and Angie favour. Oh, and a bag of decaffeinated coffe. Yes, it's come to that; decaffeinated coffee.

Done, the shopping is done. Isn't that nice? We can go home, relax, read the papers, read novels, pamper ourselves. Until it's time to make our pizzas, watch a film. Hey, isn't Saturday night a proper treat?

Now how the hell did that photograph of a poppy get up there?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Suffer the weary souls, Gaia!

Picture this: 22 degrees celcius, low cloud cover. After several months of hot, sunny 30-degree-plus days, what could we possibly plan for this day? Eureka! Celebrate with a late morning hike in Gatineau...yeah! Laundry day be damned. Got the three loads washed, the first dried, fresh linen on our bed, breakfast out of the way, nothing to hold us here. Packed a little lunch for Angelyne, lots of water for the dogs, and off we went.

Plenty to see even on the drive up, it's a perfectly lovely drive to be sure. Purple loosestrife in the open fields driving up the parkway. A sobering moment passing the eastern Parkway bridge where there are always tributes present and updated in memory of Ardeth Woods, that poor young woman. Even though she was murdered over a year ago, I'ts certain that what befell her and the fact that her murderer has never been apprehended causes more than a slight twitch of nervousness to bicyclists meandering along the NCC network of pathways.

Past the RCMP equine enclosures where there is always certain to be at least a few, often more, dark and muscularly beautiful thoroughbreds grazing their pasture land. Occasionally we experience the pleasure of seeing one or more of these horses frolicking with the sheer delight of being. Perhaps they imagine in their horsey way that they know what freedom is.

The grenadier-clad guards of the Governor-General's horseguard are on duty outside the gates and Angie wants to know why there are so many people standing about there, gawking. Good question. The gardens sundering the roads look wonderfully colourful. Our dogs are restless, trampling all over me to get to the side window, up toward the windshield to peer over as best they can, then they settle down quietly for a whole two seconds before the restless routine recommences. It's obvious they know something is up, it's fairly clear they know our destination.

Angie delights in the brief spectacle of the fountain set in the centre of the old quarry, close by the casino, and then, whoosh! it's well behind us to her disappointment. Reaching old Chelsea we pass the many colourful, truly delightful little bistros, bicycle shops and those which showcase the work of local artists and handicrafters. Invariably their gardens bursting forth with perennials in bloom turn my head.

Turning off the road to the Champlain Lookout in Gatineau Park, we note that there are still pale purple drifts of thyme, here and there small stands of loosestrife and goldenrod and as we approach the exit we're looking for, we catch sight of an animal. At first I think it's a fox, it's so red looking and I've caught only a glimpse, then realize as we approach that it's a deer. Irving pulls to the side of the road and the doe continues browsing despite our near presence, heedless it seems, hardly oblivious. We take a surfeit of photographs, then continue on, as she continues to make her way slowly into the bush.

Parked and the dogs' leashes on, my backpack in place, and a surly little girl, resentfully putting her jean jacket on, the dogs are ecstaticly running hither and yon as far as their retractable leashes permit them. Pees in abundance. What joy. We approach the trailhead, make our way up the hill, then Irving calls out to Angie not to get so far ahead. Never mind, I tell him loudly, if she gets kidnapped someone else can put up with her miserable behaviour. Angie slows appreciably and we soon approach to see voila! a smiling visage eager to face the trail as an amicable group.

The two little dogs are everywhere at once, now happily unleashed, casually picking up small nasty green 'torpedos' which will take us time and patience to pull out of their silky coats once we're off the trail and heading home. Time-of-year nuisance, can't constrain them, they're having too good a time. Angie clambers on the huge boulder which always beckons to her, then discovers a much larger one off the trail, an ice-age erratic, so large there's no way she can clamber onto it, but we can and do admire it, including the various types of clustered lichens, like tiny down-hanging ornaments on its sides.

We've barely started and already Angie wants a snack, so a red gala apple it is. Always has to have something in her mouth for complete enjoyment of living. Soon it's nibbled to the core and ready to be tossed and she asks permission. Glad to be finished because I'd told her she could have a red ball of bubblegum when she finished. Button and Riley wonder where their bubblegum is. Life is so unfair. Angie bends down to dabble in the creek, looking for a just-so stone, finds a few frogs instead, and straightens up in a hurry when she notices a small black and green snake across the creek, partially hidden by a rock. Time to go, she declares firmly.

We've taken lots of photographs of her. Sitting, standing on one or another of the rocks, holding her partial broomstick which she has become very attached to. Too short for a walking stick but perfect size for a baton and that's how she's been treating it. Usually I'm supposed to count the colossal number of times she's able to catch it in succession. "I'm good", she tells me proudly those times when her catches exceed twenty. On the trail it mostly just gets hurled and retrieved, but at the creek it's useful to pull stones over for closer inspection.

We really enjoy the ambience. It's a nice change from our daily ravine walks. This is slightly longer than our usual hike through the ravine. I huff and puff my share on the last long slope uphill toward Mooreside, but we turn off before the final chug up to the estates. We draw in long fragrant breaths, and while Irv claims he smells, of all things, coffee, I'm able to detect a delightful fresh-fruit fragrance, and even, at times, the earthy odour of potatoes.

Back in the car, Angiee wipes her hands on an (ugh) baby-wipe and pulls her shoes off, her socks. Total comfort, such a hedonist. Then she extracts tiny slices of her small pizza and fends off Button's loving attention as Irving drives us back the way we'd come, feeling well satisfied with our little outing. He stops at the turn-off to the highway at the makeshift stand, to price the various-sized baskets of wild blueberries as I'd asked, and comes back with a small basket. As we pass Angie's favourite ice cream shop (the only one in fact) in Chelsea, Angie is asked (unnecessarily) whether she'd like a cone. On come the shoes and off they go. They're soon back with Angie hefting an enormous mocha ice cream cone. Oh dear, she exclaims, hardly disappointed to discover that Button has eaten one of her pizza slices. Having seven dogs of her own at home she knows very well what happens to unprotected food.

As we're driving, we discuss dinner's menu. We'll have a corn chowder. Corn, red pepper, potato, onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, fresh basil, celery, green onions - not necessarily in that order, but all together extremely tasty. And a Fochachia bread. Different than the one I baked yesterday when Randy and Andrea were with us for dinner driving back from Truro (to a friend's cottage overnight in New Brunswick, then to the Charlebois region of Quebec where they camped overnight, thence to Ottawa) to Toronto. They'd arrived at four yesterday, we had dinner at six, and they decamped for Toronto at half-past seven, a long drive.

Yesterday's Fochacia had a mashed potato in the bread dough and was topped with chopped garlic, sweet basil and cherry tomatoes, all from the garden. We'd had a fresh vegetable salad, barbequed salmon and the bread, with a nice warm peach crisp and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Today's bread was part whole wheat, brushed with olive oil, scattered with feta cheese, olives and sweet basil, a nice counterpart to the corn chowder. Finished by wild blueberries in a bed of Baltic-type yoghurt. Stuffed, utterly stuffed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Good day? Are you kidding!

That's a photograph of Riley, our toy male poodle, shortly after he'd been neutered, earlier this year. He's wearing a baby sleeper to keep him from scratching or licking his post-operative wound. Truth to tell, during the cold months of winter he likes to wear garments usually reserved for infants, like a little undershirt to keep him warm. He's sensitive to the cold.

Back to the rather 'different' day we had today. Last night Irving noticed that Riley was behaving oddly. He kept yawning, yet wasn't settling down to sleep, despite the fact that he couldn't seem to keep his eyes open, just kept closing them to a slit. In other respects he appeared normal enough. But Irving has a special feel for things like this and he was convinced despite my assurances to the contrary, that something was wrong with little Riley. When our daughter arrived this morning with her daughter in tow, she lifted Riley briefly to look more carefully at his eyes and remarked to us that she could see very small amounts of a whitish liquid at the corner of his slitted eyes (he seemed sensitive to the sun streaming through the opened front door) and his condition was confirmed; an eye infection. She should know; with her seven dogs she is constantly undergoing the stress of one medical condition or another with them. So we made an appointment at the veterinarian clinic for later that morning, and not too long after breakfast Irving set off with Riley and Angelyne, while I opted to stay at home with Button, who detests to the point of making herself ill, going to the vet's.

At the animal hospital the vet explained to Irving that it's not that common for both eyes to be affected with an eye infection, so she decided to put the little guy through a battery of tests designed to rule out the presence of a number of more serious eye conditions. She also checked his heart, lungs, other indicators of possible trouble. She explained that because of the prohibitive acquisition cost of a small hand-held device which she briefly passed over his eyes, the cost of that particular test would be $60 alone. Riley was patient and well behaved, unlike Button under similar circumstances. And Angelyne was just a regular little pain in the arse this very particular day, behaving in a rather obnoxious manner, all of which combined to ensure that Irving experienced a fairly stressful hour.

Meanwhile, I was living it up with Button, relaxed in the still-early warm sun, doing a little dead-heading in the gardens, admiring the beauty of the full-headed Zinnia blooms, the fragrant Phlox, the Fairy rose, the lace-cap Hydrangea, the begonias and the tiger lilies, the Delphiniums and the tumbling petunias. Button was happy sitting at the edge of the lawn, close to the road, where she could more closely monitor traffic, awaiting the imminent return of her lord and master.

On their return, the first dose of the eyedrops were administered to our brave little doggy-tyke. Then it was my turn. That spider bite that had first manifested its presence on my midriff several weeks ago had undergone so many configurations while I awaited its natural diminishment and final disappearance that I was more than a little disgusted (and decidedly uncomfortable at its ongoing pressure and occasional pain) to see it finally metamorphize as an angry red blob about the size of a Loonie, with (get this) a nipple which grew in size gradually and day by day until by the third day it really did look like a displaced nipple. Only this thing was white, situated above the red blob, and we knew it would have to be lanced and drained. Go to our family doctor? Nope. I wanted to go instead to the local family walk-in clinic, and so that's what happened. No wait, unlike our regular overworked family physician. The young doctor who confirmed our diagnosis kindly relieved my skin of its unwelcome guest, lancing and aspirating the pus out of the nipple. He gave me a ten-day prescription for anti-biotic and told me to change the dressing often, as I would continue to experience draining for the next several days. So much for that.

Later, while Angelyne was having her lunch, I looked up in the breakfast room at the sliding glass doors leading to the deck and saw there an odd apparition. Looked like a dark-haired slender young woman. What was she doing there? Why was she wearing that dark uniform? Why was she trying to slide open our doors? Why was she wearing a bullet-proof vest? Oops. We've had our alarm system for about fourteen years. First false alarm. We didn't even know the alarm had gone off, but soon realized what had happened. When Irving had left the house to pick me up at the plaza, he set the alarm as per usual. But what he hadn't realized at the time was that our weighted door-to-garage hadn't completely closed; it always requires an extra little shove. In his absence the alarm went off, the alarm company tried to contact us (initially when the alarm goes off the telephone lines are inaccessible) and in our absence contacted one of our neighbours (who keeps one of our house keys), and then the police.

What a day. As though that wasn't enough, our family doctor's office called soon afterward to inform Irving that the laboratory had sent back results from his urine sample of last week. Their conclusion was that there was no bladder infection. Figure that one out: our doctor, on the basis of his own office urine-strip test which indicated a serious bladder infection had prescribed antibiotic, which treatment had the effect over the next week of treatment, of clearing up the urine to a nice clear liquid, freeing up his bladder to issue a nice respectable stream, permitting him to sleep longer during the night before having to arise to urinate, and gradually restoring him to a condition more like his own self, although he is still feeling rather lethargic. The result of this call: Irving has another appointment to see our doctor tomorrow afternoon. That in itself guaranteed to make him feel particularly grumpy with anticipation.

Dinner was nice. Quiet. Afterward we went out to sit on the glider in the deck. We love the sound of crickets. Riley sat with us, then decided to trundle down off the deck to the lawn and gardens. Curious, we checked on him. He was nibbling grass, which means an upset stomach or he'd eaten too much; effect and cause. Oh, dammit, what was that? Ech, a pool of vomit. What's that? Two more. Riley divesting himself of dinner.

Tomorrow has got to be better.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

You've got Shampoo!

This is a ritual. As so many things which comprise our daily lives happen to be. We are, after all, as my husband so often reminds me, creatures of habit. The ritual in particular I am speaking of is that which starts our day. Aha! you say: a shower. Yes, as it happens, our daily shower. We happen to have a nice large double shower. So, saving time and energy we shower together. I do give him a head-start, a few extra minutes in the shower before I swing in beside him. Having had (scant, but sufficient) time to soap himself up, he immediately turns his attention to me, and soaps my back. I return the compliment, soaping up his back. Aren't we quite the pair?

When I've finished soaping myself overall, it's time for shampoo. Yes, since we take daily morning showers we also daily shampoo our hair. He portions out sufficient shampoo into my outstretched palm and I apply it vigorously, and he does the same for himself. Then it's time for a conditioner. You know what happens when you use the same shampoo day in day out? Well, it seems to get tired. You know that when your hair no longer seems clean enough after the process; limp and lank.

There's a neat trick to get around this. What happens is that there is a build-up in your hair of the constituents of the shampoo and conditioner and you require something other than more of the same to completely clear your scalp and hair. You could turn to another shampoo made by another company and that does the trick quite handily. Or, you could make your own shampoo quite easily and that works even better.

Using a clean bottle such as an old dish detergent bottle you mix one-half good quality dish detergent, one-half water (that is one cup of each), and add a quarter-cup of white vinegar. This works really well. In fact, it works so well you can do away with the commercial shampoo and conditioner altogether.

When our children were young and we were at times squeezed in our household budget I would often make our own shampoo. People used to compliment me on the sheen of my long brown hair. It works. That was then - the long brown hair - this is now - short, grey hair - but it still works. Make your own shampoo.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Could this be pathological?

She's done it again. I can hardly believe it. It's a scarce two weeks since she was at the Humane Society to adopt her sixth rabbit. So what? you say. I would too, if this rabbit was destined to be deposited in a rabbit hutch out in the back 40, but such is not, lamentably, the case. This rabbit, like its five predecessors (oh right, there were others but one of the really big dogs had a run-in with a truly aggressive dwarf male and the dog was the winner, and one big fluffy white lovable lump of a rabbit contracted some mysterious ailment which, despite the unstinting work of a veterinarian could not be saved) have their cagey abodes in none other than the living room of my daughter's house.

Well yes, it is her house, but it is also the house of her partner. Long-suffering Bruce, who time after time has threatened to leave, but hasn't yet. Is this some diabolical plot she has devised to force him to leave? I wonder, yet I somehow doubt it, because this is the original can't-live-without-a-man (any-man) woman, my daughter. And her daughter? Well, her daughter is long beyond wondering whether Mommy loves the animals more than she loves me. Angie has finally figured out that her mother needs the animals as much as they do her, but she does truly love her daughter - as long as her daughter behaves, keeps out of the way, isn't too dreadfully demanding of time and attention. All of which aside, our daughter does love her daughter. Just that she is so involved, so busy with the animals she may tend from time to time to forget that her daughter requires certain things. Not love, it's there in abundance, but things like a regular dental appointment (good thing the child is blessed with healthy genes) and more than one pair of good-fitting, pricy shoes.

How did I get off topic? Is that off topic? Perhaps, perhaps not. It is, however, all interwoven.

Our daughter loves, trusts and values the personalities of animals far above those of humans. Animals love unconditionally. This is no canard, despite its boringly constant citation as a truism. Where were we? Trust? Love? No, that's not the word I'm looking for here, rather it is judging. Animals are not judgemental. Maltreat them and they're still trusting, still loving, albeit perhaps a little more wary than before. I've yet to hear a dog intone: 'tsk-tsk'. And that's one big winning trait with our daughter.

What am I going on about? After all, she loves these animals, she goes out of her way for them, cannot spend her hard-earned wages fast enough to ensure their well being, be it veterinarian assistance or the priciest of foods, toys, accoutrements of any and all kinds. The house; let's go back to the house. This is not a large house, perhaps two thousand sqare feet on two stories. It started out as a very nice house, and still is, but when I first saw the house it appeared to be quite roomy, very comfortable. It threatens now to burst at the seams.

And the work, good grief the work involved in cleaning up after all these loving and lovable animals. From cage-cleaning daily to house-vacuuming daily, to setting out individual bowls of food for each and every one of these animals. This just in: aside from their usual animal-fare every one of these animals also is offered their very own bowl of chopped vegetables as a daily after-dinner treat. (Besides which, it's o-s0-healthy for them, so much so that even we indulge our two little dogs with salads of corn, green peas, red pepper, cauliflower, snow peas - and they love their veggies. Don't tell me you think our daughter gets this nonsense from us. It is true, though, that I often wonder where we went wrong. In retrospect I don't believe our parent-child relationship lacked love and emotional support, so why this overwhelming need for love and more love, unencumbered by human contact?) Since she lives in the countryside, there are fishers about so at night none of the dogs is able to go out to relieve itself unaccompanied. The result is that each and every time this becomes a group activity when all are ushered outdoors to do their duty. This is an unfenced one and a half acre property, and these animals are all still in puppyhead; only one is older than four and they are rambunctious at the least of times. Have I mentioned our daughter works full time out of the house? How much responsibility, energy and plain hard work can be allocated to one person? Plain idiocy.

There are, after all, besides the Momma and the Poppa and the Little Girl (and odd week-ends Little Boy) seven dogs, six rabbits. And as of this very day? A cat. An eighteen-pound, year-and-a-half male black/grey-and-white cat needing a home. Can seven dogs adjust to the presence of a cat? Can a cat adjust to the presence of six rabbits? All will be done. It takes our daughter months of patient work to ensure that each of the rabbits adjusts to the presence of any newcomers, and the cat-among-the-dogs-and-rabbits will be a breeze in comparison.

And more power to her. But when, oh when will it stop? If I'm asking this question, can you just imagine how her partner-for-now feels about it?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

We are a sorry lot

Finally, after suffering for weeks, Irving was sufficiently convinced that he needed medical advice; yesterday morning he telephoned his urologist whose nurse, after hearing his symptoms, suggested he see our family doctor as it sounded to her as though he had a bladder infection. Although I had said the same thing a week earlier, he was convinced it was his prostate acting up and he would tough it through. Our family doctor, seeing his urine sample was aghast and said he couldn't understand how my husband could have restrained himself so long from seeking medical help. Now he's on an antibiotic regimen and guess what? condition relieved.

As for me, that odd subcutaneous hard flat dime-sized lump I noticed about a week and a half earlier had metamorphized into a flatter, softer region under my skin which speedily became fairly painful, and angry. As there is a barely-visible pinprick-sized aperture in its centre, my husband-the-doctor has declared it to be a spider bite, and I concur. Or, he hedged his bets, a wasp bite?

And sure enough later that evening Angelyne telephoned to tell her Bubbe that she had just suffered a double-whammy. Out in the backyard, just out of her swimming pool, a wasp had got her in the toe. Later, in the house, she sat on a bee. No kidding.

This morning when she arrived Irving asked Karen our daughter, whether there had been a bee stinger left in Angie's behind after the sting, and evidently not, so he is convinced she too had been savaged (like that?) by a wasp, top and bottom. And to look at the huge swelling, over half her hip, down her leg, angry, itchy you could only feel for the child.

She has such a prodigious interest in food and an appetite to match that concerns about the state of her breakfast overtook her concern about her discomfort. She had a small bowl of blueberries, I prepared some chicken strips (she will not eat red meat of any kind) and did banana-blueberry pancakes for all of us. My that little girl (about two inches shorter than me at nine years just this past June 25) can certainly eat. Did I forget the hot cocoa? She loves helping, and turned over the strips in their pan, flipped the pancakes and prepared her cocoa herself. After breakfast she remembered just how itchy she was, so we took out of the freezer, one of those pliable freezer bags, wrapped it in a small towel, and adhered it to her leg with one of those tension bandages and she realized immediate relief.

It was time for our ravine walk, the dogs were restless and so was I. I had changed into a pair of soft puffy white shorts designed to make Twiggy look like Miss Piggy, but they were roomy and least likely to aggravate that damn spider bite which just happened to be on my midriff. This would be a semi-solitary walk. Neither Irving nor Angelyne was in any shape to accompany me and the dogs, although both offered to, themselves reluctant to treat this day differently than most. Button kept pulling back on her leash as she walked up the street toward the ravine access. She wondered where Irving was, and didn't want to proceed without him. Riley didn't much care and in any event I always carry him up to the ravine entrance as he usually dawdles so much on the street it drives me mad. It was by then about 24 degrees, heading for 31; another hot day, but pleasant enough in the forested ravine, with a slight breeze. We came across only one other walker with a black part-Labrador retriever, and she would have no truck with my cheery greeting, studiously ignoring and walking right past us. She uttered a command in French to her dog. My sin? Speaking English. I have lately realized that too many young francophone women disdain to speak with English-speakers and turn away with grim faces. I sizzled with annoyance at this utter lack of civility.

Later, Angie and I sat out on the deck, still in the shade. We were on the glider, Riley beside us, trying to lick at the vicinity of Angie's swollen leg and we dissuaded him finally, so we could settle in to reading one of the Magic Schoolbus books, this one about a school play, a riff on Jack and the Beanstalk, giving Miss Fizzle the opportunity to discuss photosynthesis. Angie had some problems reading and pronouncing the name "Phoebe". We shared the reading; she one page, me the next, and we lasted until roughly the 12th page, and then she pooped out. It was hot, she was itchy, needed to change to the other freezer bag as this one was already warm, and she wanted some chocolate milk.

Upstairs then, to visit Zayde, laying out on the bed in one of the spare bedrooms (the one we call "Jody's bedroom", where the on-line computer in its work-armoire is). He's been quite without energy for almost a week now, and spends most of his time resting, reading. He just finished reading a book about Anthony Blount which Randy and Andrea had brought for him, on their visit two weeks earlier. I've been reading the one they brought me: "Madam X", about John Singer Sargent. The thing is, Irving recounts to me as faithfully as possible, the gist of every book he reads, while I do not return the compliment, nor am I expected to. He doesn't expect me to read the Blount book, but I do expect he'll want to read the Sargent book. Since he has finished reading the Blount book, though he has taken to reading some Somerset Maughm books, re-visiting some of them, first-time for others.

Angie is happy to find him there. While I was out in the ravine earlier, she had been upstairs with her Zayde, and while he rested, she was playing Solitaire and Spider Solitaire on the computer. Now she wanted us to play together. She's excruciatingly slow at it, and I'm forever prompting her, but incredibly, she has discovered some short-cuts achieved by mousing in various ways which had been unknown to me. Soon, though, she wants to know what's for lunch.

Salmon, I tell her. Yuck! she responds. You'll like it, I tell her, then she proceeds to inform me how much she hates the smell of canned salmon and I certainly sympathize, as I'm not fond of it, either. This is different I tell her, and she believes me, nice little kid. I've earlier taken the salmon out of the freezer, drizzled it with lemon juice, olive oil, pepper and garlic powder. I had par-cooked a few potatoes in the microwave, and now all I had to do was stir-fry onions and the chopped potatoes, microwave a small dish of greenpeas, and ask Irving to barbecue the salmon. Angie took great care in setting out a particularly nice placemat, a special platter from a set which I usually use in the dining room - and catsup! Never without catsup. A fresh sliced peach for dessert, I suggested. No, no, I can't stand peaches, they're too soft. Not these, these are Ontario peaches, they're delicious and they're not hard. She ate her peaches before the rest, but she ate each and every morsel of her lunch and I groaned for her.

Outside to look about the gardens, to deadhead a few flowerheads, tie up a few of the zinnias whose stalks had grown almost as tall as me and to observe that there were a few garden areas, a few hanging pots which could certainly use watering. The window installers next door were just finishing up installing all new windows in that house. When there are workmen about Ihave to be especially vigilant about Button in particular and Riley sometimes, as they're both nosy as hell and want to know what's going on; Button quietly and Riley aggressively as befits their genders. I don't see Button and begin to call her, and a disembodied voice responds: "Do you mean the little black poodle? she's over here". One of the window installers has come to my rescue and I thank him. All this while Angie is trailing about after me, ensuring that the slip-sliding ever-warming freezer pack is gripped firmly against her bum/hip/leg. She gets tired of this and goes back into the house to resume Solitairing solitarily.

We sit down together in the family room, as she wants to look through a new book with me, this one mine, about doll collecting. We look through the plates and read bits and pieces of information on wood-peg dolls, wax dolls, papier mache dolls, Googly-eye dolls, French and German porcelain dolls, Japanes gofun dolls and we discuss our personal impressions with respect to the colour plates. We don't much like most of these dolls, but are impressed at the stated prices. Then we go on a tour of some of my collection, which is fairly short-lived as her interest rapidly wanes. We had opened the folding doors of a rosewood Buddhist shrine as a few small dolls were in there, and she espied the singing bowl. Out it came, and she held the bowl flat on her damp outstretched palm, while I circled its edge with the wooden pestle. She shivered, as the bowl began to quiver on her palm and send its eerie sound reverberating through the two-story room.

Can we play Scrabble upstairs, Bubbe? Why upstairs, why not in the breakfast room on the table? Because in the library, she explains, we can play on the large table while she sits on the upholstered loveseat, it's easier on her large patch of itch. So I agree and we set up the board and the letters and go at it. She is incredibly lazy, turning to me continually for ideas on how to convert the disparate letters into acceptable words, asking me from time to time if impossible combinations are legitimate words. She soon tires of this, as it requires too much concentration and I tire of it, as I'm doing all of the concentration and she seemingly none at all, happy enough it seems to have me instruct her on where to place her letters, dammit.

Rescue is at hand, as Karen walks in at 4:00 pm, and soon they're off. But not before Angie, carrying the Scrabble box manages to drop it in the hallway, rousing Irving from a restful doze. He comes downstairs to dispense kisses all around, and there, they really are gone off home.

First thing I do is go back upstairs, determined to write that letter to the editor, to the daily newspaper which I had formed in my head through the last half of my ravine hike this morning. In it I fumed about the lack of courtesy, the uncivil attitudes of some people. So there. Then I checked on my email, and trudged downstairs to catch up on the two newspapers we receive daily.

Goodness me, lunch revisited, as we had almost the same thing for dinner that Angie had for lunch. We had waxed beans with the onion/potatoes and salmon, and leftover blueberry pie from my baking on Friday. We shared a small bowl of still-warm cherry tomatoes picked off the vine in the backyard; the other, carrying full-size tomatoes hasn't yet seen fit to ripen any. Irving also had a small dish of Balkan-style yogurt in an attempt to restore the balance in his stomach, given the effect of the antibiotics.

As I cleaned up the kitchen, dry-mopped the kitchen floor, flossed, then brushed my teeth, Irving followed me about much as Angie had done throughout the earlier part of the day. She did so to entice me to entertain her, he did so to entertain me. Fact is, Irving cannot seem to read a book without imparting its contents to me, so he read to me verbatim Maugham's take on Buddhism, then told me in detail about some of the incidents in the book describing Maugham's travels through Indo-china.

We're both feeling a bit better. Hope Angie feels a whole lot better by tomorrow.

The image at the top of this posting is a little bit of garden whimsy. It is a facsimile of the Great Daibutsu, and it sits at the bottom of our rock garden, which itself runs along the south side of the length of our house. It's a silly kind of conceit to call this an image of the Great Daibutsu. The original sits in a temple courtyard in Kamakura, Japan. It dates, I believe, from between the years 900 to 1000 ad, and is constructed of bronze. To stand beside this behemoth is quite the experience, and we appreciated the opportunity. It stands exposed to the elements, having had, in its long history, buildings "protecting" it, which were swept away in various violent ocean-driven storms. It was finally realized that to cover it was futile, and it stands now as it has done for quite some while, in the open courtyard, a symbol of the world's kindest religion.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

More gardens...

We immerse ourselves in the shape, texture, colour, fragrance and lushness of our gardens. They soothe our senses, they bring peace to our souls. They lift our spirits, cast off the mantle of weariness from our shoulders.

It's also very nice to be able to go out to the garden and pick parsley, basil, oregano, thyme to flavour our foods with and confer their goodness upon us.

Much as we love our gardens and the serenity they bring to our lives, we would probably eschew them if it came down to a choice: either your gardens, my good people, or your daily commune with nature. Our daily ravine hikes are more important to us than the gardens, I must admit, and that is saying much, much. Each in their own way fulfill a need deep within us.

The topmost photograph was taken this week, in our backyard. Two other photographs are of like vintage, but taken in the front gardens. The photograph on the right has been taken from our dining room window. At this time of year, when the oriental lilies are in bloom, their unbelievably wonderful scent spreads through the dining room and on into other parts of the house on the first floor. I recall that during the cold winter months. That photograph was taken before the oriental lilies began to bloom, and only day lilies are in evidence there. We have three apple trees, one plum tree in the back, none of which can be seen in the topmost photograph. No plums this year as it was too wet a spring to enable the plum blossoms to appear, while the apple blossoms did, in abundance, and we have, as a result, apples in abundance.
Our cheeky gargoyles on the front porch ensure that none approach our home but those with friendly intentions. Should that fail, our alarm system kicks in. We have two little alarms; one male, one female, each of sweet temperament, but fiercely protective toward home and hearth.

How doth thy Garden fare?

August already. Where has the summer flown? I like to think we can stretch it out. That being so, we have another month of summer. Wait, September is always (usually) so nice, isn't it? Make that another two months of summer. Well, think about it, October isn't bad at all, we can still experience some fairly nice days in there, if you like it on the cool side, yet not too cool - and who doesn't? So make that three more months of um, summer?

And how has your garden fared this summer? At times I worried that with all the rain we were experiencing many things would either drown or their roots rot, and goodbye garden. That didn't happen, obviously, but it hasn't been a particularly good year for begonias, I found, they're just not as gloriously lush as they usually are. And then, because it's been so warm, so hot! let's face it, I thought about all those flower types that don't flourish in hot weather, but come to think of it, they managed, and the garden doesn't look too bad at all. You be the judge.

Organized chaos, that's our gardens, and that is exactly the way I like them. Lots of form, plenty of colour, nothing neat. I'm not that kind of gardener. I like to pack in as many plants as I can, no lazy, unproductive bits of garden space for me. I don't, alas, adhere to the conventional garden wisdom of three plants of like species in a space, then another three, and another three. I plunk disparate plants in wherever the spirit takes me, the garden asks me to and I obey. I am the garden's willing slave, and it rewards me most handsomely.

In another entry I will give you an idea of the kind of work my husband surrendered to at the impulse and command of the garden, in creating an infrastructure which happily contains our gardens. I will focus on the hardscape, and in yet another I will highlight our garden gallery of art, all of which conspire to capture and enrapture us.

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