Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

back in the arms of the city

I know the risks here. I know to keep an eye on my purse, to lock ground floor windows at night, to look both ways before crossing the street. I am in my comfort zone.

Out there, at the lake place, I see daily reminders that I am nowhere near the top of the food chain, that there is no buffer zone of humanity to shield me.

The strange scat deposited at the base of the deck one night was likely a calling card from the Fisher that lurks in the riparian zone. Ambush hunters, they list unsuspecting city cats as a favourite treat. 

Woodtick strip searches have become routine. The risk of Lyme disease may be small, but the ick factor is a powerful driver.

Emptying mouse traps in the crawl space and cleaning up the detritus of their late-night parties takes on the urgency of a level 4 biohazard lab. Work gloves and tea towels tied over faces fill in for hazmat suits. I count off the days since exposure and watch for symptoms of Hantavirus. 
This is black bear country. Locals talk matter-of-factly about bear encounters. They know what the scat looks like, they instinctively know how to park so that the truck is always between themselves and any black bears who may be feeding on the Saskatoon bushes. To the black bear who sauntered through the yard last year and swam effortlessly across the lake, we are a minor annoyance, nothing but a mosquito buzzing around her living room.

Back home, in bed after another ten hour trek across the prairies, I lie for a few minutes before drifting off, grateful for the faint glow of the street lights, comforted by warm pinpoints of light radiating from windows across my neighbourhood. In the distance, the soft lullaby of traffic lulls me to sleep.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

carry me back

There's something restful and a little old-fashioned about curtains blowing in the breeze. 

I think of farm houses on the prairies, abandoned now to the elements, hollow window frames looking out over overgrown farmyards, while staring blankly inward. 

Where sod-busting women once prided themselves on keeping a home, the foxes and the bats have settled in, disturbed only by the whispers of long-gone ghosts hanging clothes on the line, by phantom echoes of sheets snapping dry in the hot dusty wind.

Monday, July 27, 2015

best of the fest

Not all the highlights at the Calgary Folk Music Festival are of the musical variety. When you get 12,000 people/day on a tiny island in the river, you get some great humanity sightings as well. Horse head guy, leiderhosen fellow, green man, bee hive lady, nose bleed dude, smiley hippie dancer, and the featured misplaced Saskatchewan Rough Rider watermelon helmet guy are just a small sampling.

Although I had absolutely no complaints about the hospitality food, that I didn't even realize until partway through day two that my guest pass gave me privileges for, the food truck offerings had their ups and downs. The weather, with its occasional severe thunderstorm warnings, was a bit challenging at times. But the music and musicians, of course, took precedence. 

Here are some of my own personal picks for memorable moments from this year's festival:

Musician who totally delivered, despite the unreasonably high expectations I held them to:
 *  Frazey Ford

Highest-spirited party band who absolutely delivered the partaayy:
 *  The Strumbellas

Hairiest country band with the best choreographed dance moves:
 *  The Dead South 

Band I had never heard of who completely gobsmacked me:
 *  Lake Street Dive

Musician, from whom I had very little expectations, who wowed me:
 *  Rhiannon Giddens

Best blistering blues:
 *  Bombino and Cecile Doo-Kingue

Long-lived legends who have still got it:
 *  Buffy Sainte-Marie and Richard Thompson

Band that I want at every kitchen party I ever attend for the rest of my life (also recommendation that my sister was totally bang on about):
 *  The Jerry Cans

Guy I want hosting every kitchen party I ever attend:
 *  Socalled

Best breakfast workshop, complete with Phil & Sebastian coffee and Sidewalk Citizen oatmeal cookie:
 *  "Uncorrected Personality Traits" - Robyn Hitchcock, The Dead South, The Strumbellas, Jennifer Castle

Musician who makes my ears bleed, whose workshop I attended just to prove that I could:
 *  Colin Stetson

Most sublime folk fest moment:

 *  Slipping out of one workshop early to get to the 4:20 workshop we really wanted to see (which just happened to be at the only tented stage) and arriving just as the skies let loose with cold driving rain, and then being blown away by Socalled, The Leftover Cuties and the Jerry Cans, as they got the entire tent up on their feet and jump-dancing with sheer joy. And then, as the workshop wrapped up, the sun came out. 

How do you beat all that? I guess we'll see next year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ten years of words

On this day ten years ago, I wrote my first blog post. It was the start of an exciting decade of making connections and discoveries, exploring ideas and expressing opinions about almost everything. 

A lot has changed in the blogosphere in those ten years. 

Those early years turned out to be the golden age of blogging, at least in my circles. After publishing that first tentative post, I quickly gained a staunch following of readers, whose blogs I staunchly read in return, and we spent far too much time each day writing and reading and commenting and interacting with other bloggers. Good thing I was working at a job where I had next to nothing to do for most of the day.

Over the years, though, blogging changed. People started to blog a little less often, then gradually stopped altogether. The blogosphere, or at least my little corner of it, grew smaller and smaller. Partly, I am convinced, because of the facebookification and twitterization of the internet, partly because of increased responsibilities in the off-line world, blogging fell out of favour among my friends. 

For some reason, I continued blogging, albeit a lot less frequently than the daily posting and comment answering of those glory days. But this site remains important to me and, although this ten year anniversary is very different from how I once imagined it would be (I was sure there would be cake and champagne), to me it is still a significant moment.

To all my blogger friends, those stalwart few who still continue to write and read and comment, I thank you for hanging in there. Your resilience, your stubbornness and refusal to give in to the 142 character universe are heartening to me. To all my former blogger friends, those who have become my dear friends in the real world, as well as those who passed, however briefly, through my field of vision, thank you for your thoughts and words. You have made the past ten years brilliant.

Here's to the next ten.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

10 days in 10 pictures

 We sentenced ourselves to ten days of hard labour, the Spousal Unit and I, as we set out on the 1100 km trek across the prairies to bushwhack, wield shovels, water new trees, reclaim beaches and wrastle submerged logs from the lake.

Somehow we have infinitely more energy for strenuous physical tasks there than we ever do at home. Perhaps it's the lower altitude. Perhaps it's the innate push to complete the project.

Amongst all the grunting and sweating and getting muddy, we fit in a daytrip to explore a pretty little town, fished, hosted a couple of dinners with friends, encouraged the city cat to join us on the deck, and paid a visit to the place where we met (astoundingly just two miles down the road). But mostly we just sat and admired our handiwork.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

under snow, over doing

Winter brings retreat, behind thick curtains, beneath spun wool, into the recesses of the mind. ‘Tis the season of déjà vu. We reflect upon what we said and should have said, what we did and what we will do next year. 

But spring into summer is time for action. In that slim window between energizing and exhausting, the sun’s return spurs us to battle. Suddenly the cat hairs that nestled comfortably on that throw blanket all winter long have simply got to go. The throw blanket itself needs to be banished, while we are at it, sent to dark confines to await the call to arms. And why has nobody ever pointed out just how dusty these walls are? 

In that crazy time between too cold and too hot, too dark and too bright, we set aside our coveted careers, we forget our fancy degrees, and like sod-busting women futilely sweeping the dust from the dirt floor of a sod hut, we submit to the deeply recessive cleaning gene. Our inner hausfrau will not be denied.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

hausfrau's triumphant return

I am no longer camped out in a room stacked high with doors. 

I had been bunking out there since April 27, when a faster than expected demolition of the bathrooms necessitated a hasty tear-down of the master bedroom. Furniture was shoved unceremoniously into any nook that looked large enough, clothes were dragged out of closets and shoved into any other closet that had a few spare inches of rod. The carefully orchestrated arrangement of bathroom necessities that I had arranged along one wall in the office was quickly buried by dressers and mattresses and lamps.

The move back into my own room on June 19 was kick-started by a massive cleaning strategy on par with a wide-scale tactical military offensive. It was the war to end all dust wars. Aside from thrilling the neighbours by having our ducts cleaned at 8:30 on Saturday morning, for the most part the aggression has involved stealth and hand to hand combat. Walls, ceiling lights and every single book and tchotchke on every single shelf and in every single drawer has been hand-cleaned. Because that construction dust shit gets in everywhere.

Of course, when you are cleaning like a deranged ninja hausfrau, you can't be content to just put everything back where it was. You must also completely reconfigure every room and holler down to the Spousal Unit every now and then to help you move that dresser into the other room and carry that bookshelf over there.

Two rooms are now done and I hope to have the entire upper level (including the linen closet that got blasted with drywall dust) clean enough for open heart surgery by the middle of the week. I have a feeling that my gung-ho will start to wane as I reach the lower levels of the house.

In the meantime, being back in my own bed feels sinfully and blissfully luxurious. There is so much space to stretch out and the legs don't wobble every time I turn over. 

There are still a few things for the contractors to finish up, but generally the entire process has gone really smoothly and has been well worth it, even from an aesthetics aspect alone. Exhibit A: before and afters of the bedroom window. Guess which one not only closes all the way, but also opens much wider to let in all the fresh summer air?  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

exit music for a comet lander

What did you dream of, Philae? 

What thoughts troubled your slumber during that endless night? Did you awaken at times, alone and confused, shivering on that tiny wedge of icy rock escaping from the Kuiper Belt?

No one heard you as you cried out for Rosetta. No one held you as you languished there, alone in the dark vastness of space. No one saw how tightly you clung to those rocky crags, how tempted you were at times - as you grew weary and lonely - to simply let go. How easy it would have been to plumet down into the depths of the valley. How effortless to reach out, as if pointing toward home, and instead to spin lazily helplessly forever, out into the farthest emptiest reaches of space. 

But you didn't lose your nerve, plucky little lander, there in the confines of that barren comet, the place of both your salvation and your prison. 

And now the night is done.

Good morning, Philae. Tell us about your dreams.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Saturday night on Boulevard Saint-Laurent

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night 
- Heather O'Neill

It took me a while to warm up to this book, primarily because Heather O'Neill uses way too many metaphors. Her metaphors line up at the edge of the cliff like lemmings and fling themselves into the story. The strong-box where her metaphors are stored has a broken lock and all the words have escaped and are multiplying wantonly. Her house is decorated with metaphor throw rugs that grow like jungle vines and choke out all the furniture.

Sort of like that.

But then, a strange thing happened. About halfway into The Girl Who Was Saturday Night all those metaphors, all that imaginative language, started to impart a feel of magic realism to the story. Not the over-the-top surrealistic magic realism of a Michel Gondry film, say, but a more subdued, more Canadian form of the narrative style. I let myself just relax and enjoy the fantastical ride.

Set against the backdrop of the 1995 Quebec referendum (the one in which the non vote won with a mere 50.58% majority), The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is the tale of Nouschka Tremblay, nineteen-year-old former child-star who, along with her twin brother Nicholas, is trying to move beyond childhood fame. Abandoned as newborns by their 14-year-old mother, the twins were used as performance props by their wildly famous folk-singer father (now a desperately washed-up ex-con)and raised in a cat-filled apartment by their increasingly dotty grandfather. 

Nouschka is a character who grows on you. Smart, but a little flighty, charming and matter-of-fact about her casual sexuality, she is trying to forge her own path in the world, while maintaining the intensely close relationship she shares with Nicholas. Things don't always go well. But then they do. One incident in the novel made me gasp audibly.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is a charming stranger who will pick your pocket while asking you for directions to the Metro. Images tumble from its pages like a basket of balloons kicked down the stairs by a petulant child. And there is always a stray cat climbing in through the open window to curl up on your bed.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

you can't get there from here

The cracks are starting to show in the veneer of excitement surrounding the great renovation adventure of 2015. The current challenge is learning how to live in a house divided. Literally.

Imagine living in a four-level split-level house. The upper level contains the main bathroom and the bedrooms. The next level - the ground level - has the kitchen, living room and front door (no bathroom). It is connected to the upper level by a staircase and to the third level - which contains the family room, office, powder room and back door - by two sets of stairs (presumably to allow those 1970's kids the option to chase each other around and around the two sets of stairs). The lowest level is the basement, accessible from the third level. Now imagine that the staircases that connect the top floor to the ground level and the ground level to the third level are inaccessible, draped off by enough plastic sheeting to make Dexter Morgan jealous. That means that if you are in the kitchen or living room and need to use the facilities, you have to go out the front door, around the house and in though the back door.

A first world problem, most certainly, but one that we are finding takes an inordinate amount of planning. It turns out that the cat - who is meowing at the front door to come in while you are down in the lower level - doesn't understand the concept of come around to the back door, even when accompanied by helpful arm gestures. It means that the Spousal Unit, who gets up for work at 4:30AM, has to stumble his way out the back door in the rain, unlock the front door in the dark, and then wind his way through the living room and dining room because direct access to the kitchen is tarped off, just to turn on the coffee machine, to get that first cup of coffee which would have helped him navigate that maze in the first place. It means that, even though I have not slept in my own bed for over a month, I have now been kicked off even the wobbly old spare bed and onto an air mattress in the basement. 

You know that feeling of walking into a room and not remembering what you came in for? You don't want to do that when you live in a house divided by plastic sheeting, especially since the rains of June have settled in. You quickly learn to scan the room carefully before making the trek to the other side, anticipating every need - every future move - like a world championship chess match is on the line. 

The upside to being driven out of the house by the eye-searing fumes of the hardwood stain is that I have now finished all the errands and shopping that I have been putting off for the past year. The fallout might be that the cat gives up trying to figure out which door to use, packs her little suitcase and hitchhikes to the coast.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

the road to St. John Cantius

I wear my city boots on these gravel roads. Red patent leather coated in dust kick up stones like they own the place. Like they invented walking. 

There is a world of difference between the Portland airport and the main drag of Shoal Lake, PDX versus rural MB, “keep it weird” meets "git ‘er dun”. 

Although I could never live here, the lines and the light fire the Broca’s area of my brain, where words are said to live. It notes the way perfectly spaced rows of stubble crest at the sky, where the silhouette of a pair of nesting geese keeps guard over the sunset. It ponders the way the gravel road curves down from the abandoned homestead, around the lake, to the old Polish graveyard where strange names hide the hopes of generations. 

My feet refuse to switch from city to rural time. My boot heels continue to strike the gravel as forcefully as they once did the pavement. My mind, though, crawls back to another time until the gravel turns to memories under truck tires headed west.