Remember long August afternoons when you were maybe, say ten? I do. I can sit on the front porch with the sun on my face and recall sucking on homemade orange Tang popsicle while I plotted the rest of my day. Or sharing secrets with a friend in the park, both of us perched on big wooden swings, our feet scuffing in the groove in the earth below us. Or how about being sent off walking to swimming lessons with my siblings, with our underwear rolled in a towel and a quarter for the locker. Or the jubilation of the hottest nights when my dad said yes, to the sound of the ice cream truck.
For all of that – August could be the most languidly indulgent time of year. If we could just hang on to it and put off thoughts of autumn plans. The never ending winter is almost forgotten – not like in the crisp days of September when you can hear it whispering again, “I’m coming, I’m coming.”
The afternoon sun heats the sidewalks and bee’s and cricket’s sounds make me lazy and nostalgic for days when I rode a bike in my bathing suit – helmet-less in the days before safety rules – and sometimes even barefoot. Do you remember the feel of bike pedals on bare feet? You had to slow down your ride by bumping over the curb and onto the lawn. Or how about summer vacations and roasting a hot dog over a fire that someone else was managing – your bare bug-bitten legs hot from the flame, your butt cold from the night temperatures. You couldn’t eat the hot dog fast enough cause after it came the marshmallows – gooey and likely burnt. And if you didn’t bother the grownups around you too much, you could run off after that into a sandy tent or cabin bunk and read Archie comics, or share some giggles with a friend or cousin before you were shouted at to go to bed.
And so I promise myself on this hot August vacation morning that I’m going to just float in the lake and watch the blue sky, and not chastise myself for this weeks calorie ridden snacks by doing laps from the dock to a buoy and back. I’ll skip the Archie comics and barefoot biking, but I’ll sneak away from the group to back float in the evening, immersing myself in a moment in time under the full moon. Maybe I’ll catch some of the last shooting stars of August. Ah August and beach blankets spread over a grassy slope for falling star gazing. August is very fine – let’s not think about sweater weather just yet.
Oh Canada – our true North strong and …. What’s going on in this big, cold country of ours? I think we’ve all been sadder, then we we were aware. Now a convoy of truckers beginning on the west coast and growing through each province is headed to our nations capital to peacefully protest restrictive mandates. Why has this Canadian trucker’s convoy at this time in these long, long months brought out thousands of families waving the maple leaf flag in twenty-seven below weather? What is this that folks as diverse as comedian and actor Russel Brand, entrepreneur and business magnate Elon Musk, and country singer Paul Brandt are all supporting the trucker’s convoy? Why in frigid snowy weather as the sun rises and sets have Canadians lined the streets to cheer, wave our flag, and offer to feed the men and women from across the nation in a truck convoy that is by some accounts 53 km (40 miles) long? Hutterites, Mennonite’s, Indigenous, Black and Sikh citizens have given their approval. Huge convoys are coming up from all over the United States and support is being heralded from around the world.
What I see now – what I wish everyone could see, but our mainstream media is still doing ‘coverage lite’ , is great throngs of citizens lining the highways, offering truckloads of meals, offering parking spaces, mechanical help, even dental services for truckers with tooth aches – and a chiropractic from Maine is trying to come up and fix trucker’s sore backs. I’ve followed several Convoy Facebook groups – one which grew to 600,000 members before it was taken down. (Why?) There are videos with energetic country tunes, big rigs, small trucks, and on overpasses and in snow banks families of every description packing boxed lunches to feed their new heroes while their kids bundled in snowsuits, hold up the signs they’ve drawn. Truckers are making videos of thanks wearing their sunglasses, as more than one has said – to hide their tears of emotion. Citizens who felt they’d been left alone with their troubles are saying they can’t stop their tears of joy. A Quebec sovereigntist reported feeling ‘Canadian’ for the first time.
Clearly this is not about vaxed or unvaxed. By the numbers alone we know that. There was a time in the beginning of this pandemic where folks were belittled for daring to talk about our Charter rights, liberty and freedom – we believed in flattening the curve. But with that came QR codes – and young hostesses across the land forced into the uncomfortable position of policing segregation and requests for proof of ID to allow patrons to drink a coffee indoors. Businesses small and large have suffered immeasurable losses due to forced lock downs and restrictions. Life’s celebrations – weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, graduations, retirements have been halted. Our elderly have been kept away from those they needed most. My siblings and I allowed our own dad to be isolated from us for nine weeks of his final year before we came to our senses and took action to bring him into our embrace again.
We’ve all masked, we’ve distanced. We’ve suffered horrible hurtful loss of our loved ones to COVID, and along with it our mental health has been strained beyond tolerance. Suicides and drug overdoses have increased. The authorities wanted 80 per cent vaccination rate. They got it, but continued to demonize those who for whatever reason just couldn’t use or abide this vaccine. Omicron is spreading among the vaccinated and the boosted and the vax passes if meant to keep away the potentially sick, don’t make sense and should have been revoked.
This outpouring of support for the trucker’s convoy might only be a response to too much over-reaching government control. People long to feel connected and united in their delight. Citizens around the world are sending messages of support for our truckers whose mandate is one of peaceful, calm protest. Yet our leaders and news sources find the few crazy’s in the thousands to try to in-still more fear in fear-weary citizens. Global news (shame on them) shows footage of the US troubles last Jan 6th and compares this to that. And yes, in groups of this magnitude there will be trouble makers and extremists to be dealt with, but truckers are reporting police forces and RCMP are helpful and for the most part supportive, directing traffic and guiding them on their way. Media has repeatedly questioned the GoFundMe (currently above six million dollars) which is intended to cover fuel of the registered truckers, with any remainder going to our veterans. Our Prime Minister, instead of offering to listen and talk, called the convoy a minority fringe of people with unacceptable views. What? As in he, the leader, will not accept them?
I believe Canadians want to feel free from government control again. They want to feel trusted to take precautions but not be dictated to. To be given their livelihoods back along with their feelings about bodily autonomy, no matter their choices. To feel cared for by their communities, to be heard and feel the joy of togetherness. I know they are thanking this group who are saying end the restrictive mandates, let good people work again. And what is the symbol of this protest? It appears it is our Canadian flag.
It’s hot. I know it’s hot – at thirty-two degrees it is almost as hot as the summer days ever get in Calgary, this city in the long shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Standing barefoot on the lawn, dead heading petunias already spent from the heat, I get a whiff of the strong perfume of a peppery wild geranium in the still air. It’s quiet on our city street. A sparrow chirps and then there is just the beat of a sprinkler keeping a newly planted berry bush alive next door. And now there is the sweet drone of bees discovering my blush pink roses. The peace, the myriad of scents, the calm energy of nature alive with intention these are the soft blessings of summer. But it’s hot – oh so hot.
I rally myself in the heat to remember the long winter that drags us down. Beads of sweat are at the nap of my neck and I leap across the too hot sidewalk but, “Come on, think,” I tell myself, “of all those days relying on car heaters, and scraping angry pebbles of ice from the windshield, cursing that I’d left gloves in the house. Just remember wanting to skate but how it was too cold to skate. So I’m roasting now – big deal,” I go on to no one but myself, recalling all too plainly staring down heaps of snow on cars, and walks, and piled against front stoops and how I had trouble imagining this too brief summer – with the landscape so locked in winter’s breath.
“Buck up,” I tell myself as an ice cream truck plays it’s jingle somewhere in the neighborhood, and I resist complaining of the heat that glistens on my brow. Trying to think ‘summer’ my inspiration is to call my daughter and offer her girls a trip to a splash park, “Pitter patter, let’s get at her,” I’ll say, but first I’ll fetch a dish to pick the ripe red cherries reachable from the shade of an apple tree, and feel the wonder that is this country that after six or seven months of cold, cold temperatures – still bears remarkable fruit.
Just hanging out at the lake and rather than cleaning up last night’s BQ mess or encouraging the wasps to back off, I updated my Goodreads. I love Goodreads until I see all the books I marked ‘want to read’ and have to take a deep breath and know that it’s just wishful thinking. So there I was cooling off from the summer heat with a glass of lemonade, filling the hummingbird feeder, then cruising Goodreads when surprise – I found a review of my artistic daughter, Shea Proulx’s, ABC Monstrosity. The reviewer was exclaiming over how fun and original and different than all the other kids ABC’s it is. It’s a recto verso book, which means you turn it around (and upside down) and there is another book at the back. That one is a Counting 1-2-3 made up of a compilation of pictures of items that parent’s days are full of – one sippy cup, two rubber duckies, three soft spoons, four plug protectors … you get the picture.
The ABC side is a clever visual narrative that tells a story for kids, while it teaches them with crazy made-up words and real science. Oh, did I mention that it is an adult colouring book to boot. You can colour the fun objects as they build up on the pages and when you’ve made it all lovely give it as a gift to someone you love. She’s a smart kid, that daughter of mine, and I love the story time treat she’s created. This is her second adult coloring book – the first is Alice in the Womb a whimsical picture story of a human baby’s growth in utero, surrounded by a “creature filled dreamland”.
So there comes that time when the dog days of August begin to whisper quiet hints of fall, and it’s then that I begin to question whether I got to the bottom of the ice cream cone that is summer in this country we live in. Did I lick the very last, hard to reach drop of the sweet treat of a Canadian summer. I’ve been fortunate to spend some time on a British Columbia lake – did I tread bare foot often enough down the wooded path? Did I swim at every delicious opportunity? Were enough fresh peaches consumed, and raspberries covered with cream? And even when tired from early sunrises did I push off in the kayak at sunset? Did I fill enough buckets with pebbles for my granddaughters to toss into the lapping waters? Did I snip fresh garden blooms to decorate the table – and simply put – did I stop to smell them? Ah, the fleeting season we cherish.
Up at our cottage there is a small clearing in the trees, with a view toward the lake. It is a place some of us (probably the girls) always looked at as if it was where you would slip off to with a new boyfriend when it seemed you had been inundated with aunts and uncles, and cousins or other lakeside visitors – to get away and whisper, or steal a kiss without being observed by dad.
It is a place to go when you are feeling like a moment, or being contemplative, or are in love, or out of love – a place away from the other places, a place to steal a kiss, or tell a secret.
And then our eldest had a baby who has a love of swinging, and we’d drive for twenty minutes to the park beside the local baseball diamond. At last I knew what the spot in the trees needed – a swing – a swing for a toddler, but a swing for a long-legged kid or a grown up, too.
Lucky for all of us my son-in-law, the toddler’s daddy, is a recently graduated architect with a passion for building – no pre-packaged swing set kit for us. On three of the hottest days of last summer he happily constructed the perfect, simple baby swing and a ‘big’ swing, and a place to climb and slide – with awe struck assistants from those of us eager for the finished product.
It was a hot summer with the lake temperature invitingly warm, so swimming and boating and floating we’re so much of what we did – not much swinging at all.
But it’s British Columbia, Canada and there are long crisp seasons where the lake is the backdrop for more quiet pursuits, times when there will be a fussy baby that needs to be soothed or too many folks will be crowded inside, and two others will have to slip out to that spot in the trees and take turns simply swinging.
It’s January now, the ground is icy white, the still air promises more snow and cold. But hey, it’s time to dream of spring and going “up into the air and down”….
I’m not freaked out about my age. I worried more turning thirty-nine than I did fifty. Thirty-nine seemed the end of youth. No kidding. At fifty, while I sometimes long for my mom on Sunday mornings to be making pancake breakfast in my kitchen, complete with juice in silly little glasses, I get that I’m the matriarch in the house. My first kid left home when I was – just a sec – math is hard for me when I haven’t slept all freak’en night –eighteen plus twenty-five equals forty-three – holy shit (excuse the language, I’m tired and cranky) was I only forty-three? These days women are having babies at the same age that I was all boo hoo over mine packing her bags – no wonder I’ve been blogging on that subject forever.
Where was I? Right, I’m not upset that I’m fifty – something-in-the-first-half-of-the-fifties.
Okay you guessed it – it’s this menopause bit that has me feeling crazy. (Acting crazy?) And somehow it seems aside from information gleaned from all those stupid email jokes with pot bellied old ladies with saggy boobs threatening their ill-prepared husbands, I don’t have the hard facts on this hormonal upheaval. I kept meaning to buy a book about it – seriously, this isn’t a dumb menopause joke – but in all the hundreds of times I was in a bookstore, I forgot. Right now I want to mention something really basic, almost intuitive, that I couldn’t remember the other day, but I can’t remember what that was. I did finally buy a book, and somewhere in the pre-amble to how for the next few years my life would be wacked, it told me I’d have trouble staying on task, and true enough I have, so much so that I haven’t been able to read the manual.
Just after I had that daughter of mine who left home eons ago – and is currently hormonally challenged herself – but at least she gets a baby out of it – I ran off to the mall for baby nail clippers and rubbing alcohol for that nasty umbilical cord bit and left her with her daddy. I thought the boys (boys, not men, I was just a girl back then) were staring at my voluptuous-as-never-before breast feeding body (I actually felt like a cow), but was shocked to look down and see I was leaking milk through my light cotton dress. Being almost the first of my friends to have kids – no one had informed me about how I might leak while out in the mall. I could never figure out how I missed that fun fact of how being a new mommy involved having boobs with no self control. And now I can’t figure out why I don’t know much of this menopause stuff. Yeah, I guess I always imagined that we get hot and fat and can grow mustaches. But where are the women warriors that are supposed to inform me about all this not sleeping (leading to hormonal blog writing), the ridiculous benign, yet annoying, restless legs, the lost of nouns and names and the further hindrance of my limited ability to do math.
And what was the evolutionary purpose I wonder, as the moon continues to rise on a November morning with me wide awake at 3:56 a.m.? It had to be that back in the day, having outlived our reproduction purposes the grand plan was that, not sleeping, we would wander out of the cave to rub sticks together and be eaten by a dinosaur – leaving more berries and wild animals for the younger women (my timeline might be skewed but you get the picture.)
Sometimes I see a women near my age who looks serene and calm, or maybe even a little giddy. And I think – she’s done, she’s been through it and come out on the other side, maybe she’ll tell me the brand of cream I can buy at the health food store that I can rub on my forehead and I’ll be able to remember the names of my four kids again. Help me, women friends out there in blog-o- (oh, God – I can’t remember how to spell what I want to say, my spelling was never top notch but it’s leaving me with my math and my nouns) okay, tell me just this, this could go a long way – how do I sleep again, like a baby (well, not my daughter’s baby) but those other babies that sleep all through the night?
Is it over stated to say it is a glorious fall day? Glory is in the air. ‘Glory’ – (Webster’s definition) ‘something marked by beauty or resplendence, as in a perfect glory of a day.’
Neighborhood kids that went to school wearing new fall cardigans and jeans will be coming home to put on shorts and run barefoot. Still, a news story reported that the weather is going to change shortly and the s- word is coming. The reporter said it that way – the S-word.
It was enough reason to change into my gardening clothes and bring in the harvest. I can harvest my teeny weenie vegetable garden in a couple of hours. Maybe vegetable patch is a better way to describe what I have going at the top of the yard.
I planted potatoes in the spring for the simple joy of digging them up – it’s like a game of hide and seek. A kid from the coast might like to chase clams on a sandy beach, digging into the wet sand where they see a spray of salty water spurt up. A kid from the prairie has to make do with digging up spuds. But it’s a sport to see what’s down there in the dark earth, hiding from the slugs and weather. With my measly three dozen potatoes piled on the kitchen counter I considered letting the whole vegetable patch be poppies and sweet peas next year – maybe just a corner designated for the rhubarb. Not being a big fan of rhubarb, even baked into a sweet strawberry pie, I could take it or leave it, but I love the way the phallic shoots pop up first, announcing spring.
Contemplating what other flowers I might add to the mix I started to unearth the carrots, pleased that the green tops were pulling out of the ground with the orange spears still attached. Suddenly the farmer genes that my grandparents passed along were winning out – I knew that I would poke a small variety of seeds into the ground again next May. It wasn’t the sight of the muddy carrots, that convinced me to continue – it was the sharp sweet scent, a scent you can’t quite pay money for at the grocery store. A scent that made me think of being seven-years-old and my mom washing garden carrots off with the hose and treating us to the first ones big enough to warrant pulling out on a hot summer’s day.
My Grandmother – Nanny – to all our family, started farming on her own homestead at age sixteen when she married my grandfather. And after they retired to town, she tended a gigantic backyard garden brimming with peas and beans, carrots and onions, beets and raspberries – until she was ninety-four-years old. She saved money by canning and freezing her bounty. I carry on the gardening tradition in my two small raised beds, even though my little effort probably costs me more in seeds and water than it saves over the half dozen meals it supplies.
I put away the shovel, rinsed off some of the small sweet carrots, and sat on the grass in the late afternoon sun to crunch on them. The planting, tending and harvest are comforting rituals – marking one season passing before the long winter and the anticipation of the spring to come. But right then, I relaxed on the lawn that will soon enough be white with snow and embraced the glory of the autumn sun.
Tell me, how can it be that my husband wants to go back to the cottage this weekend and take the motorboat out of the water. As usual, as is my role, I protest. “No, no, no, it can’t be time to take the boat out. Summer is hardly over.”
It was only a month ago that we had sixteen people at the cottage, some bedding down on air mattresses or couches, others wondering if they could sleep in the boat, rocking on the water through the night. And a few weeks after that we had loads of folks again, and in exasperation of emptying the dishwasher another time from meals of fresh buttery corn and juicy burgers and failed popsicles – I declared – “When will this end?”
And then it did.
Come back, you summer revellers. I don’t want to put the floaties away and stack the outside chairs and tie up the canoe against the rising water of next spring.
Let’s squeeze our eyes shut from the smoky fire and then squint into the night sky at the mid- summer comets. Let me get mildly upset that someone’s used my beach towel in their impatience to dry off from a swim so that they could slice the last peach in the box, before dribbling it with cream.
I want to not be able to decide between reading my book on the dock (yes, that silly book), and chatting with my visiting kids and their gregarious friends, or trying again to make those popsicles.
Even more so I want to take another solo early morning kayak ride on the lapping lake, watching in awe as the osprey flies over.
And so I wish now, that with each swim I had stayed in the lake even longer, floating on my back, adrift in water that was ever so, never so warm.
It’s spring, the weather is warming, the trees are budding a fresh happy green, and I want to start a campaign. It doesn’t have to be on every bus bench, or t-shirt, or go viral on the internet. It’s made up of two simple words, ‘Look Up’. Look Up. Look Up. Look Up. Though, my campaign has a subtitle – ‘Love the One You’re With‘. So right now, stop staring at your screen for a minute and smile at someone nearby. Smile at your partner. Smile at the person at the next table. The one right beside you at the transit station.
Didn’t you go out to a coffee shop to escape the loneliness of working at home? So let your eyes, and your humanity, drift away from focusing on your iPad. Take a break from texting on your cell phone. Look Up from the work, or play, that is keeping your attention on your laptop. Engage a stranger, if only with just a smile.
I am guilty, too. I have to wait to meet a friend at a restaurant, and I immediately reach for my phone. I hear that twinkly sound of ‘you’ve got a text’ and I’m immediately eager to see who is reaching out to me. “No, just Look Up”, I tell myself. The greeting will wait for me, if I just resist the urge to look down – away from the world unfolding around me, the toddler impressing his parents at the next booth, the waitress who might linger at my table, or I could gaze out the big window – see the golden setting sun, the small birds on the horizon, the row of purple tulips.
Perhaps I’m alone having a pick-me-up in a favourite coffee shop – what do I do? Voila, I reach for the comfort of my phone, to check my text messages, my email messages and maybe even Google the weather. Instead, I could resist the temptation to touch my cool perfectly weighted phone (thanks Steve) and smile at a stranger, or pause to connect with a silly comment about the weather, the way people used to – in the old days – sharing a thought with someone new. Worse is when we can’t resist the sneak a peak at the iphone when we’re not alone, but are with friends or family that we’ve sought out, or who have sought us out, to spend a few low-tech minutes of actual straight up human connection. That’s where the subtitle comes in – the ‘Love the one (s) your with’.
On a recent wet and windy day I stepped into that warm coffee shop to view the customers in the line-up, and those hunkered down at the tables with their half-sweet-non-fat-extra-hot-vanilla-what ever’s all looking down, hiding with their many sized screens. “Look Up,” was what I wanted to bravely call out. “Look Up and Smile.”