Life in the country

Location: Newcastle, Ontario, Canada

Born in Toronto, a degree in Psychology at Carleton in Ottawa, ran a photography business for 10 years from a studio in Parkdale, Toronto, apprenticed with a stained glass artist, and, and, and...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The grass is high, till almost the sky, if only to fly...just once

Tim and Finnie
leaving the forest.

July, 2005
Not sure if everyone has an image, but I have one very vivid image when I want to call upon quintessential summer. I can remember spending lots of time on a farmer's property that backed onto a horse trail through a forest near my parents cottage in Georgian Bay. I was a kid of about 12 or 13, I guess. I can completely hear the bees droning and the weight of the heat on my head and back as I walked amongst Queen Anne’s lace, Sumach and Black-eyed Susans. Alone on property that was not mine to walk on, I would go often to try to see the horses that roamed the land. That was summer. Growing up I have not felt as connected to summer as I did this summer. I was reminded of my childhood idea of torpid summer from this new home. The seasons and nature were so much more vivid here than the city, no big surprise but it was with a quickening of the heart to be reconnected to that girl. Again, having a full summer without working helped to bring me to that place.

Tim trying to get
the field mown.

The grass in the back field came to Owen's head in some places, a mixture of clover, Queen Anne's Lace, Black-eyed Susans, some purple-flowered vine and others. Tim had decided to leave a good swath in the back of the field unmown so that we could walk amongst the wildflowers. The rest of the field was mown by Tim on the tractor about every three weeks. He loved it, climbing on the old Massey-Ferguson tractor that came with the property and moving it through passes in the field like a summer Zamboni driver. Quite graceful he became with the tractor and it could turn on a dime, almost. The kids would fight for the chance to go with him and invariably, would fall asleep to the steady thrum of the motor. Tim would often continue with a sleeping child cradled in his arms.

Picking raspberries,
or eating them in Finnie's case,
from a farm along Lakeshore Road.

Raspberries were ripe, at least the canes that were on other peoples' properties. Since I had planted this year we would only hope for establishment of the canes. We did get the occasional berry though and they NEVER made it inside as Owen, Finnie, Tim or I would eat them before they stained our hands. We did collect raspberries from a nearby farm so that Doreen, a friend of ours could make a raspberry pie.

Hilary bird-watching
in our back pasture.

Hilary had arrived and I was glad. The weeds were winning and she would soon send them back from whence they came. She said, “It's all a matter of doing a bit at a time, everyday.” She got up before us and we would often rub our eyes and blink at her as we watched her working in the vegetable patch before we had properly woken. So by the time she left, the weeds were under control and I had learned some techniques to keep them at bay. But neither of us felt sure what to do about a transplanted Basswood sapling that was ailing. It had thrived from the moment I transplanted it seeming unaware of its relocation but now, months later the edges of the leaves were yellowing and some entire branches looked like they were dying. Nothing had changed in its upkeep so I took some pictures of the leaves to send to Kåre to get his feedback. Not much I could do, he said, if it was ailing. Not every tree was going to be picture perfect. Ok, wasn't aiming for that but was hoping for life so I would finger its leaves as I walked past it and worry.

One of the concerns were these worms that I found. All were removed and I couldn't see them doing all the damage but who knows.

We were in the height of summer. I had never sucked so much out of a season. Everyday was experienced, none taken for granted.

My final image is also one of optimism. We had gone down to the marina to try out a new fishing rod of Owen's. Hilary tried her best to bring in lunch, as did Owen and I but to no avail. While we were there we noticed a young duckling at the top of the dock, wanting ever so much to be down below, in the water, where his mom had blithely flown down to seconds ago. The shot shows the same duck before and after his final brave jump. This is how one learns I guess. Hold your nose, close your eyes and LEAP.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

As dusk approaches, so do we regress happily...

Late June, 2005
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Pee who?
Pee coming out your ears!!!!!!!

Owen surveying the outdoors. Someday this will all be yours. Imagine myself saying this to him and Finnie.

Ok, not my brand of humour but to an almost four-year-old, and to all four-year-olds, this is gut-splittingly funny. Maybe I'm missing something, I don't think as fast as him, I'm more formed in my opinions. I really think the problem is me as Finnie will choke on her food or belly-laugh at these with gusto. But she seems to be a cult-follower of Owen sometimes so I'm not sure really about any of this. But I do recognize the sophistication of what's happening, details aside. He is trying to be humorous. I read or heard somewhere that you only really understand another language than your mother tongue, when you appreciate their humour. Like watching Australian TV and laughing at all the right places, doesn't happen for years if ever. And do you ever feel daft if you come in a second late with a forced overly-exburant laugh. Well, maybe Owen is finally figuring out life here as we are peppered by knock knock jokes that make zero sense to me and Tim but mounds of wit to Finnie and Owen. Hmmm.... they should offer university courses in little kid jokes. I'd pay.

Humour, in general, was much more abundant in our household. The ease of summer, the time under our belts, the sense of how wonderful our land was made us all feel extremely lucky. I constantly had to surpress the thought that this was temporary, like summer, and that we couldn't be so hummingly happy for long. I still do that, but secretly hope I'll be found wrong and this is not temporary but the life we have now.

Tim and Owen testing centrifugal forces. You can see in the forground the circle of sunflowers that Owen and I had planted. Like the letter O for Owen they were supposed to grow nine feet tall. Notice the absence of any significant growth.

Owen running through a red ribbon they would run with outside.

One of the daily jolts of loveliness was when the sun bid goodnight and slunk down to another part of the world. Truly one of the strongest differences from the city, we would, once again tumble outside, in good-nite suits or still in our day clothes to twirl and run and play in the field. Chasing Tim was a common game as he had usually just recently come home and the kids and him would reconnect through tussling in the warm grass. Everything looked so darned good under that light, adding a magnificence to my scrubby flower garden and darkening the barn to a dark musky red. Also it was relaxing time, play time and not just for the kids. The responsibilities of the day behind us we could enjoy the uncharted bit of time before the kids' bedtime without any reality impinging.

The maple saplings were coming along. New leaves and no signs of stress, I couldn't believe that they were all going to make it. Kåre had even taken the two smallest ones, that I had no spot for and planted them next to the stream running alongside the railroad tracks. We hardly even checked on them, thinking them deceased as almost no rain fell this summer and I knew how much I had irrigated the ones closer to the house. I was like not wanting to see how awful the little ones would look, all shrivelled up and leafless, that I just never checked for the longest time. Much later in the early fall I would find that both were not actually dead and, if they survived the winter, might actually make it.

See the light, ain't it pretty? See our vegetable gulag? Not so inspiring, but the light made it gentler than other times of the day. You can see a couple of the maple saplings lining the road in front. You can also see some sweet green shoots at the back of the garden. Those are the weeds that were taking over that area.

We had plants showing themselves in the vegetable garden. I had bought some basil plants to replace the ones I had melted on the deck and they were literally thriving in the planter boxes, alongside the oregano, garlic and parsley. The carrots were so slow to grow and me being the sort that requires constant positive feedback, I threw them many dark looks. But the zucchini plants were on performance-improving drugs, I believe, as were the beets. Beets! Me? I hate beets but thought that would all change when it came from our own garden. But I started to realize that I hadn't really calculated for how much we could actually eat as we are not big vegetable eaters at the best of time and this was a big garden. Perhaps I shouldn't have fenced it in and then the deer and bunnies would politely take their portion and leave the rest untouched. Finnie, Owen and I talked about putting up a sign telling them where their veggies were. But city folk are naturally untrusting so we left the fence. Late in the summer I did see bites out of vegetables from what I think were field mice but mostly was surprised that I didn't see bites earlier in the season.

But here's the thing. How do you tell, when plants were just pushing out of the ground, which are weeds and which are the ones you want? Really, I had a problem as I was new to vegetables and aside from a uniform line sometimes giving me a clue I couldn't tell what was “good” or “bad.” So the weeds grew almost unchecked and I believe overtook alot of the seeds at the beginning. Not sure how I can handle this next year as I had to get down, nose almost to the ground and try to pick out the ones that looked weedy. Not an exact science. I needed Hilary, Tim's mom, who had been out for a day in April before anything was up. She'd give me ideas over the phone but having her come for a good bit of time late July was going to make the weeds shake in fear.

But in the evening, even the weeds looked lovely. I would run pellmell around the field, chasing a giggling child running determinedly away from me. I think the last time I felt so unfettered was as a child myself, running and giggling from a loving parent willing to play the fake scary game. It felt tremendous to have the chance to reconnect to myself as a child. I thank the kids for that. They let you do some severe regression in the name of love and parenting. Funny though, the process matures me and allows for some kind of balance of adulthood and childhood.
Scooping up some caught creature, swinging her into the air and down and off again, to chase the other. Screams and gails of laughter only possible in our big backyard where sound need not be muffled.

Then, out of breathe, stopping to walk amongst the flower garden, looking for new shoots that had emerged since the last time I had checked in the earlier afternoon. To pull some weeds and plant a forgotten new buy still in its plastic pot. To put the wheelbarrel away or fight with the hose. I felt so much healthier than I had in a long time and the great thing about that was that it wasn't formal exercise I was doing, it was getting fit by just living here.