Just Skimming The Surface

I went walking on another golf course on Monday – Mount Elgin Golfers Club.  The owners of Tarandowah have bought it so I get to wander in two places.  Unlike Tarandowah, Mount Elgin has many trees, with a nice mix of coniferous and deciduous.  Plus about six ponds.  Tarandowah has none.

What especially enthralled me were the birds.  Canada geese were wherever water was, and they also enjoyed sauntering down the fairways.  They honked whenever I got close but didn’t take off.  Hopefully they sensed that I was a benign human being, and had no interest in scaring them.  They received a wide berth.

What I love about Canada geese is that they’re almost always in pairs.  I think we’re meant to have a partner in life.  I wonder what those couples talk about.  Probably the same stuff we do.

I walked the front nine and then came into the clubhouse for a beer.  Lindsay is one of the staff members and she asked me if I had seen any babies.  Sadly, no.  But I was on the lookout when I returned to the green grass.  And on hole 14 or so, under a weeping willow, there was the family, including four little fuzzballs. The parents were staring me down but I just wanted to see the waddling from afar.  So cute.  Lindsay smiled later when I told her.

Although I enjoyed the presence of the gooselets, another species was the star of the show for me.  Swallows, with tinges of blue on their wings.  There must have been fifty of them on the various ponds, and oh, can they fly!  They’d zoom about six inches above the water, making wild turns.  Occasionally, their beaks would gobble up an insectal morsel as the bod motored on at supersonic speed.  I just stared at the grace and athleticism.

I tried following the flight of one bird but that was a challenge,  what with so many streaking over the pond.  And I was left with the question:  “Do they ever land?”  Not that I could see.  What anaerobic fitness!  What air speed records!  What a rush for this fairly stationary human being.

It could be said that I come for the flying, not the golfing.  I’m glad the feathered ones are in my life.

Bloom Where You’re Replanted

I’m waiting for Jody’s bronze plaque to be inserted into a recessed spot on the back of her bench.  My dear wife will be known in front of the Belmont post office.  I’m so happy I’m doing this.

In Memory Of
Jody Kerr
A marvelous human being and my life wife
I love you, my dear Jodiette

When I was hatching my plan, I was happy to see a deciduous tree behind the bench, shading all who sit there on a hot summer’s day.  I want the place to be a refuge for all Belmontonians, actually for everyone who comes by and lingers awhile.

A few weeks ago, I was driving by and something seemed to be missing.  The tree!  It had been removed.  It had looked a little worse for the wear but I hadn’t expected a disappearance.

I moped about this reality for a week or two and finally decided to talk to Eva in the post office.  “I sure hope Canada Post will be replacing that tree.”  “Oh yes, but it’ll take some time before they come up with the money.”  (Sigh)

And then I did what any virgin Belmontonian would have done in my circumstance:

“I’ll buy the tree”

Eva smiled.  Me too.

The next day I sauntered off to Canadale Nurseries to seek a tree.  I wanted a big maple, fast growing, with brilliant red leaves in the fall.  “That would be an Autumn Blaze,” so said Jim, the knower of all things plantacious.  “We don’t have any in stock but I can get a fifteen footer next April.”

And so it will be.  For Jody.  For me.  For Belmont.  For human beings everywhere.  The tree will grow 2-3 feet a year, topping out at around 50 feet, most likely after I’ve exited the planet.  May it bring joy to us all.

Condo … Part Two

 

I walked into the Belmont Diner and sat down, ready for poached eggs, bacon, home fries, brown toast … and peanut butter.  When Chrystal saw me, she came right over.  “I was wrong.  Glenn’s condos aren’t on Manning Drive.  They’re on the northeast corner of town, by the water tower.”  Okay then.   Once I finish slurping my coffee, I’ll head out there to get the lay of the land.  Shortly thereafter, the door opens and in walks a guy.  He sits beside me at the horseshoe lunch counter.  Chrystal makes an appearance once more.  “This is Glenn.  And Glenn, this is the guy I told you about.”  Serendipity!

We gabbed and chewed a bit and then he suggested I come over to see the model home.  Fifteen minutes later I was at his doorstep.  We talked and walked for an hour-and-a-half.  From the map of the development, it looked like there was a lot available backing onto the farmer’s field to the north … a long view.  Something I treasure.

There was a cheque in my pocket earmarked for Wellington Manor, the big condo building in St. Thomas.  I whipped it out and re-earmarked it to Glenn.  There.  Deposit delivered.  Home reserved.  Bruce happy.  Should I have done more research, more thinking?  Naw.  Lot 4 at 12 Robin Ridge Drive was calling my name.  Strike while the iron is hot and all that.

In the week between then and now, I’ve met lots of my fellow condoers, mostly by walking around and saying hi.  I even knocked on my next door neighbour’s door to welcome her to my world.  Sharon very kindly showed me all through her home.  Oh my goodness.  In four months I’ll be in a very similar sanctuary, with Bruceness inserted into every nook and cranny.

Glenn and I have pored over the plans and come to an agreement about the design.  And yesterday I went to Patene’s to pick out brick and shingles.  Among the brick colours available for Glenn’s condos was a warm orangish-brown variety, with some of the bricks having a touch of grey or white.  Beautiful.  I asked for the addresses of homes that were built using this colour and found out that only three homes in the entire London region qualified.  “Weird,” I thought.  There were 50 or 60 homes constructed with my second favourite brick – a reddish brown hue.

Oh well, I guess my tastes are different from the vast majority.  I drove off to London to view my colour.  Google had given me directions and the target structure was number 2088 on a curving street.  As the road moved leftward, I checked out the numbers … 2044, 2048, 2052.  And then what to my wondering eyes should appear but a two-storey home decked out in the most lovely orangish-brown brick.  I pulled Scarlet to a halt, got out and leaned against my car.  I just stared.  The brick sang to me.  It was so beautiful.  So warm, so homey, so me.

Tomorrow the journey continues.

My Golf … The Course

Can you fall in love with a piece of land?  I say yes.  For me, it’s the Tarandowah Golfers Club near Avon, Ontario.  Years ago, the farmers who owned the property decided that they wanted to build a championship golf course there.  They recruited a British golf architect, Martin Hawtree, to create a masterpiece in rural Southern Ontario.  And Martin came through.

Tarandowah is a links course, which usually means a track by the sea with dry fairways, deep pot bunkers, wild fescue grass in the rough … and wind.  My home way from home has all that, except for waves lapping on the shore.  It’s an environment of the heart for me.  For the first time in my life, I’ve found a course where I love every hole.  All eighteen of them have character, the sense of a unique place in the world.  And there aren’t any condo developments surrounding the fairways … just more farm land.  The content thrives within a context of peace, lingering and birds on the wing.

I would love to get to the point where the score matters not.  Walking on the land does.  Hitting some shots that fly off the clubface and touch the sky.  Finding the out-of-the-way spots between fairways, high points of land where I can see much of the journey through the front and back nines.  A relationship to the earth.

I think of the sixth hole, a honey of a par four with an elevated tee and a big mound of fescue in the middle of the fairway.  That’s not a mistake.  It’s an opportunity to see that life throws us lots of curve balls.  A fine drive that ends up in six inches of grass.  A hard fairway that turns a “down the middle” drive into a sideways bounce, plopping my ball into a deep sand trap.

I yearn to find companions who will join with me in seeing the beauty of the holes before having thoughts about the golf swing.  People who will pause in wonder on the tees before smacking the little white ball down the fairway.  Folks who love Tarandowah … and may the score rest where it does.

I yearn to be a member out there near Avon.  To come to the course as the sun rises.  To just sit near the 13th green, way out at the far end of Tarandowah, letting the beauty in.

There are over a hundred deep bunkers.  What if I wanted to spend time in each of them?  Was okay with my ball bouncing into the creek that pops its head up all over the place?  Smiled after my final scorecard count was 120?  Would that be golf?  I think so.

Singing Voices

I went to a concert last night featuring Judy Collins and Garnet Rogers.  Judy was a folk music icon in the 60s and Garnet sang beside his brother Stan on many a stage in the 70s.  Both have thrived as performers ever since.

Garnet opened the evening with several songs, great stories all.  That’s what I usually glom onto but yesterday it was the voice.  Garnet has a deep baritone. The Aeolian Hall has renowned acoustics.  And the sound guy was brilliant.  The result was my mouth opening in wonder as Garnet sang.  The vibrations coursed through me.

Soon it was Judy’s turn and she picked up right where he left off.  Her glorious soprano reached towards the vaulted ceiling.  And her face was so soft as she sang.  Once more my whole body was silent as the melodies enveloped me. Time stood still.  I stood still.

The grand finale was a duet … Garnet and Judy singing Stan’s “Northwest Passage”.  Such an anthem of exploring northern Canada and the interior spaces of a human being.  Stillness squared.

Thank you for the music.

Still The Same

Such a wonderful face, their mother’s.  As a younger woman she’d been beautiful, far more beautiful than Laurel, more so than any of her daughters, with the possible exception of Daphne.  She certainly wouldn’t have had directors pushing her towards character roles.  But one thing you could bank on was that beauty – the sort that came with youth – didn’t last, and their mother had grown old.  Her skin had sagged, spots had appeared, along with mysterious puckers and discolorations.  Her bones had seemed to subside as the rest of her shrank and her hair frayed to nothing.  But still that face remained, every aspect bright with mischief, even now.  Her eyes, though tired, had the glint of one who never stopped expecting to be amused, and her mouth turned up at the corners as if she’d just remembered a joke.  It was the sort of face that drew strangers, that enchanted them and made them want to know her better.  The way she had of making you feel, with a slight twitch of the jaw, that she too had suffered as you did, that everything would be better now simply for having come within her orbit.  That was her real beauty – her presence, her joy, her magnetism.  That, and her splendid appetite for make-believe.

(I wrote this down more than a year ago, but I can’t remember the author.)

***

Old French Lane

Seven jewels lie in the channel
South of England’s shores
Where you and I once walked together
Where I’ll walk no more

Hand in hand we would go
In the sun and in the rain
Through the streets of St. Helier
Down the Old French Lane

With Jersey sunshine falling on your hair
Shines in strands of red and gold
And eyes of green like the emerald sheen
Of your ancestral home

That was so long ago
Red and gold turn silver now
But eyes of green will never change
In my memory somehow

***

“She’s an attractive woman.”  So said a friend about another friend, who’s in her 50’s.  Yes, our faces are no longer as smooth and upright as a 20-year-old’s.  Under the chin, the skin dangles.  But the eyes still shine.  The smile appears at the flimsiest excuse.  And the soul so often comes to the surface for all to see.

Phlox

They’re little flowers, some of them purple and some of them white, that grow in ditches and woodlots in Southwestern Ontario.  They’re very pretty.  I first encountered these beauties in June, 1990 when I took the bus across the country to find an apartment for Jody and me in London.  I was walking in the woods near Western University, rounded a corner on the trail and came face-to-face with a bevy of floral sublimity.

Did I just say “bevy of floral sublimity”?  Hmm.  Perhaps it’s a mental problem.

Phlox only blossom during the first two weeks of June.  So like human lives, we need to cherish them while they’re with us.   I read an article recently (Or did I listen to a talk?  Or did a friend just say it to me?) about beautiful things being beautiful because they’re impermanent.  I believe that’s true.  Jody’s great spirit was a blessing to me.  I revere the moments we had together, knowing that, in this physical life, they are now gone.  But Jodiette, may we rediscover each other in different bodies next time.

I drove to the small town of Bothwell today to visit a friend.  Bunches of phlox said hi along the way.  I wanted to possess them, make them mine forever.  Sorry, guy.  Life doesn’t work that way.  For part of the trip, I scanned the horizon, left and right, trying so very hard to find phlox.  Eventually I woke up and let that intense focus fade away.  From then on, my eyes softened, and phlox sometimes just came into view.  I took in the broad canvas of the natural world as I reflected on Jody’s words:  “I am all trees, Bruce.  I welcome you everywhere.”  Soft welcoming feels so much better than concentrated searching.

Thank you for today, dear phlox.  See you next year, I hope.

Clothes

I started one day a month ago but I couldn’t handle it.  I stopped.  And this morning I began again.

I know that I need to get Jody’s clothes out of the house, but it’s hard.  So many memories of my darling wife enjoying her bright ensemble.  One of the first items I looked at was Jody’s wedding dress.  What a fine day that was … June 25, 1988.  My sister-in-law Nona said that I could put the dress in storage, but that didn’t feel right, and it still doesn’t.  I’m going to give all of Jody’s clothes to Goodwill.  Right now, I’m looking at a 24×36″ poster of my lovely wife that’s hanging on our family room wall.  She’s beautifully wrapped in the dress and veil.  But all that whiteness is not the woman I love.  “Let go of my clothes, Bruce.  They’re not me.”  Okay, Jodiette.

My favourite photo of Jody is of her sitting in a Quebec City restaurant, looking at me.  She’s wearing a short-sleeved top, with horizontal stripes of light and dark blue.  When I found it hanging in our closet a month ago, I held it to my chest and cried.  “Let it go, Bruce.”  So I did, folding it gently and adding it to the pile in a huge clear plastic bag.  Sigh.

This morning, I made an agreement with myself to work on Jody’s clothes for an hour.  I kept my word.  But now I’m exhausted.  An hour in a closet … remembering, crying and packing.  Also marvelling at the beauty of Jodiette’s tops and pants and dresses.  The colours of the rainbow, reflecting my girl’s embracing of life.  How I miss you, dear one.

I held a scalloped green-turquoise-black dress, adorned with glitter.

“You’re so pretty in these pretty clothes, life wife.”

“Thank you, husband.”

 

Only Birds and Deer Need Apply

I’m visiting my friends Cam and Ann in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto.  Although most of the town seems to be dominated by huge, tall homes that fill nearly all of the lot, I’m sitting in an oasis of peace.  Cam and Ann live in a small house that’s 150 years old.  It’s part of a huge property that her uncle used to own.  He’s donated a small lake, with its surrounding wooded slopes, to the Province of Ontario, with one stipulation: no people will be allowed in this newly created conservation area.  Uncle holds the vision of a sanctuary for wildlife, untroubled by the purposeful activities of mankind.  Ann and other family members will be allowed to walk on the land until they move away from the property.  When they’re gone, no human beings will touch this earth … forever.

Yesterday afternoon, we went walking into another world.  On the shoreline, we watched an owl fly silently across the lake, and a few minutes later heard its mournful hooting.  Otherwise … silence.  The lake was frozen and was decorated with tiny animal tracks going across.  The trees were the tallest of guardians.  Some of them were the most exquisite pines – tall trunks of vibrant red topped by small clumps of needles.  Jody was there with me.

We walked to an old boathouse – a berth on the water topped by a large room with windows viewing the lake, topped by a rooftop patio.  Ann told us about the parties she had enjoyed there as a young person.  Looking down from the roof, I saw a dock extending into the lake, with two railings jutting out of the ice, and I was torn.  I imagined happy swimmers hauling themselves out of the water, lots of laughing, and peaceful moments of companionship as twilight settled over the land.

All the history of humans will end soon.  The birds will fly joyfully.  The deer will bound up and down the slopes unhindered.  A sanctuary for them, and not for us.  I was happy.  I was sad.  Life showing me all its colours once more.  Let both sides embrace you, Bruce.

Toronto – Part 2: Fish Up and Fish Down

After depositing our belongings in the hotel room on Thursday, Neal and I braved the icy blasts and walked four blocks to Ripley’s Aquarium.  I was fully decked out in sweater, toque, parka and mitts, plus Jody’s white scarf wrapped tightly over my nose and mouth.  Oh my God!  I was just so cold.  My mind started heading to “I’m bad” but I nipped that in the bud.  Not bad, just sick.

Inside the building, I revelled for a minute in my senior reality.  I saved $10.00 off the adult price.  But the glee faded quickly when I saw the first tank just down the hall, populated with wild splotches of colour.  What came through was the warmth of peace.  I was somewhere special.

The upper tank was a tall cylinder full of large fish of every hue.  Actually, some seemed to have no hue, but all of the residents moved with such grace.  A lower and wider tank was teeming with small fishies, just as glorious as the big guys.

I just stared at all this flowing life.  Soon, I saw us human beings inside that aquarium too.  We’re so different from each other in how we colour our lives.  Some of us show the world a bigness of spirit, and some of us keep that part well hidden.  But we all can swim.

I didn’t know the names of any of these fish, although I could have studied the nearby signs.  I didn’t want to.  No labels please.  I just wanted to drink in the beauty.

Further down the hallway, I came upon a giant cylindrical tank that stretched way above my head.  It was crammed with silver fish, each about six inches long.  They were in a “school”, and seemed to hover in place … all these parallel lines of beings.  And again I saw us, this time how we are identical in our hearts, in wanting to be happy, in wanting to love and be loved.  I stared some more.

Many more tanks of fish beckoned me along the way.  A long pedestrian tunnel showed sting rays and sharks above, accompanied by far smaller swimmers.  The world was full of movement.  The curved glass distorted the size of the fish.  And soon it was my head that was swimming.  Dizzy.  Nauseous.  All I could do was sit down on a bench and wait for Neal’s return.  He came and went and came back again.  I sat and reeled.  I closed my eyes.  Families passed by in bubbles of excited chatter.  I faded.  My stomach rolled.  Both the happy variety of fish/human beings and their exquisite school of sameness were long gone.  I was sad.

I decided to follow the path of overhead fish to its end, and emerged to sit in front of a blessedly flat tank full of sting rays.  The huge ones rested on the sand floor, occasionally rousing themselves to float over the rock outcroppings.  The small ones pressed their bellies near the glass and climbed.  Although I was looking at their breathing apparatus, it sure looked like a lot of smiling faces to me.  And I had to smile back, despite the pain.  Messengers had come to tell me it would be all right.

And life is definitely fine, thank you.  I’ll just keep swimming through all the waters of the world.  Sights abound.