Skunks

It’s after sunset now and I just went outside to bring the Baltimore oriole and hummingbird feeders in.  If I don’t do that, chances are good that raccoons will climb the poles and go for the goodies, breaking some plastic stuff in the process.

It’s really dark at the side of my home and I was thinking about something as I rounded the corner to the backyard.  And … Zap!  Munching sunflower seeds below my other feeders were three skunks.  My heart pounding skyrocketed and I was rooted to the spot.  And then my mind took over:

They’re going to spray you.  Get out of there!

I consider myself somewhat evolved but there I was, back in cave man days.  Fight or flight.  It’s all about survival.  I could feel my body shaking and I was universes away from appreciating the grace of the animals.  The person I thought Bruce was had disappeared … in a flash.  I had no control over my consciousness, and I scurried back around the corner.

Back in the living room, I turned on the outside lights.  Two of my black and white friends were still chowing down.  The white stripe on their backs formed a Y shape and their tails were pointing to the sky.  And I realized that they are indeed very beautiful animals.  It was like they were models wearing tuxedos.

Skunks aren’t the only creatures that I react to with knee jerk responses.  Certain groups of humans bring automatic negative thoughts out of me.  I’m sad that this is the case.  My job is not to act on such explosions of judgment.  And when I turn on the light of living, I see that these beings are lovely to behold.  They need not reduce me to fear but instead can unfold me into brotherhood and sisterhood.

 

Jumping So High

I watched some Grade 5 and 6 kids in the gym today. They were practicing for the high jump. And they soared. Not one knocked the bar off its perch. I was enthralled by the beauty of flowing bodies.

Some were clearly athletes. They threw their backs over and legs followed suit easily … way over the bar. One girl was a little overweight and didn’t have the grace of some others as she approached the pit. But she got over – every time. And the gym exploded with applause at each of her triumphs. It was community.

There’s something about the high jump that transfixes me. Human beings leaving the fetters of their grounded life to be one with the creatures of the air … ever so briefly. May these children rise above in their lives, living moments where the hum and the drum fade into the background, replaced by the bliss of unselfish love, a blinding insight or an act of pure kindness. For we are beings of the stratosphere, citizens of the inner sweetness, followers of an unknown song.

May we never fall back to earth.

Loveliness

I’ve witnessed moments of grace over the last few days.  Here are three of them:

1.  I went to a folk music concert at a couple’s home.  My chair was four feet from the piano player and I was immersed in the sweetness of the tunes.  And then the unexpected: A 40-ish fellow got up and approached a woman sitting on the couch.  I’d guess she was in her 70’s.  He extended his hand.  She smiled and offered hers.  She stood.  And they danced to the music – a soft twirling motion accompanied by more smiles.  It was lovely.  The whole was truly greater than the sum of the parts.  We the audience were quiet … and so very present to the sublimity, I believe.

2.  I met a jolly gentleman, really a gentle giant.  He asked me to look at his book.  It was a little thing, with each page headed by a date of the year.  It sounds like a diary, and I guess that was its original purpose, but my friend had turned it into a birthday book.  He asked me to sign it, and give my phone number, on the appropriate page.  I quite naturally chose January 9.  Maybe twenty other human beings were listed there.  Good for us.

The best part is that this fellow phones each of us and sings “Happy Birthday”.  Thousands of folks are serenaded on their special day.  Such a big wow.  Such a gift.

3.  I’ve been in Toronto the last couple of days.  I usually park at the train station before heading downtown.  This time there was a gate blocking the area of the lot where I park Scarlet.  But there were still some public spaces on the far side.  I went up to the train attendant to find out what was happening.  The woman was behind her panel of glass but she also moved right into my heart.  Her gaze into my eyes was constant and soft.  She explained all the ins and outs of the changes and clarified when I got confused.  But she could have been reciting names in the phone book for all I cared.  I was bathed in her kindness.  I was transfixed by her presence.  I was thankful for her existence.

***

May I continue to attract such moments
May people continue to express their beauty
May I have eyes to see and ears to hear

Belmont Aglow

I love my village.  Belmont hosts 2800 souls in Ontario, Canada.  And tonight it’s snowing, about an inch so far.

Down Main Street, about 15 glowing snowmen look down from power poles, ushering me towards Belmont Community Park.  It’s a cozy place … paths through parkland surrounding a pond, with land climbing sharply towards an arc of backyards.  Around the pond, spotlights show me wondrous displays:

A replica of Belmont United Church, and a wish for Christmas peace

Another of St. Andrews United Church, with little boxes of Love, Hope, Peace and Joy – some of my favourite words

A mini fire truck from the Belmont firefighters, the cab light flashing

A mom, dad, daughter and son … all bundled up and singing merrily

The red outline of a huge star perched on the far hill, guiding us on our way

Santa’s workshop in full toy-making force

Big Peace, Love and Joy signs beside the path, reminding me of my recent retreat

Santa and his reindeer, caught midflight in the minds of childhood

Moving white lights bringing a horse and carriage to life

Neon outlined gifts, ready for Christmas morning

***

And through it all, the snow keeps falling
Happy am I

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.