Golf Balls

When I was a kid, I’d often show up at the Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto.  At 6:00 am on Saturday mornings.  Juniors could tee off starting at 7:00 and meanwhile I had a job to do – replenishing my dwindling supply of golf balls from the flow of the Don River.  I had so much fun getting so wet.

Decades later, Jody and I enjoyed walking by the Oldman River in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Lovely trees in the river bottom, a golf course beside and always the flow of water gurgling nearby.  I didn’t need to find golf balls but I did it anyway, much to my dear wife’s amusement.  And the joy I felt when a white treasure winked up at me from the fallen leaves!

Yesterday, it was pouring buckets but I wanted to walk the fairways and rough of Tarandowah Golfers Club, a spiritual home of mine.  I put on rain pants and my trusty winter coat.  In the parking lot sat three lonely cars, one belonging to the ever hopeful pro who stood patiently in the clubhouse.  He knew about my shtick:  “Enjoy your walk, Bruce.”

Off I went into the stiff breeze and the barrage of raindrops.  I was just so happy!  I sauntered down the middle of the first fairway, all alone in the world.  Behind the first green, the grass falls down to a creek.  That’s where I needed to go.  I searched amid the long leafiness, seemingly without success.  Then a small white object appeared, tucked into its nest of grasses.  And – no more than a foot away – another ball made my acquaintance.  Joy times two!

I have a system, no doubt set in place to massage my ego after a round of 112 at Tarandowah.  When I’m walking, and not playing, I par a hole when I find one ball there.  Two balls is a birdie, no balls a bogey.  So par for the entire course is having my pockets bulge with 18 of the little darlings.  My record has been 22 under par (40 balls)  which would equate to a score of 50 in the real game of golf – eight strokes better than anyone has ever accomplished.  I’ve told a few golfers about my clubless exploits but they all seemed unimpressed.

Wow – it was getting wet out there, but happily I was three under par after four holes.  Now for the gem:  The fifth is a long uphill par four with a farmer’s field bordering it to the right.  The soil was gooey, the pondlets were several, the shoes squished at nearly every step.  But look what I found!  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, … 33 golf balls poked their dimples at me.

Many a time, I thrust my forefinger into the mud and pried out the prize.  Some wiping on my rain pants and into the pocket it went.  As you might suspect, my coat has big pockets, and as I finally trudged back to the clubhouse, I looked like a squirrel with its cheeks full of nuts for the winter.  But there was nobody around to see my personal vestige of loveliness.  Oh well, I knew I was glorious … complete with mud smears, coated hands and wet everything, despite the rain protection.  I was just so dirty … so wild … so strange.

The grand total?  43 balls, which represents a new standard for all golfers to aspire to.  I expect any moment now that my doorbell will ring and TSN/ESPN/CNN will come calling.

Space

I spent years in the Rockies, hiking the trails above treeline and others deep in forests.  Long views were everywhere.  I had room to move, rather than some of my employment situations, where it felt like I was wearing a large cardboard box over my head.

Lately, my room to roam has been walking the fairways of Tarandowah, the golf course I love.  So sweet to be immersed in that world.  But are there other possibilities in Southern Ontario?

Heading west from Belmont today, I was imagining another golfing journey.  I know my route – south on Belmont Road, east on Yorke Line, cross Dorchester Road, cross Imperial Road, cross Whittaker Road.  But today I found myself turning left on the gravel of Whittaker, just to see what was there.

Well, I knew that further on was Lake Whittaker Conservation Area.  Jody and I had been years ago, but I couldn’t remember what it was like.  Lakeshore trail, I guessed.  Woods, meadows.  As I approached the park gate, I was pretty blasé.  Guess I’ll go for a walk.

But then …

Past some bushes, the lakeshore was revealed, as well as a hundred Canada geese floating serenely.  And their calls echoed above the trees.  I paused.

Then the woods.  Corridors of fir trees, with the late afternoon light slanting through.  I gasped.

Later, waist high grass in the fields, escorted by golden larch trees.  Everything shining.  I simply stopped.

My mind was large
My heart was open
My world was free

Training

I’m zipping along beside fields and woodlots, on the train from London to Toronto.  I feel like doing a real time reflection on the sights flowing past my window.  So here goes:

1. Slowly pulling away from downtown London.  The backside of one business is tortured with coils of razor wire, reminding me of horrifying war movies and the real human beings who were imprisoned within such monstrosities.

2. Searching for St. David’s in Dorchester, a school that I loved visiting as an itinerant vision teacher.  I fear that I’m on the wrong side of the train and gaze over the heads of the folks to the right.  But there’s nothing.  I missed it.  I’m a wee bit sad since I love glimpsing familiar places, even if only for a second.

3. It’s a cloudy day and so the spectacular fall colours are muted.  I’m disappointed.  I yearn for the brilliance.  It reminds me of the guy who came to my home a couple of days ago to calibrate my new TV.  He said that manufacturers set up their TVs to really pop in showrooms – neon greens and whites full of blue.  It sells the product but creates an unreality, with precious little play of details.  I decide to take my trees as they come.

4. Orange traffic signs piled against a fence – One Way, Slow, Detour, and a whole bunch of arrows pointing every which way.  It’s such an image of the frantic life … “Go here.  Now go there.  Do this.  Don’t do that.”  No thanks.

5. Seeking interesting stuff.  Having an agenda to find the next stimulus.  “How about, Bruce, if you soften those eyes of yours and just let things appear?”  Okay.  Who cares if I write about six sights, or twenty-six?

6. Here comes a circular water tower – white at the top, then a pinched in blue section, followed by a white bottom.  Seems to be a uniform design throughout Southern Ontario.  I’m reminded of the Belmont water tower.  My new home sits nearby.  Whether I’m returning from the north, south, east or west, there’s a beacon above the trees.  “Welcome home.”

7. A street of houses facing the tracks.  What must that be like?  Would the people there really be able to tune out all the noise?  Please give me quiet.

8. Stopped at the Brantford station.  Rows of tracks.  Houses over there past the fence.  Part of me wants movement, change … but the bigger part just lets everything stay put.

9. A young woman in the seat in front of me is playing with her hair.  All I see is her left hand, with ever moving strands of hair passing between her fingers.  It’s very beautiful.

10. The field beside tilts and rolls.  Where corn used to be are now marvelous curves, sensuous like a woman’s body.  I’m aroused.

11. Towering cliffs with tiny people on the top ledge.  I want to be them, casting myself into a view full of reds, oranges and yellows.  Do they want to be me, on a journey to distant lands?

12. A station called Aldershot.  It appears to be in the middle of nowhere, no homes or businesses in sight.  Just a whole bunch of railway cars.  How strange – a place with no sense of place.

13. Piles of glittering silver junk, fronted by a green metal fence flooded with unknown graffiti.  I don’t know how to make sense of it all.

14. Poking above the fall trees are blocky hotels.  Such a contrast.  I like both, usually not at the same time.  I’ll take action, please.  And now serenity.

15. Twenty minutes from downtown Toronto.  Feeling the pull away from the here-and-now, towards completion of the task … proofreading, pressing Enter to launch my words into the universe, packing up, walking into my next world.

See you there

A Beating Heart

I’m thrilled that the lot where my new home will stand backs onto a farmer’s field.  It’ll be corn this year and beans the next.  Beyond the field, the land slopes up so my horizon is dotted with farm homes and silos.    Oh my.  I love long views and come September I’ll have one.

As an expression of obsession, I showed up yesterday after sunset.  The sky was still pink to the west and the spread of clouds above me covered the world.  I was in big sky country.  Dots of farmstead lights comforted me … my neighbours were home, enjoying their cozy living rooms and kitchens.

But what’s that?  A flashing dot of red way to the north.  I contracted.  It was the same reaction as I have seeing flashing Christmas lights on a house – no!  It brought up pictures of industry, stores and a frantic pace.  That’s not what I want.  But it’s what I will have.

I watched my body and my feelings fall on the negative side.  “Just be with it, Bruce.”  And I did.  The beat was slow, maybe 40 a minute.  As I gazed northward for awhile, there came a shift in energy, just a bit at first but then a stream and then a flood.  The light was love.  It was a heart.  It was Jody.  It was all the folks that I hold dear.  I kept looking.  The speed of the city intruded a bit but then gradually faded into the rhythm of life.

As I explored the perimeter of my lot in the darkness, I discovered that at certain points trees hid the telecommunication tower.  No red.  Disappointment … glee … disappointment.  So in the fall I’ll be able to embrace the heart or let it step aside.  To see a symbol of civilization or to feel the farms.  Life will rush towards me either way.

Watching The Land

I drove from London towards Tarandowah this afternoon.  I was out in the country, on Scotland Drive.  And I looked around.

Lots of rolling farm fields interspersed with woodlots.  I love the curves of the land … no sharp angles or straight lines.  They mirror the flow I often feel inside me.  And there’s a sentinel tree on top of a rise, its bare branches reaching out in a gesture of grace.  Lovely.

But what’s this?  There’s a line of towers up ahead, crossing the road at right angles.  I know we need electricity but the huge man-made structures intrude in my head.  I thank the unknown powers that the towers aren’t paralleling Scotland Drive, accompanying me all the way.  Crossing their path, however, is okay.  I’m happy to wish them goodbye.

Here comes an old barn with its grey vertical boards.  Half of it has fallen down in a heap of wood.  And that too is okay.  I welcome the old and passing.  So impermanent, this life.

And then there’s a field, jam packed with solar panels, facing away from me.  My stomach turns.  It’s such a mass of flat angled surfaces.  The next field too.  How strange my mind wanders.  Solar energy is such a boon for mankind but I can’t get beyond my distaste for rectangles.  It reminds me of a subdivision in Calgary, Alberta – cookie cutter homes only a few feet from each other.

As Scotland climbs its last kilometre towards its T intersection with Belmont Road, I see living beings on the horizon … silhouettes of cows and horses.  I like that too.  Seems that I’m an old fashioned type of guy.

Day Seventeen … Jake and Mr. Redbird

I wonder if I’m obsessed with the play Jake’s Women.  I guess the answer is yes.  Until Wednesday at 7:29 pm, I had watched Jake do his thing six times – three in Belleville, Ontario and three in London, Ontario.  I want to be Jake.  As of 7:30, however, make that seven.  I bipped down to Bellingham, Washington, just south of Vancouver, to sit in the gorgeous Mount Baker Theatre and dream of February, 2016 in St. Thomas, Ontario, when hopefully theatregoers will be watching me do my thing.

I auditioned for the part of Jake just before I left for the west.  How completely strange that I wasn’t nervous.  Before I was called into the inner sanctum, I talked to some kids in the lobby of the Princess Avenue Playhouse.  They were making puppets in a drama workshop.  One of the girls was playing Little Red Riding Hood in a few days.  Her name was Maddie.  Nice human being.

A bit later, I was ushered into a room where a man and a girl were sitting at a table.  It was Ross (the director) and … Maddie.  She was trying out for the part of Molly, Jake’s 12-year-old daughter.  Ross had us read from the script, especially scenes where Molly and I were together.  I’m sure he was watching for the chemistry between us.  No worries, Ross.  I really liked Maddie and she liked me.  At the end of the audition, Ross said that we had both done well.

Back in the lobby, I told Maddie that I hoped she gets the part, and she said the same to me.  We smiled and shook hands.  It was a great moment.

Okay, back to Wednesday.  Mount Baker was a very small theatre. The set was square and the audience inclined upwards on all sides.  Jake sometimes was just a few feet from me.  I almost jumped up and said, “I want to be Jake too!”  Somehow I restrained myself.  Jake was dynamic – sometimes tender, subtle, pissed off, and – for ten minutes or so with his new girlfriend Sheila – crazy.  I watched him like a hawk, including when other actors were speaking.  So many facial expressions.  Pauses that worked beautifully.  Real.

After the stage faded to black, I gave the actors a standing ovation.  Every single one of them deserved it.  I soon realized that I was the only person standing.  Oh well.  I stayed up.  As Jake left the stage, he smiled at me.  Jake to Jake, I do believe, but Ross may have other ideas.  We’ll see.

Since I’m essentially a conservative person, I’m going to resist with all my being the idea of showing up at the Mount Baker Theatre tomorrow night to see Jake’s Women again.  I mean, there is such a thing as too much.  Wouldn’t you agree?  (8!)

Jake was really on Day Sixteen but Mr. Redbird was definitely Day Seventeen.  I headed off to the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary to see the feathered ones.  I’d been once before, about 40 years ago, and I had this great memory of thousands of white seabirds soaring through the air, just like in a National Geographic TV show.  But it was not to be.  No clouds of moving white.  Instead, as I wandered the gravel paths, I had company … strings of Canada geese and ducks, waddling along as calm as you please.  As long as I moved slowly and predictably, they just passed me.  Some of them smiled.

At the edge of one large pond, a woman told me that there were four great blue herons sitting in a tree across the way.  I saw one on the dead branches.  But the grey of the wood soon morphed into three other splotches of bird life.  Farther away, three more herons were perched on snags.  Then a lady or gentleman swooped down near by and took up a fish-seeking position only about 25 metres from me.  (8!)

I spent some time up the observation tower, watching swallows swoop over the marshes.  That was fun.  When I got down, I saw a young woman sitting with a girl who appeared to have Down Syndrome.  The woman was holding out her hand and a red-winged blackbird was perched on it, eating seeds.  “Do you want to try?”  “Yes, thank you.”  She gave me a handful of a sunflower seed/millet mixture and I practiced being perfectly still.  Seems I know a bit about doing that.  In less than a minute, Mr. Redbird came to say hello.  Oh my.  He pecked away so industriously.  He hardly weighed anything.  And his black claws dug into my fingers just a wee bit.  Plus we made eye contact.  For at least fifteen minutes, we had good quality time.  One time, a second red one alit on my wrist.  They took turns pecking at the seeds.  Very courteous.  Only once did they have a spat, but then returned quickly to their “After you” rhythm.  Thank you, birdies.  I had a fine time.

Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii is an archipelago of 150 islands north of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and an eight-hour ferry ride west of the BC mainland.  It means “islands of the people”, the aboriginal Haida people.  It used to be called the Queen Charlotte Islands.  Thank goodness Canada now recognizes its native residents by name.

I’m going there – in June, 2016.  I’ll be spending eight days on a sailing ship with seven other guests and a crew of four or five.  Wow.  I’m really doing this.  Jody and I wanted to explore the BC coast together, but alas, that was not to be.  Except that Jodiette says she’ll be at my side every wave of the way.  Thank you, my wife.

I’m likely to see humpback whales, bald eagles, dolphins, sea lions, very large black bears, and maybe killer whales.  I will listen to Haida elders talk of their totem poles and their spiritual life.  I will enjoy the company of my new friends onboard.  And I will meditate on God’s vast reach on our planet.

On a trip to Haida Gwaii a few weeks ago, here are some notes from the captain:

This morning we visited K’uuna (Skedans), and as we approached we had another humpback whale on the starboard side.  We counted 100 bald eagles at Skedans Islands.

I can anticipate, plan, expect and predict … but my journey will unfold as it should.  What if I never see a humpback?  Then that’s how it is.  What if my roommate turns out to be a macho young fellow.  Then that’s how it is.  What if it rains and pours for the whole trip?  So be it.  My heart will be open.  My spirit will soar.  Whatever happens, I expect to be stunned into silence every day.

I’m so glad I’m going.

Make Some Noise … Listen to the Quiet

I went to a hockey game last night.  The London Knights (ages 16-20) were playing Niagara.  I didn’t handle it very well.  The announcer regularly yelled out “Make Some Noise”, accompanied by flashing red lights.  A noise meter calculated the crowd’s response.  Sigh.  I just didn’t want to.  Then there were the fights.  One time, a London player slugged a Niagara player so that he dropped to one knee.  Some unnecessary portion of the fan base squealed with delight.  I just didn’t want to.  And I shouldn’t omit the work of the referees.  The fellow beside me favoured section 113 with many calls to arms, such as “Hey, ref!  You suck.”  I truly didn’t want to join in.

I guess I’m a queer duck.  What I most enjoyed during the evening was singing “O Canada”, watching some sublime passing plays by the Knights, and walking through the concourse between periods, silently sending “I wish you well” messages to the people I saw.

As for the game, my zip was zapped.  Other times, I would stand up and cheer when the Knights scored.  Not last night.  And that could have been me dancing in the aisle during a stoppage in play.  Another evening, that is.  I just need quiet now, as I deal with Jody’s death.

And the quiet was today.  I went for a walk on the classic old golf course that’s around the corner from me.  It’s snowed a lot lately but I didn’t think that would be any big deal.  I was wearing my heavy boots.  I wanted to find my way to the back holes, the ones with tree-lined fairways far from the road.

I discovered that the snow was shin deep, and sometimes to my knees.  But amid all that I was surrounded by silence.  An occasional crow cawed.  The seagulls, however, flew over my head with nary a peep.  Yes please.  I talked to Jody when I stopped making footprints in the snow.  I stood and cried for my dear wife.  I sang her “Annie’s Song” and I almost made it all the way through.

The crunching continued and I started to poop out.  Looking through my sunglasses, I realized that I didn’t have very good depth perception out there.  If the drift ahead of me was climbing to the right, I couldn’t tell, and then suddenly I was knee deep in fatigue.  The seeing was complicated by my little friends the floaters, who sure move around my field of vision a lot.  And as I pulled my feet out of holes, I started worrying that if I fell down I might not be able to get up again.

As I rounded one corner on a fairway at the back of the course, I looked way ahead and saw a human being, sort of.  Actually it was a snowman.  It became a talisman for me … Get to the snowman.  And I did, minutes later, and quite heavy of foot.  I said hi and shook his little stick hand.  He was the only one around, and I was pretty sure he didn’t think I was crazy.  It was comforting to chat for a few minutes.  Then we said goodbye to each other and I plodded onward.

A long hill, complete with a few sections that touched my knees, had me thinking about mortality.  I had to stop every twenty steps or so to get my breath.  It reminded me of mountaineering movies I’ve seen where the climbers were making such slow and painful progress at high altitudes.  The St. Thomas Golf and Country Club is not exactly Everest, but I could relate.

I was exhausted, and Jody was there to help.  “You’re doing great, Bruce.  I’m proud of you.”  Thank you, my wife.  I plotted a route where I wouldn’t lose elevation as I aimed for the clubhouse parking lot.  Slow, slow, slow.  And then I saw some angels – footprints in the deep snow.  When I got to them, I noticed that the person’s boot size was pretty close to mine.  Yay.  And so I stumbled from hole to hole, thanking my newfound and currently absent friend for his or her generosity.

I made it.  Solid asphalt.  The winding road took me to the course entrance gate and back to civilization.  Thank you, Jodiette.  Thank you, the silence.  Thank you, winter wonderland.  You’re where I need to be.

Walking in Port

Port Stanley is a cute village on the shores of Lake Erie, about four kilometres south of where I live in Union.  It was time to do a bit of strolling.  Pretty cold with a fair wind sweeping across the lake.  But the sun shone bright all day!  Toque and mitts well placed, I set off from the downtown.

Gosh, it felt good to move the legs.  I’ve done so little of that since Jody died.  I wanted to walk the long cement pier on the west side of Kettle Creek.  The snow had drifted high, and footprints stumbled unevenly along the way.  The flecks of diamond were in every drift.  I crunched along, trying to stay in the human holes, but I was jostled this way and that.  And I loved it.    Actually putting out some physical effort.  Yes.  Where oh where had my body gone?  Well, I know the answer to that.

When I stopped in the sun to look across the harbour, all was silent.  Even the wind was quiet.  Coming towards me on the path was a tiny human.  I thought I saw a dog beside, but a minute of walking towards each other proved that to be a mirage.  This was the only person I had seen so far … and I had an apparently strange thought.  “Make a contribution to his life, Bruce.”  When we reached each other, we both stopped and smiled.  And talked for five minutes – about the sketchy footing, the sun on our faces, the beauty of Port Stanley, and his home, Port Dover.  Just ordinary chat, but I knew that the contribution was made, in both directions.

When I got a clear view of the lake, I saw that the ice was all tumbled up, especially at the horizon.  Four little specks of humanity were way out there, frolicking on the white sculptures.  Now the wind was blasting hard.  Although I had thoughts of an heroic shoreline amble, my face turned itself onto a street that parallels the beach, where buildings would protect me from the breeze.  Ahh.  Heat those bones, Mr. Sun!

I walked by GT’s on the Beach, a roadhouse with a large patio facing the water.  Jody and I had sat on that patio many times over the years, watching the seagulls, watching the volleyball players, watching each other.  I was stopped by my sorrow.  A tree overhung the table where we often sat.  And Jody spoke.  “Yes, Bruce, I am this tree too, and I want you to sit under it again come the summer, hopefully with friends.  I’ll be there too, husband.”  I’m sure you will, my dear wife.  I’ll do as you ask.

At the end of the street was a dipsy doodle path that wound between tiny cottages before emerging onto another road, one with grand old homes.  And on I went.  After climbing an asphalt hill and turning right, I came upon a back alley that Jody and I had often enjoyed.  Some backyards faced me, and some front ones, as the alley led me on within the wonders of silence.  A wooded hill to my right showed me patterns of sun and shadow among the trees, where Jody welcomed me over and over again.

Eventually I emerged from my reverie into the moving cars of downtown.  Cold it was, which suggested the need for hot chocolate.  So I sat in a café as my hostess melted chocolate and added whipped cream and cinnamon.  What a worthy conclusion to an afternoon out in the world.

Silence, crunchy snow, wind in my face, sun in my soul.   I liked them all.

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.