Peeps

I’m sitting on the patio of the Prenup Pub on College Street in downtown Toronto.  Let’s see who walks by:

1. A young blond woman, hair sparkling in the late afternoon sun, tenderly holding supper in styrofoam

2. An intense young sweatered man, walking head down, cell phone at the ready

3. Dave, my jolly waiter of the encyclopedic beer memory, all decked out in a Union Jack tie

4. A nut-bearing black squirrel, apparently being chased off by two pigeons.  He doesn’t seem too concerned – apparently a rodent on a mission

5. A white woman and a black man, gesturing vigorously, in a sweet way

6. A worn-weary fellow with ponytail and black leather jacket, head bowed, perhaps feeling the weight of the world

7. An elderly Oriental woman, dressed in flecks of purple and white, checking out the three university guys sitting near me.  Her face is poker.  Can’t tell if it’s appreciation, disdain or neutral

8. Mom kneeling down, buttoning up her 10-year-old girl’s sweater.  The kid doesn’t look too pleased with the attention

9. Old gent with two full grocery bags, plopping chunks of bread on the grass across the street.  Ten or so pigeons descend

10. A glom of maybe 25 people, laden with shopping bags and backpacks, nestled in a whole bunch of conversations.  Attending a conference?  An extended family?  Strangers going for a first contact?  Who knows?

***

All nice folks, I do believe.

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

Day Six … Scenes From The Plains

I wound my way from Weyburn, Saskatchewan to Lethbridge, Alberta yesterday … and so did Scarlet.  We saw magical things, and some less so.

1.  A line of power poles stretching to the horizon, unobstructed by trees, the wires dipping gracefully between each

2.  Oxbow creeks, where the stream winds back and forth in tight curves, like a ribbon lying on a table.  No hurry to get anywhere.

3.  Coming over a rise and looking deep down into the river valley, enjoying at least 200 brown cows spread over the meadow beyond and the hills above

4.  Passing old weathered barns and homes of grey boards, some listing to the left or right and others with rooves about to collapse in the middle

5.  Newly painted yellow lines down the middle of my two-lane roads, often smeared by drivers of questionable consciousness.  Sadly, I thought weeks ago that such displays were the marks of inconsiderate Ontarians only, to discover that Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have their share of people wanting to be noticed.

6.  Being lulled by the straight roads only to snap alert when a lake to my right seemed to rise up in gentle folds.  Huh?  Turns out it was a blue field of flax.  For a moment there I thought I’d been transported into an alternative universe.

7.  Seeking out the traditional wooden grain elevators that I used to know and love.  They’re tall rectangles, usually with what looks like a small house growing out of the top.  And always the name of the community proudly displayed on the side.  Now it’s mostly vertical cylinders of cement stuck together with some lattice work of metal on top, reaching for the sky.  (Sigh)  I love tradition.

8.  Bugs splattered all day on my windshield, effectively neutralizing the quality cleaning job I had done in Weyburn.  Just part of the landscape.

9.  Fingers of grey reaching down from the background blue, tempting the earth with rain

10.  Giant shredded wheats scattered  far and wide in the fields, making me long for a late breakfast

And then … after Medicine Hat I started scouring the horizon for my beloved mountains.  “But, Bruce, you can’t see mountains from this far away.”  Well, hope springs eternal.  I used to be good at telling the difference between mountains and clouds, but I seemed to have lost my touch yesterday.  Closer to Lethbridge, I gazed at the downward progression of the sun slightly to my right.  I was so looking forward to the sunset.  Go, sun, go!  Near Taber, I glanced to the left, and there they were … I even recognized Mount Cleveland and Chief Mountain!  “Hello, dear ones.  I’m back.”

I rolled into the yard of Ray and Joy Doram around 9:00.  Ray is Jody’s uncle and he showed my lovely wife great kindness when she was younger.  Another reunion.  I’ll tell you about our cozy conversations tomorrow.

Toronto – Part 1: To and From

Neal and I set off on Thursday morning on the train from London to Toronto.  A big window to look out of, onto a big world.  As we rolled through downtown, I strained to catch a glimpse of an elementary school I taught at for years, a building that has been the source of much joy for me.  All I caught was the spire of the church next door but I knew that friends and students were in the school at that very instant, staying warm and throwing themselves into the life of the community.  It made me happy to know that this was so.

East of London, fields and woodlots flashed by as we picked up speed.  I thought of Jody’s words to me after her death:  “I am all trees, Bruce.  I welcome you everywhere.”  And Jody most surely did.  Groves of bare deciduous trees, groups of evergreens, a single tree spreading its arms in the middle of a field … Jody was all around.  Her words flooded over me, blessing me with her love.  Mile upon mile of Jody holding out her hands to me.  My wife.  My love.

I watched flags along the way, hoping that they would droop on their poles.  But alas, they remained at almost full flap.  And I was scared.  I was sick, and dreaded four days of deep freeze and major wind chill.  I didn’t think I was strong enough to cope with it all.  I needed to be held and warmed.

I saw kids tobogganing down a hill, dressed in their pastel snowsuits.  Wonderful!  Just what kids need.  And horrible!  It’s far too cold for me to join them.  I saw Canada geese winging their way.  I yearned to see a deer and spent nearly an hour trying to spot one.  Not to be.

I watched the man in the window seat in front of me.  (I was on the aisle.)  For awhile, he frantically jabbed away at his computer, with the screen seeming to change every few seconds.  Half an hour later, his laptop was closed and he was asleep.  I marvelled at the contrast.

Across the aisle and forward one seat, an elderly gentleman spent virtually the whole trip looking at a magazine.  It was full of articles about the military and veterans.  He looked so happy, immersed in something that gave his life meaning.

Eventually, fields faded away, to be replaced by, in singer-songwriter David Francey’s words, “good industrial landscapes”.  Toronto had reached out, consuming a lot of the natural world.  But the factories had their good stories too.

***

Homeward bound this afternoon.  This time, my views were severely restricted by an awkwardly placed window.  Mostly, I saw the tops of trees flowing by, no less Jody for their partialness.  Still a blessing.  Neal was on the lookout for deer, and finally I heard “There!”  I had two seconds to glance to my right, just enough time to see about ten of them, heads down in a field.  Yes.  Another blessing wrapped up in constriction.

Everywhere I looked inside the train, passengers were bent over their iPhones and laptops.  Ear buds abounded.  We were all in our own little worlds, including me with my book.  Part of me wanted to make contact, but I let that go.  I wanted to be home.  I wanted to be warm.  And I wanted to be alone.

Journey done.  Many more to come.