How Does Change Happen?

It was a few days ago.  I was out and about, in Belmont and in the country on my almost daily walk.  It was cold.

As I turned west on Borden Ave. heading out towards the fields, a headwind blasted my skin.  Toque on, hood tied tight.  The left right, left right of the moment turned into a slog.  And then the snows descended … or better said, they were pretty much horizontal.  As Borden Ave. magically morphed into Glanworth Drive, my black coat was also transforming – into white.  Pebbles of snow/ice massaged my forehead.

About two kilometres later, I turned north on Old Victoria Road, a gravel surface.  There were clicks on the side of my hood but my skin was spared the fury of it all.  It’s not far at all to the pavement of Manning Drive, and a couple of hundred metres before the intersection, the sun came out.  The slopey edge of the asphalt shone brightly.  Very cool.

As I turned right onto the smoothness, the shiny blackness of the road was a wonder.  As far as I could see, the glow ran towards Belmont.  The sun was bright and so was the road … everything seemed so alive, so animated.

I basically blew along, with the wind urging me forward.  Something caught my eye on the edge of the road, where the gravel greets the pavement.  Little spots of light grey had emerged, maybe three inches in diameter.  They were dull when seen next to the shine.

Later similar circles began to grace the crown of the road, every twenty metres or so.  Occasionally there’d be a wee dip in the asphalt, and lightness showed there too.

I was approaching the boundary between where I’d been (officially the City of London) and where I was going (the Municipality of Central Elgin).  At the sign, the road switched from pristine smoothness to a mottled tar-and-chip surface, with little stones embedded.  Not really rough but no longer a skating rink.  Suddenly the wetness was dark brown/dark grey.

Over my time on Manning Drive, the spots of light grey slowly expanded.  On a little rise ahead, I couldn’t tell if there was more wetness than dryness.  There seemed to be big patches of both.  When I got closer, I saw that my distance vision was tricking me … the light grey was still in a severe minority.

As the village water tower grew, so did the dullness.  Swaths of dry began sweeping across the road.  The shine was retreating in the sunlight, ever so slowly.  Standing in one spot, I couldn’t see the transition but it was obvious as I walked on.

And then the welcoming sign: “The Village of Belmont, 1961”.  Just a few dips in the asphalt left to embrace the wet.  As I approached the intersection with Main Street, the path beneath me was totally dry.

I stopped.  I smiled.  It was such a privilege to be in the middle of change.  The sun had worked its magic.

Wandering Down the Valley

It’s been awhile since I’ve walked the Humber River Valley in Toronto from Lawrence Avenue to Bloor Street. Today was the day.

I bundled up (Is that a Canadianism?) and headed down the path. My feet remembered the steps from months and years ago.

As I passed through the underpass below Lawrence, towers appeared on the left. Actually they were twin basketball hoops, ones that I knew. Last August, my Belgian friends Olivia and Baziel came across the water for a visit. They’re basketball fanatics and we spent many an evening hour on this court, with the kids being welcomed by TO ballers. This afternoon all was empty and cool on the cement. Young ghosts still dribbled and deked and launched three-point shots. I smiled.

There was ice on the edge of the river and ducks riding the current. There were trails across grass that had lost its green. Stuck amid the leaves, bushes and trees was garbage. Plastic and styrofoam and glass and metal dotted the land. Some would call this disgusting but my time in Senegal lent perspective. There you throw stuff away when you’re done with it. Ecology hasn’t caught up with the warmth of the people.

At Eglinton Avenue and Scarlett Road, I came upon a familiar sight: Bevo Espresso and Gelato. It was time for warmth and a cappuccino. I sat with the frothy one and thought about … tennis. I’m enthralled with the current tournament – the Australian Open. On my trusty phone, I discovered a story about Rafa Nadal, the immense Spanish champion.

Rafa had launched a wild shot that smacked into a ball girl’s head. He rushed over, clearly distraught. He lifted her cap to see if there was a welt, and then planted a kiss on her cheek. She smiled … so widely. It was an immensely tender moment and I got to be with them both in a coffee shop.

Onward down the valley. Around more turns of the Humber, tennis came to me again. The Edenbridge Tennis Club was alone in the grass, devoid of nets and people. But the thrill of the match remained, even a white umpire’s chair where someone makes the tough calls. I could feel the summer energy washing over the three courts.

An hour later, here I am in the Home Smith Bar of The Old Mill, a sweet hotel of wood and stone. A glass of Riesling sits before me and the thumbs are happily tapping away. Voices are all around, many no doubt eager to hear the jazz musician who right now is bringing his instruments into the lounge.

I won’t be staying. I’m drawn to the Toronto Raptors on the big screen at Boston Pizza, many miles away. The jazz player and I laugh together. “I’m happiest when I’m making music.” Yes. May we all be the happiest.

On I go.

Day Twenty: Discovering If Home Could Be Everywhere

The broom riders

The military base

The game: Baziel, a fellow from Soucouta, Mariama, another guy from Soucouta, Youssoupha and Ansou

***

I knew that Mamadou and Youssoupha had invited me to watch them play basketball at 5:00 pm in Soucouta. Far earlier than that, I set off from Eddy’s bed-and-breakfast to explore the village just north of here. I knew the route: walk five minutes west and then turn north on the red road (Main Street). But something happened on the way to the plan. A narrow dirt stretch beckoned me to the right. I stopped. I felt my body tighten. And I turned.

It seemed to be the moment I was letting go of the tourist label. I could saunter aimlessly on the highways and biways, at ease with the heat, the dry earth and the goats. There were a few twists and turns, a few cement walls with voices behind, a few pedestrians and motos. The newness was letting go into usualness. There was an ease to my step as the dirt rose into dust.

Onto the red road and looking for the site of the wrestling competition that ended a few days ago. It wasn’t there, except for the power pole around which the competitors ran in their warmups, flexing and shining. The arena had been only netting and poles shoved into the ground. How brief our stays in the events of our lives.

I continued on, and soon saw the basketball court near the entrance to the military centre. I noted that there were cement bleachers. and that there were swatches of shade up there.

There was a cart of watermelons ahead on the left. Sitting in the shade nearby were three elderly men, rolling cigarettes. They all smiled widely at me, showing a lot of gaps in the teeth. I told them (as best I could) that I was going to the basketball game at 5:00. They nodded approval. I then made dribbling and slam dunk motions, threatening to do a demo with a melon. When I tried to convince them that I was playing in the game, they rolled over laughing. Hrumph! Guess they were having trouble sensing a professional athlete when they see one.

Off on a side street, past more cement walls and a couple made out of vertical sticks, I saw the opening to a dirt yard. Adults were sitting around talking and kids were jumping together. Then five of the young ones came at me. They seemed to be tied to something. The kids roared to a halt right beside me, and I saw they were riding a broom. Making pretty good speed on it too!

I started creating some dicey French phrases, and even though they didn’t know what I was talking about, they were happy to smile and stroll along with me. We had fun. Four blocks later, they scurried back home, with waves held high.

Ahh … the sound of the imam, calling the Muslim faithful to prayer at the mosque. I followed the wailing … left here, right there. In a little clearing behind houses, there it was – a tiny white and turquoise place of worship. Even from a distance, I could see kneeling worshippers in the shadows inside. I lingered. I felt into another religion, another way of being.

On the main road again, I headed towards the basketball court. But first the military centre. I gave it a wide berth, perhaps because of the two soldiers in camouflage, guarding the front gate. They looked severe so I was not ready to tell them a Canadian joke. Let’s go to the game.

Turns out it wasn’t a game at all … just six guys who wanted to play 3 on 3. The crowd was spectacular; Mariama, Lydia, Jo, Marie-paule, Gnima and me. We cheered a lot, especially for the Belgium guy. Actually we roared at each person’s great shots. Everybody played hard.

Sport, religion, broom riding, cigarette rolling, shuffling in the sand. Alone, with five kids, with worshippers, and with eleven basketball fanatics. Such a recipe for living.

Investment Journey

Jody and I bought shares of ATCO Gas in Alberta a few years ago.  I’ve wanted to buy some more.  Last week, I closed the joint account that we had with the brokerage TD Waterhouse and opened one of my own.  It was active as of Monday and my goal today was to buy 300 shares.  But it wasn’t totally easy.  If I delivered a cheque to TD today, it would take a day or two to clear and only then would I be able to do the trade.  Should I serenely wait or do all I can to make the purchase today?  Well, I had a goal, didn’t I?  So I went for it.

Going for it would mean withdrawing the cash from my credit union and plopping the money on TD’s counter.  Both institutions are in St. Thomas.  Then go home, phone the brokerage and consummate the deal.

Step number one: show up at the credit union.  “Having that amount of cash ready for you will take about two hours, sir.”  “Oh.  Okay.”  It was 11:00 am and I didn’t want to go home.  What to do?  In my driving wanderings of the past few days, I’d noticed a new asphalt walking path that led from Pinafore Park in the south part of town, north a few kilometres to downtown.  Oh, I love exploring.  So I parked at Pinafore and sauntered northward, trees to the left and trees to the right.  (“Hi, Jody!”)  It was lovely.  The sun was shining, the temp was a degree or two above zero Celsius, and the huge banks of snow from our recent storms were melting to beat the band.  Quiet little streams flowed over the asphalt, glistening.  And there were black wrought iron benches every 400 metres or so.

I sat.  I looked at Jody’s trees.  I talked to my dear wife.  I talked to many passersby, who seemed as delighted with the new path as I was.  And I thought of the snow.  Such a bad case of piles, all dripping away.  Slowly fading.  And in a week or two?  Perhaps nothing.  Just as in our lives … shining in the sun, big globs of energy, but slowly moving towards diminishment, and eventually disappearance.  I closed my eyes.

After much pleasurable dipsydoodling of the feet, here was Talbot St. and further along, a mom and pop eatery serving an all-day breakfast.  They even had those little containers of peanut butter for my toast.  I rested.  I ate slowly.  It was good.

Then off I ambled a few blocks to my credit union.  1:15.  Perfect.  A smiling young gentleman teller greeted me with “Hello, Mr. Kerr.  Your money is ready.”  After a few signings of this and countings of that, the cash found a home in an envelope and in my coat pocket.  “Bye.”

It was a 20-minute walk to the TD Bank.  Was I nervous?  Okay, a bit.  I hoped that I was walking normally – nice, relaxed gait, not too fast, not too slow.  Nothing to get potential criminals sniffing around.  Actually, I smiled a lot.  Never before had I walked the streets with such a load of moola.  Sort of exciting.  A bit James Bondish perhaps.  I heard the nervous voice inside … “Bruce, you should have driven to the bank” … but truly, who cares?

I found a few back streets between credit union and bank, and discovered new and rare snow sculptures on my way.  And I didn’t think the left breast of my coat was bulging at all.

In the front door I strode, like a wealthy industrialist from downtown Toronto.  The staff were very nice.  Fifteen minutes later, the delivery was complete.  More smiles.

I continued my loop trip and eventually made my way back to the wondrous path.  Still sunny, still dripping, still happy.  Half an hour later, I was with my trusty vehicle Hugo, and homeward we went.

I phoned the brokerage at 3:58.  The Toronto Stock Exchange closed at 4:00.  Too late.  Hmm.  But tomorrow is another day.  They open at 9:30.  I’ll be there.

Who knew investing could be such fun?

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.