On Graves

One of these days, I plan to write more extensively about my Oma. She was quite the colourful character, and over the course of her ninety years here, she sure made impact.  It’s been almost five years since she left this world. It doesn’t seem possible that so much time could have passed since Dec 3rd, 2006. Sometimes, I have this overwhelming feeling that I could walk in through the back door of her little white house and find Oma sitting there in her recliner. “Ah, it’s Corrin-je!” she would exclaim, and she would come and hug me, laughing as delightedly as if she hadn’t seen me in twenty years. She would sit me down and start to chatter away in that hilarious Dutch-English commentary she spoke in–news of her many children and grand-children, her opinions on the latest breaking news, her memories of her earlier life in Holland through the Second World War, her fond recollections of her husband and the empty space left by his passing… It is almost impossible to believe that she is not in that little house any more, and never will be again. It often feels as though she’s close by, as though the chasm of death never actually separated us. As my mother said a few months ago when we were talking about her and sharing one of many funny recollections, “She never really went too far away.”

I stopped at the cemetery today. I am not a grave visitor, although I understand the need. Those grassy spots with stone pillows are the last point of reference we have, the dock from where we waved good-bye. They are the last vestige of connection we have with those who have made that final voyage. I’ve seen Oma’s grave only three times in the last five years. She shares a stone with my grandfather, just their names and dates and a scripture reference. Ephesians 2:6. The stone says so little. They were here, for more than ninety years, both of them. Ninety years of vibrant life and adventure and terrible tragedy and undaunted committment and faith. Now they are gone. When there is no one left to remember them, all that will remain are a few characters carved in stone until time too weathers even those away.

It’s so strange. I feel Oma as clearly as I used to see her as I go through my days, but today, as I sat on the grass facing that inscribed stone, I have never more keenly felt the distance between us. In that place of graves, the distance seems more utterly vast than the six standard feet.  I can only attribute that to knowing that Oma is nowhere near that place. That flat piece of marble says she is dead, and she isn’t. It does not end at that stone. The story continues, but we have trouble seeing past the period at the end of that last sentence. The grave almost makes it seem final. No wonder cemeteries can be such depressing places.

I am not going to allow graves to become the yawning holes that swallow hope and reduce lives to cold earth and wood and stone. We are more than our beginnings and endings on earth, more than our names and dates. More than anything that can be captured in a few words in stone.

The Summer Feeling

It always happens, on this particular long weekend in May–especially when the weather is as beautiful as it has been these past few days. Friday’s pizza night dissolves into Saturday morning at the Market, Saturday afternoon fades away into chores and errands followed by a little nap in the lounge chair, and then Saturday evening  slides in, which might include dinner and a movie. Then, it’s Sunday and there is usually a huge bout of gardening and/or a late-afternoon day trip or a hike. Throw a few barbecues, a campfire, some cold summer drinks, the first taste of cold watermelon, and the neighbours shooting off fireworks into the mix….By the time it’s Sunday night, I am grinning because I know there is still another day of this weekend bliss. Before I know it, I have this very false sense that summer has arrived, and the idea that there could actually be another entire month of school left seems inconceivable.

Suddenly, everything is full-on green, and most of the trees are in full leaf. Lawn mowers power up and the air is heavy with the cut grass smell, and the sky deepens into its summer shades. Spring bloom combines with the deluge of annuals in people’s gardens, overflowing baskets of flowers don porches, and the streets are filled with bikes, kids, dog-walkers and joggers. Every sign screams summer, and yet…it isn’t. We haven’t even touched June yet. June is a month to contend with for teachers….second only to September. There is still much to do before this little tantalizing taste of summer can become the actual picnic spread we all look forward to.

The Victoria Day weekend is the brief warm-up for what is to come…a good book on the rocker on the front porch, mason jars to fill with jam and pickles, ripe tomatoes on the vine in the kitchen garden, story files opening on my lap top, a little extra sleeping time in the morning, catching up with friends at the cottage, connecting with family, setting things to rights in the house, laundry on the line, enjoying the garden.

I have to wonder, four years from now, will the retirement feeling be anything like the summer feeling? I can only imagine…!



I don’t get to as many concerts as I would like, but I was invited to see Burton Cummings at the JLC last night. We grabbed a few drinks and some dinner before the show and headed into the stadium. There was some discussion among us about whether there would be an opener before the show. In the past few years, I’ve hit three “bigger” shows–Elton, Billy and Josh Groban, and they all had openers. I am not fond of the concept of opening acts. You would think that opening acts, by design, would act as a type of “appetizer” and whet you for the big entrée that is forthcoming. That isn’t how it seems to work, speaking for myself. Appetizers are often better than the main course when it comes to food. When it comes to music, I’ll skip the spinach dip and go straight for the prime rib, thank you.

Last night, much to my delight, we got straight to the main course and the prime rib was excellent! Without a lot of pomp or panache, Burton simply walked out of the shadows and onto the stage and got down to the good stuff. Burton was wearing a black tee with a cat face on it and black jeans. He complemented the ensemble with a black towel which he frequently employed in mopping his profusely sweating face through the course of the performance. There doesn’t seem to be much concern around the superficial with Burton. The music is so great; there is no need for garnishes.

Burton’s performance last night was dedicated to Jack Richardson, the producer for The Guess Who who had died in that same city the night before.

I’m not a music critic. Just someone who loves music. The Guess Who stuff was classic, but a bit before my time. I could sing along to the choruses, but not the verses. Not that concerts should be singalongs, but that is inevitably what they become for me. I always apologize to strangers sitting beside me. The man who I found myself beside last night was a die-hard fan, as it turned out. I apologized to him before the concert. “I will be singing back-up for Burton, just so you know,” I told him. It wasn’t a problem for him, as he was a back-up singer himself, as it turned out. He did melodies; I did harmonies.

My personal favourites of the evening were the seventies tunes that Burton and his band performed. Burton talked about the transistor radio that he used to have as a kid. I had one of those myself, and kept it stashed under my pillow so that I could jimmy the tiny dial through all hours of the night, sneaking off into the airwaves to float around in the music while everyone else was asleep. “Stand Tall,” “Break it to Them Gently,” “Scared…” These are all songs I held against my ear and whisper-sang in those hours where it seemed like I was the only one awake on the face of the earth.

Half-way through the concert, I found that the tops of my legs were sore. I was drumming the crap out of them with my hands without realizing it. Burton’s band was great. I don’t know if I was smashing myself along with the keyboards or the drums. Probably a combination of both. Burton is one of those performers who reminds me that the piano is a percussion instrument.

Burton’s voice is unique…rich and tender and emotional. But then he goes off into his own style of…how can I describe it? He does this kind of beat-boxing thing that sounds like Peter Frampton’s guitar when he makes it “talk.” This probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s what makes Burton “Burton.” Even though he is in his sixties, his voice has not changed at all through the years. The timbre, the range, the vibrato–it’s all intact.

I think what puts me the most in awe of these famous singer/musicians is how they can sing AND do these incredible finger gymnastics on the keyboard at the same time. I started taking piano lessons in my forties. I know the intense and almost painful concentration it takes to get two hands doing two different things. If I tried to sing and play, I am pretty sure I would have a stroke. But performers like Burton; they play the keyboard/piano like they breathe…the hands just do it, like lungs take in air. For me, it’s like watching (and hearing) something miraculous.

Burton and his band played song and after song without a break. When the band left the stage, I thought it was intermission. But two hours had passed, and the concert was over. I could hardly believe the time had evaporated so quickly. But the audience saved me from disappointment. They stood and clapped so thunderously and relentlessly that Burton came back out and sat down at the keyboard again. We were treated to “I Will Play a Rhapsody,” just solo Burton and us. It was the perfect dessert. Then the band came back out for “Share the Land” and then, it was over.

My transistor radio is long gone, but my iPod fits perfectly under my pillow. It’s me and Burton, tonight.

“My” Woods, in Pictures

                                                                                    Wood violet, bent with dew.

                 Living bouquet.

Dogtooth blooming in last fall’s ruins…

A bouquet of fungi….

 Leopard-spotted fungus.

Cabbage moth, alit for a brief moment…

Perfect, snowy trillium…

  Trilliums, in gathering…

Sunny-faced wood violet…

Pine boughs, framed in sky…

May Woods

I don’t think I have ever been witness to my woods so beautiful as they were this morning. 

I wandered into the spring trees as the sun was climbing into a blue sky tousled like an unmade bed with white-cloud sheets. Beneath my feet, the tiny faces of purple violets peeped shyly up from their bright green beds. Violets have been my quiet friends since my earliest memory. I bent to greet  their soft blooms, then continued on, treading carefully. Birds called and twittered and sang and gloried in the treetops. A piercing warble, and then a scarlet cardinal swept through the uppermost branches above me.

Over the bridge, I discovered a tall pine, almost cut in two. An enormous limb had been wrenched away, most likely during one of the high winds we’ve experienced here. The limb, almost as big as a tree in its own right, lay propped against another tree, where it had landed and remained, all of its needles as soft and green and bright as though they were still living. The damaged tree stood tall and silent, but it was bleeding heavily in the spot where Nature’s amputation had occurred–long rivulets of sticky, honey-coloured pine sap, streaking like a long tears down the grey bark. It smelled sharp and intoxicating and clung thick to my fingers, its grieving scent rising from my hands as I left it and walked on.

Hearing an unfamiliar bird call, I looked up to discover a black bird with a back speckled in white. When it flung itself into the air, there was a seeping of red beneath its wings that crept up to blush into its throat. I think it was a grosbeak. My eyes followed it until it disappeared into the woods, and I continued my walk, the purple violets scattered along the sides of the trail. I found a clutch of delicate yellow dog-tooth, nodding in their marbled, mottled leaf bouquets.

I went up the first hill, and made an exquisite discovery…the white bloom of the earliest trilliums, their newly opened petals still wrinkled, quivering with their first dew fall. Each one held drops of holy water in the hollows of their throats. The winding trail beckoned ahead, but it was hard to move away from the snowy, trembling hush of the beautiful trilliums.

The walls of the forest ravine climbed steep around me, all of them blanketed thickly with trilliums, on the verge of blooming. The shade is deeper in here, and the sun will have to work a little harder to coax them out.

I found myself tiptoeing over the path. The sound of my own footsteps seemed like sacrilege this morning. I did not want to disturb the perfect balance and gentle order of the woods. I had a sense that I had wandered into a sacred place where people really were not invited…

Some of the trees still held their bare, winter stances; others had branches traced over with their first furls of new green. The new moss furred over logs and fallen branches, soft as velvet and brilliant green. The thorn bushes were budding, the first hint of tiny leaves like the flicker of green candle-flames. I found another clutch of dog-tooth, but these blooms were of the palest lavender. Their praying heads were bowed, and I did my best not disturb them.

I followed the creek up aways, moving down to the creek bed with its stones and little stretch of sand. I watched the water, toppling over stones, its frothy whorls and liquid murmurs. A duck, seeing me, turned and paddled its way back upstream, against the current. I followed along the side of the creek, watched it come up out of the water and shake its feathers, disappear through a grassy hummock.

I headed back to the apex of the three trails, and sat on a plank bench, made of two pieces of firewood and an old board. I lingered there in the sun for a while, enjoying the last of the morning’s spring-glow.

The last hint of pine sap still clings to my fingertips, and the poetry of the woods in new spring murmurs like crooked-creek water through my thoughts, lighting memory, calling me back.

One Thousand Gifts

I am reading the most delicious book: “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. The scope of the book is huge…suffice it to say (for now) that I have taken up a dare offered to Ann by an inspired friend, a challenge to record one thousand gratitudes. This invitation to thankfulness opened a door for Ann that led to many other opened doors, and I am following the journey that she has mapped out via her beautiful poetic voice to my own soul’s treasure room. It has been such a joyful experience for me to start filling that room with the simple and extraordinary gifts that I have found in my days.

Here is the start of my list:

Unexpected embrace from a muddy little boy.

Knit and purl, falling away into something soft and warm.

Frogsong on the night wind.

Golden crust on the leftover potatoes in the frying pan.

Sync My Ride, my little iPod, and John Rutter’s angel choir music.

Chalk-smear clouds against a blackboard sky.

Little yellow puddle boots.

Bobble-head daffodils sway-dancing in the wind.

Warm nap on couch while someone else makes dinner.

Knee-level hugs.

Friday-clean smell of house.

Son, laughing.

Frills at the throats of robed choir boys.

Royal Wedding music rising in a cathedral swell.

Spring rolls and peanut sauce.

Good books.

Elephants with freckled trunks.


The first slender shoots of lily-of-the-valley at the side of the house.

Organic honey in a mason jar.

Trees, alone in fields.

New lettuce in starter pots.

Clear piercing of a cardinal’s call.

Hopeful faces of pansies.

Loamy smell of damp earth.

Mom laughing, Dad in his chair.

Father-in-law making me belly-laugh.

Branches of bright yellow forsythia.

Waking early and going back to sleep.

Chai latte dusted dark with cinnamon.

Burdens and memories shared with a life-long, steadfast friend.

Whipped cream squirts into a laughing boy’s mouth.

Brother/nephew/auntie group hug.

Candles on a cake (“Surprise!”)

Robins ruffling damp feathers.

Blue flower bells hiding under a canopy of daffodils.

Wood ducks making V trails in the water.

Bright orange carrots bubbling in a pot for a savoury soup.

Reprieve from the rain for an evening walk.

holy experience

Check out Ann’s blog, “A Holy Experience”