The Pond

 

     Before subdivisions and fences, a mall and acres of pavement, there were fields and wild raspberries, the greying trunks of old apple trees (all that was left of an old orchard) and the Pond. To us, when we were kids, the Pond seemed like it was a half-day trek away. In the distance, we could see the trees surrounding it from the end of the back yard. It was like a beckoning oasis.

     Once we were committed to making the journey, we would set off along the fencelines towards the Pond. We had to be wary of the farmer, who did not like us stepping on his plants or knocking over his corn. The field was rutted and rough; there were fences to climb, barbed wire and raspberry bushes to dodge.  The sun was hot overhead. We plodded onward. Slowly, the circle of trees came closer and closer. Our house was lost somewhere behind us. It was a strange feeling.

We came up on the Pond alongside the fallen tree, which was home base. This was where we would drop our stuff–mostly mine…snacks,plastic container for captures, notebook, pen, drawing pad. The water lay placid and calm, spreading out around the tree trunks–so clear, you could see the layers of fallen leaves on the bottom of the Pond, and the black minnows darting and flickering. The previous generation had left an old raft, roughly constructed and very tippy. The boys found a long branch and waded in, hoisted themselves aboard. They used the stick to navigate around the circumference of the Pond.  I went on a few times, but I was more content to sit on the dead tree, writing nature  poems and trying to sketch trees. Tiring of that eventually, I perched at the Pond’s edge with the plastic container I’d brought along and waited for minnows to shimmy past. I had a little watermelon patch at the edge of my back yard, my own little piece of earth where I made my hills for the watermelons, planted tree seedlings and stuck tin cans into the dirt which I filled with Pond water and minnows. It was my own attempt at a fish pond.

The trees towered above, and the others drifted past on the raft. I munched crackers and wished I’d brought a drink. We measured time by the slant of the sun through the branches overhead. When the uneasiness of being so far from home became overwhelming, we packed up and headed home.

When plans were announced to build the mall, we worried for the Pond, even though we had outgrown it. As the excavation began, hoses and machines were brought in, and all the water was pumped out of the Pond. Some how, some of the towering trees were saved. They are still there, part of the yard of a new church that was build there, on the edge of the new subdivision. Instead of still waters, the trees are surrounded by manicured green lawns. No one would ever imagine silvery water and frog song and kids on rafts. I can still see us there. I can still hear the distant song of frogs coming through my open bedroom window in the middle of the night, knowing where the music was coming from….across the field, over the fences, through the tall trees in the moonlight.

The watermelon patch is long gone–but one of my tree saplings is a massive maple now, providing shade for a newer house, its lot severed from my parents’ yard many years ago. Nothing is left of the remnants of the old orchard or the fields and toppling fences, the tangle of wild raspberries. All is lost in new streets and houses built close together, in parking lots and street lights. And yet… I walk past those remaining trees where the Pond used to stand, and I somehow feel myself remembered in them.

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July Woods

     I have never been hiking in my woods in July before. The prospect of the heat and the bugs have kept me away. Memories of camping in the woods as a kid have stuck with me over the years. And for good reason, as it turns out. If it hadn’t been for my commitment to write a monthly blog about the woods for one year, I never would have ventured into the chaotic jungle that was once a beautiful forest.

A cloud of insects was pelting against the windshield before we were even out of the car. Slathered with OFF!, we ventured onto the path and headed into the fray.

It was as though every leaf and blade of grass was exhaling it own humid breath. The air was so close and hot; it was a struggle to breathe. Our skin became instantly slick and slippery. Deer flies pelted against my hat. I whipped the hat off and slashed through the air with it like a ninja. We walked in single file, monitoring each other for unauthorized mosquito landings. We foraged on. From the amount of squeals and wails coming from my daughters, there wasn’t even a hope of  a deer sighting.

A newly fallen tree made a bridge over the trail. We ducked to cross beneath it, tramped through a little cave of green vines, and kept moving.

Such a chaos of green. As much as we struggled against the humidity and heat, the vegetation was thriving in it…thick leaves and grass and weeds, all of it slathered in wild grape-vine and other climbing things. The heat swallowed up any scent of pine that might have lingered in the air. The usual cool tranquility of the Church was swallowed in muggy heat. Last month, the mounds of bridal flowers made a sea of white under the trees. All that remains there is a broken tangle of dead brown stems, battered and flattened into the ground. It was sad to see what was once so beautiful in a such a state of total decay and ruin.

Other things were alive and thriving–the occasional red flash of a wild raspberry, peering out from behind a curtain of green. Wildflowers I’ve never glimpsed there before through my summer absences lined the trails–delicate white blooms that looked like fireworks exploding, other bright yellow blossoms, and clusters of delicate purple. We hardly dared to stop and take pictures of them for fear the bugs would overtake us.

The hot sun sank into a blur through the tall pines. Its retreat did not result in any kind of relief. The woods held the heat of the day in the essence of every leaf, flower, and twig. There was no escaping it. The sweat ran in to our eyes.

 

The brown creek lay hopelessly silent in the suffocating heat. The long, rainless days have significantly impacted the water levels. Where I have always heard the happy babbling and splashing of water over rocks, there was a marked silence. The water lay low and motionless, slowly sinking lower and lower.

 

It’s a strange feeling to be hurrying out of the woods, to look forward to refuge in the air-conditioned car. My heart is accustomed to sinking a little when I turn on to the last stretch of the trails. Of  all the months, I have felt the most disconnected from the woods in this one. In the height of its wild, chaotic growth, it seems to have forgotten to save some room for people.  Vines and branches and overgrowth seem to have conspired together to build a tangled wall to keep the people out.  Still, skipping a month has been like missing a chapter or forgetting a few brush strokes. The forest was not eager to show me its July face, but still, I love it all the same, for better or for worse.

 

The Fourth Hole

There’s a golf course east of here, appropriately called “Eden.” Out in the middle of the sticks, bordered by country roads, fields and forests, it really is a corner of paradise.

My father golfs there almost every day–spring, summer and fall. He took my sister and I once, and we had a lot of fun. The course’s dog “Caddie” trailed behind us, and we tossed sticks into ponds for her to fetch between drives and putts.

 I’ve been out a few times with my husband and father-in-law. We get a cart and I chauffeur my father-in-law (who is well into his eighties) through nine holes while my husband shoulders his bag and hoofs it up the hills.

I love golf. I enjoy being out under the open skies with the clouds above tumbling over themselves, the spreading glory of the windy green fairways, the thick mossiness of the grass on the greens, the birds calling from the trees, and the frogs glugging from the green-skinned ponds. A golf course is good for the soul. A perfect blend of groomed grass and gardens, blended with encroaching roughs and brambly ravines. The air on a golf course sparkles. You breathe it in, and breathe out stress.

Yes, I love to golf…but I am so abysmally bad at it. The woods in my bag are cobwebbed. I cannot hit with them, so there is no point in taking them out. I drive with my irons. And not very far, nor very straight. And I can’t get the balls to launch into the air very well. They kind of….dribble along the fairway.  Needless to say, I always head straight for the ladies’ tee. I need all the yards I can get.

The fourth hole at Eden is a short one–but you have to hit the ball over a little ravine to get to the green. It’s not a huge ravine. It’s more of a psychological pit than an actual one. Still, many of my lost balls grow mossy in its depths. I’ve read about how athletes pray at critical moments in their games, and I’ve always found that rather ridiculous. As if God cares whether you hit a home run! I think, with a derisive smirk. And yet, I always find myself praying as I tee up my ball on the fourth hole, looking past the deep pit to the flag on the green, a hundred miles away….Please, just let me get it over….please….pleeeease….because the sound of my ball smacking into a tree, branches breaking, birds squalling, is truly a heart-sinking thing. My husband searching through his bag for another ball–a crappy one, because he doesn’t want to sacrifice a good one to the pit…ah, the humanity.

Yesterday, after my husband and father-in-law sent their balls sailing with satisfying whacks over the ravine and onto the green, I bent to poke my tee into the ground, muttering my entreaties to the heavens. I had my trusty five iron. I took a few practice swings. And then….whooosh, whaaack…and off sailed that little pocked orb of white….up into the air in a perfect curve. And it dropped…right…onto…the….green….even closer to the hole than the other two balls. The men grinned and I danced. Even though I had a chance to birdie it (and didn’t), I was still dancing. Even though my score at the end of nine holes was 54, I was still dancing.

World peace is still a problem, but I got a ball over that ravine. My faith is renewed!

Summer Gratitudes

The lake at evening. Cool breezes, waves lapping. Gulls aloft.

Green-headed mallard, afloat in a field puddle.

Fresh vegetables.

The colour of the sunrise at 6:10 a.m.

Mock orange and moonlight at the clothesline.

Pristine, green-golden, clear afternoon.

Hostas ballooning green in the deep shade.

Twilight walk. The beauty of the familiar.

The first star.

The edge of light at the end of the sky.

The peace of enveloping night.

Baby rabbits playing freeze-tag on the shadowy lawns,

Bubbles. Children who blow them.

BBQ’d burgers with lots of onions.

Opening the windows. Breezes.

Time to read.

Treefrog songs.

Rocking on the front porch at sunset, chatting.

Lullabyes of birds.

Lady cardinal, lighting on the shed roof. Pausing.

Summer winds, beckoning.

Sunset through gauzy clouds.

Soft ice-cream.

Ruby jars of strawberry jam, lined up in a row.

Nap under a wind-tossed tree.

Wind combing through the long grass.

Red begonias.

Pumpkin plant, vining.

Watching everything take form.

Kids, freezies, sticky fingers.

Everything, in its place.

Looking for fireflies.

Hanging clean curtains.

The smell of rain. My garden, drinking.

Hayfield smell, from a bike.

Tiny green peppers and tomatoes in the garden.

Lingering warmth of sun in the folded laundry.

Rooms filled with sunlight.

Monday. Not caring.

 

 

 

 

 

The Beauty of Mess

It’s Canada Day, and the first day of summer holidays for me.

Two long delicious months ahead, to fill with beaches, books, house projects, blog-writing, naps, piano-playing, bike rides, visits with friends and family, cottaging with my friends from work, and ventures onto the highways and back roads. Maybe some watercolour lessons, some song-writing, and the seventh summer return to a long-simmering novel that never seems to find its way to the end. The summer opens before me like rifled pages in a brand new spiral notebook as I ponder how I will fill its lines with the long-hand scrawl of lazy summer days…This morning, I hopped on my son’s bike and pedaled contentedly through the subdivision streets until I was riding down a country road, the blue summer sky spreading above me and the smell of hay just cut lingering in the clear air. And there it was, laid out before me, waiting all along. My summer.

It did not arrive effortlessly. The winding maze that opened out into those summer fields was a wild one, filled with many barriers and obstacles. School did not wind down in its usual fashion this year due to the massive construction and renovations going on around us as teachers organized for end of year trips. report cards, graduation, class lists, play day, ordering supplies….all of this while taking their rooms down and packing their work lives into stacks of cardboard boxes. Cement cutters ground into concrete walls, jack hammers made the walls jitter, and plaster rained down around the kids’ heads as they lined up in the gutted halls for recess. My library was ushered quickly into labelled boxes and the computer lab dismantled in a flurry, and everything–every chair, every mouse, every pen–was sucked out of the room into the vortex of storage containers and moving trucks. Less than twelve hours later, the whole thing was ripped up and gutted. I peeked through the cardboard that was taped over the door and saw only piles of rubble. I finished off the year, wandering the hallways with my one bag of belongings to visit students in their classrooms, the homeless librarian without a book to her name. It was strange. There was still lots to do. Other teachers needed help getting packed. The snack program that I help with had to be packed away, the fridges gutted and cleaned. My legs at the end of the long days felt boneless and rubbery. The evenings floated by mindlessly at home as I moved between loads of laundry and the dishwasher, caught in what seemed like a never-ending line of task after task after task.

Everyone else was in the same boat. Exhaustion levels are always high in June, but this was beyond any June weariness I could have imagined. Even so, there were so many blessings that crept into the long, hard days, things that linger on still in my thoughts. The little group of book-lovers, chewing on pizza and talking about their favourites in the reading program they participated in at our celebration party. The forgiveness of the one boy who could not eat pork unbeknownst to me and was just as happy to eat the thin slices I cut away from the pepperoni parts. The necklace of purple beads a Grade One student gave me on the last day of school. Talking to the valedictorian about her ideas for her address at the grad. Reading her beautiful words that challenged her peers to be brave enough to be themselves above all things. And the beautiful grad– princess girls processing up the aisle in their beautiful dresses and up-do’s and the boys in their bright shirts and sunglasses. An incredible slide show prepared by the students that brought tears to many eyes. Seeing them all for the last time that night, those kids so familiar, so part of the every-day life of school, the traces of the men and women they will become just beginning to shape their faces. The realization of how important they were to me, and how once again, I took it all for granted. Sitting down to a beautiful meal with the teachers, all of us together and laughing, winding down. The end, so close. And dancing, teachers out on the floor in the strobe light and fog, being idiots with the kids. The one kid who came to see me every day in the library at the end of the day, looking for leftovers from the snack bags. He started dancing–pummeling his arms, his legs a blur like the Roadrunner’s when he speeds away from the Coyote–and an hour and a half later, he still hadn’t stopped. Saying good-bye that night to two special co-workers who were moving on to new chapters.

It was a crazy year, and summer has been more welcome this year than any other I can recall.  Strange how the memories of this year seem to cling a little more persistently than they ever have, in spite of all the chaos. Our surroundings were such a disaster; maybe that forced us to come to the important realization that people are more important than stuff. Maybe it takes mess and mayhem to make the really important things stand out.