It’s taken me a long time, way too long, considering how little time we have to live on this precious little jewel of a planet, to fully appreciate the wonder of it all. And by that, I mean everything alive, or seemingly not, like the rock, the moss-covered touchstone, my dogs and I walk to every morning to start the day. What mysteries, what past or even present lives does it hold?
As I reflect on such things, the dogs go about their doggy business of exploring and sniffing every nuance of smell and presence that emerged from the forest during the night to wander across or down the road.
I watch them closely, now more than ever, wondering what interesting stories are being spun and told in their canine minds, and messages going back and forth to each other, as tails wag in excitement and the scent trail carries them along.
I say to Buddy, my big, beautiful German Shepherd, ”whatya got, Buddy? Whatya got?” And he tilts his head the way shepherds do, and lets out a little yelp, as if to say, well, I’ll say it for him, “something really interesting and exciting.”
Sophie, the Cockapoo, pulling hard on the leash, her even more intense sense of smell compelling her to just get on with the exploration. I’ve learned not to let her off-leash; otherwise, if I looked away for too long heaven knows where she might go – off into the woods, up into the barn, somewhere, and me calling over and over, “Sophie, Sophie, Sophie.” She comes in her own good time. I called it mischievous. Sometimes, not being as smart as her, I confess I even called her, “bad girl.” She looks at me as if she’s wondering why I’m not happy to see her. Good point. I am. I just need to get my priorities right, Sophie.
Getting to know both my dogs has been as much a learning experience for me as for them. And how well I do that, I have also learned, makes all the difference in how much we enjoy and appreciate each other.
I had a good teacher. His name was … his name is, Aussie. I can’t bring myself to use the past tense, not yet, or on second thought, not ever. Aussie will always be. There may be dogs that were, and are, as loved and loving. But none more.
I have a friend and neighbor who once told me a few years ago, “dogs are more intelligent than people.”
I think I responded with a somewhat surprised, skeptical look. I may have said, something to the effect that, well, yes, maybe in some intuitive ways.
But I have since come to the conclusion she was right, about the intelligence of dogs in the most important way, a way that, “surpasses all understanding,” words some religious people often use to describe matters of faith.
I’ve had first-hand experience of dogs sensing peoples’ moods, especially when they’re feeling unhappy, and the tears come. I lived on a farm many years ago where two dogs were the best of canine friends. They went everywhere together. The farm was fairly close to a paved road leading to and from Square One, a large suburban mall in Mississauga, near Toronto. One day one of the dogs got hit by a car and was killed. We buried him on a hillside near the house. For weeks, the other dog lay beside his friend’s grave. If anyone said anything to him, to call him over to eat, for example, he would just lie there and look sadly back at us for a moment, and then turn and put his head down again. So we took his food and water over to him.
I was not Aussie’s primary owner when we first met. One day I showed up as a newcomer man-human in the precious place he had shared with Linda since he was a pup. He was about a year-and-half then, an almost full-grown yellow Labrador. I count it as a blessing, that one of the most memorable moments in my life, is when Aussie made me feel welcome. It was as if he already knew me.
It’s true, some dogs, of some breeds, are friendlier than others, and Labs are known to be good-natured. But I say this in all seriousness, dogs have a way of knowing who you are.
Some years later, when circumstances changed, as they often do in human relations, Aussie and I remained good friends, as did we two humans. He always walked over to offer himself up for some petting and a belly-rub. Eventually, I began to call him affectionately, “old man,” as in one old man to another. He was showing his age and getting slower of foot. Not the young fellow anymore who would chase a stick all day if you let him. “Me too, Aussie,” I whispered.
I was glad to be able to help bring him safely home to “the farm” a few days ago.
And now, Aussie, I want to tell you, you are a better ‘man’ that I was in a lot of ways. You taught me a lot about loving, people as well as dogs. And as I write that, and my tears begin again, Buddy gets up from lying a few feet away, to be closer, his eyes knowing.
With the growing popularity of home gardening there must be a lot of people on a steep learning curve trying to come to grips with the apparent uncertainty of the weather.
After all, spring seemed to have arrived early in the Canada-U.S., Great Lakes area with temperatures in the first week of April that were seemingly warm enough to allow for the planting of early hardy, veggie crops like peas, beets, carrots, onion sets, and potatoes.
After years of gardening that should have made me know better, I again found it hard to resist the temptation of eagerness to get started. But I compromised, planting only a couple of rows of early edible pod peas; after all they are called ‘snow peas’ for a reason, I pseudo-rationalized. I also planted a row of onion sets, and two rows of Chieftain red potatoes. The date was April 6. I’ve never planted potatoes that early. Meanwhile, I held off on planting beets, swiss chard, carrots and radishes.
I should have held off entirely, especially the peas. That’s also considering I plant untreated seed; that is, seed not coated with fungicide to keep it from rotting in the ground if the soil temperature is not warm enough for germination. A few more days of warm weather, and the pea seeds and I might have got away with it. There was evidence of germination just getting started. But now, April 18, there’s no sign of little, green pea-plants emerging. I few might survive, but the rows will likely have to be replanted. With temperatures now forecast over the next few days to be below freezing at night here on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, the two rows of seed potatoes buried several inches in their rows should be okay; but just to be sure I’ve covered them with a generous layer of straw. The same goes for the onion sets.
Meanwhile, in the back garden, the numerous fall-planted rows of garlic are looking good. They will be okay without the straw blanket I covered them with for the winter and raked away a couple of weeks ago to give them sun. Garlic, fast becoming a popular crop in southern Ontario, is hardy enough.
I’m not a newcomer on this planet, having lived my ‘three-score years and ten’ and more, but in memory it seems to me the advent of spring, once arrived, was much more reliable than now.
It’s well known that the location of the jet streams, the high altitude winds that circle the globe in temperature regions, is a major determining factor in weather. In the northern hemisphere, the generally west-blowing jet stream keeps colder temperatures north of us, and warmer, south. As the seasons change with the sun, the jet stream used to move south and north in a fairly stable way. But recent years have seen a growing school of thought that climate change is weakening the jet stream, as the Arctic warms relatively faster than tropical regions. As a result, The jet stream’s pattern has become more erratic with deep dips to the south that sometimes appear to get stuck, or ‘blocked’ over certain areas. I keep a close watch on jet stream maps, and have observed, anecdotally, that often in recent years it has dipped down in large tongues or nodes and lingered for long periods of time south of the Great Lakes. Sometimes, it appears to even fragment and get scattered. Depending on the seasons, all that has resulted in long periods of extreme cold weather in winter, and prolonged cool weather in spring. The spring of 2020 at this time, was similar to what’s happening now: an unusual warm spell in early spring, followed by much colder weather, and then a serious snow event in April. I note snow is in the forecast for this week.
Now, snow in April is not unusual. I well remember driving to work one morning years ago in June with snow coming down. But it’s the sudden, dramatic changes and extremes that now seem new and unusual.
The experts admit evidence of the impact climate change is having on the Jet Stream, and therefore weather, is still inconclusive. They do, after all, have a duty to be precise in reaching their conclusions. Meanwhile, the skeptics can find all kinds of supposed reasons why it’s not happening. I choose to believe climate change is having a destabilizing effect on the jet stream that needs to be taken seriously.
From the point of view of gardening, and farming, I would say you are best advised to keep in mind there is a new norm happening: the weather is becoming more erratic. If it seems too good to be true that warm spring weather has come too early, it more than likely has. And you should take a wait-and-see attitude to planting until the weather warms up to stay. Late April, early May is still a good time to plant cool-weather crops. They won’t do much growing until then anyway.
Above all, keep your eye on the jet stream: where it is, and where it’s expected to go. I recommend a new, interactive ‘global’ jet stream map put online by U.K.-based netweather.tv.
My recent discovery of the creative, literary works of late 19th Century, American author Kate Chopin, most notably her novel, The Awakening, has been a deeply moving and continuously thought-provoking experience. That meets one of the important criteria for a true work of art; and so does speaking so well to readers about what they may be experiencing, as they struggle to find themselves.
It wasn’t only for my own sake, but more especially for my maternal grandmother, Clara, whose tragic life I was reminded of as I read The Awakening and continue to think about it every day. Kate Chopin would have understood perfectly what happened to my grandmother; and would have felt for her. Maybe she is, right now, somewhere, somehow. It may sound strange, but I find consolation for my grandmother’s sake in such thoughts, thanks to Chopin
As a young woman of 28, and mother of two children she dearly loved, my grandmother was desperately unhappy and neglected in her marriage when she dared to fall in love with a married man, famous at the time, 100 years ago. But despite loving her too, he could not face the prospect of living openly in their love, and the consequences it was certain to have for him in the emotionally repressive, post-puritanical, societal norms of the time. That was especially true in the narrow-minded, provincial confines of WASPish (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant), Toronto “the Good” where she lived, or tried to. And it was also true of the U.S. Midwest where he was a church pastor, and a prominent figure in the progressive, social gospel movement.
As it was, the consequences of being a married woman who fell in love with a married man were terrible: a broken heart, the court-ordered loss of her first two children, her desperate abandonment of her love child, my mother, her lonely misery and abject poverty in Montreal for 18 years, and her death from cancer at an early age after her sudden return, alone, to her parental home in Toronto in 1942..
In The Awakening, Chopin’s heroine, Edna Pontellier, raised ‘American’ in Kentucky, is married to Leonce Pontellier, a wealthy member of upper-class, Creole society in Louisiana. She and her husband live in New Orleans, the focal point of the unique, French-based Acadian culture. He’s often away to the north, including New York City and Wall Street, as the story unfolds. Though apparently doting, he cares most about the material trappings of wealth, including what today would be called his ‘trophy wife.’ But she dares to question and ultimately rebel against all that. They have two young children; but Edna rejects the prevailing, social attitude that a woman should always sacrifice her needs for the sake of her children; ‘unessential things,’ yes, but not the soul of her being, as she struggles to discover what that is. She falls in love with a young man who, among other things, teachers her how to swim. That is a crucial, beginning point in her journey of self-discovery, including the awakening of her repressed sensuality. It continues through to the end of the unconsummated relationship with her ‘lover’ who abandons her, “because I love you,” he says in a parting note. Soon after that comes the final and still controversial ending of the novel when Edna, naked and alone on a beach, walks into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. “He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand,” she thinks, as she swims out as far as she can before exhaustion sets in. She had by then already rejected the possibility of other, passing lovers. She thinks fondly of her two young boys, left, apparently happy, in the care of their paternal grandmother in the countryside. But she affirms again her unwillingness to sacrifice herself and live for their sake only.
I confess to being troubled by how Chopin handles that important issue in The Awakening. It needs more attention. A key character in the novel, a happily married woman, tells Edna more than once to not give her children short shrift: “The children, the children!” she says. How Chopin’s heroine may have struggled with that begs for more creative exploration, especially when her two young sons are ultimately described in her apparently final thoughts as ‘antagonists’ seeking to control her life. It’s not hard to imagine how outrageous that must have seemed to many readers at the time, in a society where the role of woman was so locked-in to motherhood.
Speaking personally, being similarly ‘farmed out’ twice by a loving, well-intentioned, single mother to pseudo-foster parents – exploitive and abusive in one case – was a deeply troubling experience. I still struggle with it. There are other cultures in the world that have a more natural, realistic approach to parenting than one that puts all the pressure and responsibility on individual mothers: such things as a greater, shared reliance on both parents, the extended family, and the social group. There are many examples, even in the animal world.
A shallow, perhaps too-obvious interpretation of the ending of The Awakening assumes Edna’s suicide. The last the reader sees of her she has gone as far as she can out into the waters of the Gulf, with no strength left to make it back to shore. But Chopin, deliberately, I think, leaves her fate uncertain. Meanwhile, recollections of childhood memories, including walking through a “blue-grass meadow” with “no beginning and no end” come to Edna’s mind.
I am left with this thought: that Edna’s journey, her ‘Awakening,’ reaches its consummating climax, its ultimate expression of her sensuality-come-alive, in and with the sea. I might have said best would have been to go on living, in some state of love, in the world. But, in all the circumstances, Edna had realized that was not possible, that it could only lead to personal tragedy. Meanwhile, her spiritual and sensual reunion with the sea, is love, timeless and complete.
It’s also a testament to Chopin’s literary genius: to have written such a powerful scene in such a book on such a theme, in 1899, in the U.S. Midwest.
And yet, what an injustice, that The Awakening was widely condemned after its publication. Chopin was shunned in the St. Louis, Missouri community where she lived at the time. She had been born there, but married a Creole man herself, moved to Louisiana, and had six children. She, with her children, moved back to St. Louis after her husband died to look after her sick mother. She began writing in the 1890s as a way of overcoming depression after her mother died. She soon made a name for herself as a regional (Acadian) writer. But after the bad reaction to The Awakening, her further works were largely rejected. She died five years later and was virtually forgotten for 70 years. Now she is a regarded as a forerunner of the modern feminist movement. The Awakening and her short stories are required reading in literary studies.
But with all due respect to feminism, and her courageous contribution to it, any label, be it ‘regional writer’ or ‘feminist,’ diminishes her even now: Kate Chopin speaks of the human spirit in all its wonderful, though often tragic, complexity. There was much more she could have said, in the years before and after The Awakening, had she found her wings sooner. It is not quite a great novel, by a writer who clearly had it in her to be great.
(Author’s note: This is a chapter from a work in progress, about an very old man who undertakes an extraordinary journey home to the pioneer farm where he was born, and lived, until a tragic series of events happened that left him with a terrible burden of guilt he carried for the rest of his troubled life. By going home, to kneel at his little sister’s grave, he hopes to be with her again, and find forgiveness before he dies. Under ‘categories’ to the right, click on ‘1908’ for earlier chapters.)
The two men, one very old and the other young, who walked the trail through the forest were not alone. They were watched, or felt, by all manner of things, seen and unseen, from the highest branches of the forest canopy, to the forest floor where spring flowers bloomed in the streams of sunlight still reaching the ground. The placement of the flowers charted the passage of the sun from dawn to dusk. It was still early in the season. The annual, renewed growth of the spring, hardwood-tree canopy was not quite complete. A few more days of sun and warmth and it would be. But in the meantime, the forest-floor flowers, clouds of them, flourished in the precious sunlight.
In the soil between the rocky outcrops vast networks of fungal growth sent excited messages to the trees as footsteps approached and passed.
And so, the forest was alerted; it felt and tracked the two men as they walked. The forest knew them both and settled down quietly to watch and listen. Occasionally the young man offered his arm to the much older man for support when they came to a steeper slope on the trail where jagged rocks protruded. Otherwise, they walked quietly side by side, listening.
“Feels like we’re not alone in these woods,” the old man said. “like we’re being watched by many eyes.”
The young man stopped, turning to face the old man. His expression, his eyes, said many things: a little surprise, interest, curiosity, and some reluctance to respond. He wanted to take a moment to be sure the old man really knew what he was saying. Or was it just a few casual words, mere conversation to fill the momentary silence?
“Yes, the forest spirits, and the spirits of others who walked this trail a long time ago. And before time,” the young man said, matter-of-factly, not because it wasn’t special — it was — but because it was a given, a truth beyond speculation. “We are approaching a special place where many others came, often from very far away to heal.”
“And to die,” the old man said, taking in a deep breath as they stood on the trail.
“Yes. What you call Hope Ness we have another name that speaks of it, the spirit that has always been here, and still is, as you can tell. The lookout is an important part of that. It was the place where they stood to look out over the water, to see where they had come from, and where they were going. It’s not far now,” said the young man, whose name, given to him at birth, was Peter. “Just down there, to the right.”
“I’m remembering it well now,” said the old man, “though the forest has changed so much since then. Just a little way, and there’s a trail that goes up the ridge. Even then, it still showed signs of being well-travelled. I went there often as a boy. I always expected to find someone there on my walks. But I never did.”
“They probably saw you first,” Peter said. “By that time, we were made to feel unwelcome, and worse, like we had no right to be here, and not just here but anywhere in the territory that had been our home. But we did have a right to be here, and not just a treaty right to hunt and gather on our traditional lands, even as the land was opened for sale to settlers. It was still ours, and so it remains. I think you can see that: you who are going home to the place where your spirit waits for your return. Others may be there now, there may be new fences. But who can say you have no right to be there, where your family walked, and their bones are buried?
“You’re right Peter. I haven’t thought of that; I guess I just took it for granted.”
“The treaty says the land was given to the Crown in trust, to be surveyed into farm lots and the lots sold on our behalf for our benefit. It says we have a continuing right to be here, to hunt and gather as we always had. In retrospect, even that wording may have imposed misleading limitations; be that as it may, our right to be here was not respected.”
“My father did,” the old man said. “He respected that right, especially about a certain area below the cliffs. He said it was a sacred place, and we should respect that.”
They had started again to walk the rest of the way to the lookout. The old man soon started to feel tired again. The periods of energy allowing him to carry on were becoming shorter.
Earlier, they had stopped to rest for a while after walking through the cottage community of Hope Bay, a short distance from the reserve boundary. The old man remembered that image now. How could that have been right, to draw such a line within which people who had moved freely for thousands of years were expected to remain, and somehow even be content?
They had continued the walk on a road through Hope Bay to a trail around a steep slope up the Niagara Escarpment cliffs. Despite the helping hand, it had taken a lot out of him. He wanted to understand what Peter was telling him, but that was becoming difficult. He had to work hard at it.
“How are you?” asked Peter, seeing the old man’s weariness. “Do you want to stop for a while again, to rest?’
“No, I’ll be alright,” the old man had said, for the sake of his manly pride. He was regretting it now. But the conversation, while using up some of what was left of his energy, was also distracting him from his weariness.
“Here, here is the trail to the lookout,” Peter said, pointing up a short, steep, rocky ridge. “Let me take your hand,” he said, stepping ahead of the old man, then reaching down to help him up.
At the top, the side trail levelled off but followed an irregular path to avoid crevices and large, moss-covered boulders left behind thousands of years ago by the retreating glaciers of the ice age. The old man took a few steps, then stopped and carefully put his hand on top of one of the rocks where a tiny garden of fragile plants was growing on a shallow soil of composted leaf-litter.
“I remember this rock,” he said. “It hasn’t changed at all. It became my touchstone, I guess, because I got into the habit of putting my hand on it just like this. And then I always made a wish, or sometimes I prayed.
“Like any boy, I guess, I had started to let my imagination get carried away. I started to imagine I was in the company of giants who welcomed me to sit with them around their fires, share their food, and listen to their stories of great deeds.”
The old man went quiet. He remembered how as a grieving boy he had earlier pledged not to let his imagination fly again, ever. So, he had put those reveries out of his head, discarded them, and all they might have taught him about living. And now, here he was talking to this young man about them, this young man who was far more entitled than he to speak in this forest of such things, and who already knew them better than he ever could.
“You know them, Peter. You are becoming one of them,” the old man said, the words being spoken by his voice surprising him. He shook his head to himself in self-recrimination for again speaking so presumptuously. He didn’t know, and would not have presumed to think, that the forest had chosen him in that moment to speak its truth to this young man.
“Ah, I’m not worthy of flying in their footsteps,” Peter said, with a good-natured smile, to lighten the moment. He was relieved to see the old man had gotten his humorous play on words right away. They laughed heartily. Still, the sooner they got to the lookout and sat down, the better. “Yes, I am tired,” the old man said.
“I’m trying to do the best I can on the path I have chosen,” Peter said. “Some are born to fly. Some are born to walk.”
The lookout came into view, and the great expanse of blue sky beyond. They walked the rest of the way silently. When they reached the edge of the cliff the old man looked down, just as he had done as a boy when he stopped here, on his Sunday walks through the woods so many years ago. When he turned to look at Peter nearby, he could see he was deep in thought. Peter took the old man’s arm again and helped him sit near him on a flat-rock, limestone ledge. He looked at the old man, and then after a few seconds, he told him:
“This is where some of my people found her,” Peter said, “you mother, sitting like this near the edge of the cliff.”
“‘My mother?’” the old man said, his eyes suddenly open wide with surprise. “I … I don’t understand.”
“Yes, your mother,” Peter continued. “They had seen her from a distance as they came along the trail to the lookout. They stopped and were about to turn around, but one of the women kept going. She felt there was something wrong. She said ‘hello’ in English to warn your mother. But she didn’t move. The woman went up beside her and asked her if she needed help. Your mother looked up but said nothing. The woman could tell from the look in her eyes and the expression on her face that she … her spirit, was in great pain. The other people came and together they asked your mother to come with them, away from the cliff. Then your mother spoke: she asked, “can you take me home?” That is the way my mother has told me what happened. And she was told that by her grandmother, your mother,” Peter said.
The old man had said nothing since his first words of surprise. He still couldn’t speak: it was, for the moment, too much to comprehend. Peter continued:
“The woman who had first approached your mother asked where she lived, after your mother asked to be taken home.
“Your mother said, ‘no, I mean, take me home with you. Please.’
“And that’s what they did,” said Peter. “That’s how your mother came to live with us.”
The old man put one hand over his eyes, while steadying himself as he remained seated on the rock ledge near the edge of the cliff with the other. And then the thought occurred to him that his mother in her grief and despair had been right where he was sitting. And then as he looked, the image, as described by Peter, seem to be appearing.
“When was that?” the old man asked Peter.
“It was many years ago. My mother is not sure of the year. But it was maybe a year or two after the big fire. She was still a young girl when your mother told her how she had come back to Hope Ness. But there was no one at the farm anymore. Someone — she didn’t say who — told her your father had died, and you had been taken in by neighbors, but you ran away. No one knew where you went.”
“Your mother’s heart was broken for a long time. But she became part of our community and never wanted to leave. She was a friend. She married a Nawash man and had a child, a daughter, my grandmother.”
“So, my mother is …you are, my mother’s great grandson. Which means …
“Yes, we are family, Peter said.
“There’s more,” he said. “Your mother went to your sister’s grave as often as she could with her Nawash husband and their daughter. But at a certain point it got to be…difficult, even dangerous.
“What happened to her? Where is she now?”
“Your mother died in 1951. She wanted to be buried with your sister?”
“How is, how was that possible?” the old man asked.
“We kept her with us for a time, in our traditional way. But my mother found a way to honor her grandmother’s wishes. She is with your sister,” Peter said.
“We realized yesterday who you were,” he told the old man. “My mother thought you should know. And, of course, you should. But we both had a feeling the time wasn’t right, that it would take too much out of you, the shock of it, and get in the way of what you are doing. But now, here we are, here, where it happened.”
“You saved her life; your people, I mean,” the old man said.
“They came along at the right time,” said Peter. “Your mother wanted to live. That’s who she was, from all I know about her. But I think she also knew you would come home, and here you are.”
“You did the right thing, Peter, you and your mother, to not tell me right away. I don’t have much time left, maybe only just enough. I need to rest soon. I am tired. Nothing to do with what you’ve just said; I could feel it coming along the trail. If anything, what you’ve told me has given me more reason and strength to keep going. Thank you.”
“My friend at the end of the road where the trail goes out of these woods will help you,” said Peter. “Don’t worry. He won’t interfere.”
They left the lookout and went back to the intersection of the two trails. From there the old man was to continue north alone to Hope Ness, while Peter would go south, to return home. That had been the plan. But now, after all that had just been said, it hardly seemed like the right thing to do.
The old man hesitated, not wanting to watch Peter turn and leave, to watch him walking out of sight on the trail while knowing he might never see him again. When he did say finally, “don’t worry, I’ll be alright. I’ll see your friend,” and Peter himself turned reluctantly to walk away, he soon felt like calling out to him to come back. But he didn’t. He watched as Peter, about to disappear up and over a rise in the trail, turned, and raised his right hand in a last gesture of parting. The old man raised his back. Moments later, as he walked alone on the trail into Hope Ness, the old man felt after all he had done the right thing to go on alone. It was what he had to do. He felt comforted by the presence of the forest, telling him it agreed.
“Did you tell him?” Peter’s mother asked when he got home.
“Yes, I did, at the lookout. Later, we both found it hard to go our different ways. The man at the end of the road will watch out for him. He’ll help him. And he’ll let us know when he leaves in the morning. I’d like to be there when he gets home.”
There was a profound stillness in the air this sunrise, mid-March morning as we walked to my prayerful touchstone beside Cathedral Drive, the dogs and I, doing what we do every morning of every day.
But this morning was different in its mysterious way, though perhaps only ‘mysterious’ to certain disconnected mortals; otherwise, I think it’s fair to say there is a great cry of joy gathering and stirring in the woods, as the ‘sweet liqueur’ of life, as Chaucer would say, begins to rise with the sun. Under the still-deep, snow cover that remains, an infinite murmuring of countless awakening creatures, small and large. And above the old pasture across the road, the rising sun has conjured up a fine mist that speaks to how precious this moment is.
Buddy and Sophie in their canine way are well aware and join the celebration, as they run about, stopping here and there to savour the deliciously rich, rising plenitude of refreshed aromas. Ah, the joy of innocence! Whereas the best I can do is write a few, imagined words, take photos of the happy, sunrise woods, and wonder what it must be like to be a tree on a morning such as this.
But that, at least, is something worthy and hopeful after all, the Great Mystery says, by way of consolation.
And, for the moment, I treasure that blessing. It is reason enough to give thanks.
As the headline suggests, I soon had a welcoming, friendly, attitude toward the mating pair of ravens who found a home in my 125-year-old bank barn a couple of years ago.
The barn was obviously a perfect place for the big, black, intelligent, talkative, playful birds. They came and went through an opening high up on the south side of the barn where a couple of boards had come loose. (For all I know, as smart as they are, they may have soon figured out and engineered the further removal of those boards.)
There was plenty of old, loose and baled hay in the loft; and good places high up in the hand-hewn beams to build their nest. They chose well, where two beams met – one horizontal, the other at an angle. Some time that spring after they first arrived, I had to go into that part of the barn and spotted the remarkably big nest, close to a meter across. I tried to leave them alone as much as possible from then on, not wanting to scare them away. I didn’t have much reason to go there, except to search out some of the few remaining bales of straw for mulching strawberries and potatoes. But after a spring storm there was a barn door to fix and that caused some raven commotion: The nesting couple took refuge in the nearby woods where they loudly complained about the intrusion. I tried to commiserate with them in a comforting tone, with assurances that I meant no harm, that I just had a hopefully one-time-job to do and would soon be gone. No problem, I said. “I’ll just get this here job done and be on my way.”
(Note: this is a guest post from Tibor Csincsa, of Holland Centre, Grey County, Ontario, Canada. Tibor is a long-time beekeeper who has travelled the world teaching beekeeping, giving workshops, and speaking at conferences. I saw a letter to the editor he wrote in the February 22, 2021 issue of Farmtario, an Ontario farm publication. It was in response to an article on Page 10, ‘Agriculture visions collide in Africa,’ in the January 25, 2021 Farmtario issue. Tibor kindly agreed to let me publish a longer version of his letter in Finding Hope Ness.)
Declaring the modern ‘American way’ approach to agriculture science-based and suggesting other traditional methods, especially European, are something less than that, is a shallow statement at best and, at worst, ignorant.
The ‘scientific’ American approach to agriculture has plenty of reason to do some soul searching regarding such things as soil degradation, less than rigorous agro-chemical licensing, and environmental damage. As a long-time beekeeper, I deal with the consequences such problems on a daily basis.
I earned my agricultural degree in Hungary and started my professional life there. During my decades long career, I have traveled to Asia, Africa, and eastern Europe to teach beekeeping, organize workshops, and speak at conferences. As a result, I have first-hand experience with the traditional way of farming in those regions. By pursuing my interest in, and promoting, beekeeping, I have visited very remote places around the globe, and not just the showcases of any country’s plant production and animal husbandry.
Though it’s late in coming, there’s nothing like the onset of something that resembles a good, old-fashioned Canada winter to test the myths and realities of growing old.
Let’s just say I’ve reached a certain age, well beyond the date when I officially became a ‘senior,’ and became eligible for what’s still called here in Canada, “Old Age Security.”
It’s not that I mind the money. I’m far from being a rich man, financially, anyway. But there’s something fundamentally wrong with sticking the “old age” label on someone at 65, or older, or at all, when they’re not old, not really.
When I was 65, I was still a young man. I could still keep up, and more, with guys half my age. I was still going strong at 70, and even, well, older than that. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve finally had to face up to slowing down to the extent that it may, just may, be time to say, yeah, okay, “I guess I’m old.”
December and January were unusually easy months, as Canadian winters go here on the peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. What happened to those lake-effect, ‘zero visibility,’ early-winter snow squalls? Well, it’s early February and they’re happening now, for the past couple of days, and forecast to keep happening into next week.
Just now, I look out my window and it’s coming down at a rate that could see another 10 to 15 centimeters, or more tonight.
And that means, again tomorrow morning it won’t be time to sit back and think about growing old: it will be time, like this morning, to rise to the occasion, fire up the tractor and the snowblower, clear my long, country driveway; then climb up on that too-old, home-built garage roof and finish clearing the snow off it so it won’t collapse under the weight. And then there’s that other, low-sloped roof I’m not all that secure about and would rather not take a chance and let the snow pile up. Better safe than sorry.
Actually, it’s more than safety; it’s survival. So many big and little things in secluded, rural living can turn into a big, survival problem if you don’t give them their due: a loose bolt on the snowblower tightened, chain and auger mechanisms greased; fresh gas for the generator in case of a power-outage; diesel fuel in reserve, a spare key for the tractor, and careful usage. They’re family, after all, Mr. Massey and now Mr. Massey Too.
I count it a blessing that winter and its challenges have arrived, and I am still up to meeting them.