Friday, September 15, 2017

Botanical Love Letter


Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. Over the last few years, I have experienced this many times as Mick and I have navigated our relationship between Canada and Australia. It has been impossible to spend all of our days together. We were excited to finally be able to not have to endure these separations last December when he was retiring at 60. At long last we could look forward to spending our life together consistently. Well, almost. As anyone who has a partner with distant families knows, there comes a time when you need to return (sometimes urgently) to tend to matters like illness and death when you least expect it.

This past summer was the case for us when Mick's dad passed away. He had to return to Australia and I was unable to join him and so, once again we were apart for weeks. It has become harder and harder for both of us to live separately now that we are a team...or one soul as he so sweetly verbalized in a note recently. I found myself wanting to do something special for him while he was away, not only as a heartfelt gift to him, but as a distraction from the lonliness I was feeling in his absence. 

I had been thinking about creating a garden bed here at our cottage. My bff Peg had put the bug in my ear one morning as we sat drinking coffee overlooking the lawn. "You know Deb, that spot right down there would be a perfect place for a flower garden." I had to agree it was the ideal location as it could be seen and admired from where we sat and the section was sunny and had a gentle slope that would allow it to be viewed from the second floor in its entirety.

I decided to get started on the project after it had rained steadily for a couple of days as I knew the ground would be softer and easier to work. I would have to remove sod, lots of buried rocks and boulders and chop through roots, so the task was challenging to say the least. As I began to pick axe my way through it all, I was unsure about the shape of the bed. After a couple of days of excavating the site, I had a light bulb moment. A heart. A heart-shaped garden bed as a living, loving gesture to my sweet guy. After all,  I thought, the project was most certainly a "labour of love". It would be like a permanent love letter - a daily reminder to both of us as we would see it every day and every time we looked out the front windows of our cottage. 

I started to think about what plantings might be meaningful as well. I knew immediately I wanted something red in the middle of the heart. A solid perennial shrub that would root deeply and anchor the bed. I chose a Euonymus alatus "Compacta", better known as a Burning Bush. Green for most of the season, but maturing to a rich dark red each fall, somewhat symbolic of our maturing relationship. I planted some herbs that I will use in my cooking to represent the nurturing aspect necessary to keep love alive and thriving. I gathered a few cuttings and pieces of iris and peony long neglected on our property and gave them new life in this garden of love under the tall pine to reflect the beauty we see in each other.  I found a small evergreen in the forest that had self-seeded to represent everlasting love. A Purpleleaf Sandcherry, with its passionate reddish purple foliage and delicate pink flower was chosen to add contrast, a salute to the importance of contrasting interests and traits that draw us to each other and remind us that we are two different people and that, were we the same, life would be more than a little dull. 

A white flowering Viburnum was chosen for its fragrance, to always encourage us to "stop and smell the roses", although admittedly, we are both pretty good at that by this stage in life. I then filled in the leftover spaces with fun, colourful, flirty annuals and some daisies and black-eyed susans to keep things light-hearted and joyful. What relationship couldn't use a dose of cheer and colour from time to time? There are several boulders and rocks throughout the bed, the foundation holding it all together that will weather the inevitable storms and winds of change that will come. 

The final touch came to me as I felt the bed needed some ornamentation. Mick had been collecting some old bits of salvaged wood that with a little imagination I could turn into something personal to us both. We have long loved a Rumi quote "There is some kiss we want with our whole lives." I painted these words on the old wood in red script and it stands at the top of the heart reminding us both that we are each other's "some kiss". 




Now that this "tribute to our love" garden is complete, we can watch it grow and change together as we do, and as we weed and maintain this bed over the years, remember that as the garden requires maintenance to thrive, so does our relationship.

There was one sizable boulder in the area I was excavating, so it remains and I added another, as well as many of the large rocks I found while digging. Solid foundational elements to prevent erosion and add some interest seemed appropriate. The second boulder took every ounce of strength I had to move it up the hill from where I found it tucked into the wooded hillside covered in moss. As I struggled to pull it up on a sled, it reminded me of the challenges we encountered on the road to becoming a couple. As I pushed it off the sled and manoeuvred it into place, I knew immediately it was staying put and never moving again, just like us.

And, on a final note, there are some beautiful but pesky deer that live in the woods that surround our little patch of paradise and it will take constant vigilance by both of us to keep them from nibbling and destroying our carefully tended bed. As it turns out they don't like Marigolds, so they will be added each spring as a deer repellent.  Let's hope they keep their distance. If they don't, I guess we will just repair the damage and carry on.




The bed is just a few feet below a very tall old pine tree and so I have named it.

Love Beneath Tall Pine...for Mick.



Love Beneath Tall Pine






Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Mornings on Bayview Lane





She stands on her hind legs like a circus elephant
I watch as her neck elongates and her head
disappears into the branches
flush with leaves and unripened fruit

Her offspring
all spotty and eager to learn
nibbles on a hard undersized fallen apple
both tails flit and flutter
soft white powder puffs

I sip my coffee and watch them
Offering some sage advice now and then
They glance toward me
Then ignore me
The rest of the family arrives

The spotty one's older brother
He is imperfect
but does not know it 
or care 
I call him Missing Antler

His father saunters slowly up the drive
all perfect and proud
Full rack intact 
Afraid of nothing or no one
He is king

Finished with apples, they move to the meadow
for their next course
Chicory, thistles, Queen Anne's lace and grasses 
an endless feast on a giant platter
A satisfactory alternative to my marigolds

"Don't eat my flowers," I have told them daily
They have listened and obeyed
So far.
Still, I stand and go to the window
To check. To be sure.

A tiny precious hummingbird hovers now
Did it come to say good morning?
I decide to translate its visit that way
Hummingbirds and whales 
Surprisingly equal amounts of awe 

For a few minutes each morning, I am immersed
in this wild kingdom, this joy.
Were it not for the hum of the refrigerator
Reminding me of my place in the world
and my supposed superior humaness. 

This deer family poses no threat 
of fire and fury
like the world has never seen. 






Friday, July 14, 2017

A Damn Fine Man


For several months now, I have had a severe case of writer's block...or maybe life was just getting in the way. Either way, today I got the kick in the pants that I needed to put a few words down on a clean fresh page.

It is not exactly the kick in the pants one wishes for, but death can be funny that way. It kinda makes you want to kick start life as it reminds you how little time we really have here on this planet.

The world lost a good one today. Bloody cancer. Hate that bastard. Cancer came knocking on John Shields door about 21 years ago. Back then he managed to kick it to the curb, only to come face to face once again a couple of years ago in a different form. Fighting it at 60 was different than fighting it at 80. This time he lost the battle.

On this grey and rainy morning here in Ontario, I got the news that he had passed. My wonderful partner's dad had died on the other side of the world. It was dark there too, literally and figuratively. The Shields men were all gathered and had all seen him before he left this world, and left some pretty big shoes to fill as well.

I met John Shields in 2012. Not that long ago. I did however, meet his eldest son in 1977. His son is an honest, hard-working, strong, funny,  fiercely loyal man. A giver. The apple did not fall far from the tree. I was a little nervous to meet his dad. I was worried he would not embrace the idea of me - a woman from Canada that threatened to lure his number one son away from Australia. He was close to his two boys. Who was I to come along and upset the applecart? Turns out I had nothing to fear. Turns out he not only embraced me, he loved me. I know he loved me because he told me so every time we saw each other. Yup, that's right. This crusty old, tough-skinned Aussie man had a soft and gentle side that came as the most welcome surprise.

Every time we visited in his home or ours, he would take me aside and ask, "Is he treating you alright?" I would always smile and assure him that his boy was absolutely "treating me well".  He brought me plants from his well-tended garden to help brighten my own new garden. He supplied me with fresh basil - huge bunches of it, that he never used in his own kitchen. He just loved the smell of it, so he grew it. He grew lemons and oranges and paw paw's and generously shared them too. Everyone called him Pop. It suited him.

The first time he came to our little house, he glanced around and said I kept a nice home. I think it pleased him that his son was living in a love-filled home again after a few years of post-divorce bachelor living.  I liked that he liked it. I wanted him to feel assured that I loved his boy as much as he loved me. Doesn't every parent hope for that? I'm glad he died knowing that.

When his darling Rita's Alzheimers became too debilitating and he had to move her into a care facility, I watched the man's heart break a little more each day. He went to see her every day, his love for her unfaltering. He was a testament to enduring love. True love. As I said, he was a giver. Generous to a fault. He lived a simple, humble life and gave to his family always. He was a story-teller, with a cache of expressions that made me laugh out loud. He was a character, a truly memorable one. I do regret I never got to hear him play his accordion - even though I have been told it was something I really did not want to hear!

He and Rita raised two wonderful sons and I feel fortunate to be spending the rest of my life with one of his offspring. There is something comforting knowing that a part of John Shields lives on in my life through his son. I am grateful I got to know him these last few years. It is clear to me that he had a very positive influence on his entire family and sadly, a bright light went out today.

Hope you're resting easy now Pop.

Love you too.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Can Boomers Keep up? Will we want to?



As always I over packed for my current adventure. I am a "just in case" packer. You would think that after this many trips overseas, I would have scaled it back by now, but alas, I still find myself the day before I depart adding and subtracting items from my suitcase until I am hovering within ounces of the airline's allowable weight limit for my baggage. 

Inevitably, I arrive at my destination with a suitcase full of "just in case" clothing that I never end up wearing. I also end up wishing I had packed the odd thing that I hadn't. Case in point. Something that I tend to use almost daily as I am getting older is this amazing little tool called a magnifying glass! The one we have at home is not just any magnifying glass, it is lightweight with a tri-pod handle and lights up at the touch of a button to illuminate whatever it is we are trying to see clearly. 

Unlike a cane or a hearing aid that is visible to the outside world instantly announcing "aging baby boomer", this aid to our aging vision is like a little secret we use behind closed doors to read labels (can the print get any smaller?!), observe imperfections on our bodies (I was sure I had a melanoma on my toe recently!), or to just be able to take a good solid look at a myriad of everyday eensie weensie items that a decade ago seemed much larger. 

Packing that useful tool occurred to me, but since Mick was not joining me until a few weeks later, I did the noble thing and left it for him (after all, he is a year older!). I think it was only a matter of days after landing on North American soil again before I missed that damn thing...and Mick too as a matter of fact. So, the only solution was to pick one up over here (a magnifying glass, not a new Mick). I came across this really cool mini - almost steam punk looking one called Little Helper. It is much more complex than the one back in Oz, but it looks interesting and has these little clips attached that can hold any item you are looking at which is advantageous if you are the least bit shaky or looking at something super small. It was meant to be a belated Christmas gift for Mick, but I had to free it from its box today so I could read the fine print on my "welcome to Ottawa" parking ticket. Turns out I may be able to have it forgiven as a non-resident and generally unaware idiot from Toronto, but that remains to be seen.

Anyway, I digress. What struck me about the need for this aid was how it relates to life as we approach our 60's. As I near the final third of my life, it is not only my eyes that need a little assistance. I want to see everything with more clarity. My soul yearns to ramp up the intensity of my spiritual journey. I am reminded almost daily now that there is an end to this life. 2016 was especially loud and clear on this with the death of so many of my own age or younger. How can I make this final third count? How can I move through life with more compassion? More joy? What can I offer to help? Where can I offer help? Can I keep up with technology in a way that enhances my life? As a society, are we sliding down a slippery slope into electronic communication that creates a gaping chasm where personal direct interaction with one another once existed? Will I have the energy to embrace the constant change coming at me? Some days it seems endless and overwhelming. Is that why we die? Do we just stop giving a shit about this new thing and that new way. Do our cells finally just burn out from it all? 

There are many seniors in my own life who have chosen to stop learning. They have put the brakes on life in a way that leaves them in a cloudy state of disconnect from the world. They don't own a computer. If they own a mobile phone, it is only used for emergencies and when said emergency arises, they forget how to use it or it has lost its charge, so what's the point? They miss out on instant communication with their children, their grandchildren and even their peers who have kept up.  With each passing year, I find I have more empathy for these old timers who have decided to remain in the past. It's easier for them. However, this is not likely to be an option for aging boomers. We already bought in long ago. Once our elders are gone, the companies and services that still cater to the techno-challenged will make that type of enabling obsolete, forcing anyone who wants to opt out to stick with the program or die. I don't mean die literally. I mean die in terms of living so disconnected from the rest of the world, that day to day functioning becomes impossible. You will not be able to survive without an email address. Paper bills will not be an option.  

Who would have imagined a tweeting president or the ability to access the answer to almost any question on a device you carry in your pocket? I graduated from Ryerson's School of Journalism in 1985. It was the year before computers were introduced. We typed our reports on IBM self-correcting typewriters in triplicate. There was no spell check. We had to flip through a dictionary if we wanted to check the spelling of a word. We did that a lot because if we handed in a story with a spelling mistake it got an automatic "F". We took spiral notebooks to interviews. We used pens. How is it that all of this seems archaic now? Will the way we do things now seem old fashioned in another 30 years or so? Will I become one of those old folks that gets left behind in the dust of obsolete devices? Will my current iPhone seem "retro" in 2047? 

Maybe in the next 30 years I will begin to care more about how I spend my remaining years and it will seem wasteful to obsess over the latest gadget. Meaning will replace knowing. Optimizing joy will outweigh mastering Apple's latest must-have techno tool. I already prefer observing birds at the feeder over anything technology related. Is this what happens? Do we hit a wall one day? Is that the definition of "slowing down"? Will being current and relevant reveal itself as a time thief? Will I become that strange old woman feeding pigeons on a park bench? Will young people pass by with glances of disdain and pity?

And will I care?

That bench is becoming more and more tempting some days... or more understood at any rate.