Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, June 29, 2008

June 15, 2008 - Day Five

We had heavy overnight rain, could hear it pounding on the roof all night long. Effectively washing out the dry, sunny days we'd enjoyed. Perhaps in sympathy with all that rain hitting the Mid-Western states. It was dark in the morning, unlike our previous bright early mornings with the sun streaming through the cottage bedroom windows. So we slept in later than usual. Deliberately.

Actually, Irving slept right through the night, until getting up at 6:30 am; first time in years. Finally, we got up, and I ventured into Angelyne's bedroom, to find her still sound asleep; another anomaly. After which we did the usual; showers, and a nice slow breakfast with everyone relaxing, enjoying the intimacy, the quiet, the darkened atmosphere, the food. And while we sat there, eating and talking, the sky began to clear.

The low cloud ceiling lifted, and we could actually see the mountains again, beyond us. With the rain stopped, we decided on our venture for the day. We'd go back to Franconia Notch and spend a few hours at the Basin Cascades. On the road again, we watched thick winding trails of mist rise from the mountain slopes, the tops still hidden in the clouds impaled there.

On the highway medians an array of purple and pink lupins glistened after their drenching. Passing through small towns, house-proud gardens boasted large rhododendrons with huge purple-pink blooms. It was less than an hour's drive to our destination. At this time of year there is never much traffic. But for the motorcycles, hundreds of them, thousands of them, to attend the yearly motorcycle rally.

At Franconia Notch, we watch, mesmerized, as the mountains reveal themselves; the great rock slides, the signage identifying tourist stops, recreational camping facilities, the places of interest. The Old Man of the Mountain sighting sign is no longer evident, the silhouette having collapsed several years back, and no longer proudly placed on vehicle license plates.

We park, assemble our gear, and make off under the tunnel leading to the Basin Cascades trails, where everything is completely sodden. A condition leading to brightly translucent leaves, boughs low hanging, dripping. Beside the trails, there is yarrow, hawkweed, buttercups, dogwood, bunchberry, strawberries. We've a cloudy sky again, but no sign of thunderheads.

The Pemigawasset River loops down off the mountain, sliding riotously over the smooth grey, lichen-festooned granite. The granite well scoured by the relentless waterfall; sliding, eddying, spurting, winding, exploding on its way down the mountain slope. We follow its trajectory, on the trail intersected with ancient roots, the dirt on the trail worn thin over the years.

Making our way off the trail onto the smooth granite slopes, we begin to ascend over the stone itself, half of which is clear of water. We take innumerable photographs of the tumbling, frothing waterfalls, the smooth expanse of granite rising in gradual and immense formations of shelves, inviting us to sit awhile, to look out over the landscape below.

The scope of our views expands as we stride over rocks, gravel, braided and interwoven roots - long ago exposed by the gradual soil erosion, despite continual attempts at ameliorating the trail conditions. We take turns clambering up the trails, and accessing the rockface to climb further uphill.

The ambient air is cool, and surprisingly insect-free. We don't miss the sun at all. The flowing water sparkles and flushes, churns and whorls, jets and whips itself past turns into a white-capped frenzy.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rainy Day Trip

Rain. Of course, more rain. It was foretold, after all. Those weather guys know whereof they speak. In gently apologetic tones, anxious to avoid inciting rancour in the hearts of Canadians so eager to enjoy recreational opportunities the week-end celebrating Canada Day. Not their fault after all; we civilized people cannot resort to blaming the messenger. We knew what to expect. Nonetheless, awakening to an heavily overcast day somehow squeaks the anticipation out of the day.

Breakfast was enjoyed regardless of the drizzle outside. Long, leisurely, caloric-rich and much appreciated. And after clean-up, we thought we'd give it a go, anyway. Just light rain - all of us need the exercise - might as well go for our usual jaunt in the ravine. With the assurance that the full leafy canopy would keep us reasonably dry. Even so, a cool temperature balanced the high humidity and we wore light rain jackets. And off we went.

Muck and more muck. But good to get out, that's the truth. Our little dogs could use the exercise and the opportunity to snuffle about, deposit their leavings, because we were in for a relatively long car drive soon afterward. And when we finally left, it was under a low cloud cover and a continuation of the low-grade rain; light enough so as not to compromise the drive, just requiring wipers.

The usual ebb and flow of traffic. Until we reach that certain spot some several miles on where traffic is generally brought to a slow-down generating hiccoughing fits and starts. The usual summertime roadwork in progress. Seems, frustratingly frequently, as though the municipality hands out contracts to the most inept, unhurried, under-staffed, but low-cost contractors.

A misty fog clings to the landscape, muting the prevailing colours that a bit of wet generally accentuates. It hangs low over the denatured city. Despite the rain - or perhaps because of it - there appears to be more traffic than usual on the highway. The occasional cowboy speeds past, not signalling lane changes, ripping up the kilometres, leaving a fine spray in his careless wake.

Hard to believe the sheer numbers of parked cars alongside the Ikea store on the west side of the city. That haven for Generation Xrs, who cannot seem to get enough of those "practical" products with their absurd nomenclature. Never again will we grace that place with our presence only to be routed through the most infuriatingly circuitous maze, ensuring customers wishing to access a sales desk be exposed to as many product aisles as possible.

We pass the Palladium, observe its alternate use, as a parking lot for thousands of recreational vehicles, and vacation trailers of all descriptions. Sitting there forlornly, as though pleading for notice of vacation-aspiring individuals heeding the yearly call to the open road to take advantage of their availability. No longer quite as much in demand given they represent a market newly dissolved in the face of rising energy prices.

Then we pass outlying fields in rural pasturage, all yet encompassed within the purview of the enlarged city. There are cattle out to pasture, moving lazily through the wet haze, grazing. Growing green crops are beginning their annual cycle, although this represents the second hay growth of the season. A lot of sileage, and corn for local markets and animal feed.

Flocks of Canada geese are busy making free of their opportunities, flapping in puddles in the fields, and partaking of the seeded offerings here and there. Ducks rise out of fields, on their way to local streams, perhaps even the Ottawa River. The roadsides are colourful with clover flowering in pastels of pink, white and mauve.

Nature's gardens appear briefly as we flash by on the highway. Daisies, hawkweed, milkweed, Viper's bugloss. There seems a brief lifting of the overhanging darkness, but it doesn't last. Our quietened windshield wipers are soon deployed again. Over in the near distance there hangs a truly sooty cloud system, draped over the landscape.

The rural ditches are replete with all manner of tall, attractive, ornamental grasses, rushes, cattails. They welcome the downpour.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

The Sodden Ravine

This weather we're experiencing is quite something else. The rain just does not stop. For the past several months we've experienced rain on a daily basis, but for the new anomaly of the occasional day when it fails to rain. Otherwise, we've a litany of showers, rainfalls, thunderstorms, pop-up showers, and drenching rain. There is no stop to it. Despite which, our weather forecasters and scientists assure us that total rainfall is not out of the ordinary.

The very fact that the rain is just about continual has them shaking their heads, and scratching their scalps at the mystery of it all. Still, they tell us, the total accumulations are not out of whack with what's generally anticipated at this time of year. Could've fooled me. Still, we've not much to complain about; Ontario doesn't resemble the U.S. Mid-West. We're not being flooded out, merely incessantly rained upon.

The gardens don't seem to mind. Fact is, despite the almost-daily rain occurrences, we're still getting a fair share of sunshine, here and there. And for us gardeners the steady rain alternating with sun translates as no need to water our gardens; nature is obligingly doing that for us. And are we really to believe the forecasters when they steadfastly continue to assure us that the summer of 2008 is still destined to be hotter and dryer than usual?

They're on a bit of a roll, having forecasted the winter of 2007-08 to be one of heavy snow, yet relatively mild temperatures, both of which conditions most certainly came to fruition. Come to think of it, we experienced almost daily snow events, as well, which accounted for our near-record-breaking snow pack this past winter.

We cannot recall ever seeing the ravine so incredibly sodden, as this year. The trails have reverted to early-spring muck conditions. Exacerbated by bicycles churning up the clay and the mud. We're getting used to it, actually. It isn't all that bad. We've become rather expert in side-stepping puddles with some alacrity. And our little dogs ordinarily get dunked in a sink of warm-water clean-up on our return from the ravine, anyway.

Already the red baneberry is sporting those dangling red berries; seems awfully early in the season. Runaway growth in the staghorn sumachs has them hoisting aloft their candles. Damsel flies flit about in the vicinity of the creek, itself more muddy than clear these days. The thimbleberry bushes are beginning to bloom bright pink blossoms, and the hazelnuts are maturing in abundance.

Hawkweed, both yellow and orange, along with pretty pink henbane enliven the colour scheme, heavy with the white of those ubiquitous daisies, and the bedding grasses with their heady fragrance. Speaking of which, we crushed some wild ginger leaves on yesterday's jaunt and almost swooned from the sweet-tangy aroma. And then there's potentilla, blooming perky yellow, alongside the blue of chicory, the sunny buttercups, interwoven with the bright purple-blue of cowvetch.

A tangled garden, the playground of local squirrels and chipmunks, and the local community of rabbits crossing our path from time to time.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Truly Abhorrent

How much better can it get, than to live in peace and comfort in a country like Canada. Where all of the citizens of this great country are guaranteed the freedom to live their lives free of persecution, in an egalitarian and truly humane society, concerned with the well-being of all its people. We are all, despite our differences as a hugely immigrant-based population, equally endowed under the laws of this land, regardless of ideology, religion, ethnicity, gender, culture, traditions, heritage and age. And not to forget inclusive of sexual preferences.

That would pretty much cover it, one should imagine. We are free, as Canadians, to value the culture and traditions of other countries from which our parents departed in favour of a new life, migrating for that purpose to Canada. Whose wide open spaces and employment opportunities, whose natural geological and geographical resources make this country one of the most wealthy nations on earth. From the magnificence of our boreal forests, to the great swaths of arable land, the Arctic reaches and the Rocky Mountains, and our Maritime provinces.

The beauty of the land, the vastness of its opportunities and its wealth make us proud to be Canadians. The assurances of safety and security of person given us through our Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensure that we are all - wherever we live, however we make our living, whatever we worship - valued as citizens of this great country. We have our disagreements to be certain; from province to province, and sometimes between ethnic groups.

But the larger picture is one of comfort and opportunities. Unless, that is, you are somehow an individual who manages to fall between the cracks. And that does happen. Unbelievably so, since as Canadians we are also phlegmatically smug about ourselves. To the point that, when we read about some dreadful miscarriage of justice happening in other countries whose human rights records leaves much to be desired, we feel how abhorrent it must be to live in such a country.

So how does this sound ... a 19-year-old girl, a young woman held in solitary confinement in a federal prison. In Canada. No physical or emotional comforts permitted this young woman. She was stripped of anything remotely personal or to which she could become attached. Wearing only a prison gown. No mattress, no blankets in her stark cell. No writing or reading materials to relieve the fearful tedium of her comfortless hours.

Her crime merited this dreadful punishment. At the age of 16 she was imprisoned, where she then lived, in New Brunswick for the unsupportable crime of throwing crabapples at a postal worker. That was her crime. She was found to be unco-operative while incarcerated. What thinking, feeling individual would not be, under those circumstances? Since when is it a crime, much less a truly serious incident to lob crabapples at someone? It's a public nuisance, worth a lecture, perhaps, on sociability.

And throughout the three years of her imprisonment - neither at the correctional institutes in New Brunswick, nor the federal prison in Ontario, no assistance was ever offered to her, this teen-age girl. No concern was ever evinced about her, no care given, treatment of any kind, or support. This kind of situation, this horrible fate, can somehow be imagined taking place in socially backward, politically unstable, poverty-ridden countries. But yet, perhaps not. It's more likely that in some of those countries a spark of humanity would arrest such a travesty.

But in Canada? Our Canada, the country that encourages and stimulates and offers us our bright futures? The young woman, Ashley Smith, would most certainly have been in utter despair. No one, it seems, cared about her. No one intervened, made any attempt to assist her. While in custody she was deemed to have committed additional offences. One can readily imagine what they might conceivably have been; expressing contempt for her jailers, her tormentors.

We, Canadians, the Canadian system of justice, stealthily and remorselessly, took away this girl child's life. We failed this young woman in the most spectacular, human-rights-abusing way. We simply did not care to care about her. And we would have to ask ourselves how it could possibly be that we proud Canadians have built penal institutions and a judicial system that could fail to this degree.

Nineteen-year-old Ashley Smith suffered the most perniciously atrocious treatment possible at the hands of Canadian authorities. She might have been one of the most obnoxious young people in the world, but she needed help, and no one saw to the necessity of offering her that help. Instead punishment was meted out to her. Finally, in complete solitude and completely abandoned by the outside world, she took herself out of her misery.

And left us with the lingering question of why we would have been so blind to her need.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

June 14, 2008 - Day Four

It's rained all night. No bright morning light to greet us when we wake. And showers continue through the early morning hours.

Riley has been sleeping under the covers, down around where my calves are. I have to keep shoving him over. He has a propensity, during the night, to move closer to me if I move for example, on my side, and then I'm unable to move on my back, because he's too close. This isn't our queen-sized bed at home, it's a mere double, and we haven't room to spare.

Button is sensibly sleeping in the other bedroom, on top of the second twin bed, beside the one Angelyne is sleeping on. She wakes early in the morning, and asks to be taken outside to pee. Button, not Angelyne. Riley can't be bothered until we actually get out of bed. But he's only 7 and she's almost 15, perhaps a matter of elderly bladder control.

Once she's finished, Irving gets back in bed, but Button is disgruntled. She's up, figures we should be, too, and keeps whining about our laziness. Which awakens Angie, and she leaves her bedroom and enters ours. I shift over as close as I can to her grandfather without shoving him off the bed, and make room for her, beside me.

Unsettling Riley in the process. Tough. Angie settles in beside me, says she slept well, but Button was restless through the night, and she snores, too. She lets me know she'd like waffles for breakfast, and where are we planning to go, today? Which is when her grandfather chimes in and offers a few recommendations. We settle on a moderate climb for the day, the West Rattlesnake. About an hour's drive.

Time to rise and shine. Starting with showers all around, and feeding Button and Riley. Then it's time for our breakfast and we all make busy doing it, especially me. With her waffles Angie still wants her turkey strips (in lieu of bacon, which her grandfather prefers). After breakfast, Irving takes Button and Riley out for their walk- and sniff-about. The showers have stopped, the clouds are breaking up, and it looks as though this will be a lovely day.

The air is rapidly warming, and the weather report tells us to expect temperatures in the 80s again, with light breezes. We pack Angie's lunch, prepare our backpacks and make off, driving toward Holderness and South Sandwich to the West Rattlesnakes. Not a dreadfully long drive, but a most pleasant one. The highway with its mountain landscapes, the median filled with daisies, cornflowers, lupins and bedding grasses.

At the trailhead parking lot there's quite a commotion and it looks full. Cars are parked along the side of the road, but we drive into the lot anyway, and find a spare spot. The parking lot is full because there's a wedding party assembling there, of all things. Young men and women with their children running about, being herded to caution because of the traffic, being encouraged to throw balls to relieve the tension of waiting for everyone to assemble.

They're boisterous and happy for the most part, although there are some sullen faces, mostly belonging to pre-teen girls who aren't disporting themselves like the boys, climbing trees, catching balls. Everyone is dressed climbing-casually; hard to climb a mountain in high-heeled shoes and frilly dresses. This is obviously a post-wedding celebration, somewhat different than most, but healthily sensible. In honour of "John and Ashley".

We begin our ascent of the trailhead, one long familiar to us, but new to Angelyne, and we keep up a steady explanation of everything for her information. Our climb is, as usual, slow and careful, giving due caution to the intertwining of roots and placement of rocks on the trail. An ongoing series of wide steps have been hacked out of the trail here and there, and we do our best to avoid them; they're better suited to the stride of giants than we mere mortals.

The crowd of family and friends down below are still milling about, their shouted encouragement to one another growing fainter as we progress. Still, we're passed now and again by several other climbing groups, couples and families out for a day's jaunt. This is a very popular trail and doesn't pose too much of a physical challenge for the moderately fit. There are ample mosquitoes to harass us, but we're glad to note, no black flies.

Simple: no running water close by, but the occasional pool of standing water. Lucky Angie; she disturbs a small garter snake and it slithers swiftly into the undergrowth before we're even able to see it. She shrieks in alarm, and we leap to attention. Too late, darn. She decides not to forge on ahead, and walks abreast with us for the remainder of the ascent. We climb steadily with small resting periods now and then.

Beside the trail there are maples, oaks, large old pines and hemlocks, spruce and birch. The undergrowth sports yarrow newly blooming, blackberries and the occasional daisy, along with purple cow vetch. The trail itself, as it rises and we with it, takes on that peculiar yellowish, pale beige hue I always associate with its upper reaches, like some kind of crushed shale. Sometimes Riley's apricot coloured hair seems to melt into the same colour as the trail.

We see yellow Admirals in flight, and robins, and hear an oven bird in the near distance. The day is warming considerably, aided by our energetic outpouring of the morning's caloric intake. We steadily slap away the ubiquitous mosquitoes. And, wouldn't you know it, the wedding party is finally on its way and doing its best to overtake us. At least the first portion, the more assiduous climbers.

The initial group of the wedding party diverges off the main path and assemble where we know there is a look-out, while we turn left toward the top of the mountain. It takes us a mere ten minutes of additional climbing time to access the bare shield of the mountain top. A handful of other climbers are already there, sitting in choice spots, eating lunch, enjoying the spectacular views of Big Squam Lake below.

We begin to take pictures, and then all of a sudden the space becomes crowded as the wedding party has finally arrived, all of them, adults and children, milling about, cooing in appreciation at the landscape below. End of picture-taking. Angelyne decides she'd prefer to have her lunch back in the car. Button and Riley have some water, a few dog treats, and we begin our descent.

Meeting and greeting people coming and going.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

June 13, 2008 - Day Three

We've settled in. Took slightly longer to feel comfortable, since we have the added presence of a young girl with us. Takes some of the spontaneity away from us. We've got to consider her well-being, her needs, her presence and the probability of acceptance of our choices first.

And, since we're her grandparents we must needs behave grand-parently. Which we've been long accustomed to, in any event, having raised her as secondary care-givers during the working week, from infancy to age nine. And then we had a break from one another, when her mother moved with her to a more distant home.

So here we are again, back together for a one-week period of time. Of course, during the summer months and school break we often had her with us for three-day periods of time, and likely will again. But this close exposure to one another is special, for a longer period of time, and completely away from our, and her home environment.

She hasn't found all that much difference in her first and brief experience, being in rural America, as opposed to her own home, in rural Canada. Those differences she notes are slight and unobtrusive. Alas, she's already infected with the plague of Canadian superiority over anything American. We'll manage to shed a little of that for her.

And we've developed a template for our days here. The most vital part of her day's experience revolves around her mealtimes. So we start off each and every day with a sizeable and nutritious - certainly filling - breakfast. She has become enamoured of these long and leisurely breakfasts.

Her half-grapefruit, tumbler of white/pink cranberry juice, scrambled eggs, turkey strips (she eschews pork and beef), toast spread with jam or cream cheese - and she shares my pot of tea. I've given up wondering how she can manage to pack it all in, because she does, handily, and seems no worse the wear for it.

Having thus girded herself to face the morning, she's ready for anything. She obediently and unenthusiastically makes up her bed, then she applies herself to a cross-word puzzle, or reading one of her novels, until I've cleaned away the kitchen, made our bed, done a quick vacuuming, assembled all of our daily-used linen for replacement, taken out the kitchen waste, and prepare to put together whatever we might need for our jaunt, in my backpack.

That's when she springs into action and puts together the lunch she'll be carrying in her backpack. Along with myriad choices of snacks. Little round, separately packaged (and wasteful) cheese rounds, cookies, individual packs of yogurt, choice of fruit, and a small bag of nuts, or candies.

Her grandfather, in the interim, has seen to the needs of our little dogs. Taken them out for their initial waste release and sniff-about the grassy lawn. Sitting with them in the sun, scrutinizing our White Mountain trail guide. And hob-nobbing with our genial host who always has time to stand around and chat, regardless of the amount of work he invariably has to attend to, around his property.

And then we're ready to depart for the better part of the day. But perhaps not quite, not today. We're forecasted to have sun and heat; well into the 80s. Too hot for an ambitious climb. Besides which we already performed the most strenuous of the climbs we planned for, the day before, when it was more auspicious weather-wise for that kind of energetic enterprise.

Today, we decide, we'll take a bit of a stroll, to take into account our still-aching limbs. Truth is, it's rather more than a stroll, in any event. An enjoyable partial ascent, gradual and gentle in comparison to yesterday's jaunt. Unlike yesterday, there's little wind, so the sun's rays are immediately warming.

A relatively short hike would do for today, since this might very well be the only opportunity Angelyne has to make use of the swimming pool sitting there, waiting her return. On our way to Smarts Brook, we stop to pick up the Boston Globe for later reading, as usual. We'd earlier picked up our permit for use of the State's forest reserves. We find ourselves the only car in the parking lot, and set off.

We enjoy the slow and picturesque rise alongside the steep canyon siding the mountain stream. We divert time and again from the trail to make our way closer to the stream, to watch it splashing and churning over the rockface it drains down onto, haphazardly strewn with boulders and rocks of every conceivable shape and colour, the water coursing and hitting the rocky obstacles and creating a roar of triumph as it proceeds. Each of us is equipped with a digital camera and we make good use of this opportunity.

Button and Riley snuffle about, getting underfoot, and Button manages to reach the water's edge, dipping her dainty feet into its clear crystalline coolness. She loves the water, while Riley does his utmost to avoid contact with it. Given the right circumstances, she will unhesitatingly dive into the water where it's calm, to retrieve a stone we've tossed for her into its shallow depths, which she's been able to sniff out from among others.

The forest is cool and sheltered from the sun. Rays of the sun slant through where they can, under and through the canopy of mature hemlock, spruce, fir, pine and dogwood, with oak and maple and yellow birch specimens of sizeable dimensions. Underfoot there are lilies of the valley, buttercups, daisies, cinquefoil, wood sorrel, and wonderful bright pink Ladies Slippers, those regal orchids of the woods. Yellow and black Admirals abound here, fluttering about in an ancient ritual of mating.

We pass inviting, yet never yet ventured cross-trails, preferring to track alongside the creek. And we progress ever upward, ascending new heights where the gorge impresses us with its smooth veneer of rockface made brilliant by the spray of the rushing waters, the groundwater rushing down its height. It's interspersed here and there with luxuriant growths of ferns. And lichen, in various colours further dresses up the granite outcrops.

It's not a long hike by any measure, but one of the most beautiful we'll be taking this week. Our photographs will attest to that, but they'll never recapture the beauty we see more directly through the experience of being there, seeing it all in its variety and complex dimensions which photographs try but cannot quite capture. And then it's turn-about and return the way we had come. We'll do the two-and-a-half hour circuit, next time out.

This excessively warm and sunny afternoon will be devoted to enabling our grandchild to have her fill of fun in the cottage-resort's swimming pool. And on that later occasion, watching her abundant appreciation of the cool water, the mountain backdrop, I take plenty of photographs of that child disporting herself.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

June 12, 2008 - Day Two

We listened avidly to the weather report for the day; a high of 70 forecasted, clear skies, some wind. We didn't mean to set out so expeditiously on arrival on the most arduous of the climbs, but given the weather forecast, felt it would be the most auspicious time to tackle the twin mountains, Welch-Dickey.

We rose fairly early, showered, had a long and leisurely breakfast - Angelyne had her turkey bacon and eggs, grapefruit, toast and tea, bulking up for the energy expenditure ahead. But then there was also the little matter of packing her lunch, which we promised she would be enjoying at a rather elevated latitude.

She decided to do it herself, preparing a turkey-cheese-lettuce sandwich, nectarine, apple, chocolate chip cookies, little bag of candies, and a fruit yogurt. All packed into a neat little zip-up bag with a small freezer bag on the bottom. And her bottle of water. All of which she would carry in her backpack.

My backpack was replete with rainjackets for all of us (just in case), treats for Button and Riley, retractable leashes, water, insect repellent and sunscreen. We'd have to wear long pants, I stressed, since this climb had some serious clambering to be done, not at all kind to bare flesh. And, since we discovered, once committed to the trail, that black flies were present in abundance, good thing, too.

As we set out from the parking lot, a trio of young women also exited from their vehicle, and accessed the trailhead just ahead of us. I felt pretty certain we'd be left far behind in their dust. Riley has a tendency to plow slowly forward, and that's great, since for Irving and me it's no longer full speed ahead. When we were younger and our three children teens, we used to do the circuit under given time, in less than three hours.

So, off we plodded, an entirely new experience for Angelyne. This was part of our birthday gift to her, inviting her to accompany us on this week's vacation in New Hampshire, to celebrate her twelfth birthday. Plenty of chattering, since young girls never quite assume silence at any given time. As for me, I delighted in pointing out to her the various wild flowers we passed, the nature of the trees, the brook we followed after the initial switch-back.

Slow and steady does it for us, and as far as I could detect, slow and steady was just fine with our granddaughter, as well. Although she is capable of spurting ahead, she did very little of that, preferring to match our pace, which was inordinately temperate. A tall wizened, older man hoisting two hiking sticks made his speedy way behind us. We greeted and he soon outpaced us, leaving us with his little homily: this is not an endurance test or a race.

Angelyne is curious about the process and procedure, trusting us to provide an experience for her that she has never before been exposed to. For our part, we're eager to share with her our love for the outdoors, particularly the mountains, and the difficult but rewarding ascent involved in achieving a summit. She learns to look out for the yellow blazes indicating the correct trail, and bypasses false trails.

We hear birds in the woods, and enjoy the sight of buttercups, daisies, (and scent of)bedding grasses, and Ladies Slippers. The occasional butterfly flits past us. Our little dogs march on, Button ahead, and Riley, as usual, lagging behind, bringing up the rear. It takes an hour for us to finally reach the lookout ridge, and we explain to Angie the purpose of the state authorities in asking hikers not to roam beyond the trail borders, to protect the frail alpine growth on the granite shield.

Surprise, there are the three young women, sitting on the ledge. As we approach, we greet one another and one explains that she's been here before, and is guiding her friends. They depart, and we take some photographs, offer the dogs water, and Angie eats an apple. Then we too continue the ascent to the summit of Welch Mountain. Low blueberry bushes, junipers, oak, pine, laurel, Labrador tea, and azaleas decorate the sides of the narrow granite trail.

We make our way over bare twined roots, rocks, and narrow passageways, the trail growing ever more steep. From time to time we find ourselves on bare sweeps of granite and bend with the effort of making our way up the long stony slopes, until once again we find ourselves surrounded by stressed trees and then come abreast of granite shelves waist-high and occasionally at shoulder-height. Our little dogs have to be lifted onto these shelves, and we have to hoist ourselves to their heights before proceeding.

The sun is warm, but we're not too hot, because there's a nice stiff wind cooling us off. The black flies, however, are ubiquitous here and crave our flesh. They bite distinct bits of flesh off our skin and the application of insect repellent has questionable value. Angie won't use the repellent, but I do. In the end, she comes out with but one bite on her neck, while my neck, scalp and back of my ears are covered with bites.

When we finally attain the summit of Welch, it's with great relief. A temporary reprieve from the stress of forging on, despite tired muscles and heaving chests. And there are the three young women, resting, having their lunch. We find our own resting place - there are no areas there with shade, the trees are too stunted and sparse to provide shelter from the sun - and Angie has her lunch, the dogs their biscuits and more water.

Then it's time to shove off, and we shrug back into our packs and continue. First the perilous seeming bit of a descent from Welch onto the coll that connects the two mountains. As we begin to descend, Angie points out to us the far-off figure of a sole woman hiker with a bright blue shirt who had passed us on our way up Welch. Amazingly, she is descending Dickey, going back down into the coll.

We meet her when we access the coll on our way up to Mount Dickey, and ask her why she hadn't completed the circuit. She looks confused, and asks for an explanation. We respond that this is a circuit; having ascended Dickey, she should have continued making her way down Dickey, and on into the forest to take the long trail down the mountainside back into the parking lot.

She's been there before, she's a local. She confesses that she's disoriented, couldn't figure out where she was, and couldn't even recall passing through the coll. We carefully set out the route for her again, and she backtracks, making her way back up the same way she had come from. Her husband, she informed us, isn't interested in the out-of-doors, and she intends, some day, to persuade her 15-year-old daughter to accompany her.

We're certain she'll make her way back out all right, now. The three young women catch up to us, as we're clambering out of the coll. We stand briefly together and talk.

Turns out the woman who'd been here before couldn't quite recall the route. She had imagined the lookout to have been Welch, and when they achieved the summit of Welch, she thought they were on Dickey. We explained to them what the reality was, and the guide turned and apologized to her two friends, one of whom looked decidedly unhappy, nursing black fly bites, and looking utterly exhausted.

We bade them farewell, and forged on in their wake. Ascending to Dickey had its own complicating routes and difficulties, but in the end proved not to be quite as difficult as my memory had it. And once we initiated the downward clamber, and accessed one huge granite ledge after another, each with its stunning look out, and opportunities for more photographs, we relaxed knowing the most difficult part of our day's adventure was behind us.

Knowing, however, that it would yet take us close to two hours to completely descend. We related to Angie that the original White Mountain guide book had explained the presence of an ancient Indian symbol etched on one of the great granite slopes, and that her uncle and her father had isolated it, and pointed it out to us, many years ago. We hadn't been able to make it out since, despite returning on numerous occasions.

And darned if Angie, on the last ledge before we made our way through the forest and onto the rocky ledge didn't stop and ask "does it look like this?", pointing out the presence of a large circle etched in the granite. Speechless, we nodded assent. She whooped and whipped out her camera, taking a few photographs of the fabled symbol, and felt awfully good about her detection abilities.

From the high granite ridge that extended high above the forest below, falling down on either side of the ridge, we eventually made our way onto the forest trail for good, our knees somewhat wobbly, our legs good and tired, our toes feeling well stubbed. We stumbled gracelessly over endlessly twined tree roots as the trail twisted and turned. We felt completely exhausted.

On the way, however, alert enough to point out sumachs that in the fall had bright red clusters of berries, quite unlike the staghorn sumachs we're accustomed to seeing. And columbines in flower, first time we've ever seen them there. And numberless blueberry bushes. Huge beech trees were ornamented with the punctures made by bear cubs climbing up their grey trunks.

Finally, four and one-half hours after we began the ascent, we emerged from the forest trail.
Done, and done in. Exultant. Happy with our day's adventure.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

The Garden Rampant

When we left for a week away from home, I agonized over all the changes in the garden that would take place in our absence. I would miss seeing so many things blooming, come into their own, display their glory for a brief period of time before collapsing into obscurity on our return.

The rhododendrons would be finished flowering, the azaleas, the irises, and some of the lilies. I would miss the thrill of seeing the first of the clematis blooms blissfully opening, the first of the roses flush with bloom.

And the tree peonies would finally relinquish their hold on beauty. The French lilac would fade, its fragrance with it. The lilies-of-the-valley, so sublimely fragrant, would have completed their brief but vital presence in our gardens.

The foam flower would be faded, left a memory to anticipate for next year. The prime of the Jack-in-the-pulpits would have passed, as have the trilliums. And the weeds! They'd proliferate crazily without my being there to patiently pluck them from between the perennials and the annuals.

All those apprehensions and more proved true, on our return. The cut-backs I'd meant to do before we left and hadn't got around to resulted in overgrowth and rampant crowding of the flowerbeds, the rose bushes.

On the plus side, the roses are abundant and gorgeous, although the lupins have faded, in our absence. The clematis vines - all of them - are gloriously, abundantly, full of marvellously huge blooms.

The last of the generous blossoms on our magnolia trees have faded, it's true, and so have the plentiful and fragrant crab-apple blossoms. But the lilies are beginning to blossom in earnest, the Persian cornflowers too, and the Canterbury bells, white and blue, are radiant in their presentation.

The painted daisies are brilliant, although the alliums have lost their purple hue and are now mere skeletal images of their former glory. The flowering peas, both standard and pendulous, have overgrown themselves, as have the mulberry trees.

The penstemon, the hairy bearded tongue, the poppies, the emerging floral tributes to summer and beauty are all promising to radiate colour and texture and form for our delectation and appreciation.

And as soon as all this incessant rain comes to a halt, I shall be enabled to go out into the garden to begin the process of cut-back and control, to establish order once again in our rampant garden.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

June 11, 2008 - Day One

The count-down over. No longer would our granddaughter's voice helpfully remind me over the telephone that there were ten days left, nine days, eight...before our trip. This time, we'd agreed we would invite her to accompany us. Every year when we go off on our spring trip she would ask if she could come along, and every year - up until now - we've told her she's too young, it would be too arduous for her, and when she grew a little older we'd consider it. Well, we considered it, and thought she was ready.

Eleven years old - but twelve next week - she had the stamina, the energy and the enthusiasm, we figured, to tough it out. Her mother and her uncles weren't that much older when we used to haul them to New Hampshire for a week of climbing. And although only eleven-almost-twelve, she stands as tall as her grandfather - towering over me - well formed, and vigorous with a healthy curiosity and an abiding sense of adventure. We'd described as much for her as we were able to, and the rest would be hers to discover.

Starting with the long hours of sitting in the back seat of the car, viewing the changing landscape as we drove from Ottawa to our destination in the Waterville Valley of New Hampshire. Most of the frenzy of packing had been concluded the night before. On Wednesday morning we got up a little earlier than usual, showered, and took our little dogs out for their morning constitutional. This would be the only opportunity for the day, so a ravine walk was in the offing.

After which, Angelyne had a quick breakfast of half a grapefruit and a bowl of cereal. The dogs had eaten earlier. We packed a thermos of hot, sweet tea, one of chocolate milk, a short one of strawberry yogurt, and almond-butter and honey sandwiches, along with bananas, and small oranges. The rest of the luggage went into the clamshell on the car-top carrier, our hiking boots stuffed in the trunk, and we were off.

She'd never been to/through Montreal that she could recall (only when she was 8 months old, an earlier trip to New Hampshire with us and her parents she wouldn't remember), and she wasn't impressed with the traffic, the density of the city, the length of time it took to traverse it. But it was a beautiful day, not too hot, lots of sunshine and a profoundly green landscape, with the odd anomaly of seeing those geological erratics on the Quebec landscape - and the seigneurial-era strip-farms.

We speedily passed farms, cattle out grazing, fields of emerging crops. Finally to approach the Canada-U.S. border. Nicely enough there were no line-ups; in fact there were scant few other vehicles waiting to cross. An older Customs/Immigration agent questioned us, scrutinized our passports, keyed in vital statistics, questioned our relationship with the big young girl in the back seat, the two dogs, and we were speedily cleared and waved through.

A mile on, we stopped at a Vermont rest stop. It never failed; however beautiful and sunny a day it was when we started out, invariably when we reached this signal stop, it would be heavily overcast, verging on rain, and cool enough that we required jackets. We did the usual walk-about with Button and Riley, to give them a chance to stretch and pee, then we settled in at a picnic table with our breakfast, Angelyne's post-breakfast snack. She ate voraciously.

That child is a stomach on legs. Most people eat to live. She lives to eat. The most pressing question of her day is "what's for breakfast/lunch/dinner?", or "can I have a snack?". Where she puts it all is quite beyond my ken, because she remains tall and willowy. The taste-quality of a meal can make or break her day, become the most memorable portion of her day's experience. I cannot recall any of our three children ever being so devoted to food.

It's a pleasant place to stop, nicely planted with viburnum, ornamental oaks and maples, the grass well mowed and in season beautifully coloured and scented with thyme. Alongside the rest stop is a farm, and often the cattle wander in their bucolic setting, a counter to the tourists who stop there for information and maps, the truckers who pause briefly for a quick cup of coffee, courtesy of the State of Vermont.

And the Green Mountains of the Green State further ornament the landscape. Once we're back in the car, back on track, on our way to our New Hampshire destination, the highways with their perfect paving, their manicured boulevarded dividers, the sloping green hillsides, the picturesque junipers, stately spruce and fir, look as though a master gardener has choreographed the environment.

These perfect divided highways were blasted out of the granite hillsides, the approaches to the mountain range. Stone outcroppings on either side of the highway appear as creative and monumental sculptures, further enhanced by groundwater seeping out over the granite, intensifying the colours of mahogany, browns, streaks of black - all enhanced by the overgrowth of vegetation, despite the impermeability of the granite.

We cross the state line finally, into New Hampshire, over the Moore Dam, and we've reminded that under-18s require seat belts, it's the law. Over 18s can gamble as they wish, they go seat-belt-less just as they go unhelmeted driving their motorcycles. The motto is, after all, "Live Free Or Die", transcribed by reality, if not convention, as "live free and die", as they most surely do, too frequently.

Finally, we approach the Franconia Notch, that wonder of Nature unparalleled, the mountains rising broad and high out of the landscape, taking one's breath away by their stoic immensity. Past Echo Lake, Eagle's Cliff on the way up Mount Lafayette - which, in earlier times when we were much younger, we were wont to climb with our young and enthusiastic brood. Angie's grandfather gives her a quick oral history lesson on the U.S. War of Independence and French General Lafayette, his name immortalized in gratitude.

We pass the Basin Cascades - to which we will return during the course of the week - and Indian Head, Mount Pemigawasset, and then continue on the relatively short while until we finally reach the cottage that we've rented for the week. Angelyne is assured, on fleeting through the rooms, that there is indeed indoor plumbing, because I've been telling her for the last month and more that she will have to become accustomed to sharing an outdoor two-hole facility.

The cottage is nicely equipped with a large refrigerator and electric stove, generous counter space and kitchen cupboards. A large television with a whole lot of channels, that we won't make much use of. And a large, miserably uncomfortable futon-sofa, alongside a somewhat more comfortable armchair. And of course the good-sized bathroom with sink vanity. A bedroom with a double bed, another bedroom with two single beds.

The two single beds are pushed together to make Angelyne more comfortable, lest we risk having her fall off the slender width of a single bed during the night. Heaven forfend.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Dad The Dunce

Or is it the consuming public - once again a hapless and helpless foil for the brilliance of the advertising and mass merchandising industries that are having us on yet again - that constitutes one giant collective dunce. In any event, hand over the dunce caps; they've been well earned.

If, after all, a society becomes reliant upon the mechanistic retail industry whose sole interest is enriching their bottom line, to "remember" and appreciate and do honour to loved ones, we've been complicit in abrogating and outsourcing our finer instincts, haven't we?

All of these memorable "honour thy" events for which we require retail nudges in place of deep-seated, natural and intrinsically honourable tweaks of recognition toward those whom we love and respect speak to the basest surrender of ourselves as thinking, emotional beings.

It's just so much simpler to succumb to advertising blandishments that would have us hurry out to those big box stores, spend some easy cash and assuage our consciences. About, say, that neglect of assuring those closest to us of our heartfelt and deeply-felt regard. Forget the smiles, the encouraging words, the hugs.

So that makes of our society complicit dunces in the exercise of loving gratitude. An exercise that should, in reality, be a profound portion of our everyday lives. Where ideally we would be indicating by all manner of little gestures how much we appreciate the presence of our loved ones.

Our wives and husbands, fathers and mothers, children and friends. Instead the institution of greeting cards, and publicly advertised commemorative "anniversary" events are relied upon.
We've got Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and Father's Day, among other celebratory events in honour of those dear to us.

Where it behooves us because this has become a rote part of societal expectations, to rush into the retail whorl of offerings and buy a symbol of love with which to earn ourselves another year of release from obligatory recognition of deep and meaningful relationships. Rendered, through this retail process rather unmeaningful.

Birthdays, anniversary events, remembrances of all kinds are deeply personal events that have great meaning to individuals. That meaning becomes diluted and infinitely less personal when it becomes public property, and a recognized public priority. The personal becomes a material, not an emotive emblem of discreet attention, when the giver and the recipient both accept that love is bought and sold.

In any event, the entire process can sometimes be good for a belly laugh, so it can't be all bad as a social experience. Manufacturers and retail outlets offering their suggestions and recommendations for what one might conceivably buy to surprise, delight and empower the receiver with.

And since it's Father's Day that's coming up so swiftly on the gifting calendar, the recent advertisement in the local newspaper by Oral B wins the goof-off prize for patronizing idiocy. Here's the text, and it's kind of terrific, actually:
Father isn't the only one
Who knows Best.
Dad has taught you so much - now return the favour.
The Oral-B Triumph with SmartGuide could be the most
useful Father's Day gift you've ever given. It not only tells Dad
how much you love him, but also how long to brush, which teeth
to brush and when he's brushing too hard.

C'mon now, isn't that just about the greatest bit of usefully loving advice you've ever read? It's so good you wonder why other manufacturers of other extremely useful devices for life's idiots haven't come up with their own versions for good old Dad.

And it's hard to say whether this isn't the best way to advise Dad, who likely is too stupid to interpret it in any event, that he's so dense he can't figure out on his own how long to brush which teeth most gently. On the other hand, any loving son or daughter who figures this the perfect gift for good old Dad is demonstrating their own duncehood, wot?

And why stop there, in any event? Keep a sharp eye out for additional useful products for old Dad:
  • The toilet roll holder that tells him when to stop pulling, and itself tears off just the right number of sheets for the right "job";
  • The bath soap dispenser that can detect Dad's weight, condition of bodily soiled areas, and dispense just the right amount of soap;
  • The ultra-sensitive razor that recognizes how much of a stubble lazy old Dad has allowed to grow, and plows it accordingly;
  • The self-correcting trousers designed to turn themselves right side out and back to front when Dad has climbed into them incorrectly;
  • The necktie with a memory that will tie itself, and kvetch when Dad has soiled it.
Any imaginatively creative and enterprising gift-giver can look out for these brilliant marketing innovations. Coming to a store of note near you in the near future....

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Beloved Family Pet

There's just something about companion animals that appeals to people. As though a family, a home, is not quite complete without the presence of small furry animals. Completely dependent on the goodwill and attention of the people who undertake to provide for them. In exchange for their company, their unqualified love for those who value them and care for them.

Trouble is, too often it's the idea, not the reality of pet ownership that attracts some people.
For these people the pets have another kind of value other than companionship. Status, perhaps, or an indication that they are like everyone else, enjoying the company of a companion animal.

Their commitment is not terribly deep, they tolerate the presence of an animal that is completely dependent on their good graces and the memory that they require daily feeding at a minimum. These are the people who don't take their pets to a veterinarian, or register it with the municipality. Nor see to its safety and daily exercise requirements.

As opposed to the many who become inordinately fond of their dogs and cats, ferrets and rabbits, hamsters and whatever else they may have taken a fancy to - turtles, reptiles. They have a stake in the health and well-being of their pets, because they value them. They reciprocate in a sense the human-centric appreciation of a lower animal species' presence by committing to looking after their needs.

There are many, in fact, who go a whole lot further and become animal missionaries, trying to educate others about the needs of animals and the distinct responsibilities of their owners in caring adequately for them. And those others who found and direct private animal welfare groups, rescue groups. Not to leave behind the importance of others whose mission in life becomes circumscribed by the number of unwanted or abandoned dogs and cats they rescue.

Some, like my daughter, ending up with no fewer than ten dogs, two cats, seven rabbits. Living rurally, and valuing all the wildlife that surrounds her acreage. Putting up feeders for the birds, becoming excited at the presence of deer, ducks, snakes, wild turkeys and an encyclopedia of birds and insect populations.

These people develop a messianic complex, see themselves as saviours of animals in an pet-animal-hostile world.

There is the example of pets abandoned at times of upheaval, both natural and man-made. Dogs and cats and farm animals wandering confused, dazed and lost after hurricanes, wildfires, floods. Awaiting rescue, helpless to make a life for themselves without the protection of human owners.

And then there is the dilemma that real estate agents find themselves in, as a result of the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the United States. Where people, unprepared to face economic reality were walking away from their homes - virtually worthless - their mortgages a greater burden than the value of the houses.

Walking away from a lifestyle they were incapable of supporting under normal circumstances, but were drawn into through a situation where, although their finances did not qualify them for home ownership, they succumbed to assurances given them by unscrupulous realtors endorsing financing schemes doomed to failure.

Through simple greed, wishing to acquire more than they needed, because more is better and big is nicer. Or through simple-mindedness that persuaded them that they were entitled to the same kind of "good life" and all its embellishments that exemplified people earning larger salaries.

Their pets have since become expendable discards. Left in the homes they abandoned, to fend for themselves. Many, as a result, have died of neglect and starvation. In many instances, kindly real estate agents have fed them for the requisite number of weeks until the pets could be turned over to area humane societies; no longer seen as "owned" by those who abandoned them, under the law.

And then there are the humane societies themselves. Some of which honour a "no-kill" policy and strain their resources to find new homes for these abandoned pets.

Others which, although receiving municipal support as a public service, and launching successful charitable appeals among the public enabling them to look after the medical-health and nutritional needs of the animals they take in, feel justified in euthanizing the roughly 50% of dogs and cats they are, in the end, unable to place with new owners.

In the Ottawa area, the humane society, unlike many others in Canada, doesn't recognize the moral utility of a "no-kill" policy. Roughly 60% of dogs are reclaimed by their owners. As opposed to 4% to 7% of cats. What does that say for peoples' humanity? As for the Ottawa Humane Society, they took in 10,500 cats, dogs and other small animals in 2006 - 2007. Homes were found for 4,276 of the animals.

Thousands were euthanized. What does that say about us as a responsible and caring society?

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The Quality of Suburban/Urban Values

It's one of those days when you get by on sheer inertia. We've got a mini heat-wave, a high of 31 degrees and high humidity - 100%, in fact. Rather de-energizing. Might put a lot of people in a bad mood, trying to cope.

But look here, we went out for our usual morning ravine walk and found, unsurprisingly, that it was a whole lot cooler down in the ravine. There was an appreciably stiff breeze, and the fresh green leafy canopy kept the full force of the sun from baking the landscape down there. From baking us, too.

Later, we went off to pick up a few items, like rust-proofing paint, and while at Canadian Tire yours truly succumbed to plucking a few flowers; a flat of watchakallthem; spider plants, a smaller one of impatiens, a pot of red flowered phlox, another of deep pink Icelandic poppy - all of which were irresistible, since I have yet space for these things, little bits of bare garden just calling out for colour and texture.

I merely obliged, planting them, despite the heat.

So why'm I kind of ticked off? Well, I shouldn't be, it's none of my business in a sense, other than that all that prowling traffic of die-hard expeditionists who go off looking for garage-sale bargains were turning around in our driveway, hence putting our little dogs at risk. One of our neighbours is selling the family house.

Never did get to know them very well, they kind of keep to themselves. Nice people, though.

Seems as part of the package the real estate company provides you with these nifty large signs to be posted wherever possible (in this case in a two-mile radius of our street, engaging the interests of too many car-shoppers) that an !important! garage sale is taking place at this precise address.

So from early in the morning until heated mid-afternoon there were the cars tracking up and down our normally quiet street.

The driveway of the garage sale in question was burdened with all manner of gently used stuff common to any family of two children outgrowing clothing, sports equipment and clamouring for new stuff.

And what about this? their/our neighbour directly across the street from them, decided to take advantage of all that signage and the resulting traffic, themselves enthusiastically hauling all kinds of clothing, household goods, children's toys from their four onto their own driveway, as well.

A powerful incentive that, to rid oneself of unwanted objects and make a little money on the side. To which I say, bloody damn.

These are people - both houses - who are wedged on the edge of the upper-middle class, they don't need that extra money. All those household objects, children's toys and sports equipment should be taken over to the Sally Ann or gifted to any of a number of area charitable organizations which could make good use of them.

The tawdry idea that one should dispense with the unwanted by selling still-usable items for whatever profit can be realized is a miserable one, and people should be ashamed of succumbing to that kind of nasty allure.

What amazes me particularly is that one of the women of the two households in question works for an NGO, she spends a lot of time in Bolivia, doing humanitarian work, married a Colombian, so she knows something about poverty and need.

She and her neighbour are anything but poverty-stricken, they need nothing more than they already have, but in this area, in this city, even in this neighbourhood there are people struggling to get along, who could use a little help.

How can these people be so blindly oblivious to their greed, to the relief they could provide in recognition of other peoples' needs?

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Our Very Own Wetland

It isn't classified as a wetland and isn't in fact a wetland, but given all the rain we've been experiencing this past month or so and throwing in the all-night rain of last night, anyone treading out into the ravine could be forgiven for imagining that what lies before them is a wetland.

Everything is solidly drenched and dripping. Great puddles lie just beyond the trails and upon the trails themselves are, here and there, muddy areas we've become accustomed to mucking through of late. Good thing our two little dogs are so small we just wash their muddy feet off in the laundry tub on arrival at home.

Little wonder in some of these places jewelweed grows rampant. Although by the time it comes to maturity there is scant little sun, and as a result very few of the plants actually raise their bright yellow heads. No matter, the violets are enjoying the steamy wet conditions.

As a matter of fact, all the mid-to-late spring flowers are, as well. Tiny white strawberry flowers, and emerging blackberry flowers. We've a veritable wildflower preserve in the ravine. Buttercups have raised their bright sunny little heads, as well.

The white starry-shapes of bunchberries gladden the undergrowth on either side of the trails. And if one peers carefully enough, you can still discover Jack-in-the-pulpits, though they're now hiding quite successfully in the succession growth that shields the shy flowers.

Lilies of the Valley and foamflower have raised their showy little white flowers, and Solomon's Seal their long floral offerings. Red osier dogwood is in bloom, holding aloft their white dish-shaped flower bunches, and the stag-horn Sumachs have recovered finally sufficiently to suddenly appear to grow their crowns of sun-filtering leafs.

What luck; as we approach a bridge alongside the main creek a large bird suddenly appears, swoops down under the bridge, up again, and into a nearby tree. As we ascend the hill we come abreast where this bird sits a short distance from us on a branch of an old pine.

It's our old friend, the barred owl. Larger by far than any other bird that we've become familiar with, as denizens of this forested ravine. The Pileated woodpecker comes a distant second, size-wise. The owl, first spotted in January, again in February, then heard hooting from the depths of the woods on occasion.

Now he sits there, surveying his hunting grounds. From time to time swivelling his broad head with its large, blunt and dark eye mask to rest on us, standing there, watching him in awe.
His presence is troubling to smaller birds, and a pair of robins shriek their dismay, so he soon swoops off again, coming to rest a mere short distance away on another tree.

Where a group of blackbirds take similar umbrage at his sudden unwanted appearance and call out their annoyance, compelling the large bird to take his presence elsewhere, once more. This is repeated several more times; our being able to watch him from tree to tree, until he disappears.

A rare treat for us. And the ravine has other treats in store for us this day, as well.

A dark-striped garter snake suddenly darts across the path as we approach and desperately swirls its way into the damp and lush undergrowth, anxious to remove itself from our near presence. A pair of cardinals flies past - one after the other - their bright carmine picked up by a weak sun behind a light cloud cover; they disappear into a copse of trees.

Other, somewhat less delightful residents of the ravine come out to greet us, those blood-sucking mosquitoes that are breeding in all that standing water, and we wonder where on earth all the bright and colourful dragonflies have gone off to...? Truants.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Agony and the Ecstasy

What could conceivably be more difficult, more painful, than having to say goodbye yet again to a loved one? Children who live far away from their parents. But who, as adults, have their own lives to live, their own careers to pursue, their own satisfactions to experience. All of which have taken them, for one reason or another, some distance geographically from where they started out.

So the parents, having enjoyed a too-short but wonderfully congenial visit from their children face the reality of having to part once again. Quite the difference from anticipating the visit, being there at the airport or the train station, at their arrival, recognizing them popping into view from a distance, embracing them, feasting eyes on their presence.

So, it was up at five this morning, to dress and depart for the airport. Departure for Vancouver was for 7:00 a.m. with the necessity to be at the airport an hour earlier. No traffic to contend with, in any event, at that absurd hour of the morning. Only the birds were up, singing away - and us, travelling the empty road to our destination.

The week before it was to wave good-bye to another son and a daughter-in-law. The visits half-converging. A re-acquaintance with those most dear and closest. The surprise, after a hiatus of months, to see how they've changed, somewhat. Much as they must feel on seeing us. A fine time of year to visit.

Nicely, in the aftermath of days of heavy overcast and heavier rain, this day bloomed sunny and dry, albeit windy. Great planting weather. With the opportunity to go along to one of our many plant nurseries. And, at leisure, to look at the floral offerings, tamping down the mild grief of a parent bereft again of the presence of a child.

Didn't we get carried away! Flats of nimisia, mimosa, asters, portulaca, impatiens. And another, different type of plantain lily, a pot of chives, a pot of perennial blue flax. Salve for my pained heart. And two and a half hours of planting. A bit of stuffing for the garden pots and for the beds and borders.

The sun, the wind, the fragrance of the garden, the colours, the overwhelming and soothing presence.

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