What I love about our back yard is that it’s beautiful because of our efforts to make it beautiful. When we moved in eleven summers ago (eleven summers ago!), the yard behind the house was bare dirt. It was so bare, so dusty that my toddling crawling babies would be filthy after playing outside. One of our first projects was to build a fence to block off the view of the parking lot next door. Over the years we poured a concrete patio behind the house, supplemented with bricks, that the kids used to run their trikes on. The summer Fooey started walking, Albus and AppleApple and I used sidewalk chalk to colour each brick a different colour (while Fooey grinned and sucked on the chalk, according to photographic evidence).
Grass grows here now, and weeds, and dandelions, and moss.
Kevin’s dad, who died seven years ago this fall, planted some of the healthiest perennials — grasses and hostas — that thrive in hard growing areas of the yard. I think of him when I see them.
We’ve lost a few trees and branches, some to storms and ice, and others by choice. I’ve got two long laundry lines strung between trees and the back porch.
The raspberry canes we planted produce every summer, and we’re working on a rhubarb patch and blueberry bushes, and we bought our first cherry tree yesterday, with plans for a new row of fruit trees along the back fence. The back fence also has a ladder, new this summer, to assist smaller children taking a short cut.
There’s the trampoline, the soccer net, the play structure, the sand, the painted stumps for jumping on. The raised beds continue to be a work in progress, in the back yard and the front. The picnic table is rickety and needs replacing (that’s on our summer to-do list too).
We’ve never fixed the garage, which is as ugly and utilitarian as ever it was. When we moved in, we thought it would be among our first projects. Goes to show how priorities change.
I’ve been sitting out here often these past few weeks, as the weather has gotten warm. The flowering garden is at its peak in spring-time. It is luscious and thick right now, variegated greens, colourful patches of purple and pale blue and yellow from the weedier plants that return each year, along with pinks and whites, yellows and oranges. Mint flourishes here too, and chives, which I see have already gone to seed. The dogs love to be outside, although they’ve got a dreadful habit of rolling in newly planted beds. I don’t think the new strawberry plants are going to survive.
I’ve been sitting out here, soaking in the beauty. It’s strange how peaceful it feels here, despite the traffic rolling past non-stop on the busy streets that surround us. I hear wind in the branches. The colours are soothing. My heart slows down. The trees offer shelter, the sun warmth. I’m more blessed than I deserve. And so, to show my gratitude and to say thank you, I come outside, and I sit, here. I write. I watch. I listen. Think. Be.
We basked in glorious weather this weekend. We tuned bikes, ate outside, and got a bit too much sun on our noses. But I have to tell you. There is grief and worry rivering under our spring gladness — it feels false not to write about it here, and yet I’ve been hesitating to do so, being as this is not a story directly about me. But here it is. My stepmother (my dad’s wife) has been diagnosed with cancer. All who’ve had illness alight when least expected must know how this feels: shock, sadness, determination, all mingling together with a sense of helplessness, and the parallel impatience to get going already and live each day. Maybe it’s why I’ve been running so much lately. I don’t know. But that’s the other thing I did this weekend: I ran a long way. The mind goes quiet, when running a long way, and the body begins to take over and grow stronger until the mind has almost nothing to say anymore, but waits in stillness and calm, amazed at the effort accessible to the body in this state that seems to me almost intensely serene.
Supper prep is calling. Get going: eat, drink, jump, play, run, but most of all love.
publicity planning for Girl Runner, Anansi offices, Toronto, May 8th
Bryan Prince Bookseller, Hamilton, with Kerry Clare and others from The M Word, May 7th
with daughter at Kiwanis Festival, Waterloo, May 7th & 4th
first prize! (piano)
waiting for spring to spring forth
Very briefly, last weekend, it felt like spring.
I took these photos on Monday, when the big kids were at soccer and swimming, and the little kids and I hung out in the backyard, basking in the sunshine.
Then it went and got all cold again. So we haven’t basked since.
But I’m still prepared to call it spring. It feels like things are happening, or about to happen, fomenting under the surface. Late bright evenings, early bright mornings. Reading, running, playing, being outside again. It’s about to get really busy and, I hope, really colourful.
It feels odd to check in here and offer no news. But it’s true. I have no news. I have instead the general happenings of an ordinary couple of days.
I finished my second round of revisions on Tuesday evening by completely neglecting my two youngest offspring (the two eldest were at soccer tryouts with their dad). I knew I was close, and couldn’t stop myself. Here’s how our after-supper conversation went.
CJ: I’m bored!
Me: I’m sorry.
CJ: Can Grandma come play?
Me: Let’s text her and find out.
[a round of texting ensues]
Me: I’m sorry, but Grandma can’t come. She’s visiting your new baby cousin right now.
CJ: [flings self on floor in attitude of despair] Grandma is ALWAYS with the new baby now!
Me: The new baby is four days old. I think you’re exaggerating. [thought bubble: wow, new baby as potential rival, that didn’t take long]
CJ: But I’m bored! We don’t even have Netflix!
Me: How about a video on YouTube? Like Little Bear.
CJ: I hate Little Bear.
Me: What do you want to watch?
Me: Seriously? Pokemon? It isn’t too scary? [thought bubble: or utterly nonsensical?]
Me: Pokemon it is. I’ll just be in my office … [an hour later: revisions done!]
On Wednesday, I went out for coffee and croissant with a friend to catch up and celebrate the France deal (she speaks French; I do not).
On Thursday, I presented my students with way too much information on the elements of short story writing.
Unrelatedly, I also made a list of things I want. It’s a bit extravagant, and includes a treadmill desk and a laptop. Also running tights and a haircut.
Must have been in list-making mode, because I then made another list of potential words of the year for next year. This year’s word is STRETCH. I think about it from time to time and wonder how it fits in with everything that’s happening. And I remind myself to do yoga and actually physically stretch.
It’s a full moon tonight. The sun is shining. This morning, I went out to the back yard and took these photos.
Well, the heatwave broke. And rather dramatically, from our perspective. I was on the phone with a friend when suddenly the sky went dark and the wind blew high. She lives just up the street, so we were both looking out our windows at essentially the same storm, unable to comprehend what we were seeing as the trees were whipped into a furious tumble and the rain came down, lashing so thickly it looked like a descending fog. “Um, what’s happening?” we asked each other.
I think it takes the mind a little while to catch up to an unusual and unexpected event. For whatever reason, I was slow to grasp that there might be any danger.
My kids were standing on the back porch filming the storm with our little camera — I’d told them they were allowed on the porch, not to go into the yard. Suddenly the phone line went dead and a sound like an electronic buzzing — like a paper bag being torn close beside the ear, as a Facebook friend put it — filled the air. It was incredibly loud and innately disconcerting. I ran onto the porch and called the kids inside (we have video of this). That’s when AppleApple and I watched, through the kitchen window, half of a tree come down in our backyard. It fell silently and smoothly and without any ceremony whatsoever.
Our brains couldn’t seem to register what we’d just seen. I said, not at all concerned, “Oh, a tree’s come down.” The winds seemed to turn branches into paper versions of themselves, tossing them wildly.
And then I snapped awake, and we all ran for the basement, dragging the anxious dogs with us. Kevin had left, just before the storm hit, to go to a soccer game. I was thankful for texting. The power went out soon after. The storm passed almost as quickly as it came.
We left our dark house and joined neighbours gathering at our intersection to survey the damage. Every street had big limbs fallen, power lines down, branches and debris everywhere. We walked the dogs slowly around the block, keeping a sharp eye on the trees over our heads, many of which had dangling branches.
Kevin was training in Toronto all day yesterday, so the tree stayed down in the yard. I almost wanted to leave it there. The split down the side of the tree is so long that I’m afraid the half that still stands can’t be saved. I found myself touching the smooth skin of the newly split tree, just under the bark. It was soft, almost silky, though it has since gone hard and dry. It smells like cut boards in a lumber yard, faintly sweet.
The branches spread over the picnic table, creating a little shelter. Miraculously, a blue glass bowl that had been left out on the table, filled with watermelon rinds, was untouched, perfectly intact.
The kids pretended to hold up the tree.
Today, Kevin and AppleApple have spent the entre day slowly removing the fallen tree. Our front yard is now piled with cut branches. It is an enormous job. The yard is a mess. Even half of a tree is huge.
I realize as I write this post that I’m mourning the loss of the tree. But I don’t mean it to be a sad post. In fact, as the kids’ smiling faces show, we came through the storm just fine. We’ve been sleeping better with the cooler weather, especially once the power was restored and we could run the fans again.
Yesterday, I managed a long run during the afternoon while AppleApple was at her goalkeeping clinic. We’ve been biking there, and we passed many fallen trees in Waterloo Park, but the area beyond Columbia Lake, where I ran, seemed untouched by the storm. It was a highly localized event, it would seem. In the evening, after we ate takeout fish and chips, and I did yoga (read: napped on my yoga mat in our living-room in shavasana heaven), we walked uptown, dogs too, to Open Streets, which had a lively relaxed street festival vibe. We listened to a young woman with a huge voice perform in front of the Chainsaw: AppleApple’s face was shining with delight. “I would give up a lot to have a voice like that,” I admitted. Meanwhile, Fooey talked her “very nice parents” (her words) into letting her buy a new pair of earrings from a craftswoman on the street nearby.
She was sunburned from a happy afternoon playing in a soccer game and then swimming. We all had frozen yogurt. The dogs were well-behaved. The kids and I skipped rope in the street. And we walked home in the gathering darkness with paper lanterns lighting our way.
Summer rolls along, sweet and languid, with sudden flashes of strangeness and wonderment. Tomorrow, a good friend and her family leave for year of sabbatical. The following week another good friend and her family will be leaving too, for the same. I wonder what will have changed, again, in another year. Things we can’t guess at, I know, even if we can predict some, and hope for others.