Through the Miasma of Time

And the filtered mist of memory, I recall the one-room country school I attended. Today, a Sunday drive took us back to the area where I grew up. Dad farmed and for the first 12 years of my life and the first six of school, this was home.

Some landmarks are recognizable but the farmhouse and buildings were bull-dozed and cleared. The land was broken and cropped to the edge of the road. It’s impossible for me to identify the location of our yard; it’s somewhere in a stubbled, snow-covered field. North down the road, then east, and around the ‘deviation’ and there it is. The original Giles school. It’s white paint is fading but a sign still identifies it. This was the site of the annual Christmas concert. By the time I was in school, a different building had been pulled just to the east, in the same yard. The white school was now the hall and because it had a stage, was ‘perfect’ for our performances. That’s where I began and ended by singing career. In some years, community talent was thin.

The Original 1911 Giles School- the outhouses to the right.

“Everything is so small.” A cliched observation but cliches exist because they are so apt. The hall is so close to the road, the trees which seemed like a magical copse are small, and the school is gone. So is the barn for students’ horses. The outhouses are still standing. The school I attended was purchased by my Uncle to convert to a house. All that remains is a plaque that identifies the original school, now the hall.

The Plaque- a bit of a tramp through snow to get to it.

I looked forward to school each and every day. I couldn’t wait to get there in the morning; first in was first to get the swings. There were just two, the girls’ and the boys’. The backstop and ball diamond are gone. Perhaps I should stick with the bright memories, the recalled excitement, and the good times.

Winter Fun – Part Two

Cross-country skiing is a fine exercise and can be a lot of fun. At one time, we’d get together with friends for an afternoon of the great outdoors on skies. I confess to buying (and wearing because it was expensive) a blazing yellow outfit. Chances are I would never be lost; like a winter dandelion, I stood out.

The outfit isn’t quite bright enough.

Once at the “creek”, we started off with one of the gentlemen in the lead. After a bit of what I considered bossy competition, I decided to venture out on my own. How can you get lost in a small area where the choices of trails are limited? You can’t because you can see into the valley to your destination but there was no route down. Trees, shrubs, and bush blocked my descent. By the time I determined that I was going to have to make my way through this uncharted territory, the other skiers had already gathered by the bonfire.

I pushed off and sank into the snow past my knees. Still it had to be faster to continue on skis. Undergrowth tangled around my feet and interrupted my downward progress. A couple of times I fell but by this time I was committed and climbing back up the steep slope wasn’t an option. I more or less tumbled and stumbled my way back to the others. And I was right about my visibility. Everyone watched my awkward descent and on arrival at the bonfire, I was greeted by unsympathetic laughter.

I paid for my stubbornness but those who followed the leader encountered their own challenges. They skied along the top of the hills before heading into the valley. Then they skimmed along the smooth snow-covered surface of the frozen creek until their route was interrupted by fallen trees. Once they managed to navigate those obstacles, a beaver dam blocked their way. The creek continued 10 feet below the pond created and everyone had to clamour down.

By the time we gathered around the bonfire, the fresh air and exercise had stoked appetites. Anecdotes were exchanged while smokies and wieners cooked over the fire. That simple fare never tasted so good. Winter can be fun.

Winter Fun

It’s been too easy for me to denigrate our winter weather, finding fault, complaining, and dreading it. How fickle memory is. Some of our best times have been outdoors in winter. Not every day is good for sledding or skiing but it’s not every summer day that you want to dive into the lake or lie on the beach taking in the rays.

Not the creek but still the great outdoors.

Every Canadian kid can narrate a tale of misadventure sledding, tobogganing, or sliding headlong on some other device to the bottom of a snow-covered slope. Near-death experiences aren’t uncommon but it isn’t every time that a parent witnesses the close call.

Friends used to invite us out to the “creek” to sled and cross-country ski on the hills. The country is quite rugged and the route the kids were to slide down provided a long, fast ride. My son was 8 years old and his vehicle of choice was the “Sno Nut.” It was similar in shape to the tube from a tire but the material it was made from meant it was a racer.

I was standing on my skis, halfway down the hill on a natural plateau before the final run. C—- left from the top and gaining admirable speed hit a bump as he approached me and was airborne. He flew past at eye level and careened down the hill, at an incredible rate. All I could do (all anyone could do) was watch in horror. I thought I was going to see my son race to a horrible end. Just before he hit the willows at the edge of the creek, C—- bailed. The “Sno Nut” carried on into the bushes and my son wasn’t even bruised.

There was no more riding the “Sno Nut” from the crest of the hill. It was the only sled that went so fast so the other sliders were safer. The adults cross-country skied and at the end of the day of winter fun, there was the bonfire. Flames leaped into the darkness as we consumed the food we’d brought. When is was time to go, everyone pitched in. A great winter day.

Sheltering – and another Sunday drive

COVID-19? Notice how your entertainment options have been narrowed? We are trying to stay home and shelter in place. You can go for a drive and enjoy a park or campground.

Today we were at Capt. Ayre Lake again. It’s so small that it’s not even on Google Earth but with 20 degree plus weather after the nasty couple of days we’ve had, it approached Eden. The dogs ran and the humans strolled. There was a pleasant breeze.

Camping isn’t allowed at this small county-run site until June 15th. The park is closed but we could drive in and go for a walk. Or sit among the trees at a picnic table. The blackbirds called from the tops of the trees, there was a lone loon on the lake, and across the field people let their two large dogs frolic at the boat launch. Behind us we could hear the muted music and sounds of someone working at their cabin.

Our Jack Russell is pretty good for such a high energy breed but I thought I’d provide some added fun. All it takes is a stick. Taz was delighted to chase the make-shift toy and it provided me with an opportunity to practise my video-ing skills. The only way is up, and for this one, I couldn’t see the screen on my phone because it was so bright out. In all honesty, I think it turned out as well.

Have a look.

So once again, a bit of an isolated outing turned out to be just fine. The dogs are actually enjoying COVID-19; they get a lot of attention but never as much as right now. It’s not the same, but it’s okay.

Sheltering- Missing a Walk

The dogs are used to a walk, every day. No walk? Canine despair. In this time of “stay home,” I admit to looking forward to going despite the fact the route doesn’t vary a lot. Since I maintain a blog, you know I like to write. Some of my good ideas (or maybe not so good) are ironed out on the walks.

Despair

Yesterday weather dictated no walk. Cold, rain, and wind were the triumvirate that kept us in. The dogs stared at me when “walk time” came and charged after me even into the bathroom. At last they gave up, resigned to really ‘staying home.’

This morning didn’t look much more inviting, but there is no rain. Were my canines angry because I didn’t walk them yesterday? No! They were delighted to get harnesses and leashes on. And it turns out the wind was cold and it’s dull out but the air? Fresh. The smell of rain and spicy aspen in the trees made it worth it. The dogs ran with joy and the bonus was the rain had washed away the gross things they had loved rolling in.

You can see the path through the trees. No rabbits today but there was lots to sniff. I love the tamarack. In fall when their needles turn, they are golden; then in winter, they look dead. Every spring fresh new needles dress them in spring finery. And the blossoms are just a precursor to the wild roses I anticipate each year.

So, a quote from my grandson, “Your blog is surprisingly therapeutic. There is something soothing about the mundane.” He was twelve when he made these observation. And yes, staying home can drive one to near despair. I like to try and find something positive- so here it is. Stay home, stay safe, and treasure the therapy of the mundane.

Robbie is a Player

And loading the genetic dice. I ran across an article about robin migration and it turns out that some robins, usually males, decide not to fly south. It seems to me that Robbie is a little far north but it explains what he’s doing here in the middle of winter. The early male gets the females.

Robbie will be here when spring arrives ahead of the competition that headed south. He’ll have the pick of territories and when the girls get here, he’ll be singing and ready with the best nesting site. If he continues to come for meal worms, he’ll be sleek and handsome. Natural selection chooses the biggest and best looking a lot of the time. Robbie has a jump (pun intended) on the choice of mates and has the best chance of passing his genes to the next generation.

Gary says we could be interfering in evolution by feeding Robbie. However, he didn’t show up until it was very cold, -35 C and he’d made it on his own that far. I prefer to think that it shows a superior intellect and that Robbie will pass his “smart” genes to his offspring.

Robbie is smart. He arrives for his worms once the day has warmed up a bit and he sits where we see him, looking for us through the front window. When he doesn’t, Gary whistles for him and he appears from the middle of the fir tree. Then he might stay for a bit to be polite; more often he flies off and returns for lunch. We don’t know where he spends the rest of his day but it’s good to shy away from feral cats, returning hawks, and other dangers.

About the end of March or beginning of April, we expect Robbie will have moved on. There’ll be plenty of food and with any luck he’ll be a husband and a dad. May his days as a player pay off.

Robbie Goes Missing…

Tuesday morning and no Robbie. Where was the little guy? There are so many dangers for a wayward robin. Could he have found another robin and stayed with her for company? That was a best case scenario and then the resident pessimist thought for too long and decided it was likely Robbie had flown into a window, by mistake. Gary was able to create some gory images for me. Robbie lying in the snow with his little neck at an impossible angle. blood oozing from his brave beak. It’s surprising how attached we were to the tough winter robin.

Robbie didn’t show Tuesday but yesterday he was back, staring through the window at us as though to say, “Where’s my breakfast?” We were quick to feed him but had to use mostly earthworms. Our Robbie is a bit of a gourmet and prefers meal worms. He ate the earthworms but not with the same relish he gobbles down the more palatable fare. Gary got him fresh meal worms yesterday and today is going to see if we can get him King worms. They’re much like the meal worms but come with more to a container. Fingers crossed Robbie will like them.

I was interrupted partway through this post by Robbie’s arrival. He sat in the mountain ash tree for a bit and then when he moved to the ornamental plum, I knew it was time. The new meal worms are strong and they squirmed in my hand straight from the fridge. How many should Robbie get? He’s been in the cold all night so I dole out 9. Before I can get back into the house he has wolfed them down and left.

Robbie’s new routine, now that he’s stronger, seems to be to drop in for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Then he flies off to do more interesting Robin stuff. I don’t mind. I’m glad he’s no longer missing and hope to see him about noon. He’s a lovable diversion in a prairie winter.

Robbie- A Little Winter Drama…

It was too early for Robbie so we went for our walk and on the way back went to the local “all toys water, snow and land” business and bought him some fresh meal worms. $5.98 and worth every penny.

Robbie arrived about 11:00 and sat in the planter, eating snow. We hurried to warm up the cutting board and get him 7 worms. Robbie sat and looked at them and then the worms froze…Robbie flew off. We were upset. Had he found other people with better food? He seemed energetic so we consoled ourselves with that.

Then about 12:40, Robbie was back. I heated his board well, held seven meal worms in my hand until they warmed up to squirm, and then I took them out to the robin. O, NO. I thought I was too clumsy or got too close. Robbie flew away into a tree.

Ha! Not to worry, by the time I’d walked around the house to come in the back, Robbie had consumed 4 of the worms. Then in a more leisurely manner, he ate the others. You can see the last worm in front of him in the picture. I think he knows where to come. It’s just a miserable wind again so if he has a warmer place to wait it out, I’m okay with that.

Robbie is tough. In another blog, I wrote about a prairie jack rabbit who visits our front yard late at night or very early in the morning, depending how you look at it. He came around last night. Alas, I wasn’t at the window to see him but he left tracks. He checks the yard and I hope sometimes finds something to eat.

And this is likely the last Robbie blog unless there is something to really talk about like he meets the rabbit. But how, when they come at intervals 12 hours apart? Stay warm.

Robbie 2.0 – Day 2

He made it! Low of -36C , that’s -33F, and the tough little guy appeared around 9:00 this morning. Robbie sat on the edge of the flower pot, feathers puffed out, and looking miserable. But he made it through the night.

As soon as I saw him, I got his food ready. It’s a bit of a production (which I figured out yesterday) and kind of gross. First warm up the cutting board so the worms don’t freeze immediately. Then get the earthworm, that although it’s only a segmented worm, doesn’t enjoy being sliced into segments. Whatever is in their medium, gave the victim actual red blood. Ugh. But I sacrificed him because Robbie, Robbie was hungry.

I took the worm pieces outside on the pre-heated board but alas, Robbie wasn’t ready to eat. He was just too cold. The worm bits froze solid. My husband said he had to warm up more (this in -30 temperatures with a wicked wind) so we left and so did Robbie, up into the big fir tree.

We went for our morning walk on the indoor track and when we got back, Robbie had been down and tried to eat the earthworm bits but the were frozen solid and stuck to the cutting board.

Gary warmed up himself and by the time he had Robbie’s meal worms and thawed earthworm bits ready, the robin had flown back into the fir tree. When Gary whisteled for Robbie, there was no answer, (Already, my husband thinks they have a special relationship.) And maybe they do because by the time Gary had his coat off, the robin was back. He gobbled a meal worm or two, and then turned to the earthworm pieces. Robbie ate most of them, too. Now he’s back in the fir tree, trying to keep warm.

Admiration for you, Robbie. You’re back and a survivor. We’ll see you though this frigid cold.

Fiction Friday – Not a Good Day

I wrote this flash fiction a while ago and it appeared in The Fieldstone Review which is the University of Saskatoon publication. 

Calvin Harrison turned down the dirt road and braked.  He listened to the throb of the big diesel and sighed.   He was going to miss his new truck. It made him feel like someone else—not the friendly neighbourhood pharmacist, not the hen-pecked husband and definitely not the doting father.  Someone you saw in commercials—a little taller and straighter.  Someone with flinty blue eyes, whose tight Wranglers bulged a little bigger.

He didn’t mind the doting father image.  He and Natalie had had one of those perfect relationships where they laughed at each other’s jokes and knew what the other was thinking.  He’d spoiled her and if he had it to do again, he’d spoil her worse.  No regrets.

Pale light fingered the horizon and touched the clouds that had gathered to greet the sun with pink gold.  Mim would have a name for the colour, something from the new palette of paints at Home Depot.  Pink Desire, Reef Rose, Peach Parfait, Pink Abalone.  Mim—so tied in to things that didn’t matter.  She’d be happy choosing the new colour for the walls and happy while she squabbled with the painters.  Almost before the paint dried, she’d start getting restless again.  It was the same with her hair.  Cal had loved her shiny blonde mane.  She could have modeled for l’Oreal or Clairol.  God knows she used enough of their products over the years.  He never knew what the tint of the week would be.  Wild Irish Red, Mahogany Fire, Ebony Ice.  Then there was the chunking and streaking.  Mim said no one had a natural hair colour any more.  When Cal tried to summon up the shade her hair had been when he met her, he couldn’t.  He was living with a stranger.  Sometimes he watched her when she wasn’t looking and by narrowing his eyes and squinting tried to conjure the image of the girl he had married.  Occasionally, he thought he caught a fleeting resemblance.

The horizon burned gold fire now where the sun began its shallow ascent into the fall sky.  The clouds radiated gilt light.  The air was still.

It was as good a day as any, Calvin thought.

He would have liked to take Mollie for a last walk but it wouldn’t have been fair to the little mongrel. He couldn’t leave her in the truck even though someone would find her…just like they were going to find him.

Light raced across the hilltops, casting the hollows into shadow and outlining the dark limbs of aspen trees with tinsel trim.  Time was getting short.  His father used to say, no time like the present.  Already the siren of lethargy threatened to mire him in inaction

He lifted the shotgun from the truck seat.  Its double barrel glinted in the early light and the handle felt cold.  The acrid scent of gun oil hung in the air and there was a sharp snap as Cal broke the gun to load it.  He slid two magnum shells into place and there was a quiet snick as he closed the breech.  Magnums…he would only need the first one but he didn’t want any mistakes.

He tried not to think about Jim Craddock who botched the job and actually needed the second shell.  He must have lost his nerve at the last minute and only his jaw had been blown away. He’d staggered around his game room splattering blood and howling in outrage.   Then he finished what he had started.

Cal killed the truck’s engine.  He wasn’t about to destroy the interior.  Maybe Mim would get a decent price for it after…even with its unfortunate history.  He climbed out and closed the door quietly.  No need to slam it; the truck wasn’t yet a year old.  A breeze sprang up and carried the spicy fall air up the hill to Cal.  When he looked out across the valley, he saw a doe standing next to a stand of willows.  She had seen him and was testing the air cautiously but it was another month until hunting season opened and she was more curious than scared. He watched her for a minute.  A yearling stepped into the clearing and Cal could see it was sleek and healthy.

When he started down the slope the white-tails turned to step delicately into the bushes.  Cal headed west.  There was a small lake…the locals called it Schubert’s after an early settler—and at this time of the morning, the bright yellow leaves of the poplars would reflect perfectly from its cobalt depths.  Those same poplars protected it from errant puffs of air and it made a picture perfect enough for a calendar.

Cal stood for a couple of minutes.  Maybe if things were different between him and his wife…… but they weren’t.  Maybe if Tallie…but he couldn’t think of her; he just couldn’t.

Minutes later the shot gun blast sent the doe and yearling deeper into the bush, their white flags flashing once as they disappeared.  On the hilltop, Cal’s Dodge waited in splendor, silhouetted against a cerulean sky that promised early snow.

The silence was absolute.  Then the breeze brushed dried grass blades against each other.  Aspen leaves like gold foil coins rattled in the bushes.  A crow flew up and landed at the top of a tree, cawing raucously.

Cal emerged from the western woods.  He was a dark shadow against their colour and it was him the crow was scolding.  He held the shotgun gingerly and broke it to remove the remaining shell.

“Damn it, shut up,” he muttered.  The crow cocked its head as though listening.  “It’s just not a good day to die.”

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