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.

Dog Boot Dilemma

My dogs are small (the little guy, only 10 pounds) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy all the canine pursuits- sniffing, marking, and going on walks. Best of all are the walks and even though he’s small, he likes a nice long stroll. My other dog is a Jack Russell. She’s three years old and the her breed tells you all you need to know about her energy level.

The annual winter dilemma revolves around keeping them warm while we enjoy the walking trails in our small town. The dogs each have a warm coat so they are fairly tough. It’s their feet that create a problem so we have a rule- when the temperature is lower than -10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) we stay home. If there’s no wind, we might manage a shorter walk when it’s colder.

Winter walk

The bigger issue is keeping Scruffy’s (the little guy’s) feet warm. In this picture, he’s wearing the pull-on rubber boots. They were awfully tight around his “ankles” but seemed to work. Then after a couple of walks, when I noticed a little blood on his paws when I took them off. He would lick and lick his front toes and legs. Obviously, the rubber wasn’t doing the job any more. I bought expensive boots from the pet store but they were stiff and I saw a little blood.

The solution wasn’t to leave him behind so that Taz, the Jack Russell would get enough exercise to keep her semi-sane. He cried pitifully, at high volume, and an ear-piercing pitch. I didn’t know what we could do. On warm days (and without new snow), he can forget the boots but there are times he needs them.

In the end, I used Google and found a crocheted pattern for small dog boots. Some old yarn and a little patience (not something I generally have an abundance of) resulted in sock-like boots that he can wear. They aren’t without their problems (yesterday he blew first one on his front paw and then one on a back paw) but once I get them on properly, he hardly notices them. He has one pair so now I have to make my furry friend a second set.

Taz isn’t immune to cold (or sidewalk de-icer) but she’s tougher. If it isn’t too cold, we can make winter work. The fresh air, sights like winter hoar frost, and people skating or sledding make the wait for spring tolerable.

Winter is the Time to

read. Outdoor activities notwithstanding, winter offers long evening hours and more time to read. This year there’s more opportunities than ever to seek out and enjoy books you haven’t had time for earlier. Perhaps because the media is inundated with stories of COVID hardship or maybe because I’ve been thinking about my mum and dad in World War 11, I have been watching documentaries and movies that feature Churchill.

The Splendid and the Vile recounts Churchill and his family’s experience during the Blitz. Larson has consulted many diary entries, official documents, and letters. Some of the sources haven’t been used in other accounts of Churchill’s first year in power. The story of the Blitz is well known but this book not only looks into the dramatic events, but as also explores the lives and feelings of the people directly involved, either in making decisions or as family supporting Churchill.

Diary entries of Goering, WW1 ace, and then Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe look at how the Blitz was conducted from the German viewpoint. Similarly, we are shown how Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, spun the story for the German public and how he attempted to mislead the British.

Churchill had to maintain a fine balance between revealing Britain’s desperate situation and gaining real help from the United States. During that first year (1940-41), American support in any form was unpredictable. Roosevelt did manage to have the Lend Lease Bill approved and some relief was afforded Great Britain which was nearing the limit of its resources. Churchill knew that although this aid was welcome, defeat was inevitable unless America joined the war.

Since it is nonfiction, The Splendid and the Vile is not a fast read but for me, it made the Blitz very real and carried me back to a time when the future of Europe and Great Britain was very much at stake. The People of Great Britain suffered huge casualties, saw cities destroyed, and yet they did not give in. The December 7th attack on Pearl Harbour forced American entry to the war. After that, victory was likely although it took four more years of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Churchill inspired the British people to keep fighting when it seemed hopeless. He was an amazing personality, just the man for the time.

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.

A Better Christmas 2020

Hollywood winter which is depicted in movies as gentle snow with no need to wear gloves, toques, and winter boots is over. Even blizzards have bare-headed heroes in film and that’s the kind of weather we’ve had for the last couple of weeks. Today was different. Old Man Winter crept in with fog and painted the landscape with hoar frost. It was chillier and it’s going to get cold. Real winter is on the way.

Hoar frost today.

Alberta has entered a period of new COVID restrictions that coincide with the change in weather. No more indoor visitors; only the people you reside with. No outdoor visitors. Outdoor activities are permitted if you do them with the people of your household. You can skate, toboggan, sled, walk, skate. But you aren’t supposed to meet family or friends to do it. There are rules for retail outlets as well. Christmas gatherings are limited to, you guessed it, your household. this means me, Gary and the dogs. I guess it’ll be a little quieter. Am I happy about not seeing my grandkids and kids? NO. But I understand the reasons. Alberta has high infections levels and unless we isolate, they will continue to rise so Christmas is different.

A friend and I were bemoaning via text message the fact that we wouldn’t be seeing anyone this holiday. She said, “This year it will be just me and N___. But we’re going to have Christmas in July. We’ll meet our son and his girlfriend at a campsite and celebrate then.” What a revelation! The family part of Christmas can be postponed and the spiritual part can be observed by reading scriptures, meditating, praying by yourself or attending online services. Christmas get-togethers are postponed until summer. Retailers have been observing Christmas in July for a long time. Now we’ll be doing that, too. Barbecued steak, potato salad, and beverages around the campfire. I can hardly wait.

Robbie Has a Friend

Our winter robin, Robbie, is frisky and fit. He arrives for worms earlier and earlier. It was 7:30 this morning and when a second robin showed up, my husband was excited enough to cause himself a near cardiac incident.

Robbie has been coming since mid-January when an old-fashioned cold snap hit Alberta. He was weak and surviving on rock hard, frozen crabapples. The worms we provided were a bonanza and he didn’t forget. Soon a routine was established where he came to the mountain ash tree in the front yard and stared at us through the window. He answers Gary’s whistle and since I can’t whistle (never mind), I talk to him. Robbie does know us and trusts that he can swoop down close to get his meal.

Recently, he comes to the apple tree in the backyard and waits. I am comically quick in getting his worms, being sure to hold them in my hand so they warm up from fridge temperature for him. I am the same woman who dithers and takes forever to get ready to go somewhere, yet somehow Robbie inspires me to get those worms out for him.

His breakfast is gobbled down before I get back into the house. Robbie no longer comes looking for food three times a day. He is stronger and the days are getting longer. Soon he’ll find another robin, a female, and we hope he’ll nest here but know that he might not. The other robin looked like a male and there was a bit of a scuffle before he flew off. Robbie has pretty much staked us out.

Until it’s really spring and even after, we’ll look for Rob. Gary will whistle at every male robin, just in case. Keep frisky, Rob.

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 Settles In

I just fed Robbie. He showed up right on time at a little after 11:00, sitting in the mountain ash tree and looking in at us. “Where is my brunch?”

Our resident robin is tough. It goes without saying since he’s still here in the middle of an Alberta winter. The weather has broken and we are experiencing warmer than normal temperatures but they are still colder than Robbie is comfortable in. There’s no food around for him to hunt.

Robbie has adapted so that he can spend more time in our big fir tree sheltered from the wind. It’s dense enough among the needles that it’s impossible to see him, but he’s there. We think he spends the night somewhere else. Either that or he’s not the “early bird.” Another possibility is that he, too, has seen the little hawk that is back in the neighbourhood. It would enjoy Robbie as a meal so fingers crossed, our robin stays hidden.

He hasn’t appeared first thing in the morning waiting for his breakfast the last few days. Instead, sometime between 10:00 and 11:00 am, if Gary goes out and whistles, he shows himself. Then one of us hurries around and gets his worms ready. Robbie now sometimes gets meal worms and at others, King worms which are like the meal worms but bigger. Robbie likes them both.

Once his day is underway, if he gets hungry again, he might make his desires known. Yesterday despite there being nothing on offer, he flew down to the cutting board and sat staring through the window at my husband. Robbie demanded more worms.

He spends some of the afternoon perched in the mountain ash tree which as you can see provides camouflage. Especially on a duller day such as this, Robbie blends right in with the leaves that are still clinging stubbornly to the branches.

Robbie is getting hardier because of the food supply. He feels good; when you feed him, his tail twitches in anticipation and he answers Gary’s whistles. Robbie is tough and with a little help from his friends….

A Robin in Winter- Robbie

Robbie was here early this morning and hungry. He looks for us through the front room window as though to say, “Well, I’m here; where’re my worms?”

I know I said I wouldn’t write about Robbie again but he is an engaging little guy. Even the sparrows think so and yesterday they all hung out together in balmy -18 temperatures. There was sun, though, and it makes a difference. Robbie warmed up his breast and then he’d turn so his back (and the black feathers help) could benefit from the sun.

Robbie is getting trusting. This morning when I took out his breakfast, he was watching from the plum tree as you can see from the picture. I always talk to him and make “robin sounds”. I’m pretty sure he chirps back just to be polite. Or maybe it’s “Put the worms down, for goodness sake.” I set the board with the worms down and if I’d realized that he was going to swoop down, I could have sat still and watched from a couple of feet away. I moved too quickly so he wouldn’t be frightened and of course, he was. Back to the plum tree.

But for an instant. By the time I was back in the house, Robbie was sitting on the warm board, looking pretty full. One intrepid meal worm was making a break for it and would have if he\she didn’t feel the cold moving up from the sidewalk. After belching (now I am projecting; I don’t even know if birds burp), Robbie hopped over and ate the last worm.

Now he’s enjoying the sun and it’s getting warmer; maybe even as high as -6. Later the dogs and I can walk outside again. It’s like the ‘Get out of Jail” free card in Monopoly…hurray.

And this time, I won’t say I’m not going to write about Robbie again. My will power where he’s concerned is weak. I even gave him 9 worms this morning. That’s explains why the last one was a challenge. Get out and enjoy the sun and warmer temperatures.