velella

A Windblown Legacy

Dolphins are toothed whales. Who knew?

How do you distinguish a dolphin fin from a shark fin? (You never know when that might come in handy.)

Easy!

Dolphins roll at the surface so you see more than just the fin. If you only see the fin and nothing more, head for the (air) mattresses.

I just came in from the beach. I was, as ever on these islands, beachcombing, with my writing pad and pencil tucked into my windbreaker pocket, hunting for “sea glass.”

It takes about 20 years for a piece of regular bottle glass to evolve into the much sought after “beach glass,” ubiquitous now in pendants, earrings, bracelets, etc. Twenty years, that is, of continuous buffeting by course sand and salt and sea spray. The glass must be exposed to all these elements during that time to render it smooth and opaque. And exquisite.

I bring these treasures home and display them everywhere – in wine glasses, soup tureens, ice buckets, any receptacle will do. In fact, the more incongruous the vessel, I find, the more intriguing the display.

These trips never disappoint. In a recent seaside meander I happened upon a diminutive jellyfish, a fascinating creature, about the size of a pinkie finger. They are usually deep blue in color, but their most obvious feature is a small stiff sail atop a transparent cylindrical base that catches the wind and propels them over the surface of the sea. The mainsail in this case is the fish’s protective barnacle, made of a fingernail like substance.

This jellyfish is commonly know by the names sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail, or simply Velella. Yes, they are small but they are amazingly resilient. Like Sammy Davis Jr (RIP). Or a toddler resisting bedtime.

When these wee jellyfish die their hardy mainsail remains, to become part of all that outlives us… their weathered windblown legacy.

More beaches – and discoveries await.

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Sea Change

The sea is my book today;
I read it wave by wave.
Light changes, wind shifts, the story unfolds,
the afternoon drifts on.
The mood is a placid one:
the water more green than blue.
Its movement is rhythmic, predictable,
like metered verse:
neat stanzas piling up on the shore,
politely making room for more.
Not like yesterday with its heavy drama,
all driving wind and heaving surf,
a real old-fashioned page-turner.
True to form,
it took no prisoners.
Tomorrow
from this same perch,
a brand new yarn awaits:
different book jacket,
different author,
title yet to come.

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September 1st and 2nd

September 1st

The obligatory backpacks bought,
The sectioned notebooks and the cornucopia of Sharpies,
Heralding the dull march back to classrooms, schedules.
In its forlorn wake a trail of
Unhurried pancake breakfasts
And lying perfectly still on a sun-scorched dock,
Until perhaps trailing a finger,
But only one.

September 2nd

Boats pulled out for the season
Children rushing to school
And like a switch was flipped overnight
The water in the bay now darker
Deeper

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Minor Defects Will Not Affect Wear

How can you care not
For this earthly life?
Even with its vagaries,
Its ragtag beginnings,
Unspeakable endings.

Remember how
The latte at the corner café that late afternoon
Arrived as the autumn light dappled your newspaper just so,
Intertwined hearts atop the foam,
Courtesy of the beaming waitress who announced
She was getting married.

You sometimes reach the bus just in time.
Blood tests come back perfectly normal.
Simple mini lights transform a sad house.
A fresh fall of snow perfects a neglected yard.

Awaken to the astonishing delights of the
Here and now.
The two legged terrier with the tailor-made chassis,
The tired little girl in the shopping cart who smiles back,
A favourite Phil Collins song on the car radio
In the pouring rain.

There are blessings.
They must be heeded.
It doesn’t get better.
It just may be enough.

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A friend from the Bahamas visited me recently in Toronto.

I baked butter tarts for her, a Canadian staple, and added a bottle of maple syrup. Next, I set about preparing the card I would include: a compendium of quotes about Canada, with noteworthy observations and commentary by both residents and visitors. And for fun, a soupçon of the ill-advised and the flat out wrong.

The first quote that popped us was this, attributed to the indefatigable Britney Spears: “You get to travel to overseas places, like Canada.”

From brainy Britney we move to, who else, the French explorer Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce de Lahontan (now that’s a handle!), who said in 1702: “To survive the Canadian winter, one needs a body of brass, eyes of glass, and blood made of brandy.”

The Iroquois wars gave him his glass eye, his blood would definitely have had a high brandy content, and he probably did have certain nether regions composed of brass to venture here 300 years ago.

Next up, the ever-capricious Al Capone: “I don’t even know what street Canada is on.”

Rather amusing, from someone who actually knew Canada rather well, since he visited with the infamous distiller Hiram Walker frequently at his Walkerville, Ontario mansion. The two would carouse while making arrangements to ship Canadian Club Whisky south. You see, CC was aged a minimum of five years in oak casks, while American whiskies and bourbons were aged a paltry year. Al knew his booze.

Comic Jon Stewart weighed in next with this: “I’ve been to Canada, and I’ve always gotten the impression that I could take the country over in about two days.”

Not so fast, Jon Boy…might not be so easy to do. It’s a common misconception that Canadians don’t have guns.  But for good or bad, seven million of us are armed…that’s about 20 percent of our population. Not to worry, though; we tend to shoot mostly deer, bear, moose, and caribou..

Writers were no gentler with us.

Here is W. Bruce Cameron in his book Emory’s Gift: It was Canada where they let people do whatever they wanted because it was too cold to bother stopping them.”

Kelly Link in Magic for Beginners said: “The zombies were like Canadians, in that they looked enough like real people at first, to fool you.”

Ouch. Leave it to Jane Fonda to save the day with this love note: “When I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like.”

Jane, how you talk!

This also cheered me up, from Spook Country, William Gibson’s political thriller: “Canadian cities looked the way American cities did on television.”

Winston Churchill may have exulted about Canada more than anyone. “There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its virile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people.”

Nice schmooze, Winnie…that was in 1939, and he was desperate for volunteers. We did not disappoint him.

In my travels I find people’s knowledge about Canada has vastly improved; now the real facts are a few keyboard clicks away. But misconceptions still abound, mostly about our (yawn) weather.

Does it snow all the time?  Do you snowmobile to work? Do you use British money? You all speak French, right?  It’s stuff like this that really gets our fur collars up.

And no. We don’t all play hockey. Many of us have never even strapped on skates. I, for one, am allergic to ice and am still traumatized by the time I tangled skate blades with a bully at the local arena and was catapulted straight into the boards, effectively kyboshing the slightest affection I might ever have had for the colder climes.

A somewhat hardier Stephen Leacock, the country’s celebrated humorist, eloquently characterized our national sport this way in 1895: “Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive.”

Another native, comedian Rick Mercer, offered this truism: “The U.S. is our trading partner, our neighbor, our ally and our friend… and sometimes we’d like to give them such a smack!”

Truth be told, Canadians are quite kindly disposed to our neighbours to the south. We visited you 23.4 million times in 2013!

Toronto activist and author June Callwood was ever the straight shooter. “The beaver, which has come to represent Canada as the eagle does the United States and the lion Britain, is a flat-tailed, slow-witted, toothy rodent known to bite off its own testicles or to stand under its own falling trees.”

Our very own Mike Myers quipped: “Canada is a subtle flavor — we’re more like celery as a flavor.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt after reading this sentiment from Jan Wong’s memoir, Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now. “Living in China has made me appreciate my own country, with its tiny, ethnically diverse population of unassuming donut-eaters.”

But leave it to Robin Williams to skewer us to perfection. “Canada is like a loft apartment over a really great party. Like: ‘Keep it down, eh?’”

I can’t find out who came up with this little jewel but it may rank as my favorite of them all:

“Canada is like your attic. You forget that it’s up there, but when you go, it’s like ‘Oh man, look at all this great stuff!’”

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Because the shards are beautiful…

Because we can heal the story by rewriting it. Because there is a gift called imagination. Because there is a gift called perseverance.  Because we open our hands. Because we open our hearts.

Because the shards are beautiful and reflect the light. Because the world is broken and there are still places where we feel cut up inside and yes, love is the ocean that erodes the sharp edges over time.

Because it’s not too late. Because it’s early, and the day is just beginning,

–from Jena Schwartz’s blog post “Why We Break the Glass.”

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In Case We Never Meet

A brand new poem. For book three? Why not dream?

 

In Case We Never Meet

You ought to know

I was kind to children and small animals

and never awoke one day

without underlying sadness.

 

That I overtipped waitresses,

at breakfast especially,

hated small talk and early mornings

and had the most annoying compulsion

to read the last page of a book

first.

 

Loved a great many people,

but not all at once

or together at parties.

That I miss

smoking, every single day,

even 25 years on.

And my lovely father,

always.

 

You ought to know

I am scared of the dark

yet fiercely drawn to it.

And at my happiest in the ocean

or on it,

That I once valued intelligence in people

over just about everything.

But you should also know

I got smarter

and that changed:

Now it’s kindness.