sheep

Why I love children

I love their whimsy, how they abandon themselves to fun and are able to find it in almost all things. And how they have not the slightest fear of judgment or disdain.

In Tongue years ago, way up in the northernmost reaches of Scotland I popped in to a local shop. While browsing I spotted a wee lassie there with her father, dressed up in her lovely kilt, a matching tartan tam perched at an angle on her head.

She was curious about me – and watched me, as children will do – her eyes following me around the shop.

Standing alongside her I pointed to a tiny toy sheep displayed on the shelf, which was dressed comically in a full perfect tuxedo.

I asked her, quietly: “Now what would a sheep be doing dressed in a tux?”

She thought about it and then announced, seriously:

“Maybe he’s goin’ tae a weddin’.”

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.

beach

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.

20140719_130517

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!’”

Canada Day heart resized

Canada: A Glowing Tribute

For fun… on Canada Day, a whimsical piece I wrote about what constitutes being Canadian.

This was my entry into a contest to win a spot in “Barbed Lyres,” an anthology of satirical verse about Canada, edited by Margaret Atwood.

 

Glowing Tribute

There’s this girl I know on the Danforth

who goes to Buffalo to shop

for the bargains on Bill Blass sheets

and with her parents to Polish nights in Orillia

where she says she wouldn’t be caught

dead if the perogies weren’t to

absolutely die.

 

She takes her vacations in Warsaw almost every year

because she tells me the deals on crystal are

incredible and she can stay cheap with her Aunt Stenya.

 

It’s not like Mary isn’t into Canada

she did Banff in ’82

and drove all by herself to P.E.I. in ’84

where by the way she lucked into a

fabulous villa timeshare in the Caymans because

thanks to God she had American Express on her.

In the back window of her Beamer with the Blaupunkt

there’s one of those Canadian flag stickers and it glows

at night.

I mean what do you want from her.

It isn’t like she was born here.

office

Two new poems published.

My poems “Hallmark” and “Funeral Sandwiches” are featured here http://apheleiabp.org/home.html at Apheleia Broadside Publisher.

Theirs is an intriguing wonderfully creative concept for promoting the reading of poetry. On their website they publish individual poets that capture their interest and then they print the work and distribute it around New York City on flyers.

Here’s their romantic mission in their own words:

What used to be sold cheaply so that the art of many poets could reach as many people as possible, we are distributing completely free.  A book is often expensive and intimidating.  A single page is simple and quick. If you are in New York City, find one of our broadsides floating around. When you finish it, recycle it by passing it to a friend that you think may enjoy it as much as we hope you did.”

I just love this, the idea of my work being discovered randomly by someone on a New York subway who reaches down to pick up a piece of paper that blew underfoot and finds my words.

Go visit! http://apheleiabp.org/home.html