Wednesday, December 31, 2008

the year has come to an end

ah! the year has come to an end,
while still i am wearing my hat and straw sandals." basho

man i could wish i was wearing a hat and straw sandals! actually, i've got a t-shirt, a long sleeved shirt, a mountain gear underjacket, a running jacket, two layers of socks, thermal undies, running tights, windproof pants, two layers of gloves and a microfibre running cap on but let's not dwell on that!! well alright i'll explain.

it's the annual 5km resolution run in downtown peterborough, and the windchill is 25 below outside.

what are we thinking?

ninety seven years of life experience between us and we choose this?!!! how 'bout those matching jackets!!!! (they were specially issued for this run.....)

the run started at five sharp. brenda was at the front of the pack while i started at the absolute back. we had planned to run together but this was not to be. we followed a beautiful route alongside the otonabee river, with the sun setting in the west glowing tangerine and crimson through the trees. i gradually worked my way through the pack until about a kilometre from the end i met up with her and we ran almost side-by-side until the last hundred metres when i stretched my legs and enjoyed a sort of finishing kick.

tonight we get to visit with friends in ennismore!

a lovely new year to my bloggy chums all over the world!

bicycles power the times square ball!!!

a new year's eve story from new york city where the times square ball will drop later on signalling the start of a new year in the eastern united states (and anywhere else looking on in that time zone). big deal right?! well this year the ball will be lit by energy stored from the efforts of a huge number of visitors to new york who mounted stationary bicycles that were attached to batteries designed to store that energy and release it later to power the ball. read more about it here

better hurry up boys!!

the last bit gets stuck on . . .


being on holiday i find that time slows down. imperceptibly at first and then it is very obvious that i have lost touch with it and then all of a sudden there it is - back again - which usually signals the return to teaching.

having the almost timelessness available means that tiny points of focus also appear.

here are a few around my home.

if i was braver i'd call this set "through a blind darkly" . . . but i'll spare you that!

this one was on a rainy morning . . . the rain streamed in silver trickles down the glass.

the same morning. i inverted the image because i thought it looked better this way .

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

winter woods

some fine old writing (from 1908) in which the winter woods (and all that lives in them) are described in as loving a manner as can be imagined.

"the first snow-storm of the season never becomes an old story. it retains its charm indefinitely, to all original minds at least, and to such as have cherished any degree of simplicity. here is a mimic invasion of an elemental beauty which conquers us by reason of its very gentleness. We are soothed and beguiled into submission. tempestuous winds call forth our resistance; we front them with set teeth. but who can resist the silent snow descending as if to lay the world under a soft enchantment? the woods are renewed and reclothed in virgin purity. It is as if old scores were wiped out and the world were again a spotless thing.

what can be more companionable than the falling snow ? its touch is so caressing, its advent so silent in the open, its voice so pleasing as it sifts through the pine-needles. the first solitary flakes approach with the gentle effect of preparing one for the miracle to ensue. a calm settles over all, as though these were indeed the messengers of peace.

recently there fell such a clinging and abundant snow as comes perhaps only once in a season, and some years not at all. the woods were literally buried and saplings everywhere bent to the ground beneath its weight. it enveloped the pines until they became miniature alps in the landscape, while among the oaks were gleaming corridors and marble halls. the open, barren aspect common to winter was gone, and the dense walls had shut in again as in summer, but now crystalline and dazzling.

this is perhaps nature's greatest transformation. in a single night have been erected such palaces as were never seen in persia. what a bold, free hand wrought here! in the thousand domes and arches is a massive architecture, relieved by the utmost delicacy, as though nature said, " behold, i show you a miracle." a miracle indeed! here have wrought the genii of the air while mortals slept, and all that was to be heard was the rustling of their wings. at such times the woods grow suddenly strange and unfamiliar. they so lend themselves to the enchantment we are lost in our own wood-lot. familiar paths are obliterated by pendulous boughs drooping to the earth, while in the pasture tree-sparrows hop upon the snow among the protruding tops of the tallest ragweeds.

realize if you can in your walk, over how many sleepers you step all unknown ; how many wood-chucks in their burrows, and frogs in the mud under the ice ; how many torpid snakes and dozing chipmunks. here is an enchanted household underground. they are at peace and their timid hearts know no fear. the dreaming toad has no terror of writhing blacksnakes, and the snoozing woodchuck has forgotten the dog. presently they will awake to hunger and fear again. woodchucks will be up long before breakfast, to go shivering in the cold dawn of the year waiting for the table to be spread. snakes do not come out till the sun is well up, to lie basking in the noonday heat, catching the first unwary grasshoppers.

every fresh snowfall makes some revelation of its own, recording crepuscular journeys and prowlings in the night. the broad track of the skunk meanders in and out among the bushes. that he had no definite direction, took never a straight course, nor apparently did he hurry, is in itself evidence of his phlegmatic temperament and leisurely habit of mind. footprints of the ruffed grouse show that he has on his snow-shoes, inasmuch as they are feathered, broad and lobed rather than angular. the squirrel leaves evidence of his impetuous ways, moving always impulsively, and the snow makes plain record of the fact. tracks of deer seem to bespeak their innocence, as that of the fox might be said to have a sinister purport, doubtless because the hoof prints have a gentle suggestion and imply the herbivorous diet.

in the winter walk the eye finds relatively so little to hold it, that it rivets itself upon minute details, dissecting that which might pass unnoticed at other seasons. form and outline come into prominence while color is in abeyance. we must now perforce judge the trees by this standard. who shall describe the winter beauty of the beech as it stands stripped and naked to the winds like an athlete, every muscle and sinew in evidence, every outline expressive of reserve power and self assurance a clean-limbed, stout-hearted tree, dauntless before all gales? its trunk is a superb torso, and with its roots it reaches down to the heart of the earth, draws sustenance therefrom and derives heat from that deep-lying warmth below all frost lines. no parasite this, no surface weed, but the sturdy child of earth herself, suckled by a spartan mother. look upon an ancient beech, bared thus to the storm, and the chest involuntarily expands, as though we too should take firmer hold somewhere and stand more erect. the shellbark is as shaggy, raw-boned and loose-jointed as the beech is trim and closely knit. its bare branches are not clean-cut against the sky but swollen and distorted like knotted hands of toil — horny, crooked fingers up-raised to the heavens. what rude strength is their portion who stand thus alone and derive from the earth as befits the stalwart buffeting, solitary and unyielding, the winter gales.

as the trees are leafless, the bark is now more in evidence. moosewood looks slender and striped as a ribbon-snake, and limbs of the hop-hornbeam have the appearance of sinews. the white birch is to the winter woods what the dogwood is in spring, the maple in autumn. portions of bark outlast the wood, and are to be found standing erect and empty. the tree has departed, bequeathing its fair skin in token of a vanished loveliness. now and then the yellow birch is seen in all its beauty, the golden inner bark shining through a silver filigree. to look at this tree is like looking at a picture or reading a poem: one feels somehow refreshed. nor is the black birch without charm; its bark has a dusky beauty, and again shows fine wood colours and metallic tints similar to the black cherry. this fine luster the birch has in an eminent degree while most trees show it only on their small branches, if at all.

club-mosses appear to be a lesser growth of pines, a pygmy folk dwelling at the feet of the elder race. here are miniature trunks and branches bearing miniature cones, perfect little conifers no higher than a chickadee. ground-pine and trailing christmas green thrive together on the bank, the latter with stems a yard long, which, while they grow at one end, die at the other. these little plants are crisp and green and refresh the eye on winter days, as does the christmas fern, which affords a pleasant encounter at a time when one meets few acquaintances. it has, moreover, a certain charm of its own which doubtless lies in the crispness of the fronds and clear-cut outlines of the pinna. the marginal shield-fern is another acquaintance to be looked for on the winter walk, and everywhere the hardy polypody, which is as much a child of winter as the little spiny cladonia that clusters about its roots and clings to the same granite ledge.

let there come a warm rain, the high blue-berries redden their twigs and the lichens renew their tints — quite as though nature had softened her heart. these lichens suddenly become conspicuous with a sort of gentle prominence, and mildly compel attention; on the oaks the yellow cetraria, on the white pines, olive, slate-colored and blue-green parmelias.

a common necessity and hardship hold the birds together in closer bonds so that they are impelled to consort in little roving bands chickadees, creepers, kinglets and nuthatches, with often a single downy woodpecker accompanying them. if one chance to drop a morsel he will descend to the ground in search of it. he will not waste a spider's egg, so severe has been the lesson in economy. in zero weather the jay forgets to be saucy, and if there is a glaze on the snow, his native impertinence seems to ooze from him, and he becomes meek enough. taking a weazened acorn from the tree, he holds the nut with one claw, and with vigorous taps of his bill tears it open. after extracting the frozen kernel, he drops the shell with a trace of his customary impertinence, as though feeling in somewhat better spirits for even this poor repast.

the board may fairly creak with its weight of partridgeberries, beechnuts and acorns, many of the latter crushed and available, and then in a night this plentiful feast is put out of sight under a six-inch layer of snow, to which the next day adds a glaze as if to seal irrevocably the doom of all bob-whites. a fast has been declared in effect, as peremptorily as by any medieval pope, to be broken only with an occasional leaf bud or the poor seeds of the ragweed. but the good sun is a trusty friend, and snow is only so much water. presently berries and acorns again come into view.

there is no more touching note in nature than the bob-white's at this season, as wandering together in the snow in search of their scanty fare they utter from time to time those low but distinct calls in which they seemingly express their solicitude. june itself has no sweeter song than this note of the winter woods, albeit it is such a plaintive one: mother-notes these, and child-voices of the hunted, full of a wild pathos, tender voices which to us have been but the inarticulate cries of the dumb. the birds feed frequently on the crushed acorns lying in the path, and the jay at times participates to the extent of taking an acorn from the feast and eating it in the branches above, where he is a good sentinel, though prone to imitate the quailing of the red-shouldered hawk when the feast is at its height, to the general discomfiture and alarm of the diners below.

birds become less suspicious as the mercury falls, and they are hard pressed for food. the snow around the ragweeds is thickly covered with the tracks of bob-whites, like those of chickens, broad and firm, but with hardly any hind toe mark at all, as though they walked about on tip-toe. very different from these are the long, triangular tracks of the jays, showing where they have hopped upon the snow. it is thus fairly tramped down and strewn with leaves and chaff where the bob-whites have fed, leaving these husks in token of their frugal meal. such seed must be very small provender for these birds — much like a diet of crumbs for a hungry man. goldfinches, juncos and tree-sparrows seek the same meager repast. the musical flocks of redpolls fare better in the alders around the pond. these are not to be seen every day, any more than the pine-siskins perhaps not at all during several years. but occasionally an enormous flock will arrive and settle in the alders with all the chattering and commotion of a social and hungry company as the seeds are shaken down upon the ice, the birds soon leave the bushes, and are under the table, so to speak.

crossbills have the easier time, feeding as they do on the seeds of the pine, for these are always available. no sound seems better to accord with the spirit of a still cold winter day than this faint crackling of opening cones, forced. asunder by the shearing motion of the peculiar bills of these birds. surely here is an adaptation to definite ends. nature produces a cone that cannot readily be opened, and, as if relenting, produces a bird to open it. the wings of the seeds come zigzagging to the ground as the feast continues overhead all that is destined to be planted.

the lumbermen come into the woods with the crossbills, and everywhere is heard the winter music of the axe. it is good music enough, but it has a sinister purport, and the swish and boom of falling trees is a sad refrain. ancient pines are laid low, singing to the last their brave and beautiful song, which seems to come, not directly from overhead, but remotely from the empyrean, as though it issued from the distant court of the winds. of the pantheon of trees the village elm is the last to hold our homage; we have dethroned our idols. as the sound of the ax breaks the stillness, i find myself instinctively turning in the opposite direction, to escape that which is soon to follow the swan-song of the forest primeval."

Monday, December 29, 2008

little visitors

long time visitors to the golden fish will recall that last winter i maintained a fairly large community of rabbits who favoured the little carrot sticks i chucked out the back door. i was favoured by these little bunnies until late spring at which point they seemed to have disappeared. well a few days ago i happened to notice a burly brown rabbit hopping across the snow banks and sure enough - after i set out some tasty baby carrots - here is the evidence i needed that one or more of my little furry buddies is back!!!!

at speed

at speed through a southern ontario landscape in the early evening in december ....

if you go down to the woods today . . . december 2008

after a week of minus twenty temperatures, the air is suddenly much warmer courtesy of an influx of warm air from the united states. as a result there have been a few melts resulting in cool, thick fog. i took a walk down to the woods on one of those days and came up with some lovely images in which the reddish bark of some of the trees, really called out in the mix of greys and browns and silvers.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

cool product!

hey, a new year is quickly coming up and if you didn't get a calendar under the christmas tree then you might want to read on!

i live in a house where bubble-wrap is high up the list of favourite toys to play with. you know, the stuff that they use to pack up fragile objects. well, when it comes into our house there's a mad scramble to squeeze and stamp every last little bubble until it emits that satisfying little pop!. have you ever thought about where the air that's trapped inside originated? or what else is trapped inside? hmmmmm. better not dwell on that one.

anyhow, here's a clever product that takes care of that irrational bubble-bursting habit and keeps you up-to-date at the same time!

up close . . . or far away . . . it makes for a stylish addition to any home.

they retail for thirty dollars each plus shipping, or if you buy two, they throw in the shipping for free!! if you want to know more then nip over here for a look-see.
i figure we'll be needing to set up a bubble-bursting schedule around here just so no one get's their knickers in a twist!!!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

lydia malinowski

montrealler lydia malinowski works with watercolour and collages of japanese paper (washi). i think you'll agree that her works are not only beautiful but have a fluidly transcendent quality about them.

estampes i: estampes ii:

you can see more of lydia's work at her website.

Friday, December 26, 2008

i missed my dad

today i visited my mum's home in cobourg.

this was lake ontario on a very windy, cold, snowy sort of day . . .

in the gradual unravelling of experiences following my dad's flying away today was perhaps the hardest as i visited his home and of course there wasn't his huge gift of a hug. in all my moments of happiness for his having learned to live well and good, there have also been an equal number in which i have wanted to share a funny story or a photograph or ask a question. today would have been such a day. his bemusement at the family antics, his concerted efforts to share his knowledge and wisdom with me. his extraordinary ability to pick up my rapidly growing son (regardless of his weight although it was openly wondered if this year dawson had outgrown my dad's ability to lift him) were all absent.

in some respects i have had a degree of preparation for this, as i have often felt a similar wistfulness at not having the warmth and wisdom of my grandad to share thoughts and ideas with. but the longevity of my relationship with my dad and the advent of technologies that supported the immediacy of contact that distance denied us (and which we used unsparingly!) have made the sudden silence hard to bear.

i felt the deepest compassion for my mum today as she has dealt with extraordinary competence and determination with the minutiae of paperwork, organization, and most especially the redefining of herself as not only an independent person - for she has been very much that for much of her life - but as a wholly self-dependent person.

we laughed loud and often despite the empty space at the table and most especially, we shared our love as a family.

when i got home this evening i enjoyed a thomas hardy ale that i was going to share with my dad . . . it comes highly recommended!
on the way home i stared out the window and watched a familiar stretch of landscape pass by

sylvia plath - sheep in fog

the hills step off into whiteness.
people or stars
regard me sadly, i disappoint them.

the train leaves a line of breath.
o slow
horse the colour of rust,

hooves, dolorous bells ----
all morning the
morning has been blackening,

a flower left out.
my bones hold a stillness, the far
fields melt my heart.

they threaten
to let me through to a heaven
starless and fatherless, a dark water.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

carollers at the door

hey!!!!! it's christmas day!!!!!! so happy christmas to all of my readers no matter where you are.

i remember one christmas holiday travelling around with a group of my friends to sing christmas carols. our goal - fun - pure and simple. i recall that we had imbibed our fair share of riesling before we headed out on our noble journey which only served to enhance the joy.

so today i'll share with you three carols starting with my favourite . . . i saw three ships . . . next up . . .good king wenceslas the lyrics for this carol are rich with images in my mind connected to my last christmas in england. i was eight years old and staying at a "christian endeavour home" in saltburn up on the yorkshire coast.

at the time, my dad was three thousand miles away carving out a life for himself and his to be arriving shortly family. it snowed while we there and i recall one journey out into the countryside that filled my mind with (what have become) archetypal images of a magical christmas. i wish i could put the sensations of that particular day into writing for you, but the effect of seeing snow, moorland, waterfalls, rivers, and the pennines filled my head and heart and to this day i can recall and feel the very same childlike wonder at it all inside me.

and so i'll indulge myself by sharing the lyrics of good king wenceslas with you here . .

good king wenceslas looked out, on the feast of stephen,
when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.

"hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,
yonder peasant, who is he? where and what his dwelling?"
"sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
right against the forest fence, by saint agnes' fountain."

"bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."
page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

"sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
fails my heart, i know not how; i can go no longer."
"mark my footsteps, good my page. tread thou in them boldly
thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."

in his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
therefore, christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

to learn more about this carol then you can give one of my old posts a read!
and of course . . . the holly and the ivy . . .

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

christmas eve at the golden fish world headquarters

well the evening before the great day itself is well underway with the first annual christmas eve barbeque quite done.

so here's the process: one . . . locate the barbeque in broad daylight. two: trudge through the snow and throw half-a-dozen matches in and hope that the liquified propane turns into gas and ignites . . . three: if succesful to this point, then chuck hunks of formerly mobile quadripeds onto grill and leave until you absolutely have to head out into the cold, dark, wintry night to flip'em and then claim 'em . . . . anybody who complains about them being over or under done, receives nothing they can eat but lots they can infer from!!!!!

steak, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and mashed potatoes. wonderful early-winter comfort food! for sweet, christmas cake shaped and jam-packed with love by my mum and dad.

fuel for the cook was provided by harbour estates winery who bang out a very tasty and experience-enhancing cabernet sauvignon.

my mainsqueeze brenda and our daughter alexia have gone to church which this evening will also be populated with animals as there is a special service offered replete with sheep and other livestock to add colour, scent, and presence to the christmas story.

brother-in-law stephen left with each arm holding clinking packages of liquids to be consumed at his friend's hearth.

leaving the dawsonboy and i.

he is immersed in the buzzing of his blackberry pearl- communication sentinel of all cool grade nine students.

at this point i have the most dreaded and despised job of all - wrapping my christmas presents. i have never liked it - even as i write this my face has involuntarily contorted into a nasty grimace.

so what else is there here to tell you about? hmmm well there are two trees . . . the girltree - purchased at a charity fundraiser last year. it is truly lovely with a pink fuzzy star atop its gracefully positioned and cleverly decorated artificial limbs . . . there's also "the family tree" which is real and covered from head-to-stump with all manner of ornaments with all sorts of history, each hung with care by the two minor iterations of myself and my mainsqueeze.
then there's candles everywhere. i love candles and so does everyone else in this house! candles everywhere. and ornaments in all shapes and sizes - everywhere . . .
well, the wrapping must be done so i'm off!!

jonathon winter's christmas story

deep deep inside the golden fish christmas archives i lifted up a stack of moldering old christmas cards and came across this chestnut (can you say that at christmas) that was sent by a chum on the other side of town. jonathon winters lays his childhood memories of christmas out on the table . . . the results are outstanding and incredibly funny . . . .

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

sun's goin' down

"if a man’s imagination were not so weak, so easily tired, if his capacity for wonder not so limited, he would abandon forever such fantasies of the supernal. he would learn to perceive in water, leaves and silence more than sufficient of the absolute and marvelous, more than enough to console him for the loss of the ancient dreams." taken lock, stock, and barrel right out of "desert solitaire" by edward abbey.

Monday, December 22, 2008

a christmas memory by truman capote: part 3 of 3

morning. frozen rime lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods. a wild turkey calls. a renegade hog grunts in the undergrowth. soon, by the edge of knee-deep, rapid-running water, we have to abandon the buggy. queenie wades the stream first, paddles across barking complaints at the swiftness of the current, the pneumonia-making coldness of it. we follow, holding our shoes and equipment (a hatchet, a burlap sack) above our heads. a mile more: of chastising thorns, burrs and briers that catch at our clothes; of rusty pine needles brilliant with gaudy fungus and molted feathers. here, there, a flash, a flutter, an ecstasy of shrillings remind us that not all the birds have flown south. always, the path unwinds through lemony sun pools and pitchblack vine tunnels. another creek to cross: a disturbed armada of speckled trout froths the water round us, and frogs the size of plates practice belly flops; beaver workmen are building a dam. on the farther shore, queenie shakes herself and trembles. my friend shivers, too: not with cold but enthusiasm. one of her hat's ragged roses sheds a petal as she lifts her head and inhales the pine-heavy air. "we're almost there; can you smell it, buddy'" she says, as though we were approaching an ocean.
and, indeed, it is a kind of ocean. scented acres of holiday trees, prickly-leafed holly. red berries shiny as chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. "it should be," muses my friend, "twice as tall as a boy. so a boy can't steal the star." the one we pick is twice as tall as me. a brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. but we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree's virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on. many compliments accompany our sunset return along the red clay road to town; but my friend is sly and noncommittal when passers-by praise the treasure perched in our buggy: what a fine tree, and where did it come from? "yonderways," she murmurs vaguely. once a car stops, and the rich mill owner's lazy wife leans out and whines: "giveya two-bits" cash for that ol tree." ordinarily my friend is afraid of saying no; but on this occasion she promptly shakes her head: "we wouldn't take a dollar." the mill owner's wife persists. "a dollar, my foot! fifty cents. that's my last offer. goodness, woman, you can get another one." in answer, my friend gently reflects: "i doubt it. there's never two of anything."
home: queenie slumps by the fire and sleeps till tomorrow, snoring loud as a human.
a trunk in the attic contains: a shoebox of ermine tails (off the opera cape of a curious lady who once rented a room in the house), coils of frazzled tinsel gone gold with age, one silver star, a brief rope of dilapidated, undoubtedly dangerous candylike light bulbs. excellent decorations, as far as they go, which isn't far enough: my friend wants our tree to blaze "like a baptist window," droop with weighty snows of ornament. but we can't afford the made-in-japan splendors at the five-and-dime. so we do what we've always done: sit for days at the kitchen table with scissors and crayons and stacks of colored paper. i make sketches and my friend cuts them out: lots of cats, fish too (because they're easy to draw), some apples, some watermelons, a few winged angels devised from saved-up sheets of hershey bar tin foil. we use safety pins to attach these creations to the tree; as a final touch, we sprinkle the branches with shredded cotton (picked in august for this purpose). my friend, surveying the effect, clasps her hands together. "now honest, buddy. doesn't it look good enough to eat!" queenie tries to eat an angel.

after weaving and ribboning holly wreaths for all the front windows, our next project is the fashioning of family gifts. tie-dye scarves for the ladies, for the men a homebrewed lemon and licorice and aspirin syrup to be taken "at the first symptoms of a cold and after hunting." but when it comes time for making each other's gift, my friend and i separate to work secretly. i would like to buy her a pearl-handled knife, a radio, a whole pound of chocolate-covered cherries (we tasted some once, and she always swears: "i could live on them, buddy, lord yes I could—and that's not taking his name in vain"). instead, i am building her a kite. she would like to give me a bicycle (she's said so on several million occasions: "if only i could, buddy. it's bad enough in life to do without something you want; but confound it, what gets my goat is not being able to give somebody something you want them to have. only one of these days i will, buddy. locate you a bike. don't ask how. steal it, maybe"). instead, i'm fairly certain that she is building me a kite—the same as last year and the year before: the year before that we exchanged slingshots. all of which is fine by me. for we are champion kite fliers who study the wind like sailors; my friend, more accomplished than i, can get a kite aloft when there isn't enough breeze to carry clouds.

christmas eve afternoon we scrape together a nickel and go to the butcher's to buy queenie's traditional gift, a good gnawable beef bone. the bone, wrapped in funny paper, is placed high in the tree near the silver star. queenie knows it's there. she squats at the foot of the tree staring up in a trance of greed: when bedtime arrives she refuses to budge. her excitement is equaled by my own. i kick the covers and turn my pillow as though it were a scorching summer's night. somewhere a rooster crows: falsely, for the sun is still on the other side of the world.

"buddy, are you awake!" it is my friend, calling from her room, which is next to mine; and an instant later she is sitting on my bed holding a candle. "well, i can't sleep a hoot," she declares. "my mind's jumping like a jack rabbit. buddy, do you think mrs. roosevelt will serve our cake at dinner?" we huddle in the bed, and she squeezes my hand i-love-you. "seems like your hand used to be so much smaller. i guess i hate to see you grow up. when you're grown up, will we still be friends?" i say always. "but i feel so bad, buddy. i wanted so bad to give you a bike. i tried to sell my cameo papa gave me. buddy"—she hesitates, as though embarrassed—"i made you another kite." then i confess that i made her one, too; and we laugh. the candle burns too short to hold. out it goes, exposing the starlight, the stars spinning at the window like a visible caroling that slowly, slowly daybreak silences. possibly we doze; but the beginnings of dawn splash us like cold water: we're up, wide-eyed and wandering while we wait for others to waken. quite deliberately my friend drops a kettle on the kitchen floor. i tap-dance in front of closed doors. one by one the household emerges, looking as though they'd like to kill us both; but it's christmas, so they can't. first, a gorgeous breakfast: just everything you can imagine—from flapjacks and fried squirrel to hominy grits and honey-in-the-comb. which puts everyone in a good humor except my friend and me. frankly, we're so impatient to get at the presents we can't eat a mouthful. well, i'm disappointed. who wouldn't be? with socks, a sunday school shirt, some handkerchiefs, a hand-me-down sweater, and a year's subscription to a religious magazine for children. the little shepherd. it makes me boil. it really does.
my friend has a better haul. a sack of satsumas, that's her best present. she is proudest, however, of a white wool shawl knitted by her married sister. but she says her favorite gift is the kite i built her. and it is very beautiful; though not as beautiful as the one she made me, which is blue and scattered with gold and green good conduct stars; moreover, my name is painted on it, "buddy."

"buddy, the wind is blowing."

the wind is blowing, and nothing will do till we've run to a pasture below the house where queenie has scooted to bury her bone (and where, a winter hence, queenie will be buried, too). there, plunging through the healthy waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel them twitching at the string like sky fish as they swim into the wind. satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel satsumas and watch our kites cavort. soon i forget the socks and hand-me-down sweater. i'm as happy as if we'd already won the fifty-thousand-dollar grand prize in that coffee-naming contest.

"my, how foolish i am!" my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. "you know what i've always thought?" she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond. "i've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the lord. and i imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don't know it's getting dark. and it's been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. but i'll wager it never happens. i’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the lord has already shown himself. that things as they are"—her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and queenie pawing earth over her bone—"just what they've always seen, was seeing him. as for me, i could leave the world with today in my eyes."

this is our last christmas together.

life separates us. those who know best decide that i belong in a military school. and so follows a miserable succession of bugle-blowing prisons, grim reveille-ridden summer camps. i have a new home too. but it doesn't count. home is where my friend is, and there i never go.

and there she remains, puttering around the kitchen. alone with queenie. then alone. ("buddy dear," she writes in her wild hard-to-read script, "yesterday jim macy's horse kicked queenie bad. be thankful she didn't feel much. i wrapped her in a fine linen sheet and rode her in the buggy down to simpson's pasture where she can be with all her bones...."). for a few novembers she continues to bake her fruitcakes single-handed; not as many, but some: and, of course, she always sends me "the best of the batch." also, in every letter she encloses a dime wadded in toilet paper: "see a picture show and write me the story." but gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me with her other friend, the buddy who died in the 1880's; more and more, thirteenths are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning arrives in november, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning, when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: "oh my, it's fruitcake weather! "

and when that happens, i know it. a message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. that is why, walking across a school campus on this particular december morning, I keep searching the sky. as if i expected to see, rather like hearts, a lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

across the fields

a wicked cold day - twenty five below outside at this moment but a friend from saskatoon phoned to say it was fifty below there. that's nasty and not cycling weather that's for sure!!!

i took a walk earlier and among other scenes, this one stands out for me . . . across the fields as the sun goes down . . .

before this time

ollabelle cranks out a wicked groove inside the gospel stomper "before this time" in the intimate setting of banjo jim's . . . . .

Saturday, December 20, 2008

a christmas memory by truman capote: part 2 of 3

of the ingredients that go into our fruitcakes, whiskey is the most expensive, as well as the hardest to obtain: state laws forbid its sale. but everybody knows you can buy a bottle from mr. haha jones. and the next day, having completed our more prosaic shopping, we set out for mr. haha's business address, a "sinful" (to quote public opinion) fish-fry and dancing cafe down by the river. we've been there before, and on the same errand; but in previous years our dealings have been with haha's wife, an iodine-dark indian woman with brassy peroxided hair and a dead-tired disposition. actually, we've never laid eyes on her husband, though we've heard that he's an indian too. a giant with razor scars across his cheeks. they call him haha because he's so gloomy, a man who never laughs. as we approach his cafe (a large log cabin festooned inside and out with chains of garish-gay naked light bulbs and standing by the river's muddy edge under the shade of river trees where moss drifts through the branches like gray mist) our steps slow down. even queenie stops prancing and sticks close by. people have been murdered in haha's cafe. cut to pieces. hit on the head. there's a case coming up in court next month. naturally these goings-on happen at night when the colored lights cast crazy patterns and the victrola wails. in the daytime haha's is shabby and deserted. i knock at the door, queenie barks, my friend calls: "mrs. haha, ma'am? anyone to home?"

footsteps. the door opens. our hearts overturn. it's mr. haha jones himself! and he is a giant; he does have scars; he doesn't smile. no, he glowers at us through satan-tilted eyes and demands to know: "what you want with haha?"

for a moment we are too paralyzed to tell. presently my friend half-finds her voice, a whispery voice at best: "if you please, mr. haha, we'd like a quart of your finest whiskey."

his eyes tilt more. would you believe it? haha is smiling! laughing, too. "which one of you is a drinkin' man?"

"it's for making fruitcakes, mr. haha. cooking. "

this sobers him. he frowns. "that's no way to waste good whiskey." nevertheless, he retreats into the shadowed cafe and seconds later appears carrying a bottle of daisy-yellow unlabeled liquor. he demonstrates its sparkle in the sunlight and says: "two dollars."

we pay him with nickels and dimes and pennies. suddenly, as he jangles the coins in his hand like a fistful of dice, his face softens. "tell you what," he proposes, pouring the money back into our bead purse, "just send me one of them fruitcakes instead."

"well," my friend remarks on our way home, "there's a lovely man. we'll put an extra cup of raisins in his cake."
the black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. in four days our work is done. thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on windowsills and shelves.

who are they for?

friends. not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. people who've struck our fancy. like president roosevelt. like the reverend and mrs. j. c. lucey, baptist missionaries to borneo who lectured here last winter. or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. or abner packer, the driver of the six o'clock bus from mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. or the young wistons, a california couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young mr. wiston snapped our picture, the only one we've ever had taken). is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? i think yes. also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you's on white house stationery, time-to-time communications from california and borneo, the knife grinder's penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.

now a nude december fig branch grates against the window. the kitchen is empty, the cakes are gone; yesterday we carted the last of them to the post office, where the cost of stamps turned our purse inside out. we're broke. that rather depresses me, but my friend insists on celebrating—with two inches of whiskey left in haha's bottle. queenie has a spoonful in a bowl of coffee (she likes her coffee chicory-flavored and strong). the rest we divide between a pair of jelly glasses. we're both quite awed at the prospect of drinking straight whiskey; the taste of it brings screwed-up expressions and sour shudders. but by and by we begin to sing, the two of us singing different songs simultaneously. i don't know the words to mine, just: come on along, come on along, to the dark-town strutters' ball. but i can dance: that's what I mean to be, a tap dancer in the movies. my dancing shadow rollicks on the walls; our voices rock the chinaware; we giggle: as if unseen hands were tickling us. queenie rolls on her back, her paws plow the air, something like a grin stretches her black lips. inside myself, i feel warm and sparky as those crumbling logs, carefree as the wind in the chimney. my friend waltzes round the stove, the hem of her poor calico skirt pinched between her fingers as though it were a party dress: show me the way to go home, she sings, her tennis shoes squeaking on the floor. show me the way to go home.

enter: two relatives. very angry. potent with eyes that scold, tongues that scald. listen to what they have to say, the words tumbling together into a wrathful tune: "a child of seven! whiskey on his breath! are you out of your mind? feeding a child of seven! must be loony! road to ruination! remember cousin kate? uncle charlie? uncle charlie's brother-inlaw? shame! scandal! humiliation! kneel, pray, beg the lord!"

queenie sneaks under the stove. my friend gazes at her shoes, her chin quivers, she lifts her skirt and blows her nose and runs to her room. long after the town has gone to sleep and the house is silent except for the chimings of clocks and the sputter of fading fires, she is weeping into a pillow already as wet as a widow's handkerchief.

"don't cry," i say, sitting at the bottom of her bed and shivering despite my flannel nightgown that smells of last winter's cough syrup, "don't cry," i beg, teasing her toes, tickling her feet, "you're too old for that."

"it's because," she hiccups, "i am too old. old and funny."

"not funny. fun. more fun than anybody. listen. if you don't stop crying you'll be so tired tomorrow we can't go cut a tree."
she straightens up. queenie jumps on the bed (where queenie is not allowed) to lick her cheeks. "i know where we'll find real pretty trees, buddy. and holly, too. with berries big as your eyes. it's way off in the woods. farther than we've ever been. papa used to bring us christmas trees from there: carry them on his shoulder. that's fifty years ago. well, now: i can't wait for morning."

tomorrow part three (of three) of truman capote's "a christmas memory"

december 20. 2008

the snow that never drifts --
the transient, fragrant snow
that comes a single time a year
is softly driving now .... emily dickinson --
"bare branches of each tree
on this chilly january morn
look so cold so forlorn.
gray skies dip ever so low
left from yesterday's dusting of snow.
yet in the heart of each tree
waiting for each who wait to see
new life as warm sun and breeze will blow,
like magic, unlock springs sap to flow,
buds, new leaves, then blooms will grow."
- nelda hartmann

stand by me

from the documentary "playing for change" comes this chestnut of a song played by musicians collaged together (much like 1 giant leap) to create something much greater than the parts . . .

Friday, December 19, 2008

a christmas memory by truman capote: part 1 of 3

through chance - that most precious of my friend's - i came across a reference to a short story by truman capote that i had never read before. i'm going to drop the text here in three entries so it'll fill up your page and much of mine but i think that it's a worthy tale and i believe that you will as well!

a christmas memory by truman capote. part one.
imagine a morning in late november. a coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. a great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

a woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. she is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. she is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. her face is remarkable—not unlike lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. "oh my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, "it's fruitcake weather!"

the person to whom she is speaking is myself. i am seven; she is sixty-something, we are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. we are each other's best friend. she calls me buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. the other buddy died in the 1880's, when she was still a child. she is still a child.

"i knew it before i got out of bed," she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. "the courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. and there were no birds singing; they've gone to warmer country, yes indeed. oh, buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. help me find my hat. we've thirty cakes to bake."

it's always the same: a morning arrives in november, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: "it's fruitcake weather! fetch our buggy. help me find my hat."

the hat is found, a straw cartwheel corsaged with velvet roses out-of-doors has faded: it once belonged to a more fashionable relative. together, we guide our buggy, a dilapidated baby carriage, out to the garden and into a grove of pecan trees. the buggy is mine; that is, it was bought for me when I was born. it is made of wicker, rather unraveled, and the wheels wobble like a drunkard's legs. but it is a faithful object; springtimes, we take it to the woods and fill it with flowers, herbs, wild fern for our porch pots; in the summer, we pile it with picnic paraphernalia and sugar-cane fishing poles and roll it down to the edge of a creek; it has its winter uses, too: as a truck for hauling firewood from the yard to the kitchen, as a warm bed for queenie, our tough little orange and white rat terrier who has survived distemper and two rattlesnake bites. queenie is trotting beside it now.

three hours later we are back in the kitchen hulling a heaping buggyload of windfall pecans. our backs hurt from gathering them: how hard they were to find (the main crop having been shaken off the trees and sold by the orchard's owners, who are not us) among the concealing leaves, the frosted, deceiving grass. caarackle! a cheery crunch, scraps of miniature thunder sound as the shells collapse and the golden mound of sweet oily ivory meat mounts in the milk-glass bowl. queenie begs to taste, and now and again my friend sneaks her a mite, though insisting we deprive ourselves. "we mustn't, buddy. if we start, we won't stop. and there's scarcely enough as there is. for thirty cakes." the kitchen is growing dark. dusk turns the window into a mirror: our reflections mingle with the rising moon as we work by the fireside in the firelight. at last, when the moon is quite high, we toss the final hull into the fire and, with joined sighs, watch it catch flame. the buggy is empty, the bowl is brimful.
we eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. tomorrow the kind of work i like best begins: buying. cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned hawaiian pine-apple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we'll need a pony to pull the buggy home.

but before these purchases can be made, there is the question of money. neither of us has any. except for skin-flint sums persons in the house occasionally provide (a dime is considered very big money); or what we earn ourselves from various activities: holding rummage sales, selling buckets of hand-picked blackberries, jars of home-made jam and apple jelly and peach preserves, rounding up flowers for funerals and weddings. once we won seventy-ninth prize, five dollars, in a national football contest. not that we know a fool thing about football. it's just that we enter any contest we hear about: at the moment our hopes are centered on the fifty-thousand-dollar grand prize being offered to name a new brand of coffee (we suggested "a.m."; and, after some hesitation, for my friend thought it perhaps sacrilegious, the slogan "a.m.! amen!"). to tell the truth, our only really profitable enterprise was the fun and freak museum we conducted in a back-yard woodshed two summers ago. the fun was a stereopticon with slide views of washington and new york lent us by a relative who had been to those places (she was furious when she discovered why we'd borrowed it); the freak was a three-legged biddy chicken hatched by one of our own hens. every body hereabouts wanted to see that biddy: we charged grown ups a nickel, kids two cents. and took in a good twenty dollars before the museum shut down due to the decease of the main attraction.

but one way and another we do each year accumulate christmas savings, a fruitcake fund. these moneys we keep hidden in an ancient bead purse under a loose board under the floor under a chamber pot under my friend's bed. the purse is seldom removed from this safe location except to make a deposit or, as happens every saturday, a withdrawal; for on saturdays i am allowed ten cents to go to the picture show. my friend has never been to a picture show, nor does she intend to: "i'd rather hear you tell the story, buddy. that way I can imagine it more. besides, a person my age shouldn't squander their eyes. when the lord comes, let me see him clear." in addition to never having seen a movie, she has never: eaten in a restaurant, traveled more than five miles from home, received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the bible, worn cosmetics, cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry. here are a few things she has done, does do: killed with a hoe the biggest rattlesnake ever seen in this county (sixteen rattles), dip snuff (secretly), tame hummingbirds (just try it) till they balance on her finger, tell ghost stories (we both believe in ghosts) so tingling they chill you in july, talk to herself, take walks in the rain, grow the prettiest japonicas in town, know the recipe for every sort of oldtime indian cure, including a magical wart remover. now, with supper finished, we retire to the room in a faraway part of the house where my friend sleeps in a scrap-quilt-covered iron bed painted rose pink, her favorite color. silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on the scrap quilt. dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as may buds. somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man's eyes. lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. nickels and quarters, worn smooth as creek pebbles. but mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies. last summer others in the house contracted to pay us a penny for every twenty-five flies we killed. oh, the carnage of august: the flies that flew to heaven! yet it was not work in which we took pride. and, as we sit counting pennies, it is as though we were back tabulating dead flies. neither of us has a head for figures; we count slowly, lose track, start again. according to her calculations, we have $12.73. according to mine, exactly $13. "i do hope you're wrong, buddy. we can't mess around with thirteen. the cakes will fall. or put somebody in the cemetery. why, i wouldn't dream of getting out of bed on the thirteenth." this is true: she always spends thirteenths in bed. so, to be on the safe side, we subtract a penny and toss it out the window.

end of part one . . . part two tomorrow!