View From The Glen

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, 8 year old

Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile
I watch her go with a surge of that well-known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute, the feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time,

Do I really see what's in her mind?
Each time I think I'm close to knowing, she keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Sleep in our eyes, her and me at the breakfast table
Barely awake, I let precious time go by
Then when she's gone, there's that odd melancholy feeling
And a sense of guilt I can't deny

What happened to the wonderful adventures?
The places I had planned for us to go?
Well some of that we did but most we didn't, and why I just don't know

Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture
And save it from the funny tricks of time

Slipping through my fingers....
Happy 8th Birthday, Anna!

(Words from © Mamma Mia soundtrack, Abba)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Last Hurrah of Summer

It's a tradition every year to do something "fun" to commemorate the end of summer. A last hurrah, if you will, before returning to school and the routines of autumn. This year, I surprised the children with a train trip into Ottawa for the day.

We took the bus from the train station - an adventure in itself for my country-raised kids - and headed for Parliament Hill to see the Changing Of The Guard (with its bagpipes and brass band and ceremonial sword salutes and fixing of bayonets), and to wander around the grounds.

And we took a tour of Centre Block. We had to go through security to get inside. Kind of like being at an airport. They actually confiscated my corkscrew(?) - try explaining that to a 6, 8 and 9 year old...!
Inside we saw the House of Commons, the Senate, the beautiful architecture (the kids liked the wonderful reliefs and gargoyles carved out of the limestone) and the awe-inspiring Parliamentary Library which took our breath away (a fortunate turn of events as talking is prohibited inside). Then it was up, up, up to the Observation Deck of the Peace Tower. We were there at noon, just as the 23 bell carrillon was ringing out over the city.

After, we walked through Ottawa and the Byward market, past the US Embassy where a hunger strike was being staged (more explaining to a 6, 8 and 9 year old - who really didn't get why people would voluntarily not eat!) and onward to the National Gallery.
After lunch at the Cafe, we saw the Papal Art by such 16th century masters as Raphael, Michelangelo and Titian, although the kids were only really impressed once - at the large and somewhat gruesome painting of David holding up the head of Goliath.
We did the Canadian Gallery because I just like to sit in the Group of Seven gallery and absorb their work (I particularly like Tom Thomson's The Jack Pine with it's layers of colour), but I somehow managed to miss the work of Alex Colville, who I also like very much.
We looked at some of the modern art where huge canvases of colour (and one that was just painted black) were hung, making me feel ignorant because I have never really understood what makes them art. (If you're reading this and you can explain it, please do so).
And we visited the Rideau Street Convent Chapel, because it is calm and serene and has marvellous presence, and sat by the adjacent Water Court to (pardon the pun) reflect on what we had seen.
But of course, all of this paled beside one piece of art: the 30 foot tall giant bronze spider, Maman, that sits at the entrance to the National Gallery. And if art can be measured by wide eyed wonder, thrills and chills, this sculpture by Louise Bourgeoise won hands down.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Peaceful Easy Feeling

Between visitors and vacations, we haven't had a free weekend to ourselves in over a month, so once Saturday's round of school shopping, birthday parties, and having Erik's friend over was finished, it felt wonderful to fall back into my old lazy habits where I basically putter around doing nothing in particular.

Coffee on the stone steps while the sun rises over the old apple orchard. A picnic lunch under Ash's leafy canopy. Pull a few carrots from the ground for Sunday dinner. Make a couple of peach pies. And of course, always, wine at sunset on the veranda, keeping an eye out for the Great Blue Heron that makes his summer home down by the river somewhere.

Friday, August 21, 2009



That was the shout resonating across the lake a hundred times a day, as the kids (wearing lifejackets for my peace of mind) hurled themselves down the path, onto the huge rock that juts out into the deep water of the lake, and launched themselves into the air with a blood-curdling cry that would have done battling highlanders proud.

Ah, those quiet, serene moments of cottage life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Books, books, books

I had three goals for my week at the cottage.

1. To have fun with the kids

2. To relax

3. To read books

1 and 2 were easy and remarkably complementary. And as I have raised a family of readers, #3 was achieved too. I read every morning after the canoe ride and breakfast. I read before lunch. I implemented Quiet Time for 2 hours after lunch and read then. I read after swimming, after boating, after fishing. And after the kids were in bed, I read again, in companionable silence with my mother-in-law, Liz, who is as avid a reader as I am.

I read 8 books. Anna read 3. Erik read a bunch (but some of them were graphic novels, which I as a purist only partially count). And Grace read with all of us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On the Land

The cottage is stone and cedar, built halfway up the cliff on a ledge of rock so that we are amongst the treetops looking down at the ripples of the lake as the water breaks around the curve and face of the earth coloured stones.
Coffee on the deck, looking down towards the lake, was the perfect start to every morning at the cottage. The day stretched out ahead, no need to plan because at the cottage there is always time for everything.

Anna and I would start off with some yoga, stretching and balancing on the deck or on the flat cliffs behind us. We'd walk the dogs, and throw some balls for them to retrieve. The day would be spent on the water - fishing, swimming, and in the boats - but in between activities, we'd be up at the cottage eating, resting, playing games, reading. Me, the kids, and Grandma.

And after the last canoe ride, after the last dive off the rocks, we'd eat dinner and have a campfire (over the ashes the stories are told/of witches and werewolves and Oak Island gold) until night fell and we could head back up to the cottage to put three sleepy kids into beds and Liz and I could stargaze with a glass of wine.

At these moments, there is no malevolence in the universe.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On the Water

The first day at the cottage, it rained a little, and the lake was grey and pockmarked with raindrops. We swam anyway, the water cool and refreshing against the humidity of the day, and then sat on the rocks listening to the water rippling - a different kind of peace from the breaking waters of the ocean that I enjoyed a week earlier.

In the afternoon we raced off the rock and cannonballed into the deep clear pool of water below.

And in the evening, we watched the loons sail across, and were lulled to sleep by their cry echoing across the lake.

The next day we swam at first light and it was cold and clear. We dried on a rock under the morning sun, and then Erik and I went out in the canoe, slicing through the water away and then back to shore. The two of us went back out at sunset, farther this time, around the islands and back. Then we joined the girls diving into the sunlit depths, the surface warm, and the lake cool beneath.

It became an early morning habit for Erik and I to slip away in the morning sun that lit up the lake like a pathway. Sometimes the girls came with us, sometimes with Grandma in the paddle boat. Sometimes Grandma took the kayak out beside us and we explored the lake and the islands. At dusk one night, we all went out in the canoe, the laughter and voices of the children rising over the rhythmic sound of paddles in water. We pulled the paddles in and hushed as we got closer to the loons.

In that moment there was a lull, a peace, a sigh. As if the universe was breathing out slowly.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Cottage

Lichen and moss, and granite and pine
Water lapping and sun,
And really, really wet dogs.

Hemmed in, protected by rock and stone
We walk down dappled paths across a
Sunlit carpet of pine needles to the lake
Pristine and calm
Down steps carved out of the Canadian Shield.

Kids cannonball off the rock which juts into the lake,
A shallow bay on one side and a gentle slope to shore
And deep clear water and a clean drop on the other
Cool before the morning sun's heat
Warms up the water and reflects it back, golden.

The smell of sunscreen, wet hair in tangles - getting blonder in the sun
Coffee outside, the steam rising in morning's chill
Browned faces, hungry stomachs
A splash, a shout, a shared laugh
Damp towels slung over shoulders, dancing barefooted over pebbles
Wet swimsuits and life jackets hung
Over railings to dry.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Week Away

The kids and I just returned from a week's vacation at the cottage. Hemmed in by the rocks and trees and lakes of the Canadian Shield, we had no cell service, no computer, no contact with the outside world unless we chose to drive into nearby Sharbot Lake.

It was bliss!

For 8 days we canoed, swam, ate, fished, explored, read books, kayaked, played games, had campfires, and then did it all over again.

Lots to tell, lots to show.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wind Broken Stones

Where the earth shows its bones of wind broken stones
and the sea and the sky are one

I'm caught out of time, my blood sings with wine
and I'm running naked in the sun

There's God in the trees and I'm weak in the knees

and the sky is a painful blue...

Stan Rogers, 45 Years

Why even try to describe how the ocean makes me feel when Stan's already captured it perfectly...?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Girls' Reunion

These ladies are the main reason I went to the Maritimes last week. (The dog is just an extra....couldn't leave itzy bitzy Mitzi out!)

I've seen Julie in Montreal, and visited Leanne last time the kids and I were in New Brunswick three years ago, but I haven't seen Shari in about 9 years, and the four of us haven't really had a chance to hang out without husbands and children since the early days of university.

This year seemed like a good one to remedy that. I said it was a joint birthday celebration (hence the bracelets) - but some of us (won't say who, Julie) are a little sensitive about our age and don't do birthdays, so we just "got together."

And shopped for books. And ate cheesecake. And drank wine. And ate dinner. And talked. Until 2am.
And I coveted Julie's naked fairy that sits on top of her piano.
Brilliant evening. We should do it again sometime!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Marrying the Sea

I took a book of poetry with me on the plane to the Maritimes last week. It’s called Marrying the Sea by Canadian poet Janice Kulyk Keefer and Melissa lent it me because of the namesake poem of romantic love she thought I would especially like.

I did. But it wasn’t that particular poem that moved me most. It was another. A poem about tumultuous passion, tormented yearning and devastating heartbreak. I read Isle of Demons on the plane and got stuck, reading and re-reading it, the words like a whip cracked across my heart.

Almost the first thing I did when I saw my friend Leanne for the first time in years was thrust the book at her. You have got to read this poem, I told her. And she did, getting lost in the 16 or so pages it took to follow the plight of the young French noblewoman whom legend tells was abandoned on an island, with the lieutenant she met on the way to New France, when it was discovered that they were lovers.

At supper the young lieutenant
speaks of snowfields vaster
than this sea we cross – each tree
a cathedral. Even the birds,
he tells me,
sing in a foreign tongue

I doubt I’d have been able to withstand the double seduction of such language and the ocean together, and though she offers up prayers amid her tumult

…Seal my ears
With your white silence

they are no match, in the end, for the calms you cannot guard against.

I could taste the salt on my own tongue long before I landed in Saint John.

Brine enough in the wind. Brine enough for me in the poem.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Virtuous Blister

Returning from a wonderful four day vacation in New Brunswick catching up with a bunch of friends, I met up with my cousin and her friend from England at the airport in Montreal, and we got home to the farmhouse around 9 pm at night where, after tucking the kids in four times to make up for the nights I missed, we sat and chatted. And not being one to suffer in silence, I regaled the company with the story of the blister I got on my toe from walking along a sandy beach barefoot.

Andrew peered at me over the rim of the glass of scotch he was sipping. (And the violin began playing softly in the background.)

Don’t expect sympathy from me, he said. You got your blister walking along a beach on vacation while I was here with the children working.

I have a blister too, he continued. My blister came from getting hay down my boot while I was piling it in the barn. After I mowed it, raked it, baled it, tossed it, by myself.

My blister, he told us, is a virtuous blister. Unlike your lollygagging, beach walking, vacationing blister, mine came about from hard work….

...and as anyone who knows Andrew well can guess, he was off on one of his amusing rants that leave his listeners in puddles of tears.

I hate it when he makes me laugh like that! It's not very ladylike to snort wine through your nose.